It's not easy to create a platform that truly engenders comments.
That's true whether we're talking about a Blog, Podcast, Twitter feed or Facebook page. Getting people interested in what you're about is one thing. Getting those people to share your content is slightly more complex (in terms of work). Getting those same people to actually create any form of content for you (like a comment) is even tougher. You can blame it on time, too much content being published, too many elements pulling people in too many different directions or you can even blame it on the fact that the content (in and of itself) just might not be exciting enough to elicit a response. Whatever the case may be, when someone does take the time to comment, it really does speak to the power of the content because human beings have been trained for decades to consume content... not to be an active participant in its development.
Not all comments are created equal.
There's a trend happening online. For some reason, the majority of comments found on newspaper websites and on YouTube are brutal. For the most part they are unintelligent and downright nasty. They tend to be heavy handed in terms of taking one side over another, and they're much less about a conversation than they are about a shouting match. In my work with the publishing industry, I am frequently asked why journalists should even bother being active in the comment section if they're simply being attacked and insulted? It's not an unfair question. The comment threads on many of the major mass media websites tend to filled with open-mouth breathers from Darwin's waiting room.
It's fascinating, isn't it?
If you compare the standard comment fare from a major newspaper website to the stuff you'll find in the comment section on this Blog, there's a staggering difference. Would it be reasonable to assume that the quality of the content dictates the quality of the comments? That's a hard "no" from me. There's no doubt that some of the in-depth reporting found in your daily newspaper will trump the quality of my random brain droppings, so it must be something else.
Sometimes we feel that we can hide.
For some reason, people like to hide behind usernames in places like newspaper websites and YouTube, and yet it's as if they know that anonymity like that dismantles all credibility when used in places like a personal Blog, Twitter and the like. So, here's a thought: we can't take anything that is said from an anonymous comment as credible until they prove themselves (which takes time and consistency). We also know that nonsensical comments can devalue the content that it surrounds. Meaning, if the bulk of comments below were juvenile or lacked credibility, it would affect your desire to come back and stay engaged with the content.
In the end, we do judge the content based on comments as well, don't we? Think about what that means in the changing world of content.