Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 21, 2009 9:26 AM

A Unique Thought

Do you really take the time required to think about what you are going to say, comment and respond to? Think about it. How much time do you spend looking at content, constructing your own opinion and expressing yourself? Stop for a minute. Don't read any further. And really think about it.

How many times have you seen a comment on a Blog or on a news item where the person commenting either starts their post with, "I did not take the time to read the other comments, but...", or you can tell by the very nature of their comment that they did not bother to read the flow of the conversation?

Social Media is (or should be) a conversation.

As much as that mantra has been shoved down our collective ears, noses and throats, it does bear repeating. At best, a great Blog post should be the beginning of a great conversation around an idea. When it's a bunch of individuals simply responding back to the post and not pushing the conversation forward in the comments, it becomes more like an article with feedback than something with social media merit. Either that, or simple linkbait.

The community can ruin a good thing.

With each passing day, more and more people are being exposed to the new media channels. Blogs, Podcasts, audio, video, images and text. The ability to immediately publish thoughts, push ideas out there, disagree, argue, praise and coddle is an amazing gift we can give to the development of our society (yes, it's a much bigger idea than what you might have originally thought). Every single voice has merit. Every single slant and take on a issue should be honoured and respected, but it's hard to give a proper perspective if you, yourself, don't take the appropriate time to really read through the thought (and click through to the links within it) and then look at how the conversation in the comments has flowed to date.

That simple act will change everything.

Personally, I have been leaving fewer and fewer comments on Blogs and news items. It's not because there's not enough time in the day, and it's not because I have been following fewer and fewer Blogs. It's the opposite. I'm consuming so much that - more often than not - I don't feel like what I would like to add is adding any additional value or perspective beyond what has already been said.

Why?

Either everything that I was thinking was said in the original post, someone in the comments said it better than I could, or someone continued the thought on another Blog. I either nod in approval and move on or acknowledge that someone in the comments took a differing point of view that resonated with me.

There's nothing wrong with participation through reading.

Correction: there's nothing wrong with participation through reading only if your opinion has already been expressed by someone else, or your take on it might add value and push things into another direction.

One of the main criteria for brands to have success in the new digital channels is their ability to add real value. Why can't the same be true for all of us? 

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Mike Gero
    Mitch Joel

    When I read blog comments, I tend to gloss over those that are simply agreeing and re-stating facts stated in the post - while some are genuine, many seem simply gratuitous.

    I'm drawn in by those that either disagree, or offer a new direction from the thoughts already expressed in the post or comments- these are what gets the wheels turning.

    Reply
  • 'The fool speaks, whilst the wise listen.' Ancient Chinese Proverb. This has been my philosophy since day 1 and probably the reason I've only left a handful of comments on blogs-- ever (This being #20 I think). So much to learn by watching, listening, reading and thinking that I very rarely get time to actually speak! Great article, Mitch.

    Reply
  • Mike - that is a killer point. I have been thinking a lot lately about why we are drawn to those who disagree or those who are seen as more iconoclasts.

    As these channels mature, it would be cool to see some kind of research on why humans are like that.

    Reply
  • Posted by Alice O'Brien
    Mitch Joel

    I used to think there was little value in comments that were of the "+1 agree" nature and couldn't figure out why someone wouldn't take the time for a thoughtful response. Why bother posting at all, right?
    But if in fact, the post is well written; the opinion well stated and there isn't really much else to add, then just leaving it be leaves behind a history of what exactly? No one agrees with the author? Perhaps the author in their stats knows that this is the MOST read article they have ever written but to the world out there, no one seems to agree with them.

    +1 for taking time to ADD to the conversation; give a thoughtful response that actually enhances the conversation. But as you say, because we are consuming so much information it is impossible to find the time to comment on everything. So some times it is best to post the +1, just for the record. The rest of the world can quickly skip over them all, but at the end of the day and forever in history, the tally of +1's can add up to a lot of agreement, encouragement, and support for a position or opinion.

    I guess no +1's would be like Obama winning the election and no one showing up to watch the swearing in.

    Reply
  • I did not take the time to read the other comments, but… Ha just kidding. ;)

    I have been part of the internet evolution for 14 years. Have hardly ever posted on a blog, not kidding... this is my second. I am one of those that believes that I can't add to what has already been covered so well. I read the comments, learn, click on the links and move on.

    But where would blogs be without comments. How do you know the information is being read, understood and you're adding to the learning experience or value to the community.

    This blog really makes me think and challenges me.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Very interesting Mitch.

    I've noticed over the years a person will comment on a core group of sites, which makes sense because first we search for a topic, and then settle into sites that tend to agree with our perspective.

    The old adage of a salesperson letting the prospective buyer sell themselves applies here. Most of the time you don't, and shouldn't, try to radically change someone's mind, all you have to do to close the deal is to present facts they will keep saying yes to, and when the momentum is right, ask for the sale.

    Comments work essentially the same way, and here's where I find it gets interesting; when an article goes against the social grain, "most" people are hesitant to be the first to speak out against what they feel might cause readers to disagree with them in a heated manner.

    Occasionally though someone will make a comment that takes an opposing view of the writer and society, and if they do it diplomatically, and present strong arguments, it is possible to inspire confidence in people who would normally not be so brave to also make comments that challenge the status quo.

    More importantly though, if you are going to go against the grain of the writer and society, you have to comment quickly and "set the tone" for the thread, because if you wait, the tendency is for most people to simply agree, and once they "vote" it sets off a chain reaction that makes it very hard to convince the mass to think differently. It's easier to draw lurkers out if they feel they have some support, and they can see it early. Very few "thoughtful people" will be brave enough to challenge the writer and ten of his or her supporters. But they will comment if it looks more like a fair fight, or debate.

    A good example of this can be seen when people comment regarding the perceived value of newspapers, and whether they are worth saving.

    All it takes is for one brave commenter to start the ball rolling and another to second the motion, and the thread can take on an exciting tone.

    The real challenge for me is to entice people into the conversation who wouldn't normally say anything, even though they agree. Getting them out of their comfort zone is extremely hard now that many people tend to use their real names.

    It was only a short time ago you could get someone to rise to the bait much easier because they commented anonymously. Now, we tend to think more carefully, which is a good thing.

    Many times I also no longer make a (lengthy) comment because my perspective has been covered in the article or the thread, but if I do see people taking a brave stand and move beyond their comfort zone by challenging the status quo, I will definitely make a short comment to simply let them know I appreciate how brave they were.

    Reply
    • Posted by Clint
      Mitch Joel

      There were 27 comments and I read them all, the one that stood out for me was from Maurice. I to feel like people just follow the crowd, afraid to say what they really feel. I don't think it is like that in this post, because of the nature of the post, but I see it happen a lot.

      For me the best comments are when there are a mixture of pro and con, that way people can decide what makes sense instead of leaving thinking they have the right answer because everyone seemed to think the same way. The majority is not always right, and Maurice's comment explains why.

      Reply
  • Posted by Bernard Dahl
    Mitch Joel

    The more I think about it, the more I think it is simply a naturally occuring phenomenon. As more and more people adopt technologies, the profiles of these users become as diverse as those you may may find around the table at a supper with friends.

    That includes, perhaps* unfortunately, the loudmouth who wants to "win" the discussion, by any means available. This person only wants the satisfaction, not the possible enlightenment or pleasure from hearing and supporting someone else's fresh view (+1 to Maurice Cardinal).

    *I say perhaps, because I think it is important that everyone be "at the table", including the timid and the loud. I think this is the only way to get a real converation going - without resorting to a closed, selective group of people who will probably all agree on the same stuff.

    Once you have preached to the choir, get your idea out there, and let the Mountebanks wax poetic about how silly it may be. Their ideas may represent a bigger part of the population that expected (Vote Bush 04, anyone?). Challenge their ideas just as they have challenged yours.

    You're right Mitch, it happens too often that people comment (speak) without thinking. It was just a matter of time before 2.0 caught up to people.

    Cheers, I really dig your posts.

    Reply
  • Posted by Stefan Holt
    Mitch Joel

    okay, full disclosure i read all 7 comments but had there been 353...no way. I just don't think I would be able to do it, bouncing through the conversation only to see comment #24 and #25 restating comment #4, 7, 12, and 15.

    Conversation is good but don't numbers mean something as well.

    I guess my point is sometimes it's good to know there is a tribe (seth godin reference) of people who are thinking the same thing. Question #1...Doesn't that give validation to your ideas/thoughts?

    I know a graphic design who puts out the best free tutorials and gets a ton of comments. Most redundant but to a newbie, the number means credibility in a niche community.

    Question #2...does that mean that when I read a post with no comments or only a few (mostly mine) that it's because most agree with the author and that no more needs to be said?

    I think it's all relative to the topic/the author/the reader. All of which should be judged on their own merit without the broad brush.

    No linkbait here, just going through my rss reader and cleaning house.

    Reply
  • Posted by John McTigue
    Mitch Joel

    Ironic that your blog subject would tend to discourage comments, at least the self-serving variety. As a blog author I value comments above all, since someone has taken the time to read my blog and post a comment, self-serving or not. If the comments are useful, interesting, or even contrarian, then other readers reap the benefits as well. Maybe we should go with microblogs at the end of blogs instead of comments - easier, faster and more widely read.

    Reply
  • "Discourage comments"? Not at all! The total opposite. This is more about taking the time to read everything (including the comments) before adding your own.

    This Blog is all about the comments and community. The flow of that works best when people take the time to read, follow and understand the conversation.

    Reply
  • Posted by Joseph Jaffe
    Mitch Joel

    In a funny way, comments are like a focus group....able to very quickly be biased by one loud mouthed and/or person who is first to voice their opinion.

    Perhaps part of the answer will need to come from innovation from the platform providers e.g. TypePad now letting people respond/reply directly to specific comments.

    Still doesn't help if you're Chris Brogan though :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Alice O'Brien
    Mitch Joel

    That's a big ole +1 for "threaded comments" mentioned by Joseph Jaffe! It lets you skip over side arguments that you have no interest in - or remain focused on one. Took me awhile to get used to them, but now I want them everywhere.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mike Gero
    Mitch Joel

    I like comment tools like Disqus because they do exactly that, allow you to easily follow an interesting comment thread, vs having it lost in a potential sea of comments. Great example is on Fred Wilson's blog - avc.com.

    Mike

    Reply
  • Posted by Mary Townsend
    Mary Townsend

    Sure, it would be silly to try to comment on a blog - or anything else - without reading it properly first. But let's be realistic here, EVERY accompanying comment?

    Personally I read everything! Even stuff I'm not meant to. I'm just wired that way but most people are not.

    Still, I would never be too quick to dismiss a chance (un-thought-out) remark. A first thought can draw something out of the back of the mind that can be most illuminating, fresh and interesting. Something that overthinking would kill.

    The great thing about opinions is they're arrived at in as many different ways as there are people. That's a good thing, isn't it?

    Reply
  • I couldn't agree more. But comments are comments, some provides a new insight to the subject matter and some are just the opposite. whatever the reason for individuals who use Social Media, its up to them. whether your comment is agreeable or not, as long as it adds a new insight or direction to the topic I consider it a good conversation.

    Reply
  • I enjoyed your post Mitch and I read the comments. Lately there has been a lot of buzz around activity of a blog being very important in rankings. That leads me to believe that even if nothing more can be said about your post, repetitive comments are a good thing because visitors are engaged in what you are saying and sticking around to make some comments because you've said something worth talking about. They want to join in.

    I felt I wanted to join into this discussion right away, but I probably wouldn't read all the comments if there were hundreds, especially repetitive comments, before adding my own 2 cents. I don't have that much time.

    If you get any comments at all, I believe you've written an article that strikes a chord in people - and that's really a good thing.


    Reply
  • I have to say, it takes a lot to get me to slow down when I'm reading an article. I'm used to skimming through journal articles looking for relevant content for research projects and flipping through blogs attempting to fulfill my social media marketing role for the company I work for--pulling out the headlines and leaving the rest. For most articles that's fine because a large majority of what is said is useless fluff. Your article, however, made me stop and think. It's probably one of the best-written pieces that I've read in a long time and I applaud your effort and thoughtfulness.

    While I agree in part with some of those who have said that comments are an important way to feel the pulse of your readers, at the same time I think that often people are far more interested in hearing their own voice than listening to others. Thus, I think your point is an important one. Perhaps if more people in our society took it to heart we would not offend quite as much when going overseas.

    Reply
  • Posted by Sam Colson
    Mitch Joel

    great article...I think the problem with people not taking the time to be really cerebral with their posts is because people have such a short attention span because their is such an information overload nowadays, people are getting conditioned to let tv, internet, and other media do their thinking for them. taking time out to really analyze and critically think (exercise the brain!) is important for brain health

    Reply
  • Posted by Cam
    Mitch Joel

    I totally agree that reading should be the primary concern with an article/post, but without the comments then what have you got? not much of a conversation, no new issues can come to light, no new points of view. It is frustrating that people just go out and spam the sites. But if a person Blogged in the woods would it make a noise? The who point of interactive blogging and forums is the comments, the article is just the starting point. So while I agree to the idea that too many people spam, i think there is nothing without the comments.... we just revert to the web before web 2.0.

    Reply
  • Posted by Marc Peron
    Mitch Joel

    Ok, I read the article above and all of the comments and reply's. What I see above is proof of what a good blog is all about. No that was not a gratuitous compliment. There is some real interaction going on here. I am new to this blogging thing. I have my own, http://marcsmarketinghub.com. I focuses on helping the newcomer to internet marketing. I have yet to get one comment. I would love to get some comments so I could interact like Mitch Joel has above. A blog conversation is an excellent way to find out what your customers want and how you can help. I am envious.
    Anyway good work. I enjoyed the interaction.

    Marc

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeannie
    Mitch Joel

    So guess what? After reading your article, I actually felt guilty and read all the comments above! haha. Well, thank you bring this up. I usually read the article and post my comments without reading other comments posted. And one of the reasons why i don't is because most of the time, like you said, some comments express the same opinion about the article. And yes, i think common sense dictates that there's no need to repeat what has already been said.

    You have a point (a big one too) and I think that I should start practicing this as well--reading comments prior to posting my own.

    Reply
  • Posted by sallyb
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with Sam. People are too busy to finish anything??? However, I am more likely to read posts that are not short novels. I do actually like to complete other tasks throughout my day!

    Reply
  • This is so true. However, I agree with Mary Townsend. Sometimes it is just too time-consuming to read every comment and you just want to put your opinion across. As long as people say something that is relevant to the blog, I think it's fair that they comment. I think this is a great example of how a blog can instigate a real interaction between people.

    Reply
  • Posted by Samuel Junghenn
    Mitch Joel

    I comment blogs to gain my presence in the web but I do love a good conversation, It would be nice if other commentator would be conversant like human do in real world, sadly some commenter are after in building too many links because they were told to by their client or supervisor, they thought that building too many links can increase their ranking faster, what they don't know that their wasting their time and effort, their irrelevant comment will be strip off from the blog administrator

    Reply
  • Posted by Roger
    Mitch Joel

    I usually don't post comment because it is time consuming, but mainly because I am a passive reader.

    Reply
  • Posted by Steve McCardell
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with another comment that sometimes it would take a day to read all the comments and share one's own thoughts. There is some value of reiterating something that was buried by sheer numbers of comments -- skimmers are more likely to come across that viewpoint, for instance.

    If I have a strong view or especially have an example I know is unique because it's my experience, I don't feel obliged to read every comment before sharing. On the other hand, there are times when I'm trying to understand a complex topic, and reading all the comments is highly useful.

    It may also depend in part on the medium. On Facebook, sometimes the poster (on their wall) is my friend and I want to respond to them. My way of staying in touch with a distant friend. I may not have the time to read through all the comments on their wall, especially because that medium often yields responses that don't take much thought.

    Thanks for bringing this up. Interesting to face ourselves with this question.

    Reply
  • Posted by Linda Hampton
    Mitch Joel

    The most important thing is to have a conversation. Even if its to simply agree with the author. Sometimes when I write a post on my blog I simply want to know if it has been of value to anyone. It can feel like an echo if no one comments. On the other hand when I get "great post" and nothing else I know that I've been spammed

    So taking a moment to comment is helpful to me because I feel like part of the community and part of the conversation

    Reply
  • Posted by kyle ward
    Mitch Joel

    Social media plays a big role in the internet today, they can find people thru informations they post in the social networks. XD

    Reply
  • Posted by Claudia O'Keefe
    Mitch Joel

    So guess what? After reading your article, I actually felt guilty and read all the comments above! haha. Well, thank you bring this up. I usually read the article and post my comments without reading other comments posted.

    Reply
  • Posted by David
    Mitch Joel

    Social Media is conversation just where people come just to read the article and comments. If you join a blog and just read the article, maybe you don't know how to make conversation or you don't know what is blogging and how to do.

    Reply
  • Posted by Erise
    Erise

    I thought this was a very interesting article. I agree with a number of the comments, I personally have found less and less time to comment on blogs, even if they do pertain to my field of interest. There simply is not enough time in a day, and typically "great minds think alike" and what I tend to be thinking after reading a post, has already been spoken by a million other users/ blog article readers. Working for online marketing company erisemarketing.com has really opened my eyes to how helpful blogs can be to spreading awareness about yourself and your ability to relate. So I have a newfound interest in blogs, once again.

    Reply
  • Posted by PECO
    Mitch Joel

    Others don't like to reading a hot blog that last long like a whole bond paper. So they connect their selves to social media.

    Reply
  • I think a lot of the +1 commenting can be laid at Google's very own door, since backlinking has been a large component of your site's Google ranking.

    We, internet marketing types, will tell our clients, that they need to blog and comment on blogs as part of building up their website's credibility and Google profile. Unfortunately, we either neglect to tell them to comment intelligently and constructively (assuming wrongly that they will put some effort into it) or the instruction fall on deaf ears.

    The result being a whole herd of folks getting out there on a blog and saying "great post" or "yeah me too" to get themselves a link back to their site. Activity that is simply self serving. Effectively - comment spam. On behalf of all Internet Marketers, I tender my apologies and vow (only on my own behalf!) to keep my clients under better control

    Reply
  • Posted by Alicia Edward
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with Clint, and with Renee Marketing Guru,
    because people dun read it all if they are doing marketing or optimization or working for the link building... and some other people just follow the crowd and are not daring enough to say something new or something really different... it is might because of the criticism that they are affraid to face...

    Reply
  • Posted by Sarah Hernandez
    Mitch Joel

    Well it is really true that people don't read it all because it really is time consuming for those who just wants to get traffic to there site especially so if the topic doesn't interest them at all. But is there really a benefit in leaving comments to blog sites?

    Reply
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