Online comments and the difficulties of ambiguity

Online comments and the difficulties of ambiguity

The word ‘ambiguity’ comes from the Greek word ‘ambi’ which literally means two. The term originally referred to words or terms that had two or more meanings, but over time it has come to refer to a multiplicity of meanings or lack of singularity in expression.  Of course, different languages have different degrees of ambiguity, and arguably Latin has the most, especially when it comes to nouns. But the English language is unquestionably full of a great deal of ambiguity too.

Ambiguous language is the source of a lot of great literature. Just think of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”. If we knew exactly what he was talking about here, we probably wouldn’t have had decades of Shakespeare commentators work on volumes of different interpretations. In poetry, ambiguity can be surprising and delightful. Words work because they have other meanings, or suggest other things. However, in the online world, ambiguity can be very problematic.

If we break communication down into its basic element we find that it consists of three major components: body language, the tone of voice and the content of our words. When all three are used together, there is arguably greater clarity. If the words have a double meaning, the tone of voice can help us figure out if the meaning is ironic, happy or sad. Body language is another way for us to decode meaning. The actual meaning embedded in the words themselves makes up only 7% of the total meaning of anything we say. It’s a shockingly low number.

In the online world, the vast majority of what we say is conveyed in words alone. Even with the addition of static images there is a huge amount of ambiguity. Just think about dating profiles. How easy is it to figure out what someone means or what someone is like from only reading their words and seeing a few heavily photoshopped images? Without tone of voice and body language it becomes so much harder to read people.

Similarly, if you try responding to opinions online or start to have a conversation about anything, things can get messy pretty quickly. Now, obviously, there are a lot of online trolls or people who are angry and just looking to pick a fight. But, a lot of the misunderstandings found on online comments come down to the fact that they simply don’t understand each other’s meaning, because language is fundamentally ambiguous. And now add in the fact that a huge number of people are communicating in a language, which isn’t even their mother tongue.

So, language is ambiguous; it’s a fact. So, what can you do about it? Well, the good news is that while the web has been heavily reliant on text for a long time, other mediums help to reduce ambiguity and increase user engagement. Videos are the obvious way of doing this. In keeping with this, Facebook’s recent algorithm update heavily favors video content. But, if video comments sound a bit overwhelming, there are other things you can try.

A great way to reduce the ambiguity of user comments and reviews is to try a voice-based system. This way comments don’t drown out your original content but allow users to have a voice and express themselves in a way that takes both content and tone of voice into account. If you haven’t already, it’s time to explore voice-based comments and reviews platforms.

Heyoya is a unique comment and reviews platform that brings voice to e-publishers and e-stores, improving sales and user engagement by allowing readers to express themselves beyond the medium of text. Heyoya’s new Receiver plan allows for quick and easy below-the-fold monetization. Heyoya is a game changer for websites and is proven to increase brand affinity and the quality of user-generated content.

 For more information about Heyoya, click here.