Comments about Comments

August 29, 2013

In our discussions around our upcoming tablet application we keep circling around the question of comments. How do we create a place for dialogue inside the app without creating a cumbersome experience?

Currently there are a myriad of ways to connect with FRONTLINE – comments on the web site, Facebook, Twitter, live chats for every film and even the occasional Branch discussion. Over the past few years as we’ve beefed up our presence on social media the conversation has largely moved away from the site and towards Facebook and Twitter – which makes sense, it’s where people are already connecting and those platforms have an infinitely larger audience than our web site is likely to attract. On a technical level it’s possible to integrate these all into a tablet product, but within a user interface a patchwork of different experiences can become little unwieldy.

There’s another commenting challenge that’s specific to the tablet: typing. Composing anything lengthy on the on-screen keyboard is not a particularly pleasant experience; it’s often easier to type on a smartphone. So simple feedback such as Facebook “likes” or Buzzfeed-style LOL/WTF buttons can often make more sense.

Aside from the integration and user experience questions we’ve been thinking about the longer term value of these comments. Generally our audience is quite thoughtful and we consider publishing viewer comments as part of our mission of journalistic transparency. We’ve been thinking about the idea of attaching viewer comments to our films; however comments can be quite ephemeral. Would they be useful in the long term? Would a curated selection of these comments be better?


One final area we’ve been looking at is comments that are tied to a specific point within a film – an annotation of sorts. This idea is increasingly popular and we’re interested in how we might execute it for our films – Gawker, Quartz and Soundcloud all handle this in an interesting way.

In summary this is an idea that we’ll continue to grapple with. Naturally, as we’re thinking about comments, we’re interested in what our audience has to think on the topic. How valuable are comments to you as an artifact? And how important is it that you be able to comment while watching video on your tablet?

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