Yes, We Should Use Commenters to Shill Products!

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The first rule of online journalism is that nobody knows how to make good money from it. The second rule, therefore, is that any and all suggestions are very much welcome! So here's one: If you can't make money off of your writers, bloggers and editors, maybe we should be trying to make money off of our free and spirited commenters.

Seriously, it's happening at New York magazine.


The Wall Street Journal reports that international bank HSBC is plugging New York magazine's most prolific commenters to help build an advertisement platform in the NYMag.com domain. On the homepage, inside a little ad box, you see the commenters witty/sage repartee and clicking on it sends you to another page that calls itself a "Values Conversation," where users can give their two cents on four issues: Education, Jobs, Technology and Water.

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How good is this idea? I actually think it's great! I'm consistently impressed by the quality of comments I read -- on Gawker, Slate, Reddit, and of course, our own wicked smart and nothing-if-not-critical Atlantic Biz regulars. Moreover, I'm consistently amazed that when friends read my blog posts, their first reaction is often: "Fine and piece and all, but did you read what that one commenter said about you!"

Journalism, especially analysis and opinion, is about takeaways. When you're done reading a piece, you want to know what other readers thought about it. In that light, the role of the commenter isn't secondary at all -- the commenter coexists with the commentary.

I don't know that HSBC's somewhat boring "Values Conversation" is the best use of commenters, but I think it opens a door that I hadn't previously considered -- using readers to advertise with magazines.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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