You may have noticed in recent weeks that the number of comments on the site have decreased. However, our traffic numbers are higher than ever before in a non-election season. So, what’s happening in the comment section?
SamuraiFrog is also thinking about comments, specifically, why he doesn't leave too many comments on blogs these days:
It gets to me, because sometimes it feels like it crosses the line from sharing a difference of opinion to actively tearing me down because of it. Sometimes it just comes across--in text form, where inflection is next to impossible--as a rudeness directed at me instead of some celebrity. It feels like a put-down instead of an opinion.
I'm genuinely unsure of whether I have more comments here or fewer than in previous years. I do have lower traffic across the board; once upon a time I averaged over 250 hits a day, and now on a good day I'm around 150. I suppose that's because blog readership in general is down (but I'm not really sure even if that's the case). I suppose it's also because, for all the fun that comes with blogging as an interactive form (I had more to say about this in this week's Sentential Links post), it's really an imperfect means of producing conversation.
I like receiving comments as much as any blogger, and also as much as any blogger, it can be roundly disappointing to see a post that I worked on for a longer-than-average time get no comments at all. If I had a nickel for every post of mine here that I thought would get some comment and/or linkage only to have it ultimately disappear, uncommented and unlinked, off the main page, I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner (to paraphrase Stephen King). There has always been the "unexpected flood of comments" phenomenon in Blogistan, which can be formulated as a law:
Kelly's Law of Comment Receiving: The more off-the-cuff your blog post is, the more likely it is to receive quite a few comments.
Anyone who has blogged for any length of time has seen this. A post that one works on for quite some time, getting the logic and the language just right? Zero comments. A two-sentence rant on the jerk who cut in front of you in line at Tim Horton's or Dunkin' Donuts this morning? That post gets a dozen comments by lunchtime. I've never figured out why that should be the case, but it is.
I find it sometimes easy to get discouraged about this stuff. Not just comments, either; those tend to go in about the same way they always do around here now. The majority of my posts get a few comments, but still -- I am sometimes amazed at what doesn't get a comment. Every February when I do "Ask Me Anything!", there is some question or category of questions that I expect to come up...and it never does. That interests me.
The lack of linkage, though, gets to me sometimes. I'm enormously appreciative of every link I get, but I do often wish there were more. Every blogger has his or her own "community" of readers, and it's links that encourage one blogger's "community" to go forth and "meet" another. I don't think I'm too unique in this regard among bloggers. I know that my tastes and the subjects I like to post about aren't always the most popular things in the world, but I don't exactly think I'm out here shouting into the wind, either. Yeah, I know it sounds whiny and all, but it bugs me that my Fixing the Prequels posts have never been linked from...well, anywhere. There are a lot of science fiction-centric blogs out there. It sucks when you're not noticed. But then, I put a lot of work into those, and the topic is near and dear to my heart, which is mainly what amplifies the disappointment when I put one of those up, only to see it come and go with nary a reaction from anybody. And this goes for content I post online, anywhere -- be it here, or on Flickr, or on Twitter, or on Facebook.
Now, there is a reverse phenomenon, as well: the fact that as I see over time just how little reaction my blogging actually receives, the more open I am about what I'm willing to blog about. It basically boils down to the realization that, in a lot of cases, you may think that you're weird and that everybody is staring at you as if you're a guy with four heads who just walked into the room, but in reality, nobody is really noticing you much at all. It's a kind of liberating realization, actually -- but still, you'd like some reaction.
But what about me, and my comment-leaving habits? I'm trying to leave more comments these days, really. It's the old notion that people aren't going to want to engage someone they don't see as engaging in the first place. I tend to want to leave one comment only; maybe another if a new thought occurs to me, or if I feel a need to clarify something. Once in a while I'll engage in a lengthy debate, but I try not to do that, because frankly, debates online only have a very short "halflife" before they decay into snark. I'm as big a fan of snark as the next person, but when a conversation reaches the point of being nothing more than an exchange of snark, then the conversation's usefulness and interest are at an end.
I also tend to offer comment when I have something to add that I think the blogger will find interesting, or when I disagree in what I hope isn't a disrespectful way, or when I agree so emphatically that I want to share in the love. The key here is that I'm trying to engage the blogger, which is for me why I almost never comment on the WNYMedia blogs. I've been a fan of Alan Bedenko's ever since I first encountered him, circa 2004 or 2005, when there was a small-but-growing community of bloggers in the Buffalo area. Ditto Chris Smith. But their blogs are among the most widely-read in the region, which means their comment threads can get long at times, filled with regulars who seemingly comment on every post. I rarely feel, in commenting there, that I'm interacting with Alan or Chris, but rather with a cast of supporting characters, some of whom I find really annoying. It's no fault of theirs, really -- it's the nature of blogs whose content is mainly political. I read those two because, while I don't agree with them all the time, they generally seem to approach things from a similar point of view to mine.
But when you spend any time in the political areas of Blogistan, you discover that every blog of a certain viewpoint has dedicated readers of the exact opposite viewpoint, who comment with a high degree of frequency. So, for me, it basically boils down to: read what Alan and Chris think, but bypass the comment section because I can pretty much predict what the local right wingers or libertarian weirdos* are going to say. Is that an indictment of myself, perhaps? Indicative of a lack of curiosity about "the other side"? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But in my experience, especially in the USA in 2010, I have to be highly selective as to which voices on the other side of the fence I want to even begin to listen to. If that strikes others as arrogant or judgmental, so be it -- but I value my time, and I'm not going to waste it interacting with people who strike me as being, well, wasteful of time to interact with. (And since many of the same characters are active on Facebook, their annoying talking points show up there, too.) Many times I've started to comment there, only to delete my comment without posting it. I've seen these conversations go in circles, too many times, on Facebook, on blogs, on Usenet before blogs, on message boards, on forums, on any online discussion arena at all to not know where things are going to go. I don't have any particular insight that is going to change anyone's mind or make anyone think about an issue a new way, so I abstain.
Ultimately, with a lot of political blogs -- with all of them, I suppose -- for all the comments they receive, there's not really a whole lot of interactivity. And that, for me, is key to making commenting worthwhile. I prefer my blogging experience to be as interactive as possible, with people commenting here or linking me from elsewhere and me doing those same things.
* Yes, I am deeply dismissive of libertarianism. I think it is a goofy viewpoint that is almost blissfully dismissive of the way the real world actually works, and that its adherents are mainly motivated by a desire to feel smarter than everyone else in the room than by any principled thoughts as to the proper role of government or how to make peoples' lives better.