17/01/2014 06:50 GMT | Updated 18/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Digital Brings Back the Art of Debating

According to Danish academic and renowned futurist of the digital age, Thomas Pettitt's we have left behind the Gutenberg Parenthesis - the period after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the 15th century to the present day - and we are now living in a Pre-Gutenberg time. In this environment we are now, via the discursive architecture of the web, slowly returning to a state in which conversation, gossip, discussion and debate defines our media culture.

According to Pettitt this time was just a pause, it was just an interruption in the usual flow of human communication. The web, says Pettitt, is returning us to a pre-Gutenberg state. It's a controversial idea, but a fascinating one. And one whose back-to-the-future sensibility (particularly now, with the introduction of all kinds of mobile devices) seems increasingly relevant. As an online publisher the challenge is, of course, how do you engage readers with your content? Well, this challenge has been growing over the last few years and it has evolved towards a new way of incorporating dialogue between the journalists and readers through posted comments.

We are trying to encourage our B2B readers to post comments and engage in discussions with us. To do this we pose questions under every article we write to engage debate and this approach is proving to be successful as readers are now actively engaging in discussions with us. For example, we currently get more than a hundred comments on our French site IT Silicon.

Being controversial and polemic is key for a comment to be 'appealing' to other readers and engage discussion. But we are also using other channels to connect with our B2B readers. Alongside providing the ability to make comments under articles, we also use social media to reach our readers. We place articles on Facebook and Google Currents and we are trying different techniques to push content out to get an interaction or discussion going.

I have to say, posting comments and engaging in discussions is a much more familiar and well-trodden path for consumer publications but in the B2B space it is proving to be a tougher audience to crack. This is because content in consumer titles tend to be more personal and applies to every-day life which readers can associate with. People want to defend their brand, ideas and contribute. When you are dealing with a B2B publication and technology issues your audience will be less interested in all the topics addressed. For example if we take two technology news topics, the new iPhone versus the new Dell server. The first topic will generate many more responses as it appeals more to the individual consumer, whilst the Dell server applies to quite a select group of readers and it is therefore more difficult to get readers really engaged with the topic.

Another important aspect about generating debate in the B2B environment is having the ability to control comments. A lot of vendors and brands in the B2B space are less comfortable with open comments, they still want to try and control what people say and we therefore have a role to play in educating them. For the time being it is therefore essential that the editor has a way of monitoring this. There are two ways in which editors can do this. One way is by monitoring and screening the comments before they are posted, with the advantage that it will avoid those negative comments but with the disadvantage that it will lose the real-time feeling that some readers like.

The other way is to monitor and edit comments after they are posted, this has the advantage that it is a more dynamic and real-time approach and looks like a live chat but you run the risk that sometimes readers will say something that could be negative, untrue, controversial or offensive. At NetMediaEurope we are keen on providing readers with that real-time, continuous dialogue or chat and therefore we have adopted the second approach that I have outlined. Every publisher will have their own way of managing comments, at NetMediaEurope our websites have been running comments around articles for a long time and this has proved very successful with our readers.

In my opinion, an article doesn't end with the writer's full stop, in many ways a piece comes to life with the first reader's comment. In fact I would go as far as to say that an article without comments is now not only unimaginable to our readers, but to our writers as well.