Business - Written by Denis Hancock on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 10:15 - 6 Comments
Comments: valuable contributions or ramblings of the inebriated homeless?
A little while ago I wrote a two-part series called “Looking into the blogosphere through a sporting lens” (part 2 is here). The purpose of the series was to look at some questions underlying a Costas Now program, which itself was supposed to be an insightful look at the role of the blogosphere in relation sports reporting. While the video itself devolved into something far less thoughtful then it could have been, the questions it raised about the role and value of comments in the blogosphere continue to be quite interesting to me.
What leads me to bring this up again is blatant self-promotion are two very interesting posts, with wildly divergent perspectives on the comments issue. The first is from social media expert Chris Brogan, entitled “Musicians play for tips – The importance of comments“. In the post Chris reminds readers that comments are important, presents his rough calculations on the percentage of readers who comment (roughly 1/4 of 1%), and admits that his own personal commenting habits are roughly in the same ballpark.
Chris then goes on to list some other ways readers can leverage social media to help share and promote blog posts that they like – things like Stumbleupon and Digg – but the underlying message is that comments are a critical component of a successful blog post. Chris also mentions Seth Godin, who writes a very interesting blog for those interested in marketing and social media, who just so happens to have his comment tool disabled.
Helping to make his case, the comments section adds a lot to Chris’ post, as many people made thoughtful contributions (and I’m not just saying that because I am one of the contributors). Seth was among the respondents, stating that he can tell that he’s written a good post when readers send him thoughtful emails – though he doesn’t know what he’d do if he got as many emails as Chris gets comments. I’d be quite interested to hear why, exactly, Seth has disabled comments, but no explanation was included.
Regardless, this provides a nice segue into the other post that caught my eye – Jason McCabe announcing his retirement from blogging. Jason has been an enormously popular blogger, but now he’s decided to focus his efforts on publishing through a “new” medium – email lists. He’s also going to cap this list at 1,000 people or so, in the hopes of developing deeper relationships and stimulating more thoughtful conversations.
Many people are saying that Jason’s announcement rhymes with mull chit, and are calling it a publicity stunt – which it may well be. However, Jason raises some very interesting points about how blogging is now “simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy that drew (him) to it”, and he goes on to talk about link baiting become such a big focus in blogs these days. This site was then nice enough to post Jason’s first email to his “exclusive” list, which includes the following tidbits (think: Jason = Buzz):
This is much different than you posting to my comments section and subjecting yourself to the trolls and haters who have taken up residency there. Why should we all build our homes and give residence to the trolls under them? Comments on blogs inevitably implode, and we all accept it under the belief that “open is better!” Open is not better. Running a blog is like letting a virtuoso play for 90 minutes are Carnegie Hall, and then seconds after their performance you run to the back Alley and grab the most inebriated homeless person drag them on stage and ask them what they think of the performance they overheard in the Alley. They then take a piss on the stage and say “F-you” to the people who just had a wonderful experience for 90 or 92 minutes. That’s openness for you… my how far we’ve come! We’ve put the wisdom of the deranged on the same level as the wisdom of the wise.
He also adds:
There are so many folks involved in blogging to today, and it’s moving at a much quicker pace thanks to “social accelerants” like TechMeme, digg, Friendfeed and Twitter. Folks are so desperate to be heard–and we all want to be heard that’s why we blog–that the effort put into being heard has eclipsed the actual hearing.
Suffice to say, these are two very different opinions – either comments are valuable additions to a good post, or they represent the ramblings of an inebriated homeless person. Why (again, putting the publicity argument to the side) might the perspectives be so different, having many of the same undertones of the Will Leitch vs. Buzz Bissinger argument? While we naturally lean a little more towards the “wisdom of crowds” perspective than the “wisdom of the deranged” argument around here, there is certainly a grain of truth in Jason’s argument.
I’m beginning to think that the value of comments is a function of topic area and scale. Chris Brogan is a social media guy, and in turn I would assume most of his readers are quite interested in social media, thus they want to represent themselves well – which naturally leads to better contributions and conversations. In other words, conversational media is great topic area for conversational media. Topics like sports, however, may not to be. Regardless of topic, blogs can become a victim of their own success – as readership increases not only are “bad” comments more likely, it becomes harder and harder to continue a real conversation and cultivate real relationships. Might there be an argument that blogging is best for those firmly cemented in the long tail?
I also find the different contexts that the social media tools are mentioned in interesting. On one hand, they’re helpful tools for people to promote writers and bloggers they like (a.k.a. the message from Chris); on the other, so many bloggers are focused on gaming the tools, and the sheer volume of blogs on the web makes it so hard to be found, that more effort is being put into distribution than quality content creation (a.k.a the message from Jason).
So what do you think? Please let me know in the comments, after you have Dugg, Reddit’d, and Stumbleupon’d my post, while tagging it on Delicious and emailing it to all your friends – unless you are the inebriated homeless guy .
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