Even Newspapers Get the Comments

It’s been six months, hasn’t it?
In some circles that is half a year.
The Countess – Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

The topic cycle in the blogosphere has spun back around to comments, and whether you ought to have them, not have them, moderate them yourselves, let users self-moderate, splice a blog and a message board together, or hire Scoble as your personal Vanna White.


The process begins when one egghead or another either gets too much comment spam or intellectual pushback (depending on the egghead’s frame of mind) and declares that comments are either a pain in the ass or unnecessary.  Then some other eggheads (me in this case) mount a nerdy defense of comments.  After a day or so a third group of eggheads start saying some other ridiculous stuff and the nerd herd moves on.

Nerdily, I say unto thee…

Anyone who knows the first thing about blogging knows that to be successful a blog needs to create and nurture a sense of community.  Comments are by far the best way to do that.  Even those who naively view their blogs as a path to riches need comments because advertisers covet stickiness- the ability to keep readers onsite. Again, interactivity is the best way to achieve that.

This is why even newspapers have comments.

Recently when David Ritcheson tragically leapt to his death from a cruise ship, it was a commenter who first identified him (the victim of an earlier horrific attack that had been in the news), at the bottom of an early report that a then unidentified person had jumped or fallen off a cruise ship.  Take a look at the online edition of your newspaper, I bet you’ll see an effort to develop a community of commenters.  Newspapers know how to sell ads, and they know the goal is to have a crowd of people interacting at your site.  Why do some bloggers ignore the need for interactivity by either not having or not nurturing comments?

I can think of four reasons, only the first of which is makes any sense.

First, if your blog is largely a vehicle used to market some larger product.  In my opinion, Seth Godin is an example of this.  Seth is, among other things, an author, speaker and a marketing guy.  His blog is a way to showcase his expertise in a way that gives the reader value while marketing his books and speaking services.  Seth believes that having comments changes his blog (and more importantly his writing) in a way that detracts from his vision and purpose for his blog.  I don’t really agree with his approach, but it works for him.  Not coincidentially, Seth has a very high profile both in and out of the blogosphere.  Don’t get me wrong, Seth seems like a cool guy and the fact that I, who am all about conversation, read his blog every day tells you all you need to know about my opinion of his value and writing skills.  But what works for Seth won’t work for most bloggers.

comments Second, if you’re not willing to spend the time to manage, nurture and moderate your comments.  Comments are mini-message boards and having developed a number of very popular message board sites, I can tell you that unchecked interaction performed in a remote and semi-anonymous way will descend into chaos 100% of the time.  Comments have a shorter half-life than message board threads, so the chaos takes longer to develop.  But between the spammers and the disrupters, chaos will eventually reign in comments left unchecked.  There are lots of ways to address the comment problem: pre-approval of commenters (too restrictive for me), holding comments for approval (not real time enough for me), using a captcha (my current approach), manually deleting spam and disruptive comments (my original approach, abandoned long ago in the midst of a spam flood), etc.  It takes a little work, but if you’re trying to grow a blog without comments, you are making your job much harder than it has to be.  For 95% of the bloggers out there, I would say if you aren’t willing to have comments, why are you blogging?  It would be much better to write 50% less posts and devote half your blogging time to moderating and participating in your comments threads.  Don’t forget the participating part.  Lots of bloggers do.

Third, you start believing your own BS and forget that it takes luck and timing in addition to brains and hard work to be hugely successful- regardless of how success is measured.  These folks aren’t interested in community building because to them they are the community.  And, of course, in our celebrity-driven culture, a number of tourists will eagerly line up at the door, hoping for a glimpse.  The tourists may get a souvenir or two, but that’s a by-product of the greater purpose: for the celebrity-cum-blogger to remain in the anaconda-like grip of the self-congratulatory hug.  Some of these folks actually have comments, but they are generally intended for tributes as opposed to conversation and discussion.  I don’t put any of the participants I have read in this latest discussion in that group, but there are a lot of them out there.

Fourth, of course, is to generate a response and get people talking.  Sort of like I’m doing now, which reminds me of a quote from Spaceballs (that under-appreciated classic).

The Ring! I can’t believe you fell for the oldest trick in the book! What a fool, what’s with you man, c’mon?

In addition to the predictability of the blogosphere, there are a couple of other points to be made here.

As Mathew Ingram points out, there are a few people who read blogs who, um, don’t have a blog (I think the number is small, but existent).  And then there’s the fact that the very large majority of the people who think they don’t need comments would rather drive an American made car than respond to cross-blog conversation from some blogger outside their circle.

Comments are integral to the blogging experience.  Sure, they take some work.

But for almost all of us, they are worth it.

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