Do you ever pay attention to comments at the bottom of news articles, YouTube videos or on status updates on social media sites? If yes, how important do you think they are? Do they make you think differently? These are some questions that can be interesting and worth looking into.

Comments on news articles, videos, and photos can be informational, amusing or even distasteful. Reading comments can be an experience that has more to it than the eye can see or the mind can contemplate. It can be an experience that engages the readers and often provide them with ample material to agree or disagree with. No matter which direction the comments generally take–positive or negative, users may get impacted by them consciously and unconsciously. Comments are not mere views on subject, they may have considerable value in terms of manipulating the narrative and general opinions of the users.

Comments and have become very popular onlineWebsites such as New York Times, The Economist, CNN, Aljazeera, YouTube, Flickr, Yahoo News etc. attract a lot of comments and debates. We can easily find comments on content of different types. There is also a rising trend towards the  integration of social media with news articles, videos and images. It is possible to comment through Facebook and Twitter log-ins on a website which has news and other content.

Another interesting phenomena is rating content or even users. Rating serves as a form on online voting system expressing user like/dislike or popularity of a certain content. In a single click, users can express their opinion and thus add to the activity on a site.

From a user perspective, comments on a website create the impression of an active audience. A large number of comments demonstrate that the website is active, popular and full of energy. This may play a role in further encouraging more comments and even sharing of the content on other platforms. Furthermore, comments may encourage users to view the website as a place where everyone is and thus somewhat add to its credibility as a site which is visited by a number of people.

I got interested in news comments mainly because of the extreme skewness experienced on prominent news websites. Such extremely negative or flaming oriented comments can be a common sight especially on articles whose topics involve politics, religion or something contentious. Some express the opinions in decent and civil ways, while others resort to the use of abusive language to get their message across. This may be perfectly normal for some people and even acceptable, but research shows that flaming is generally disliked as it undermines the very nature of a healthy debate that can yield positive results for the society. While some sites may moderate comments and disallow foul language, others may be less restrictive or lack the resources to deal with a large number of commenting activity.

Comments can also be very beneficial. They provide unique content that reflects the candid and true public opinion as compared to published and carefully managed content on news sites. Commenting activity thus serves as free flow of views and what the readers actually think about issues and the information in an article. It would be interesting to know how much (if at all) opinions are altered after reading or viewing certain content in the presence and absence of comments.

In a recently conducted research, I found some interesting results from the commenting behavior on YouTube videos. The data gathered is set to be further analyzed and detailed results will be published. In short, it was found that anonymity played a role in the type of comments posted. Interestingly, 97% of flaming comments were from users who were anonymous.  This was also known through earlier research in this domain. Similarly, the type of video also impacted the type of comment it attracted.

Research into commenting is fascinating and excites me as a researcher. When I view the commenting phenomena in the light of crowd psychology, I can see how comments that may seem meaningless and unimportant, may hold the key to understanding the formation of public opinions. The impact that comments have on users can carry more weight than the news itself. If that is where the user focus is, then more needs to be done to understand the interesting phenomena of commenting.