When we first wrote about Polar, the “Instagram of quick quizzes,” it seemed like an ingeniously designed product with somewhat shallow ambitions. We should have known better. Polar‘s creator, Luke Wroblewski, has been using the app as a testbed for iterating the kinds of mobile-first user experiences that will dominate the Internet as phones, tablets, and other handheld devices eclipse laptops and desktops. Now he and his team have released Polar for Publishers, a platform aimed at writers, editors, and publishers who want an easy way to create and incorporate Polar’s addictive visual polls into their content. Their goal? Reinvent (or replace) commenting for the mobile era.
Sites like Forbes, the LA Times, and TechCrunch have embedded Polar’s polls into articles and seen engagement skyrocket: people are literally thousands of times more likely to click on Polar than leave a comment. And no wonder. Which would you rather do: answer a quick “hot or not”-esque question with one click (or tap), or log in to a cumbersome, CAPTCHA-saddled commenting form just so you can write something that no one but trolls will ever read or respond to?
“When you look across the web, most sites rely on tools created during the desktop era for engagement. Commenting is the perfect example of this,” Wroblewski says. “I’m not saying we should get rid of them all but I think the shift to mobile is a very compelling reason to look for other solutions to audience engagement. We know lightweight and simple interactions rule on mobile. So lightweight, visual surveys and polls fit right in.”
Polar for Publishers was designed as a responsive web app, so the publishers who use it and the readers who take the polls will always have an optimized experience, regardless of what device they’re using. Wroblewski acknowledges that Polar polls constrain user feedback compared to comment fields “that let you say anything you want,” but that design constraint pays off. “It can give people specific questions to respond to, which makes it much more accessible and easy to say what you think,” he says. “As result, the number of contributors goes way up. On a typical article you go from tens to maybe hundreds of commenters to thousands or tens of thousands of voters.”
But if commenting goes the way of the dodo in favor of these quick-hit questionnaires, won’t online free expression and the exchange of ideas suffer? After all, you can’t rebut the argument of an infuriating op-ed just by clicking a button. Then again, everyone thought Twitter was shallow at first, too. “In some cases, polls may be used instead of comments, in other cases, they can be a complement to comments. But from the data we’ve seen, 100x increases in the number of contributors are the norm,” Wroblewski says. “So something is working there.”