Whatever You Do, DON’T Read the Comments

We recently had to re-platform our e-commerce site. It took our team about 6 months of working days, nights, and weekends (you know the drill) to complete a minimum viable product. We had to remove a few of the fringe features in order to launch on time, and we knew we would catch a little flack for that, but we were taking a 5-year old site with tons of bad data and converting it into a modern and responsive e-commerce site. We were hoping customers would appreciate some of the newer, more important features like being able to see past order history and actually track the status of your current order, instead of missing the fringe features like badging (which meant nothing) and voting (which also meant nothing). We tested it well, at least that’s what we thought. We did user interviews and observations to inform our design decisions.

We were proud of it. Very proud of it.

The night of the launch, it took our team over 8 hours to complete the change over. They didn’t get to bed until after 6am.

At 8am, I was awakened by the sound of buzzing, incessant buzzing, coming from my phone. I was surprised to find several missed calls from people in our company, and texts as well. Apparently, while we were very proud of our work, our customers were not. And they let us know.

Superb job. Your web guy must have been so happy, first a gold star for show and tell with his guinea pig in class then someone actually used his broken ass programming. –Paradisel

The Pros of Comments

My initial response to the commenting issue was to remove the commenting platform entirely. “Why do we have comments?” I asked my CEO, which, after only 2 hours of sleep, sounded more like a whine from his 3-year old, then an intelligent question from his Product Manager.

Here is the just of his response.

The great thing about having comments on your site is that they drive traffic and promote community. By allowing comments, customers feel like they have a place to belong, a community of like-minded fanatics. And communities can be leveraged. It’s also great for traffic because people continue to come back to see if anyone liked or replied to their comment. Then maybe they get some friends involved, etc. It promotes addictive behavior, which is great for your product. Addicts spread the word.

I don’t appreciate the removal of my comment and it has really made me second-guess future purchases. –sdb3z

Do Comments help Society?

This whole rant was recently inspired by an episode of Freakonomics I listened to entitled “Who Runs the Internet?”. In this episode, one argument in favor of online commenting was that it helped society at large. The idea is that if frustrated and angry people have a place to unleash their frustration and anger, then they won’t act out their frustration in public on others. The claim is that “the punch in the face or far worse than the online rant”.

The idea makes sense. If I have the need for a bowel movement, and I know that I can have that movement in a bathroom, then I won’t drop trow and let it fly on the subway.

The problem with this argument is two-fold. 1) Anger is not like a bowel movement where once it’s released, the feeling is gone. Anger and frustration build and grow. Like a virus, anger begets anger. It creates more angry and frustrated people. In addition, it doesn’t go away once it has been released. Anger is a problem. People get help to overcome anger, the same way they get help to overcome addictions and eating disorders. 2) They arereleasing their anger on the general public. Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean it’s not real. Their anger is being hurled at people’s emotions, and it is causing real, lasting damage.

HELP. ME. NOW. I’m tired of being polite and getting IGNORED. I am a customer, or rather, I WANT TO BE A COSTUMER. Make it happen, please. –Goofy-kun

The Problem with Comments

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The problem with comments is that the conversation doesn’t have to continue. If someone posts a comment, they can just walk away. Their damage has been done. The bomb has been dropped and they don’t have to deal with the aftermath.

Yeah, stupid women, using their genitals to get free things. That’s the only reason they ever comment on anything ever!! –Raerei

I’ve tried doing this in real life. It never works. This past weekend my wife and I got into a tiff. I thought this would be a great time to test the comments strategy of expressing distaste with something or someone. So I dropped a bomb and tried to walk out. She wouldn’t let me. Even if she did, I would have had to deal with the aftermath when I returned. The real world doesn’t allow for conversational bombs.

As an anonymous user, I can rant or attack someone or something, and then walk away from the conversation. I don’t have to face the aftermath. If I were to go to a public setting like a city council or academic lecture, and try to drop a big ol’ negative rant, I’d probably get told to sit down before I even finished. Depending on how derogatory my words were, I might have several gentlemen waiting for me outside. In real life, I can’t escape the consequences for my actions.

Anonymity Begets A-Holes

Another problem with comments, especially comments that use a username or allow non-registered users to participate, is that there is zero accountability. A user can show up, drop a big fat deuce on your site, and walk away, without a care in the world.

If I walked into a store and threw the kind of tantrum that some of our customers throw on our site, using similar 4-letter words and derogatory threats, I’d be arrested and probably banned from that store or even shopping center for life.

In all seriousness , and with as little disrespect as possible towards the amazing and incredible series, but I’m kinda getting sick and fucking tired of all the dr who shirts –HeyGafilimore

When YouTube changed their commenting logic to display a user’s actual name (as pulled from their Google account) instead of a nickname or nom de plume, the outrage could not be measured or expected. The reason? Google made people accountable for their actions. Users could no longer hide their horrific words behind an alter ego.

When we launched our site, we did the same thing…by accident. Our commenting module was pulling user’s names instead of their nicknames. And again, the outrage was a little over-the-top. People claimed they didn’t want they real names being displayed across the internet, yet these same users had LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google accounts; all of which use your real name. The real reason was the lack of anonymity. We made people accountable for their words. They were now searchable, discoverable, real. And they didn’t like that.

The Squeaky Wheel Syndrome

As the old adage goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” But when it comes to commenting, “The squeaky wheel gets rejected/blocked.”

Our company has over half a million registered users. The vast majority of these users love our company. I ran into one of our customers yesterday at FedEx Office. She would not shut up about how much she loved our site and our products. She talked about how much better our product was than our competitors, about how much she loved the new re-design of the site and how easy it was to use, etc.

She was a brand advocate. She tells her friends about our company and encourages them to buy. But she doesn’t comment. She doesn’t take the time to express her love on our site or on our Social Media accounts. She doesn’t add her voice to the larger conversation.

But the unhappy, angry, frustrated customer? He comments. He adds his voice to the global conversation. And it’s typically not very pleasant. As a result, his unhappy, squeaky rant negatively influences customer behavior, particularly their buying behavior.

Your website is shit, as in the programming side, love the tees just punch whoever made the website! –fuckyou@fuckyou.com

We’ve been able to see a direct correlation between negative comments and a dip in sales. But we have not seen a relationship between a positive comment and an increase in sales, which is what we hoped to find.

The Verdict

Comments are a terrifying feature of any site. It takes an army to moderate and filter comments. Reading comments can make any weak-minded owner believe the sky is falling, or cause the sweetest of customer service reps to fall into a deep depression. Comments are not for the faint of heart and, to be honest, they may do more harm than good.

This is the most clumsy calligraphy that I have ever seen. It looks like a 4 year old tried to write 姫 (hime). It is awful. –Squiggy Flop

But a well-moderated comment platform can add quick value to a company’s brand and help promote a deeper sense of community within it’s customer base. But would I recommend it? Only if you’re looking to develop a drinking habit.

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