In July, NPR.org recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, Montgomery said. That’s 0.06 percent of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016.
When NPR analyzed the number of people who left at least one comment in both June and July, the numbers showed an even more interesting pattern: Just 4,300 users posted about 145 comments apiece, or 67 percent of all NPR.org comments for the two months. More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users. The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.
Not surprising at all. The 90–9–1 rule applies to on-site comments as well as any other system of participation.
Expecting that a percentage of your audience that comes even close to a majority would participate in your comments is absurd. Set your priorities appropriately.
The intense debate in journalism regarding how to build, maintain and moderate open comment sections is, in my eyes, most of the times just cargo-culting. As if keeping up an archaic system for interacting online will make your product and your organization to appear modern.
Comments -or, more generally, audience participation- can make sense, but only given the right information architecture, context and purpose (know what you want to achieve). But you need to think about it holistically.