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Why don’t people comment on my blog?

March 25, 2010

What a proposterously titled blog.

The only reason I’ve titled it that way is because I know that’s what most equally desperate people will type into a Google search.

And, as those of us desperate types know, those who need a quick fix will scan no further than the first page of results on Google.

I’ve been thinking a lot about blog commenting this morning. Commenting has always been a hateful subject for me. This stems from a nagging and overbearing thought that comments on a blog post somehow illustrate a successful blog.

Is not having comments a bad thing ?

If you haven’t got many comments, you can’t be that successful, that’s the thinking normally propagated by the over-bearing smug fools who reckon their way is the only way. Their message grates like the way my parents finger wagging did about my nail-biting. Well, they created the monster …

Blog comments are the statistics visible to the audience masking the truth of blog traffic which only the author sees. Nobody wants to reveal the real number of people who visit their blog. That would be too humiliating. Those who do have potentially risk revealing the high opinion they have about themselves.

But recently my thoughts have changed. I know I’d ought to be less shouty and a bit more collaborative.

This change of mindset may in part because of WordCamp Ireland’s presentation on building online communities. It might also be because of the distinct lack of comments on the BBC College of Journalism blog I work on (more on that particular thing later on). And, only this morning because of a comment begging for approval on a blog post I’d written about Ireland’s Eurovision hope for 2010 – Niamh Kavanagh.

The overriding question from all of these contributory factors revisits a subject I’d dismissed before. What is the point in commenting? Do blogs really need to have comments on them if they are to call themselves blogs? Should blog authors really worry about not having many comments? And, if they should then what can they do to develop what is often coldly referred to as an ‘online community’ ?

Commenters are nothing but lunatics

Blog comments show that readers have not only consumed your blog but they’ve felt sufficiently motivated to post a response as well. This suggests three rather dark things at work.

Number one, the blog author has deliberately adopted an extreme position on a subject in a bid to provoke a reaction.

Number two, the reader commenting has their own potentially extreme agenda which makes the opportunity of commenting less one of free speech and more a chance to engage in a spot of potentially anonymous and almost certainly remote and detached.

Number three, people use comments on blogs to drive traffic to their own blogs.

Little wonder Yelvington claims that on a blog where free for all commenting has been allowed to emerge, “the lunatics are running the asylum” and encourages blog owners to go some way to develop a commenting strategy.

Why bother commenting?

I posed the question on twitter earlier on in the day.
I can’t say I got a huge response. This either means the majority of my followers are tweetbots or unlike me most of my followers aren’t chained to the micro-blogging service. Or perhaps the question itself wasn’t engaging enough, highlighting the need on the part of the author to transform the random thought in his or head into something more audience friendly.

Those who did respond (to whom I offer my grateful thanks) contributed the following:

@capn_b “I see blog comments as a ‘right to reply’ or ‘solicit contributions’. I don’t think they massage the ego.”

But if as @suitov reckons, “comments are there for shouting ‘FIRST!’ … or at their best, correcting facts or adding to conversation,” commenting might be seen as nothing more than an opportunity for the commenter to massage his or her own ego.

@loveeurovision‘s view bears this out: “Rather than massage the author’s ego, in my experience blog comments are to shoot you down.” Does that therefore mean that a lack of shows tacit agreement?

@statefare could well represent that section of society who are more than happy to engage in a spot of ego massaging, but the flip side of this must surely be that the blog post runs the risk of turning into nothing more than an echo chamber.

@suitov‘s view that “blogs are expected to be opinionated and comments respond by agreeing or not” underpins that danger.

Just like having a conversation in a pub over a drink, there’s nothing guaranteed to bring a social occasion crashing to an end than if everyone agrees with each other. Discussion needs opposing views. That’s the foundation of panel discussions like the BBC’s Question Time and what producers have to bear in mind when they’re fixing guests. LBC‘s many phone-in shows would flounder if everyone agreed with one another.

I’m inclined to think that for anyone to engage in a conversation there’s got to something reasonably interesting kicking off that conversation. Something @brumplum touched on in his response. But what are the potential readers of my blog (or any other for that matter) interested in?

What floats their boat?

Asking such a question goes against my very core beliefs. I don’t want to tailor what I write about based what I know everyone else is interested in. There lies a market stall on which the only thing for sale is my soul.

Even so, I’m curious. What are my followers like?

I’m after a tool which analyses the tweets of my followers. I want to get an impression – a word cloud – of the kind of words which frequently appear amongst the conversations of my followers. I want to bug their conversations, in effect. My lack of patience means I haven’t – as yet – found such a tool.

The closest to what I’m after is Twittersheep which analyses the biographies of followers and returns a visual representation of words common to all of them. My Twittersheep word cloud shows something I hadn’t really expected: a preponderance of the words media, social, news, music and web.

If those words reflect the industries my followers work in then I’m surprised. I’ve always considered myself a square peg in a round hole in nearly all of those industries. The shouty man in the corner interrupting the busier people with his constant whining. May that says more about me – a little too much perhaps.

Back-of-a-fag packet analysis

Thinking about it, I’m not about to start analysing everyone’s conversations. Nor am I going to track those conversations. I haven’t got time. And I’m not one of those internet lurkers either.

But, if my Twitter followers represent the most tangible evidence of my own community, what conclusions can I make based on hastily drawn up profiles of them?

  • Media people are usually busy people who aren’t participating in conversations so much as trawling them to find material to inspire their own output.
  • social” in that word cloud must refer to “social media”. Itt doesn’t require a graduate in media studies to work out that social media experts are interested in sharing their social media prowess with other people on the internet who they perceive to be lacking in knowledge. They’re less interested in conversing. Perhaps they’re more like the bores who dominate the conversation at a party. It’s one view.
  • News people are just a subset of media people and seeing as careers in news are dependent on good reputations amongst peers (and some of those newshounds have values like impartiality and objectivity built into their DNA from birth) it’s unlikely they’ll do anything more than lurk in the shadows listening in to what others say just like your stereotypical hack does.
  • Anyone who blogs about music or who participates in messageboards will tell you that one of the inherent difficulties with music is that it’s a subjective thing. So I could expect some conversation surrounding music if I thought more carefully about expressing a provocative statement about something musical. At this moment in time there aren’t many blog post ideas which meet that criteria filling up my notebook.

OK, so it’s hardly what one might label quality investigative journalism but the bottom line is that it helps me understand. That’s what this blog is about primarily … me. Maybe that’s the fundamental problem.

But those followers are there. If Twitter is like a massive cocktail party, then having some idea of the kind of people the attendees are might help start, engage and maintain conversations amongst them.

So, the point?

This post was kicked off fundamentally by a question about why people aren’t commenting on various blogs I work on and in particular one attempt by someone somewhere on the internet to drive traffic to www.escireland.com. It seemed like a shameful attempt on the ‘commenters’ part.

Why aren’t people commenting on my blog?

  1. I suspect its because the stuff I write isn’t conducive to a conversation.
  2. I suspect I’m broadcasting rather than engaging and I think that’s probably reflected in the style of writing.
  3. People may not want leave comments and reveal their identities (in a BBC environment this is no surprise)
  4. Maybe it really is to do with size. Maybe I’m not as interesting as I think I am.

But increasingly I’m of the mind that online communities don’t start and finish with the blog. Participating in online communities shouldn’t be seen solely as a way of driving traffic. Indeed, driving traffic shouldn’t be the sole motivator for writing a blog. Surely the point of asking a question and engaging in a conversation is pursuing greater edification? Isn’t it?

Community isn’t only blogs. Necessarily it’s now in a supra-virtual world, spanning a multitude of different platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Bebo and old school messageboards. Where those conversations are conducted depends largely on the audience you’re reaching, the way in which that audience engages on the web, the way in which that audience consumes content on the web and the kind of return some audiences expect on their web ‘investment’.

Put very bluntly, there’s no one formula to success and it’s not an overnight one either. Like nearly everything about the web, communities need to be nurtured and nurturing takes the kind of time which belies the superficial immediacy inherent in all the tools we find ourselves using in our day to day life. Authors need to think about their audience every time they write something. And authors can’t start thinking about their audience until they understand something about them.

And that, in itself, is not anything new. Personally, it’s more of an epiphany. And it’s enough to put me off blogging full stop.

Best carry on regardless. Something of this research must have rubbed off on me.

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15 Comments
  1. Well, now I have been guilt tripped into commenting, being a classic lurker.

    I read and enjoy your blog, being a fellow web person with a taste for wine and eurovision, but I rarely comment since I think that often, there is little to add.

    Not sure where I’m going with this one.
    Maybe don’t worry, us reader are out there?

    That’ll do 🙂

    Regards,
    Joe

    • I hadn’t considered guilt as an effective tool in encouraging people to leave comments. I will make a point of employing it in the future. 🙂

    • Suitov permalink

      Beware, Thoroughly – guilt works, but only once or twice. Any more and you’ll be The Blogger Who Cried “comment plz or ill be depressed! 😦 😦 :(” and nobody wants that…

    • I have tagged your comment ‘advice’ 😉

    • 🙂

  2. Suitov permalink

    Another thing: my blog is mirrored in a couple of places. I don’t know how common a practice that is, but because I don’t ban comments on the mirrored sites, I tend to get comments spread between the three services, with significantly more comments on one of the mirror services (the one with higher traffic and most users, unsurprisingly) than at my ‘home’.

    I mirror for convenience, because the other sites have established user bases among my friends.

    I don’t block comments in an attempt to get everyone to comment in one place, because I suspect adding another layer of complexity (click through to my local WordPress, sign in or register or possibly have to complete a CAPTCHA) might discourage casual commenters.

    On the general topic of commenters, spammers are getting more sophisticated too, but that’s a topic for another time!

  3. cyberguycalif permalink

    Maybe not everyone is interested in everything you talk about.
    Maybe not everyone cares for your superior attitude you sometimes have and show.
    Maybe not everyone sees your blogs as you do and think you are talking down to them.
    Maybe some people think some of the things you say, do, or don’t do are just rude.

    But with all that said, I understand what you are saying in this blog. I have a blog (somewhere else) and I know what it is like to spend some time on a blog and either no one comments or only one or two people. But then I leave a short blog about nothing really and people will respond and have a good time and before you know it there are 30 comments. Makes no sense. But I’ve never asked why people don’t comment all the time. The core friends/contacts will comment more and maybe only because they feel they have to. And maybe it comes down to people just thinking “If I can comment on their crap they can comment on mine”…lol

    But I do know we don’t always see ourselves as others see us, or in the case of blogs what we have in our head doesn’t always translate well after our fingers type it.

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your blogs and viewing your pics on flickr, you are fun to watch on your youtube or whatever other type video you may post. I just love your facial expressions. But there have been many times I didn’t care for the way you came across. I sometimes wonder if you act superior to your friends and talk down to them as you sometimes come across in your writings.

    But it is your life and you must live it the way you feel is right. If we were to meet on the street I would be excited to meet the Jon Jacobs, and would feel I’ve known you for years.

    Maybe a different blog site might be better, wordpress doesn’t seem like a lively fun place to be to share your thoughts, your life, or to have cyber friends. At least where I’m at now is a lot better then what yahoo 360 was, more things to do and have fun with.

    You need to decide if you just want to talk then wordpress may be just right for you, but if you want interaction then another social site may work better for you. But Mr Jacobs it works both ways, and you must interact with others if you want interaction back.

    • You raise some very interesting points which at the risk of the conversation irretrievably turning into naval gazing, I should respond to.

      I totally take your point about interaction – interaction is a two-way thing and as a piece of research that’s one clear message I’m taking away from this, not only in terms of this blog but in my work at the BBC. (That was one of the motivators here, to find out some stuff from researching on my own blog and seeing how that fits in a work environment).

      Interestingly, in a work environment, that interaction isn’t easily achieved especially in news. For example, the conversations which journalists might engage in online are limited given their need to appear impartial and objective. They are reporting what’s going on, they can’t engage with what’s going on. At least, that’s my hunch.

      This might indicate they’re reluctant to engage in commenting on blogs. Although the flip side of that is that maybe their conversations are necessarily going on on the likes of Twitter.

      On the personal stuff you mention – including the possibilities about why people don’t comment – you wouldn’t be the first person to question my motivation in the way I write. Part of the reason video feels relatively more comfortable is because more of the self-deprecation comes across. And self-deprecation is the thing I rely on in bucketfuls if only to insure against dropping myself spectacularly in the shit. (There – there’s an example of it).

      But there are times when perhaps that self-deprecation doesn’t come through. The recent blog about Tomasz Schafernaker for example. Either someone’s spamming me or everyone’s really interested in reading a view they share or the rantings of a pompous, self-important idiot who’s just crossed a line. I’m more than happy to accept the self-important idiot claim .. I could of course have just removed the blog post, but somehow that didn’t seem the right thing to do either. I would just rather have forgotten about it really.

      What’s important – for me at least – is that the post has demonstrated ways in which a conversation can start and illustrates how it can be maintained. It identifies the shelf-life of a blog post is far longer than the actual post itself. And its only through conversation you get to stop, think, cogitate a bit more and then respond. Nice.

      However. At the risk of appearing pompous, rude, arrogant, superior or dismissive please do make a little note of the following. My surname doesn’t have an ‘s’ on the end.

      😉

  4. I think there are some other potential reasons why people don’t leave comments on blogs – and I’m not thinking necessarily of your blog, which, as you know, I consider a daily read thereof as “de rigueur” –

    1) a feeling of inadequacy on the part of the potential commenter that they’re not going to cut the mustard with a witty response. If you read a blog and think “yes I agree” that’s not terribly interesting for the general public to read.

    2) a feeling that you might be intruding into a private clique and that if you leave a comment, other people who regularly contribute more might think “what’s this upstart doing? Let’s squish him, as flies to wanton boys”.

    3) if you disagree strongly with the blogger a feeling that you might not want to offend them, so you keep schtum.

    4) at this stage, there is no number 4.

    5) Yes there is, I remember now – if you leave a series of comments on some blogs and get no response either from the blogger or other commenters you feel that it’s just a waste of time so stop. I am guilty of not responding frequently enough to comments on my blog. Must do better.

    and 6) some blog entries require a lot of reading and possibly watching youtube clips, listening to downloads, maybe referring to other websites etc. In this time-scarce world sometimes you just want to do a quick read of something and then move on. If you feel you can’t comment without comparing four different songs, for example, then as you haven’t got time to listen to them all, you just don’t.

    How’s that for a comprehensive response? 🙂

    • No-one should feel inadequate. If they’ve got to the end of what they’ve written and they feel inadequate then surely the potential commenter has been alienated by the writing?

      The cliquey feeling you mention is absolutely the result of a conversation going on amongst the commenters and/or blogger.

      But I think in those instances its surely got to be down to the blogger him or herself to take the lead when a new commenter drops in, making sure that the contribution is acknowledged and (if possible) a conversation is started up. That’s probably where Yelvington’s blog (mentioned above) about the blogger “leading” the community is good advice.

      The point you make about respondign to comments is one I’ve been guilty of frequently. I seem to recall you made the point soon after you started your blog that you weren’t sure whether to respond to comments or not. That got me thinking about mine and made me reevaluate what blogs were. The idea that blogs were a community in themselves seemed new and just that litlte bit weird. But give it time … 😉

      Finally though, your point 6 makes reference to links off the blog, I think. I get what you mean about not having the time to read over a long blog or to follow the destination links although conversely there’s a view that advocates including links in blog copy in order to show transparency of news / view sources (in other words to show you’re doing your research) and in turn to improve Google rankings.

      Your point illustrates that perhaps the every day user sees those links as an obligatory path to follow when reading the blog. And maybe that in itself is a turn off. Difficult one.

  5. Suitov permalink

    Yes, yet another comment from me – I forgot the simplest and most headdeskingly obvious tip of all.

    If you want answers, sound like you’re asking questions.

    See what happens if your post about some experience you’ve had reads like you’re interested in other people’s experiences of the same thing, or honestly asks advice (at least, when it’s not the type of question likely to be countered by “JFGI“).

    • I wasn’t entirely clear on what JFGI actually meant. Then I Googled it. Now I feel like a twat.

      That aside, the point you’re making inevitably leads on to even more questions. In a personal blogspace I can see how its easier to ask questions in a blog post. In a BBC environment however however it feels like the conversation the journalist is looking for is to be had on Twitter. Almost as though the conversation leads on to the blog post. How does a blog post in that environment ask questions without going down the “tell us what you think” path. Maybe that line of questioning on a BBC blog has to be done in a more stylish way than it’s done on Twitter.

  6. cyberguycalif permalink

    Sorry for adding an ‘s’ to your last name, just typing to fast maybe. But if it helps, I sometimes spell by last name wrong on things and I’ve been spelling it for eons….lol

    You mentioned Twitter which I don’t use, do you maybe see people turning away from reading blogs which can be lengthy and are more into just reading quick short notes from a person? Are you seeing more of a Twitter following then a wordpress following?

    Could be some interesting research to see if due to Twitters limited characters (140/150??) it is turning users into people who now can not read anything longer. Will writing disappear as we know it if a social media site is now brain washing users to read only things under 200 characters. Since to many Twitter users are young people I would assume, does it mean the youth of the world will grown up with shorter attention spans, unable to sit and read a book or newspaper since those would use more then 140 characters.

    Oh and on the last thing you said in your reply…..

    “”””However. At the risk of appearing pompous, rude, arrogant, superior or dismissive please do make a little note of the following. My surname doesn’t have an ’s’ on the end.”””””

    You left out sarcastic……lol 🙂

  7. Another informative, well thought out post. Personally, I blog for the love of writing and communicating (often referred to as a chatter box in real life lol). I don’t get many comments, probably because I don’t always blog about things people want to know about or things in the News, 🙂 but I blog about what I’m passionate about :D.

    The comments I do get tend to be from repeat visitors who come back again and again to read 🙂 but I would write regardless if anyone read it or not. It’s kindof like a therapy and a place for me to creatively express myself. 😀 So indeed I write for myself.

    Antony x

  8. cyberguycalif permalink

    Jon you said something towards the beginning about……

    “”””Do blogs really need to have comments on them if they are to call themselves blogs?””””

    I think there may be a number of people who write blogs that don’t expect reply comments. To some a blog may be just a way of putting their thoughts on ‘paper’ so to speak. Some may just want to express themselves about the day they had or some event that happen to them. Maybe in the 21st century blogging is an acceptable way of talking to ones self, or writing daily in a diary/journal. Cyberland may have given people a chance to be more open and express themselves to the world instead of hiding that little diary from those around you. So much of cyberland is dealing with people you will never meet, so maybe people are less hung up about expressing themselves in a public arena. I know I’ve said stuff in blogs that I would never tell relatives. Maybe others do the same, and get a good feeling from telling someone what’s inside.

    I know I’ve written blogs just to say something that was on my mind. And other times the subject was something I wanted feedback on. Those I usually end saying “Anyone have any thoughts on this” or “Anyone ever have this happen”, things like that. People will then know I really want to hear what they have to say. Maybe people feel they are prying into someones diary/journal when reading blogs so don’t want to comment. I know that sounds silly since it’s a public forum, but some people may feel that way.

    But it’s nice to know people are reading what you wrote and maybe share their thoughts on it. I guess we should all remember it may not be how many people comment, but what they say that matters.

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