Do I Need A Comments Book?
Guestbooks For Websites – What Are They? Do I Need One?
Now that we’re all familiar with an internet where direct communication between site creators and visitors is common across a host of different media – social networks, email, VoIP, and much more – the idea of a simple script added to your site to capture visitors’ reactions is almost charmingly quaint. Web guest books still have a useful role to play in the 21st century, though!
How they Work
A guestbook is simply an automated script somewhere on your website that allows any visitor to leave behind a comment or question for you. In their rawest form, web versions collect and publicly display comments automatically, anonymously, and without filters. You can change all of these parameters by introducing more complex coding though.
Even though this basic communications link between site visitors and operators has been superseded by a host of newer media, there’s still some value to creating a guestbook. In today’s video-heavy broadband internet environment, a basic one (even with advanced anti-exploitation features) is a relative featherweight that’s not going to swamp your servers or your visitors’ connections.
A Peek Under The Hood
It’s important to note that guestbooks can’t be created in HTML. HTML is strictly a display code, and since these are fundamentally based on a function – collecting comments – they need a different language. Simple ones can be coded in PHP, Perl, CGI, or ASP.
If you’re not technically proficient, don’t start sweating yet. The good news is that today you have a host of plug-and-play options for adding this functionality to your website. This is such a basic form of interactivity that the necessary scripts can actually be generated automatically by many web-building programs and services.
Guestbooks have always offered you, the site owner, the same set of advantages. It’s a straightforward way to learn more about your audience, their concerns, their interests, and their issues with your site. One of the best features of them is that it allows you to get a fairly accurate picture of your audience’s geographic distribution.
One reason that they have survived is that their core function, collecting audience information, has become unbelievably valuable as the internet has evolved. While a basic one will simply show you a live stream of visitors’ reactions, adding just a little bit of complexity will allow you to collect far more useful data: everything from email addresses to time spent on different pages of your website.
They’re aren’t nearly as common as they once were, and it’s not because they’ve grown unfashionable. There are some distinct downsides you need to consider before you slap one on your homepage. For a start, a plain vanilla guestbook is vulnerable to exploitation (e.g. spam, obscenities, etc.) without added features to protect it.
More importantly, it is one of those website features that’s only an asset if it’s used. A dusty guestbook module that has three entries and none more recent than last year isn’t going to do your website any favors.
Finally, as noted (twice!) above, there are a lot of newer tools that can do everything guestbooks do and a whole lot more. For audience communication, you have social media and for data collection, you have a host of different analytic tools.
Making The Choice
So how do you weigh the benefits and the drawbacks and decide whether or not to plug that script into your own website? The most important point to focus on is probably the last one. There are many other ways to learn about and talk to your audience. Installing a guestbook on your website is going to be a waste of your time – if you’re already using those other tools.
This might not be the case, though. If you’re running many different websites, you probably aren’t keeping tabs on every one with a dedicated social media account or checking up on their analytics reports regularly. Installing a guestbook may be a great low-maintenance way to collect user feedback on low-traffic sites. Learning how to build your own guestbook is also a useful exercise in developing your web programming skills.
Though they are not nearly as common now as they were ten years ago, guestbooks are far from extinct on the Internet. They can still serve a useful purpose for many different sorts of websites. Take a closer look at how you need to communicate with your site’s visitors; a humble guestbook might just turn out to be the best way to get the job done!