Edited except from Zach Talks: A Conversation with Seeking Alpha Founder & CEO David Jackson:
Popular Science said that “Comments can be bad for science. That’s why… we’re shutting them off”. And Re/Code claimed that “social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach”. But we’re seeing the opposite at Seeking Alpha. Many of our readers say they value our comments more than our articles. A team of researchers at Purdue University found something remarkable: when comments on a Seeking Alpha article disagree with the article (measured by average sentiment), the comments are more predictive of the future price of the stock being discussed than the article.
So why is there so much pessimism about text discussion on the web, and why are sites shutting off their comments? I think there are a two factors which determine whether your comment community will be valuable:
The first is: what do your users really come to do? Many people simply want to feel good about what they already believe in. So they come to websites to read articles they agree with, and to have shouting matches on behalf of their “team” with people they disagree with. They’re not open to learning or being persuaded. This phenomenon afflicts areas like politics and climate change. The comment sections on those sites become toxic.
The second factor that determines whether comment communities will be valuable is that they need to be nurtured. I think many websites get this wrong. They think that once you have comments, every commenter has a right to free speech on your website. They don’t. You need to view a comment community as a party you’re having in your home. Someone’s right to free speech doesn’t mean they can walk into your party and ruin it by shouting at your guests.
Moderating comments requires a meaningful resource commitment, which you’ll only make if you deeply believe in the value of comments.