We often think reader comments are part and parcel of the contemporary Web, complete with inane commentary and flame wars.
Or, for the historically minded, we talk about how they’re extensions of letters to the editor.
Not necessarily so. As Alfred Hermida notes:
Comments on stories have become a familiar feature on news websites. But the idea of leaving a space for readers to “have their say” is hundreds of years old.
Early newspapers in eighteenth-century England left blank spaces where readers could add their observations, complete with spelling mistakes, erroneous facts and inane comments, before passing it on to friends or family.
These early experiments in audience contributions were phased out, as newspapers became professional products authored by journalists. Participation became more formal and rigid through channels such as letters to the editor.
Hundreds of years later, spaces for readers to add their thoughts have re-emerged on news websites as one of a myriad of ways for the audience to participate and interact with the news.