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March 02 2011


Facebook Pushes Comments Upgrade, But Will Publishers Bite?

Bit by bit, feature by feature, Facebook is making inroads into sites that live outside of Facebook.com. Major publishers now sprinkle their sites with Facebook plug-ins, from fan page widgets to friend recommendations to the ubiquitous "Like" thumbs-up. And hey, why not? It's a win-win, with publishers getting more engagement and increased traffic from Facebook News Feeds, and Facebook getting more embedded in more of the web.

So it is not a bit surprising that along comes a Facebook Comments plug-in upgrade, offering added moderation for comments on publishers' sites with these very nifty features:

> Simple upgrade: Publishers only need to add one line of code to their site for the new comments box.

> Enhanced moderation: Publishers get control to make specific comments private (only seen by the commenter and their friends); or publishers can delete comments and blacklist users.

> Commenting in the News Feed: Users can now share the comments they've made on publishers' sites in their Facebook News Feed; their friends' comments on the News Feed update are automatically posted back to the publishers' sites.

The last feature is perhaps the most important viral/social element of the Comments system -- the chance to get comments to reach beyond a website and into the Facebook social stream and bounce back to the website itself. That kind of easy sharing was missing from comments previously.

So, for instance, when I posted a comment on the Facebook blog, I made sure to share it with my News Feed on Facebook, as you can see here:

comment on news feed.jpg

And then, when Jen Lee Reeves and I commented on that comment on my News Feed, our comments were posted both on the News Feed, as seen above, and on the original Facebook blog post, as seen here:

comment on facebook blog.jpg

Plus, there's the much vaunted advantage of making people comment with their real names and affiliations showing, cutting down on trolls and ne'erdowells. (At least, that's the hope -- until they figure out a way to create fake Facebook accounts and return with their invective flowing.)

The new Comments upgrade was announced yesterday, with publishers such as Sporting News, Examiner.com and Discovery jumping on board (and TechCrunch is trying a test as well). According to a discussion summary at Quora, the pros of Facebook Comments on TechCrunch so far are real identities, while the cons are loss of anonymous comments by people who are uncomfortable saying who they are. And more troubling is that you can't log in to Facebook Comments with Twitter or Google.

I spoke to Facebook media guy Justin Osofsky yesterday to do a quick interview about the release of the upgraded Comments. Below is the full audio interview, and the edited transcript of that call, including one interjection by Facebook spokesperson Jillian Carroll.



What was your overarching goal with the update of Comments?

Justin Osofsky: We're always working to iterate on our products, and this update is a natural evolution of our existing plug-in, which we first launched in February 2009. Over the past couple years, we worked really closely with partners, and listen to their feedback all the time. One of the consistent themes we heard related to Comments was that partners wanted a system with great moderation, which led to a quality discussion on their site and provided great distribution. That was the spirit behind the product we released today as an upgrade.

My team works with media partners, and listens to their feedback and helps them understand how to use Facebook's tools to derive value for their business. In regards to Comments, we heard two themes from [publishers] outside of moderation. One is they use Facebook as a distribution platform. Comments offer a great opportunity to get distribution. Users can easily share their comments back to Facebook; the average user on Facebook has 130 friends, so they can extend the conversation around the web.

The other theme we heard from partners is that they really wanted a quality conversation around their content. They cared more about quality than quantity. And as the number of blogs and content sites we visit every day grows, it should be easy to see the highest quality comments first -- based on feedback from your friends and the rankings from other readers.

Many people have said, including social media power user Robert Scoble, that they like the new Comments feature because it will lead to more civilized discourse because people have their names associated with comments. But I've seen the opposite on well trafficked Facebook pages because people can punch in their comments so easily without having to register first. Sometimes they will throw things out quicker than they should.

Osofsky: We think we can facilitate a higher quality conversation. The Comments plug-in makes commenting online more like having a conversation in the real world by leveraging authentic and persistent identities to create more quality and meaningful dialogue across the web. We think that will lead to a higher quality conversation when it's your real identity and you're representing your real self in the comments you're making.

How have you seen publishers adopting the new Comments plug-in? Are they using just Facebook Comments on stories, or using other types of commenting systems as well?

Justin Osofsky.JPG

Osofsky: We're seeing a lot of publishers who adopted Facebook's commenting system as the exclusive commenting system on their site. Sites like SportingNews.com and Discovery Communication and SBNation launched with Facebook Comments today.

You allow either Facebook or Yahoo log-ins now to comment on these sites. Where are you at with allowing people to use Google or Twitter log-ins?

Osofsky: As part of the update, we added Yahoo as a third-party log-in and we hope to add additional major providers in the future. We're always looking for ways to improve the product and add more flexibility for partners, but we have nothing further to announce today.

Who do you see as the main competition for your Comments plug-in? Do you think there's a way for you to co-exist with established players like Disqus (used on MediaShift), Echo, and others?

Osofsky: When we develop products, we focus on meeting the needs of our users and developers in creating really good solutions. Basically, this release is based on feedback from users and developers and partners. We plan on continuing to iterate on it, but we think that the greater moderation that's built into this product, the distribution of reaching Facebook's more than 500 million users, the higher engagement through the conversations -- threading on both the publisher's site and on Facebook itself -- and the quality makes us a really compelling product for publishers.

One of the features that's interesting is that when you see someone's comment, a friend of yours, on your News Feed on Facebook, you can respond to it, with the comment going back on the third party site. Do you think that might take people a little while to get used to?

Osofsky: I think users will understand the natural conversation. What's cool about this product is the most interesting content on Facebook is the stuff I discover through my friends. Over 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month. It's a way to find content through friends and other people.

What the commenting system enables now is -- when I am commenting on an article on, say, MediaShift -- I immediately have social context and the opinion of my friend that is being delivered on whatever the article is on your site. From that, I think there's a very natural discussion that takes place that's unified on both sites. So users will see that lead to a richer, authentic dialogue on publishers' sites and on Facebook.

One thing I'd like to see is all the conversations happening about an article all over the web in one place. And Facebook has FriendFeed, which does that a little bit. Can you see sometime down the road that this might be a unified comment system that brings together comments from other sites too? So you'd see them all in your Facebook News Feed?

Osofsky: We see the News Feed as a way of discovering content from your friends. So if I comment on an article on the Sporting News and Discover and the Examiner, my friends can now see it on their News Feed. So it's a great way to discover the conversations that are happening among the friends you are most interested in.

But as far as being an aggregator of comments from other systems, you don't see that happening at some point?

Osofsky: No. The News Feed will always be a good way to make social discovery of content, but that's the way we view it. You go to Facebook to find out what your friends like. When you show up to Facebook.com and I show up to Facebook.com -- even though we typed in an identical URL -- we're having fundamentally different experiences because we have different friends and different interests, and they are sharing different things about their lives and from publisher sites. That's the experience that will continue on Facebook.

When I look in my Facebook News Feed I can see when people connect their tweets to their status updates. So I am seeing things from other services outside of Facebook. That's why I'm wondering whether other comments could be brought into the News Feed like that.

Osofsky: When we launched the platform in 2007, we basically opened it up for developers to allow people to connect with the things they care most about, and the entities they care most about -- whether it's a sports team, whether it's a celebrity. And because of that, I think that Facebook is a great way to find things in your life, and that's the way that Facebook works, and that's the way it's going to continue to work going forward.

When you talk about comment moderation, you said comments from friends and top-rated comments would rise to the top. Some comment systems have a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Will you continue to have just the thumbs up or would you consider a thumbs down as well?

HateButton small.gif

Osofsky: We will listen to feedback on how to best surface the best and most relevant comments. We have no immediate plans to change what we launched today. But essentially we want users to see a really quality conversation, and we think the way you do it is you first see the comments from your friends and then the comments ranked highly from other readers on a publisher's site.

There is a way to block comments that you don't like, or report them?

Osofsky: As you're reading, you can mark comments as spam or report them as being abusive.

And it's up to the publisher to decide what to do with those reports?

Osofsky: We will naturally surface the most highly ranked comments, those will be the ones you'll see more than other comments. And we also give moderation controls to publishers. Based on their feedback, we added a lot of moderation controls as well as "blacklist" controls so website administrators can control the visibility of a comment from making it private [i.e., only shown to the commenter and their friends] to hiding it completely. Or they they can block content or specific words -- such as foul language and spam -- all from their own moderation dashboard.

comment moderation copy.jpg

Will a reader see a highly rated comment above their friends' comments or which one comes first? And can the publisher adjust that?

Osofsky: Each individual reader that goes to a publisher's site, on the site, they would see a different view. Just like you or I have different friends, from that, what you see in a comments box and I see would be different. The publisher has an administrative dashboard that also shows the comments that are being made on their site.

So which would be ranked higher, the friends' comments or the ones ranked high by readers?

Osofsky: The product seeks to surface the highest quality comments first, and the way in which we built it, we'll continue to evolve our approach to this to make sure there's really quality conversation.

Part of what you see with the comments is the person's affiliation or where they went to college. Is there a way to adjust what shows there alongside a person's name next to a comment?

Jillian Carroll (Facebook Communications): It's an interesting situation. If you made your school network public but not your work, then your school would show up even if it's more relevant where you work. Part of this will be addressed by privacy controls and people adjusting those.

Osofsky: When we release products, we respect people's privacy settings. And if they want to change their privacy settings, we give them the control to do that.

One other piece of feedback I heard was that TechCrunch had implemented Facebook Comments and they're not seeing a number on the number of comments for each article, that there are "48 comments" or whatever. Is that something you will be adding?

Osofsky: We believe our product encourages quality instead of quantity of comments. What I think you're seeing today on publisher sites is a very real and interesting dialogue in the comments section. One of the consistent things we heard from publishers, who we've been talking to the past couple years, is you often get so many comments, one can't surface the relevant and interesting comments. That's what this product is trying to address.

digitaljournal screengrab.jpg

What about people who aren't on Facebook? Would they still be able to comment on a story?

Osofsky: You can log in on Facebook or you can log in on Yahoo, and we'll be looking to add additional flexibility going forward in terms of log-in providers.

So at the moment if you don't have Yahoo and you don't have Facebook, then you're not able to make comments in the system.

Osofsky: The two ways to comment in the system is through Yahoo and Facebook, correct.


What do you think about the upgraded Facebook Comments plug-in? If you run a site, would you use it? What do you see as its strong points and drawbacks? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

August 06 2010


Facebook Launches Media Page But Resists Revenue Sharing

Facebook is the alpha dog of social networks, and it's also becoming a top dog when it comes to referring traffic to news sites. That became clear in February when Hitwise found that Facebook was referring more traffic to news and media sites than Google News. But for a long time, Facebook only had intermittent communication with media companies about how they used the social network.

That all changed last month when Facebook launched its new Facebook + Media page, along with a media partnership team headed by Justin Osofsky that's on a "listening tour" of media companies. The goal is to hear what tools publishers want developed by Facebook, and build a stronger relationship with them. So far, tools like the omnipresent "Like" button, the activity box listing most "Liked" stories on sites, and Facebook Connect have created a true symbiotic relationship: Publishers get traffic, and Facebook gets high visibility and more members.

Justin Osofsky.JPG

"The nature of our [media] partnerships is mainly as a platform company," Osofsky told me in a recent phone interview. "The Facebook platform gives media companies and other organizations the ability to build social experiences by bringing in people's friends, what they care about and want to recommend. Since we launched social plug-ins back in April, more than 350,000 sites have implemented it, and that's the primary way we work with media companies."

Facebook also did extensive research and issued best practices for media organizations, including best placement for the Like button, what story types did best on Pages, and how to use Facebook Insights, their version of Google Analytics for Facebook Pages.

But one thing that's off the table is sharing revenues with media properties from the ads Facebook serves onto their popular fan pages. For instance, CNN's Facebook Page has more than 1 million fans, but the ads that run on that page only bring in revenues for Facebook. Osofsky says Facebook is happy to drive traffic to publishers but hasn't considered sharing revenues with them.

The following is an edited transcript of my interview with Osofsky, where he discussed how Facebook worked with the New York Times on a World Cup visualization, and how they are considering a page on what stories have been "Liked" the most Facebook-wide.


Tell me how you got involved in doing media partnerships at Facebook.

Justin Osofsky: We recently formed a team at Facebook to focus on media companies. We're excited to begin a dialogue on how best we can deliver value. Media companies are great at creating content and delivering it to the right people at the right time. We're excited to think about how those things can have a social dimension. We formed this team a couple months ago, and I'm leading the team.

Why you? What's your interest in working with the media?

Osofsky: I've worked at Facebook for a little over two years in various roles, most recently I led product marketing for Facebook Connect for the Facebook platform and led our platform partnerships. I'm excited about the opportunity to partner with media companies, because there are so many interesting things going on in the industry, and there's also this desire to share content with friends and recommend it to friends. The opportunity to work with media companies to create innovative experiences was one that was personally exciting to me.

Osofsky explains that partnerships with media companies don't involve money, but simply Facebook providing tools for them:


What do you hear from the media companies that they would like to see from Facebook?

Osofsky: Media companies are excited to work with us for a few reasons. First, they want Facebook to drive more referral traffic to their sites. And they're interested in using our tools, both the social plug-ins and also pages on Facebook to help drive traffic. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, so when a Facebook user shares a piece of content from a media company site, on average 130 people see it. So Facebook can be a meaningful referrer of traffic.

Also, media companies can make the experience on their site more customized and engaging for each user. For instance, they can surface friends' activity and recommendations on the site itself. A great example of that is CNN. On the home page I can see what articles my friends have recommended and shared with others. There are other examples of that -- CNN, ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe -- they all use the activity panel to show what friends have done.

But I think engagement goes beyond plug-ins. For instance the New York Times recently did a very interesting visualization. They took the public status updates from Facebook users during the World Cup, and created a visualization showing which soccer players were most popular [and mentioned most on Facebook] during specific days during the World Cup.

nyt world cup facebook.jpg

Osofsky: I thought that was a good way to show how people are expressing themselves on Facebook, and create an engaging, immersive experience on the New York Times.

Were you able to work with the Times on that project?

Osofsky: Yes, the Times used our search API to create the visualization and our team helped them in the process.

So your team will help in an informal role for people like at the Times?

Osofsky: Yeah, the purpose of our team is to work with all sorts of media companies to create engaging experiences. We work with them to develop innovative new ideas and implement our platform tools.

Is there a tool that publishers have asked for from Facebook that you don't offer yet?

Osofsky: We're in an active dialogue, we're on a listening tour, and asking publishers, 'What can we do to meet your needs?' Publishers are constantly giving us feedback on how we can do things better, from improving our Insights product to deliver better stats to them to potential plug-ins we could create. What my team does is bring that back to the product team to meet their needs.

If publishers create a Facebook Page that gets hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans, would it be possible for them to serve their own ads onto that Page or do a revenue split with Facebook for the ads that Facebook serves up?

Osofsky: Within a page, there are monetization opportunities. We don't work with publishers directly around that, there is no revenue share. We encourage publishers to create popular pages which can then drive traffic back to their sites, where they are obviously good at monetizing them.

But if they create a page that has interactions and engagement, shouldn't they deserve some of the ad revenues from that page or serve their own ads? I know it's not something you currently do or offer, but perhaps it's something publishers might want down the line?

Osofsky: We're not currently looking into that model. The value to the publishers out of the fans they acquire is to create a meaningful long-term distribution channel. So when I've liked a page, the publisher can reach me as frequently as they want to reach me with engaging content, and send that traffic back to their site to monetize it there. That's the core value that our pages provide.

Osofsky explains why he attended a recent Hacks and Hackers meetup in San Francisco:


Did the media folks you met feel like they had had problems getting through to people at Facebook in the past?

Osofsky: We do our best to communicate well with developers through our development site and other communication channels. Like any platform, we can always do better. Publishers and media companies appreciate the focus on the media industry and their needs.

I like the way you let people track activity on their sites and you offer plug-ins for publishers to put on their site to rank their own stories that get "Liked" the most, etc. Have you considered doing a page on Facebook that ranked all the stories on all of Facebook that are being shared or "Liked" the most?

Osofsky: That's actually a question that's been raised by a number of companies and organizations we've talked to. I'm currently providing that feedback to the product team to see where that fits into what we're trying to accomplish. Generally, the most effective way to communicate to a Facebook audience is for an individual to communicate with their friends, rather than for us to share information that's occurring across the system as a whole. It's the most social dimension. If we're friends and you see something I shared, it's actually a really cool experience, and that's been our product to date. But I'm providing feedback to the product team based on conversations we're having.

I think it is interesting to understand at a network level what's going on. Part of what we do are these best practices, where we pull out some similarities and commonalities about what works well on Facebook for media organizations. We're open to hearing ideas like this and then we can figure out how well they integrate into our product direction.

In your research, did you find that there are problems with cluttering up the page with Like buttons? Is there a point where you overwhelm someone with too many of those kinds of buttons on a page?

Osofsky: We didn't find that there would be too much clutter with a Like button on a page, but we did find that the way people implement a Like button does have a real effect on driving traffic. We found that if you had a Like button with thumbnails of your friend, and if you let people comment when they are Liking something, and show it next to visually appealing content -- those things combined can increase the use of the Like button by three to five times. Implementation definitely matters with the Like button.

Publishers often grapple with the question of how often to post to their page on Facebook. Have you found any best practices around posting frequency?

Osofsky: We didn't look specifically at the frequency of posts. What we looked at was the nature of the content in the post. Was it a question? A headline? A call to action, such as 'like this article' or 'comment below.' The time of day it was posted. We did see significant differences when it comes to passionate debate or emotional and evocative or interesting breaking sports news like the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. Those tended to have two to three times more engagement. And status updates with calls to action also had more engagement.

We didn't look specifically at the frequency issue, but I think that probably depends site to site. There are some forms of content where more frequent updates are something people are interested in. For instance, I follow the Boston Globe's coverage of sports, and if they sent me the Boston Red Sox score every night just as the game was ending that would be great and useful to know for me. But on the other hand there are things that are lengthy discussions, and at that pace, a high frequency of postings wouldn't be as effective.

What's great about our Insights tool is that it gives you the ability to understand how users are interacting with it. You can understand which posts are most engaging, and also if you're posting too much, users have the ability to hide all posts from a publisher -- which is a good leading indicator to how people are reacting to your frequency of posts.

So you can see how many people are hiding your updates?

Osofsky: Yes, you can see a stat [to find out] after making a post if people are hiding future posts from you. On the flip side, you can see the engagement after each post, how many Likes you got or comments, which can be positively reinforcing.

Osofsky talks about future plans for the Facebook + Media page:



What do you think about the new Facebook + Media page? How has Facebook helped drive traffic to your site? Do you think they should share ad revenues with page publishers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

July 27 2010


Facebook launches a “Facebook + Media” page

Last night, Facebook unveiled a project that it’s had in the works for a while: a media page devoted to journalists, developers, and other “media partners.” Facebook + Media is dedicated, it says, to “helping news, TV, video, sports, and music partners use Facebook” — in particular, by helping them “learn about best practices and tools to help…drive referral traffic, increase engagement, and deepen user insights.”

The page offers data, for example, into how users engage with news content shared on Facebook — think of it as the social sister to Google Analytics. For example, per a note we received from a Facebook spokesperson, and based on a study of the 100 top media sites integrated with the network’s social plugins:

- Stories published in the early morning or late evening showed higher engagement

- Websites experienced 3-5x greater click-through rates on the Like button when they included thumbnail photos of a user’s friends, enabled users to add comments (which 70% of top performing sites did), and placed the Like button at the top and bottom of articles and near visually exciting content like videos and graphics Sites that place Facebook social plugins above the fold and on multiple webpages receive more engagement. For example, sites that placed the Activity Feed plugin on the front and content pages received 2-10x more clicks per user than sites with the plugins on the front page alone.

- Sites have used the Live Stream box to boost engagement with live video content. During the World Cup, there were over 1.5 million status updates through the Live Stream box on media websites such as Univision, TF1, ESPN, Cuatro, RTVE, and Telecinco.

Whatever your current engagement with Facebook, and whether your particular news organization is staffed by 1,000 employees or one, the findings are worth attention. Here’s some more information on the data and how it was assembled.

As far as Facebook itself is concerned, the new page seems devoted not just to data on traffic and interactivity and the like, but also to avoiding the trap that Google has found itself in and is now trying to rectify: an uncomfortable kind of awkward often oppositional relationship with news organizations. News outlets and social news platforms — or, more clinically, content providers and content distributors — used to be an us-and-them proposition. Now, though, we’re coming to a point where “social news” is not only common, but a redundancy. How could the news, we increasingly assume, be anything but social in nature?

It may have PR overtones; still, Facebook + Media is an indication of the collapse of the wall that used to divide content and delivery platform. As Facebook Development team lead Justin Osofsky — who oversees the company’s media partnerships, and who (with fellow Facebooker Matt Kelly) was on hand at a San Francisco Hacks/Hackers event last night — put it: Facebook is trying to enter into dialogue with journalism organizations. And the media page is “the first cut to start the discussion.”

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