Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 5, 2007 9:07 PM

A Comment On Comments On Blogs

The concept of whether or not a Blogger should allow comments on a Blog is one of the oldest in Social Media. In the interest of full disclosure, it took years (literally) until I opened up the comments on this Six Pixels of Separation Blog (for various reasons). The well-worn story is that it's not "really" a Blog unless it's open for others to comment.

What piqued my newer thoughts around commenting on Blogs happened after reviewing the Advertising Age Magazine Power 150. The Power 150 ranks the best Marketing, Communications and Advertising Blogs in the world (currently, I'm ranked at #92, thank you very much), and while some question the formula that is used for the ranking (we're still griping at Twist Image because there seems to be an issue with Bloglines), guess who comes in at number one?

Seth Godin.

Seth, in case you were not aware, does not allow comments on his Blog. Seth does enable trackbacks. So, you can "comment" on anything Seth has to say by Blogging about it on your own space and linking it back to Seth's post (err.. a trackback). So, the number one Blog in the world - in my niche - does not allow comments. Now, more often than not, I'm noticing that most Blogs do not have trackbacks enabled but one can comment (the common reason is trackback spam). It's definitely a mixed bag.

Why is this?

"I think comments are terrific, and they are the key attraction for some blogs and some bloggers. Not for me, though. First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning. Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them. And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters." - Seth Godin - Why I Don't Have Comments.

Simply put, he just wants a place when can put his thoughts. Thankfully, all of us reap the rewards of his kindness. On top of that idea, I've noticed something unique on this Blog. The more comments I get (and they have been increasing month over month), the more I feel like my own thoughts are being drowned out, misrepresented, completely agreed with, or open to interpretation. The comments force me to focus more, rethink my positions, respond, and sometimes even disagree with what I Blogged about in the first place. Re-reading Seth's post from June 2006, I can empathize with his position.

It can be a good thing.

It can be a bad thing.

It depends.

I happen to like Seth's approach and for years, one of the main reasons I did not open my Blog up for comments was because my thoughts and feelings were not open for others to comment on (should they ever be?). Sure, you can feel free to read. If you agree, great. If you don't, that's fine too. But, lately I think the big change is that Blogs have gone from personal online journals into media channels. Maybe this Blog is not about my personal thoughts anymore but rather a collective on the Digital Marketing landscape and how your Personal Brand fits into the world, where I'm the spark and the community helps me to create fire.

It's fascinating to watch the Blogosphere evolve. I'm fascinated by people who have Blogs. I'm fascinated by people who comment on this Blog. I'm fascinated by the feeling I get when I comment on another Blogger's Blog. I think the conversation around comments on a Blog is not growing old at all. In fact, I think it will heat up again as Blogs become much more polarized between the traditional online journal and the new media water cooler.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Ed Lee
    Mitch Joel

    hey mitch - i hope you're not considering abandoning comments on the six pixels blog.

    from my perspective, as someone who recommends blogging to clients, figuring out how to deal with comments is one of the most important things i can do. if someone is paying my employer and me for my counsel on such things, the least i can do is to have taken the time to figure it out myself.

    if a client does start to blog, especially if they plan on being fairly controversial, they will get flamed, they will get called out and arguments will start - it's how they deal with the situation that matters.

    Ed

    Reply
  • Posted by Judy Gombita
    Mitch Joel

    That's a lot of fascination, Mitch!

    Interestingly, Andrew Careaga (higher ed marketing blog: http://highered.prblogs.org/) and I had an offline conversation this past weekend on why Seth Goden doesn't allow comments.

    Andrew wrote: "I still wish Seth Godin would allow comments. I wonder why he doesn't? He's probably explained why somewhere on his blog but I'm too lazy to go dig that up." [Thanks to you, I can now point Andrew to Seth's actual post. Plus this one, natch]

    I responded, "I think Seth treats his blog more like an OpEd column in a traditional newspaper. "This is what I've determined, based on my knowledge, observations and experience." He doesn't really want frivolous 'opinions' muddying the waters."

    I think thoughtful comments that advance a discussion or take it off into a new direction are a wonderful (fascinating!) thing. But too often so-called "comments" are a waste of real estate space of "thanks for mentioning me," "I agree with you" "I disagree with you and wrote a post about it on my own blog" etc. etc. etc.

    IMNSHO, those are artificial (i.e., manufactured comments) and conversations and Seth Godin is right to avoid them.

    Reply
  • Posted by Eden Spodek
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    I wholeheartedly second Ed's comment.

    I read Six Pixels for your insights and teachings. Often an interesting discussion ensues and sometimes becomes almost as compelling as the original post. It's an important piece of the package and helps bring the community closer together.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    Great post, and a great way to continue the conversation about blog commenting.

    I use my blog to put my ideas and thoughts out there. I'm still learning about this stuff (to be honest, I think everyone in the social media space is - this is still an emerging field). Therefore, I find great value in comments that help me discover other people's viewpoints on the topics I write about.

    If most people don't use trackbacks any more then a blog without comments is little different to a traditional newspaper column - we're back in web 1.0-land. You're just pushing your content out there, but not listening to the responses. I see much less value in that.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tamera Kremer
    Mitch Joel

    Also, to be fair to Seth, he really does monitor trackbacks and when he feels he has something to add will send an email or drop a comment on someone's blog... as he did on mine back in June '06 when I brought up this issue and took him to task so to speak.

    From his comment (not his email which I haven't cleared with him to blog verbatim):

    "...the reason I don’t have comments is that I don’t like what they do to my head. Maybe it goes back to a bad high school experience, but I feel like the noise level just gets too high."

    I think it all depends on what your goals are when you blog; if you want to have direct conversations in your comments, beauty, if not, don't, but make sure you comment and engage elsewhere. For brands I think not having comments in this space is a big no no, because otherwise it's just an e-newsletter basically.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sean
    Mitch Joel

    Comments are awesome, otherwise we couldn't publicly congratulate you on your Scotiabank win! Kudos! It's a great site and well-deserved.

    Reply
  • I wish I was able to respond sooner and I did not expect this conversation to take on the life it has.

    @ Ed Lee - I am not abandoning comments at all - just thinking about what this Blog was like before comments and I how I think differently about posting now - knowing that everything I say is open to anyone for comments.

    I also think you're right about living it, so you can walk clients through the potential fires. I'm having hopes that most people simply Blog without the intent of creating word storms :)

    @ Judy Gombita - my usual rule of thumb when I discuss Blogging and comments to audiences is that you should not comment unless you are pushing the conversation forward. You're right, a simple "thank you" is perceived as Link Bait. If you think about it, that's kind of sad in and of itself.

    @ Eden Spodek - I'm all about community. You know that.

    @ Dave Fleet - for the record, I still have a high level of respect for certain Blogs that don't allow comments or trackbacks, simply because they are good - and I appreciate the content.

    @ Tamera Kremer - I also think that it's ok to use a Blog Platform as a quick way to publish information, so I don't have a huge problem with companies using the Blog Platform to just getting their messages out there.

    @ Sean - ha! Thanks... I have to Blog about that now :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Tamera Kremer
    Mitch Joel

    @mitch - agree re: the platform/ software itself, but in terms of conversations and 'joining the conversation', without comments on a corp blog it isn't a blog in my mind.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bill Seaver
    Mitch Joel

    What's your take on comment spam? I know organizations that have paid for companies to get them "exposure on blogs" and of course they don't realize they're paying for comment spam. I even saw tonight that a guy has developed some software to target blogs by keywords so comments can be streamlined for people who buy the software. Seems like as email spam filters get better blogs may be the next target.

    Reply
  • Posted by anonymous (names changed to protect the guilty)
    anonymous (names changed to protect the guilty)

    As a blogger and someone who reads this - and many other - blogs regularly, I think that including comments is vital. It opens up your blog to the community, says to the world "I know I'm not infallible, I'm willing to consider other points of view, and even to modify my position if convinced".

    Hey, even newspapers that run op-ed columns have a space to publish letters from readers.

    I (and many others) have a lot of respect for someone who can put his or her ideas and thoughts out there, regularly. But I have more respect for those who don't do it in a bubble or an echo chamber, but who are willing to consider other points of view or even criticism.

    If comments change the nature of the conversation, I'd argue that they do so for the better.

    Reply
  • @ Bill - no need to ask my thoughts - you know the answer yourself - it's not real and authentic, so it can't be good.

    @ Anonymous - a little ironic that someone who insists for this to be open to the community remains anonymous - any one else see the irony there?

    That notwithstanding, I agree that comments can only make the content stronger, but I do have to admit that it takes significant time and energy to curate them.

    Reply
  • Posted by bg
    Mitch Joel

    Sore spot since I started blogging. Seth notwithstanding, a blog without comments is not a blog, it’s just a personal diary. The exception though may be a Seth, or a David Byrne, who have achieved a celebrity status/following that follows them to their blog.

    They have to assume people will read them, and in Seth’s case, one additional benefit to his ‘no comment’ policy is that it also drives link traffic his way.

    Having said that though, if he doesn’t have compelling content, nobody’s reading him and we’re not having this discussion.

    On the other hand, you have a Marc Cuban on Blogmaverick who is one of the few owners willing to open himself up to the public. Refreshing, typos and all.

    The other thing is more technical, but that I noticed when I started the blog in 2005, Blogger didn’t allow trackbacks. Instead, you had to link to their permalink. (Which is yet another problem with blogging platforms–no set standards on things like trackbacks or even basic text edit/delete features for commenting.)

    Just my 2¢.

    Reply
  • Thanks bg.

    That old mantra of "it's not a Blog unless you are open to comments" is the one where I take issue.

    If that is the case, then you are saying that Seth's Blog is not a Blog. Which I disagree with. I don't think there are any "rules." Bloggers can do (and say) what they will.

    I do think that comments create a lot more action, but I don't think that there is a right way or a wrong way - specifically because we're creating these communities together and what's good for one is not, necessarily, good for all.

    Reply
  • Posted by bg
    Mitch Joel

    Agree, no right way, no wrong way. And while communities are being built, good for all shouldn’t necessarily mean we get lumped together either on how we do things. To each his own, and it’s all good. Seth does what he does, I do what I do.

    But to explain it more, I don’t mean in a pure technical sense, that to qualify for blog status ‘you must have (X) number of things’ or you’re not a blog. That’s not where I’m coming from.

    It’s more in the spirit of true communication that I’m referring to.

    I’d thought a lot about that point over the past year or so, having seen how the blogosphere has blown up and who is now taking part vs. when I first started.

    I come out at it's about the act of real back and forth communication more than anything. Two ways, not one way with just the one person doing all the 'talking.' There’s something elitist about that somehow. Inherent in this is the implication that ‘I’m too good to respond to you.’ (For me at least.)

    I liked blogs because finally, people could voice their opinions both ways and start a conversation on a given issue. Not allowing comments just smacks of more of the same op-ed stuff newspapers did for years that drove me nuts.

    Where, if you were lucky, you’d maybe send in a letter in response to a column that inspired (or upset) you enough to comment about it, and maybe they’d publish it.

    But I always felt like everyone's opinion on an issue is valuable, not just the three or four who were lucky enough to get ‘chosen’ by some editor a week later.

    Blogs leveled the playing field in this regard. Anyone could now respond immediately to a comment or post, (as I’m doing now after getting an alert in my comment reader ;-p). In newspapers, it was also like, if someone responding made a good point, your options for responding to THAT were even more limited, because papers don’t waste space on follow-ups unless they were fixing a reporting error.

    As bloggers, we don’t have to respond either to people. I can see Seth’s point there. (It takes time to respond to it all, I know.) But it’s not just about us bloggers: it’s about people needing a place to vent about something we wrote, just like those old op-ed pieces that got you crazy.

    Sure he may never respond to all the comments, just like I‘m sure Mark Cuban doesn’t, but I’ll bet he’d read them all. In that sense, it’s very much like a form of conversation that way too, silent as it may be.

    Point is, we have this great tech to enable conversation, but deciding to keep the conversation decidedly one way, (while 100% the right of anyone to do), workd against the spirit of that communication and expression of opinion.

    (And btw, this is not intended as a knock against Seth’s theories, etc., as I‘ve read his books and link to his posts at times, he's got good insights.)

    Reply
  • Posted by bg
    Mitch Joel

    sp (...works against)

    Reply
  • bg - I go back and forth on this all the time.

    I wonder if a Blog can't simply be someone's voice or opinion?

    Also, if someone does comment and the lead Blogger does not respond, how does that make them look?

    If it does affect their work (responding to comments does take thought and time), then what?

    On the other hand, isn't that what this channel is all about? Varied opinions, debates, etc...?

    I would be a terrible Politician, because I see the way I flip-flop on topics like this.

    Reply
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