Here’s a question for you: why, in almost every comment form you see on the Web, do the Name, Email, and URL fields come before the Comment textarea?
The primary goal of a comment form is to collect a comment. So, why is the comment textarea almost the last thing the user gets to see?
Can you think of a good reason?
The only one I could come up with is that many comment forms have a number of required fields. Traditionally these required fields have been the Name and/or Email address, and so it makes sense to tell the user up-front that “Hey, if you want to post a comment here, be aware you have to fill this information in first.”
So, maybe this common layout has evolved to ensure that users see all you want them to see before they settle down to writing a comment.
That makes sense, right?
Well, yes and no. It certainly makes sense the first time around to show people all this information, but what about the second time they view the comment form? Or the third? Or the forty-fifth? Won’t they know what fields are there? Won’t they know what’s required and what’s not? Won’t they be okay with your demand for information? After all, they’ve submitted the form before, so your requirements have been met on at least one previous occasion.
And to top it all off, if they’ve chosen to store their name, email and URL in a cookie, those three fields will be automatically filled in anyway — they’re now practically redundant, and yet we still shove them in people’s faces.
I think this whole process could be improved.
What I’ve done on this site is try to satisfy all the points I raised above. First off I work out if a user has one of my comment-cookies set on their machine: if there is a cookie then I know they’ve posted here before; if there isn’t a cookie then I presume they haven’t posted here before.
For those who don’t have a cookie set I provide a regular comment form with a prominent spam warning. Nothing out of the ordinary.
For those who do have a cookie set I provide a re-ordered comment form. They get faster access to the comment textarea, the spam warning is removed, and their personal details are shifted down; they’re still visible and accessible, just not ‘in the way’ of the comment textarea.
Now when they scroll down to the comment form, what's the first thing they see? The comment textarea. What's the second? The submit button. Lovely job.
For me, yes it does. I can now ignore the Name, Email, URL and Cookie fields, and concentrate on writing my comment — and surely that’s what a well designed comment form should let its users do; write comments with the minimum of fuss.
The structure may seem odd to you at first glance, but that’s because we’re so accustomed to seeing the traditional layout… give it a chance, and I’m sure that like me, you’ll start to appreciate this re-organised form.