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The desire to build a community and reader engagement around articles is a growing focus for publishers and organisations on the web.

Community, social media or user-generated content teams have become a mainstay of digital news organisations, and further possibilities for engagement are explored regularly.

Now business site CFO has thrown its hat in the community ring with an open source "comment aggregation tool".

The WordPress plugin, called Response Stack, allows WordPress users to embed comments from around their site into new articles.

"Commenters contribute to the story by making comments so they deserve our respect as journalists," Aram Zucker-Scharff, the content strategist at CFO who built Response Stack, told Journalism.co.uk.

"The conversations that they build not only make the content and article better but it also helps us promote that article, helps it see more eyes, makes it more exciting and improves our reporting for the future.

"So I wanted to build something that respected that and built on top of that."

It seemed silly that it was easier to embed tweets than it was to embed the comments that people are posting on your own siteAram Zucker-Scharff, CFO
Although Zucker-Scharff built Response Stack for use at CFO, the software is open-source and available on GitHub.

To embed a comment, WordPress users install the "one-click" plugin, find the relevant comment's unique ID and determine the depth of responses to be displayed in the article.

These values are added to a shortcode – in this case, [responser comment="id" thread="depth"] – in the text body of a WordPress post which then displays the comment in the article publicly.

"WordPress allows you to have a depth of conversation that you can designate, allowing people to reply, reply, reply [to comments]," said Zucker-Scharff, "and Response Stack just builds on that same functionality.

"The nice thing is that once those comments are created and embedded in the post then anyone who comes to that post can read a comment and respond to it."

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Screenshot from an article using Response Stack on CFO.com

The embedded tweet always links back to the original article through the time stamp in the top right corner, as can be seen above, and at CFO the capability will be used in a regular feature titled 'Readers Sound Off' to highlight topics that have garnered the most interaction.

Response Stack builds on ideas from publishing platform Medium and the New York Times in bringing comments above the line and experimenting with comments as an addition to stories.

Because reader comments bring new opinions and information to the subject of an article, said Zucker Scharff, introducing them to new articles can help to extend the life of a post or topic, feeding into a broader editorial strategy change at CFO.

"One of the things we've been talking about a lot at CFO is the idea of looking at stories as life cycles rather than individual units," he said of his job as content strategist, helping the organisation shift from print to digital.

Where traditionally articles are thought of as "evergreen" – those that can be run regardless of time – or current, timely stories, Zucker-Scharff believes the same is not necessarily true on the web.

“Stories have a life time and there are things that occur over a long period of time, things that happen and change and require additional stories," he said, specifically when it comes to readers commenting and continuing a conversation well after the publish date.

"So the first way we wanted to address that was by building more aggregation activity into what our journalists are doing."

As aggregation of external sources becomes more prevalent across news organisations' output, Zucker-Scharff believes it makes sense to aggregate what other people are writing "inside your site" as well as outside.

In this way Response Stack brings the same thinking behind Storify or writing stories based on tweets, but makes it internal to WordPress.

"It seemed silly that it was easier to embed tweets than it was to embed the comments that people are posting on your own site," he said.

"It's important that we respect the commenting and  conversations that happen around the articles that we post and that means bringing them out from this isolated area that sits at the very bottom of our articles and giving them attention."

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