If you’ve ever used the popular “new” platform Medium, then you’re already familiar with the concept of the (side)note. Essentially it allows users to comment on segments of the post right in the margin – just as if you are reading a book or research paper and writing your notes. The difference is that unlike writing private notes on a book or paper, (side)notes are public and others can join in, expand thoughts and collaborate with you, or join the discussion. Until now, this kind of “commenting” was not really seen on WordPress blogs. Danny Brown wrote a post about Livefyre’s Sidenotes which brought this concept back into the spotlight for me, and inspired the following discussion.

The Power of Isolating Conversation; Where I see Livefyre Sidenotes working really well:

As highlighted in Livefyre’s video, I see this working really well for businesses that have feature rich blogs, sites with many photos, or recipe sites.

Beyond that, I also see it to be a powerful tool for sites that:

  • Offer reviews or lists (so people can give their comments on a specific item listed, or add their notes to a ranking)
  • Businesses taking a value added approach to blogging, like those writing from a consumer awareness approach (for example, in the Insurance Industry, if one is blogging about certain coverages – this gives the reader the opportunity to question things, or ask for clarification).
  • It could also be quite useful for instruction, exercise and health related sitesWordle Communication Word Cloud Community Communication Blogging by @Milaspage

When bits of information are easily digestible, or broken into parts this plugin gives a really interesting opportunity to engage people at different levels, and create new conversations along the way.

Question: Is the skill of listening lost in the process as people jump to comment mid-read?

From an authors perspective, I think the Sidenotes offer a lot of value. If people are moved to comment at the end of a paragraph, they now can!

It may help draw feedback that otherwise would have been lost by the end of the article. As an author, it is quite rewarding to have this, so this seems like a plus.

However, I have my concerns with the fact that the tool scatters constant opportunities for people sound off, which may shift the attention of the reader from listening to constantly waiting to respond. Are we skewing the situation to a point where our readers are so excited about these side discussions that they will focus less on the read as a whole?

Are we building different reader behaviors and as a result will we have to adapt how we write?

How many times can you read, reflect, read comments, digest and respond all in one post?

Is this feeding into the easily distracted mindset that is hindering valuable communication skills? People are constantly complaining about how overwhelming multiple channels of receiving communication are. On a standard blog, does this add to the noise that already seems to be overwhelming people? Is this allowing deeper communication or distractions?

To get a better idea here are two examples of this type of comment format, one from Medium (the first place I experienced the note concept) and another using Livefyre. Click the tabs to switch between the two looks.

You can see how Medium has designed and used the concept. This screen shot was taken from the article How to get a busy person to respond to your email by @mattangriffel

Note that the social sign-in to comment is only via Twitter. Other noteworthy items, it has less “pop” since it’s integrated right into the “theme” design.
Example of side commenting from Medium screen shot taken from the article How to get a busy person to respond to your email by @mattangriffel

Here’s an example from Danny Brown’s post:

Livefyre’s version is a little more aesthetically pleasing and offers options to comment via various social sign-in’s rather than only Twitter. Another advantage is the mobile accessibility, it shows up very nicely on mobile versions. An important factor when I evaluate any tool.

An Introduction to Livefyre Sidenotes and Complementing Conversations by @DannyBrown Example Screen Shot

Will Curiosity Kill The Cat?

As you can see in the images above, the commenting opportunities are currently appearing at every paragraph. In today’s multi-task, easily distracted world, human nature is likely to draw the reader into the comments. Once there, if there is additional value in the comment thread, it would be natural to get drawn in. Normally drawing people into a discussion seems like the goal – however what happens when the comments draw the reader in?
An entire side life starts to form: Your original article gets put on hold,and a new discussion with potentially new topics gets introduced.

What about the rest of your article? Is the journey going off the rails?

Have you ever been involved in a conversation with someone and before you finish your thought they jump in to tell you what they think? Only to cover something or ask a question you were going to get to had they had the patience to listen?

Can you see circumstances where eager readers might take the conversation completely off topic because they are commenting without having read your entire piece. Or use all their energy and get distracted before they even finish your post? As writers, we often craft things in a certain way, we take the readers on a journey. Is the journey going off the rails? Or is it getting richer as a collaboration builds in the side life… taking a life of it’s own. Imagine if on top of this article, you also found yourself reading all kinds of side comments. This could add another 10 minutes to the read…Things to consider.

First, A Little Background

I first came across this concept back when Medium first launched the “notes” idea back in 2013. I enjoyed reading the comments and interaction in this fresh new way to participate.  Ev Williams wrote a pretty interesting post when they launched the idea explaining why they took this approach, and how they felt this new alternative to traditional “commenting” would work on their platform.

Click to read this article on Medium

Click to read this article on Medium

I encourage you to check out their article. It gives a great overview, and even offered tips on how to use their notes. The comments at the end of the post also give good insight into the community feedback.

The features were/are different as they took into account the specific capabilities of the Medium platform. They also included privacy options and took into account the collaborative nature of their platform for writers. It was definitely an innovative approach.


Does Too Much Value Dilute Or Shift The Message? How To Build Your Engagement Strategy…

Now that Livefyre has introduced the Sidenotes within their commenting package, writers, authors and content creators have a new option to encourage communication and community building in blogs.

Are Sidenotes Right For You?

Spending time exploring what occurs on Medium, and thinking about how you want to communicate with your readers. This may help you decide if Livefyre’s Sidenotes feature is a pro or con for your community. Every business and every author have reasons for sharing online. The structure of your blog and understanding the natural behavior of your audience will help you evaluate if this new addition is an advantage for you

Always Think Long Term  What happens to Livefyre Sidenotes if You switch to another commenting system - Comment System Questions

I know that reading others thoughts on content is very interesting for an author to have. Any opportunity to gain feedback is valuable and welcomed.

However, a number of questions came up as I considered whether it was the right choice for my blog or not. Perhaps some of these are relevant for you as well.

Some Design/Code Questions:

  • How does this work with my theme? Will the Sidenotes clash with a blog sidebar? Visually, does it become overwhelming?
  • Will the script slow down my page load times? (This is something that would have to be verified by comparing before and after install results using a page speed test. An extremely important factor which should be reviewed for any plugin you install. The effects can be quite significant).

Some General Community and User Experience Questions:

  • Would this give my readers greater opportunity?
  • Aren’t the comments at the end of the blog enough?
  • Would commenting sooner and participating in conversation earlier improve reader experience? Enhancing the value I am able to deliver in this community?
  • What would make the experience most appealing for readers as they visit my blog?
  • Will it improve commenting and drive conversation further by providing bite sized opportunities?

Most importantly, does this make things easy, or overwhelming?

I remain unsure.

As for future development, some suggestions:

If Livefyre integrated the ability to tailor the placement of comment points, instead of auto placement on each paragraph; allowed the ability to turn the comments on or off per blog post (like Medium does) , they may have a much stronger appeal for widespread integration into blogs of all kinds.

Sidenotes are in the early stages of development and as Livefyre rolls things out, we will likely see some significant improvements. One strong point Livefyre has always had is in their customer service. They have a highly responsive team, and I expect this to continue. If their development keeps up with the feedback, this feature is going to be one to watch.

Are you ready to give your blog a “side life” of it’s own?

Do you, as the reader, wish I had installed the Sidenotes on this blog post? I would love to know.

For some additional thoughts on commenting, you may also enjoy: “The Mila Araujo School of Commenting” on Geoff Livingston‘s blog