/ comments

Alternative Commenting Systems: Video Responses

I've been thinking a lot recently about ways to engage discussion on a website while still requiring people to "own their words" so to speak. Anonymous comment forms encourage and embolden users to react and respond with no regard to others. Ever read the comment section of your local news website? So what alternatives are there? Sure you can disable comments on your blog or website. But that's a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water. If the answer to "Let's find ways to encourage civil discourse" is "Let's close off all avenues of discourse" then you've failed your users. We did an episode of DTLT Today recently on this very topic but unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time to get in to the subject of alternatives so I'll use my blog here as a scratch pad of my thoughts on a few of them. In particular with this post I want to look at video responses. I'm not sure if video responses have been used anywhere else as popular as YouTube. Although users still have the option of posting generic text comments, the possibility of recording a video and adding it as a response to a video is available. It's a great format for YouTube because it gets more people using their service for its intended purpose, social video sharing, and puts the focus back on video content and away from the dark pit of the comment threads there. I thought it would be great to see if I could implement something similar on the DTLT Today website, which runs on Wordpress. The Viddler Plugin looked promising but it turns out only registered users of your site can post a video response. Since I wasn't looking at enabling user registrations (which would ultimately be another hurdle to people actually using the feature) I moved on. The Seesmic Wordpress Plugin was another plugin I looked at but that looks completely abandoned and I couldn't get it to function regardless of whether the user was logged in or not. I finally found a plugin that worked perfectly for my needs: The All in One Video Plugin by Kaltura. Setup was fairly painless, but it does require you to register an account with Kaltura to store the video. The end-user experience is that below the comment form there's a button to add a video response to the comment (the text of that box can be changed as well). When pressed a Lightbox-style overlay of the users webcam comes up and they can record a short video and add it to the comment before posting. It's a beautiful and elegant solution. The nice thing about a video response is that the accountability is there, it would be nearly impossible to leave an "anonymous" video response without just looking foolish. Recording a video also raises the level of discourse by requiring someone to think about what they're saying and how they say it, as opposed to just text. Sarcasm and emotion are more easily detected in a video and less likely to cause problems. Video responses are just one of many experiments I plan on doing with alternative commenting systems. Pulling in information from external sources like Twitter to add to the conversation is another format I'm interested in. In the end I want to do everything possible to encourage civil discourse and communication in comment threads and discourage cowardly malice.