Oh help. I need to book a summer holiday for the family (me + wife and 3 year old). I like to think I’m quite plugged into the world of online travel content, but I still find myself stuck in an endless loop of google searches and tripadvisor reviews. So it was cool to find a genuinely useful piece about holidays with babies by William Gray (a long established, excellent travel writer) on the 101 Holidays website. (Disclosure: I know Mark Hodson one of the 101 founders and William too).

There were some useful suggestions and it reminded me of the coolest, bestest family holiday hotel we have stayed at – the Almyra in Paphos. If I could find another place like that, my quest would be over (assuming we could afford it). And I wanted to share that info too – tell a few other people who might be looking just like me for this kind of a holiday! Better still I wrote it up for Takethefamily.com so I could link to my piece on there which would mean no need to write heaps in the comments.

Except there was no comments field on the post. I felt  really cheated!

I tweeted Mark Hodson to ask why. And he replied saying that they didn’t want UGC (user generated content) cluttering up ‘evergreen content’ like this. By evergreen I’m assuming he means content quite closely tied to the product that won’t change much. In real world terms, the shop window rather than the visitor’s book.

This is a classic web conundrum for me. I think web should be all about conversation and discussion and sharing your tips and ideas for great kid-friendly hotels, well that’s bound to be something lots of people would be interesting to take part in.

But does that mean that every page should offer space for readers to comment – or should  there be some spaces that are just about the brand/business setting out their stall?

18 thoughts on “Don’t let punters ruin it with their dumb comments!

  1. Sure. But no one reading the original post will know about it. So not much use.

  2. Well, the comments being datestamped mean 'evergreen' content gets dated that much faster. If the blog allows pings, it's the same thing. With that said, I'd also turn off comments on posts older than 90 or 180 days to prevent spam.

    Perhaps a 'best-of-both-worlds' approach involves hiding the comments behind an accordian / drop-down type box. You won't see them by default, but if you want to leave a comment it's easy to find.

  3. Hi Jeremy

    When we launched 101 Holidays (more than 4 years back now) we made a decision that we would not allow comments on our editorial pages. We subsequently launched a blog that does allow comments, but we maintain the original view on the key areas of the site.

    Why? Because we employ (and pay!) expert travel journalists to write high-quality content. We value the integrity, experience and knowledge of our authors (a trend that Google has subsequently picked up on!) and we want to build a relationship of trust with our readers.

    We try to create "evergreen" content that - though it clearly needs updating - will remain useful for years to come. Once you allow comments on pages like this you present yourself with a problem: to what extent should you edit and censor those comments?

    In this case, I know your comment would have been valuable. I've stayed at the Almyra myself when my own daughter was a baby, and I found it a great hotel. But what if other people leave comments containing advice that we don't trust, or think is outright wrong? Should we censor those comments simply because we don't agree with them? I would argue that it's better simply not to solicit them.

    Most people who work on the web have bought into the Web 2.0 ideology wholesale. But the crowd isn't always wise. Sometimes it's an unruly mob and at other times it's plain wrong. Jaron Lanier explores this idea - amongst many others - in his excellent book, You Are Not a Gadget. It's worth a read: http://amzn.to/17DuSfd (Like you, he also rails against the idea that content "wants to be free").

    Thanks for the post. Your blog is always interesting.


    1. Hi Mark
      My fairly embryonic thoughts about this - gleaned from working with a few travel operators on their content. Onsite content falls into 2/3 categories
      - product description - the stuff closest to when a customer might hit 'buy'; this is the shop window, laying out the fine details about the holiday/hotel etc
      - showcase content - (I chose this name and I'm not sure it's that great... but anyway...) this is the stuff that is a few steps before the customer hits 'buy'. They are interested but not sure which is the right product for them. The content creator's job is to slice and dice the content according to different themes and audiences to help people choose the best product for them. The piece I refer to that William wrote is exactly that.
      - conversational content - stuff that's broadly about themes relating to what your company sells and does, but aimed far more at just getting people interested in the first place - typically this sits on a blog or on Facebook.
      Surprisingly I've not considered the 'comments on/off' question in the context of these 3 categories in the past. As you say 'web orthodoxy' would suggest we let anyone say whatever they want. But I think I agree broadly with you.
      The one thing I think you miss though is the potential for discussion you might build up with a piece like that. Maybe the smart way to do it is to end the evergreen piece with a call to action - telling people where they CAN discss if they want to - linking say to a blog post or Facebook page post.
      "Do you know a great place for a break with a toddler? Head to our blog and tell us about it!"
      Just generally I think it's great practice to offer 'more' at the end of a page... as you do by ending with the quiz which is also a pretty good engagement tool I imagine.

  4. I can see both sides.

    I have discovered that people who tend to commented tend to be bloggers or other content creators. Normal consumers don't comment nearly as much.

    I will often publish articles that will get 100's of Facebook likes, but few comments. When they do comment, they comment on Facebook, not on my site.

    I think comments are fine, but people often put too much emphasis on them because it is the only visual metric on a blog that they can puff up to appear big.

    1. Hi Gary
      Thanks for sharing these insights. Interesting. Maybe Mark's concerns are unfounded because people self-censor - feeling more comfortable commenting on Facebook - where everyone talks about whatever they fancy anyway... rather than on a blog post that's a well-written piece about a specific theme?
      Agree with you that people see comments as an indicator of a blog's 'value' - it's quite rudimentary, but I guess it does demonstrate that the author is engaging sucessfully with their audience.

  5. Interesting post. I like what Mark's done. Keep comments on the blog site and keep the evergreen stuff away from the commentators. Cost wise it makes sense too. Why datestamp an evergreen piece, makes no sense.

    Went nucleur and shut down our comments section this week (and I know Andy at 501 places did the same last month). Just sick of the shit comments. Waking up in the morning to a Vietnamese travel agents spam or a Brazilian drinks company spam was getting me down. For every gem there's 10 spammy bits of shite. Just not worth it. But aware of the plus side of comments. Just need more hours in the day to moderate. Am having a rethink!

    ps Stuart at Travelfish has some great opinions on comments on blogs too. Think he could write a book about them...

    Cheers guys

    1. Hi Stu
      That's interesting. So the spam filter doesn't pick it up? Do you post moderate or pre moderate? (ie does stuff go live straight away before you Ok it?) I guess my blog gets tiny traffic compared with your site... but I very rarely get comments that are spam getting onto the site. And I don't pre-moderate.
      Hoping Stuart might chip in too! I just hounded him on twitter ;-)

  6. Interesting to read this debate. I gave up on allowing comments on 501 Places some time ago for the same reasons as Stuart mentions (the occasional rare gem among too many streams of crap), but agree with others that their value depends on the type of the site and its objectives.
    If you're writing opinion pieces that provoke debate, as on this site, it makes sense to allow others to take part in that debate.
    Comments also provide a highly visual metric and for those looking to big up their sites a heap of comments, even if they mostly come from other bloggers, serve a purpose.
    My posts are rarely conversation starters and I'm not keeping my site going for the numbers, so I didn't what I'd gain from keeping the comment facility open.

    1. Hi Andy
      Interesting. I guess the one thing you do gain is demonstration that you're good at getting people talking... which is something brand marketers are totally mad for. Like you and others are saying though - does it really prove anything?
      More follows in my reply to Stuart below

  7. Because you've painted me as a Bintang swilling Kuta-regular on Twitter, here you go :-)

    I think they do have their place - especially where the story is instructive and readers may have legitimate questions. These you can answer, thus (at least assuming others read the comments) improving the utility of the story.

    But many stories are not instructive, rather they're experiential. This is often the case with travel blogs, and i find the case for comments here (ie., circle-jerkery - you have to individually thank each blog commenter? Really? Are you insane?) far less compelling.

    Agree with others re the streams, well rivers actually, of diatribe (spam and others) than can populate comments. Akismet will only catch so much.

    Much was written a few years ago suggesting publishers should make it as easy as possible for people to comment - to add their 5, no, 3, rupiah to the stream - but I think many, myself included, think that to be bad advice. See exhibit A: Facebook. Exhibit B: YouTube Exhibit C: any US news story covering guns.

    You want to make making a comment difficult - both to deter the drive by poo chuckers but also to encourage your readers who do have a brain to go sit in a dark box and contemplate a reply. My comment up top is a great example of why you shouldn't have comments!

    The best way to do this is to turn comments off. If the reader wants to reply, they can. On their site. That's what happened to you here.

    Yes, not everyone has a site - let them contact you via email or a contact form. Their submission may well form a follow up piece.

    Another thought, is the whole narcissistic angle. Why do you want to tell Mark, and by extension his readers, what you think? Why should they care? Who is this Head guy? By you commenting on Mark's blog rather than your own, what you're really doing is depriving your readers (eg ratbags like me who follow yr blog on RSS) of knowing your thoughts because you've elected to push yr own cart over there instead.

    A better action, assuming you're putting your readers first, is to blog about your thoughts here, where we can all pull them apart :-) Plus you introduce us to a site we may not have heard of and the recipient site gets advised by ping back etc.

    And that's what you've done - you've put your readers first ... So I'm not sure what the downside is here!

    Comments have their place. We've got a story on TF with 700 + I think, but they don't belong everywhere. For eg on my personal rant blog I turned off comments ages ago - not that I ever got many of course lol.

    Aware of the irony of my essay comment here, but you asked for it!


    1. Well. I think it was worth the twittering... Some really interesting thoughts. ;-)

      Re: the where should the comments go bit - on the original post or one your own blog... I think it depends a bit on the post doesn't it? Often there wouldn't be enough value in taking my comment and creating a new post based on it. I'd rather just make the comment right there in the context of the piece that provoked it in the first place. And, I've no idea why, but for me there's a bit of a sense of 'someone else had the original idea to blog about this topic so I should contribute to the debate they started rather than try and start a similar conversation on my blog. It's a bit like plagarism otherwise. I guess it depends whether you just want to add to the comversation (eg suggest another great baby friendly hotel) or start a new one provoked by it (eg why can't I comment on this post... hmmm when is it appropriate to turn comments off)
      Another thought - does more comments = more traffic and more links... so just better all round from both and SEO and page metrics perspective? Sure it's a bit narcissistic of me to want to prove I'm a smart arse and I know a great baby friendly hotel that the expert writer of the original piece doesn't... but if I'm allowed to stick my 3 rupiah's worth on there too I'm far more likely to then share the post with my followers. And of course, if I share it by tweeting or whatever, I'm not depriving my followers of my bountious wisdom... ;-) I'll make sure they see it...
      Have to say, for me comments are the lifeblood of blogging. If I write a post and don't get many I feel really down about it. (Yes, I am THAT shallow). Oddly, the pieces I write that are sometimes the most heartfelt and thought through are quite often the ones that attract the least number of comments.

  8. The ever useful baekdal.com uses Google+ for comments. This obviously requires a single identity and is hard to spam so instantly elevates the conversation. Now, some might object you have to have a Google account to comment but I think this is a good balance between usefulness to your audience and usefulness to your site. The objective for me is to allow for and show that there is a conversation happening but to get people sharing that conversation with their social contacts - and to get that page under discussion recognised from a third-party social platform.

    I think Mark Hodson's comment about creating 'evergreen' (yuck - don't like this industry expression) content is interesting as a site owner may have that intent but in actual fact this can only be determined when people start voting with their feet. Because of the way the web works if you aren't getting those early links from other pages then your content is not going anywhere and those long-cycle spikes of attention, e.g. seasonal, are completely reliant on that initial burst of linking.

    I'd say that 20% of the effort is creating the content with the other 80% that twenty-four hour plan to get the page linked to by real people and hub sites (carefully avoiding SEOs and their bullshit). If it works then you build the persistance of the page from there. If not you may as well bin it and move on.

    1. Hi mark
      Yep agree that Baekdal is a great read. Smart guy. I'm watching his pricing strategy with great interest.
      Interestingly Mark H who runs 101 holds uses G+ as his personal blog too. I can see it's a great way to build authorship value for when Google rolls it out properly.
      Agree too that creating the content is only half the game... promoting it is critical.

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