Should You Force Commenters to Use Real Names?
Quick, guess who leaves higher quality comments: those with pseudonyms, anonymous commenters, or those with real names?
It's those with the aliases, according to a study from commenting platform Disqus.
What's a "higher quality" comment? Disqus determined this by how often comments were liked and responded to as opposed to flagged, marked as spam or deleted.
(Pause to note that Disqus is not exactly a disinterested party: The four-year-old start-up obviously wants to promote itself over Facebook's third-party commenting plugin, used by more than 400,000 sites, as the social networking giant told VentureBeat. Nearly 1.2 million sites use Disqus, according to company figures.)
The study comes from analysis of Disqus's 65 million users and half a billion comments.
Disqus's report distinguished between pseudonyms and completely anonymous comments. Anonymous comments are unverified, whereas pseudonyms, to Disqus, "imply a choice of identity – names are not only for authentication, they're for expression." The study, Disqus CEO Daniel Ha wrote, was concocted to research the question: How do pseudonym-users measure up against anonymous when it comes to participation and quality?
Ha admitted the study is "not lab quality," but said the San Francisco-based company was "careful to not misrepresent (even to ourselves) what our data showed us. Above all else, we dove into our data in order to better understand identity dynamics for improving the actual product."
Commenters using a pseudonym contributed 4.7 times more often than commenters identified by Facebook, and 6.5 times more often than anonymous commenters.
Comments using an alias were more likely than Facebook-identified users to elicit positive reactions, aka likes and/or responses – 61 percent of comments from the Mickey Mouses and "Steve Jobs" got the thumbs up, compared to 51 percent of Facebook users. Anonymous commenters, of course, were the worst: Just 34 percent were rated positive, 55 percent were neutral, and 11 percent were negative. Eleven percent of pseudonymous comments were negative (same as the anonymous), compared to nine percent from Facebook-identified users. (See the graphic here.)
Blogged Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures: "Props to Disqus for putting out this data. There are so many misinformed and uninformed people working in social media, even at some of the top platform companies. Hopefully this will cause everyone to think a bit more before forcing the real names paradigm down our throats."
Of course, Wilson isn't a disinterested party either. Disqus has raised $4.5 million from investors including Y Combinator and – you guessed it – Union Square Ventures.
Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.