We spend a lot of time talking about why people don't comment more on Gotham Gazette stories. By "a lot of time," I actually mean about 20 minutes every three weeks, but nonetheless as a project with a mission to improve public discourse and engage New Yorkers in public policy conversations, we gauge our impact in part by how many people are reading and responding to our reporting. When popular blogs reference our reporting we see lively and contentious conversations. But rarely do we get much discussion on our own site.
This week, though, I made an interesting discovery. After a few tests and a bit of wrangling to establish canonical URLs we implemented commenting with Disqus this week. The move runs altogether contrary to my D.I.Y. instincts and my free software instincts but the tools we were using (multiple instances of Phorum ) were spambait and I wasn't ever able to reign them in and still get other work done. So I let go a little bit and farmed out our comment capacity.
This week, we ran a (excellent, but that isn't the point) article on City Council attendance records and we're seeing a lot of comments on it. We've never run this story at this moment in time before, so I can't really tell you whether or not we would have gotten as many comments (five, so far. Sadly, that is a lot for us) if readers were stuck with our old forums.
I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that people do want to participate (and yes: participation is about a lot more than just reacting) and will if they don't have to leap technical hurdles to do so.
So I'm wondering: how are other small sites (and big ones?) facilitating reader comments? Are you happy with it? Looking for better tools?