Why You Comment on Blogs

In a post yesterday, I asked why people comment on blogs. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of comments on the post. To summarize:

1. A great many of you don’t want to comment unless you have something original and worthwhile to say. Also, it’s time-consuming to comment at all, much less wade through the previous comments to make sure you’re not repeating a point (and risking — ugh! — a flame from another commenter). Also, without threads, it’s hard to have a real conversation.

2. Some of you said that you tend to comment on blogs where the blogger writes back in the comments section — which we typically don’t. This is simply a function of time; I love blogging but I do not want it take over my life. I do read all the comments, and sometimes respond privately. Very often, I believe the comments on this blog are better than the blog postings themselves. This makes sense: there are only two of us, and a lot of you. If you believe even a tiny bit in the wisdom of crowds, you have to love this dynamic.

3. The need to register and log in is an obvious barrier; that said, anonymous commenting tends to turn a living room into a snakepit; and that said, I’ll look into finding a middle ground. We are thinking of overhauling this site in the near future, and it would be nice to make the comments section better.

4. A lot of you read this blog on Google Reader, e.g., which means you probably don’t even see the comments — or ever touch the actual website where the posts and comments live.

5. Many of you think that you don’t write or think well enough to comment on a blog like this. I think you are so wrong.

6. Above all, I learned that you, the people who read this blog, are amazing! Based on yesterday’s comments, you are interesting, kind, smart, inquisitive, and a few other things. I will say this: it seems that the typical blog commenter is more of a Type-A personality than the typical first-time commenter who wrote in yesterday. This is not surprising. As we all know, web dialogue can encourage, and even reward, a sort aggression that is actually punished in the real world. Indeed, there are sectors of the web where the aggression is so robust that it discourages the saner folks from even bothering. I am very pleased, and proud, to be the co-host of a site where so much sanity is practiced. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to think about this subject, to respond, and to continue reading.


Ike Pigott

Well, take a little credit yourselves, guys.

You've accomplished a rare feat - maintaining a blog that feels more like a forum. There is a better sense of decorum here than in most blogs, and your pursuit of interesting and witty topics is to blame for attracting the sort of people you've got here in the peanut gallery.

rafe

Stephen, there has to be a plugin to wordpress that does threaded comments, no? If not, I'm sure there are other systems which have it, or an army of fans who would program it for you :-)

slyght

i leave comments to let people know that is support/appreciate their points of view, but it isn't entirely altruistic. i also hope that they'll check my blog as well, i like to get more readers as well.

bkkbrad

With respect to your third point, you should consider OpenID as a log in option. It permits the authentication of users without having to create a new account for every place a user wants to visit. There is a plugin for Wordpress.

As for the fourth point, I read this blog on Google Reader, and most of the time I'm too lazy to click through for the comments. I only do so when you make specific reference to the comments from your post, as in this case. Perhaps you can syndicate the comments some how?

Josef Svenningsson

There is one point which was mentioned briefly in yesterday's comment and which I would like to highlight. It is the fact that some of the discussion in the blogosphere is not done in the comment section but as a series of blog posts referencing each other. I'm sure that at least some people link to your blog posts in their own blogs where they expand on what you wrote and share their own opinions on it.

That said, I don't think this explains in any way the low comment/reader ratio on blogs in general and your blog in particular. But it might be a small contributor.

PS. I read your blog using Google Reader but I nevertheless sometimes open up the actual page of your post to read the comments.

PPS. Can you recommend "The Wisdom of Crowds"?

Chewxy

You guys have 50k readers on RSS.. that would mean roughly 3 times more daily hits. Man... I envy you. XD

wmchad

Points 1, 4, and 5 definitely apply to me. In fact, this is my first blog comment ever.

I was wondering if there is any relationship between the people who comment on blogs and those who submit product reviews to a website (Amazon, CitySearch, etc). I'm never sure how much I can trust the reviews of a book, restaurant, or anything else on such sites because the reviewers often seem so self-selected and extreme (either love or hate the product). Thoughts?

kah

Since you are soliciting feedback on likes/dislikes:

I find threads distracting and annoying and prefer blogs that are organized simply, like this one currently is. It's much easier to skim the comments section this way.

Any time you have to click to get more info, the structure is a barrier. Threads = unnecessary clicking.

I don't really want to have a conversation with other responders, personally, when I leave a comment here. Just want to leave my comment, read other people's comments, and that's it.

A single back-and-forth, much simpler than geologic layers of back, forth, back, forth etc etc etc etc.

It's a different story on blogs that are more conversation-oriented to start with, like neighborhood listservs. There, threads help.

But here, you guys toss somethng out, we respond, so please keep it simple and don't fix it if it aint broke...

Spike

You're using Wordpress. You have access to 2 of the most amazing plugins to control spam: Akismet and SpamKarma2. Get and activate those 2 plugins and most spam problems will vanish.

You also have a built-in feature called a blacklist that you can list words that will trigger a comment to be deleted or held for moderation.

For technological and philosophical discussions on commenting on Wordpress blogs see LorelleonWordpress http://lorelle.wordpress.com/

furiousball

Spike mentioned the two tools that I find extremely successful in defending my stupid blog from spammery. Although some days, I just let the spam come in when the comments aren't plentiful. If I blog something and no one comments, is it really a blog?

Robert Gorell

Interesting conclusions, Stephen. Along with your Type-A assessment, could there be a gender bias at play as well? We asked this same question at GrokDotCom (you don't have register) and it sparked an equally engaging thread. Do great minds blog alike?

pkimelma

You say that normal blog commenters are type-A personalities, but I wonder about that. First of all, this is a civil blog, and does not draw in the trolls and the "me too" type comments that are just noise in most blog comments. I wonder if those people are type-A's or really mostly individuals who are able to be strong/tough in cyberspace, whereas they are meek or suppressed in real life (especially teenage boys, who probably make a good portion of those). Given that anonymity of most commenter's names, and the lack of social graces in their postings, that would seem to fit. A real type-A would not be afraid to expose their name and all (I am not; I ended up with the 1st letter of my name and most of my last name in this blog due to a bug in the auto-fillin of the older Firefox).
As to this blog, as one who has written my share of comments, I do not see that type of behavior at all here. I do not see either the rush to be 1st to comment nor the nasty attacks, but generally thoughtful comments (and some humor). Most of these do not come across as Type-As nor Type-Bs, but more the classic Type AB, which tends to be associated with professionals and academics.
As a side note, I rarely comment on more than 2 blogs (including this one of course). Many have such atrocious social norms, that I cannot see any value in adding a comment. Others are so fast moving (gadget blogs for example) that there is little point.

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R.AndyFromCanada

Of course pkimelma is routinely on point, it is a pseudonym of mine, R. Andy, from Canada. (R is short for Randy, it just sounds so much more distinguished as R., not that it matters to me, I just know how much you Americans judge a book by its cover).

pkimelma

R.Andy (purportedly from Canada), I am not convinced I am you, unless I am suffering from multiple personality disorder. Although I highly doubt I have MPD, it would be a great excuse for when I do not get something done, so I may be willing to buy into this theory ;-)

zbicyclist

I don't think signing in is a barrier. I'm willing to tolerate cookies and so the sign-in is automatic.

Completely anonymous comments are like oral contracts: not worth the paper they aren't printed on.

themaroon

There really isn't much of a middle ground there for you. The only other option is to not require registration, have all comments go into a moderation queue, and then sift through them yourself, approving ones you like and deleting ones you don't. That could be pretty time consuming at the traffic levels you must have here.

Registration and sign in is, I think, the perfect barrier to entry. It improves the quality of comments greatly and doesn't prevent anyone who really wants to chime in from doing so. Any less and you get tons of flame wars and comments without any real value, any more and you lose the commenters you really want.

ajinkya

why do we comment?
i believe in our uber laziness, that defines 'the man'. (we do what is easier)(BTW, what is the sex ratio of commentors? i bet there are more men commenting here than women)
Commenting here under the long shadows of geniuses steven n stephen makes us feel 'gooood'. (since freakonomics is about finding something profound out of something trivial, and since everybody has access to that triviality (is that a word?), its easy to become a freakonomist) and a man likes to indulge in external puzzles, cuz it gives him an excuse to avoid impending real immidiate puzzles.

Secondly, what is the average profile (his job, the time when he blogs,etc)of the commentor? someone who sits in front of the bright screen for more than 4 hours or so..the students, the unemployed, or the ones who have sedentary jobs.
now if u r a student, what would u rather do? solve the monstrous heat flow equations or comment on freakonomics, while feeling just as smart...

we comment, cuz it provides us that 'marginal' (for that one extra moment)self satisfaction.

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Kent

Steve, Thank you for your kind words.

sinisterdexterity

I'm more a Type B commenter. I'm in no hurry to be the first to the market, to compete with all the other people saying the same thing, to be the 79% market share person. I laze around, enjoying the discussion and the commentary. Then, if I see anything missing, I come round to decorate the lacuna - or even, on rare occasions, to fill it up.

I just like watching the show and signing off on it. *grin*

jw

SD has replied to me via email before based upon my brilliant observations in the blog comments. Either that, or he was just bored.

I just find freakonomics entertaining and don't really comment that much, but I like all the blog entries.