Tie And Jeans

Comments Suck, But Silence is Worse

I find it harder to have substantive public conversations now than at any point since my first BBS calls in 1990.

I feel trapped by the fragmented web and the asymptotic trendy of blog comments towards YouTube levels of nastiness. Here’s my current example. Audrey makes a great umbrella post about the trend of MakerEdu. HackEducation should be an obvious place for all stripes of teacher/makers to congregate, as should MakerEd. Instead substantive posts on both sites are relative ghosts towns.

When comments show up, they sit in solitude or lonely pairs, desperate for someone else at this party to pick up the thread. Gary Stager had a great post about walking the line between speaking truth to faddishness and becoming a crummudgeonly charichtacure. Four comments, from people I think are great educators (I’m making assumptions here, since no names link to their public identity), but no conversation.

I recognize that I’m part of the problem here. For every post that I comment on, there’s a half dozen that I star or retweet and then forget about. I’ve been chastened by the experience of checking back on abandoned comments, only being reminded of my “subscribe to comments” click when the post is discovered by spambots.

New bloggers crave comments; final unquestionable proof that someone is reading. But beyond a certain threshold, links and RTs paint more compelling picture of the reach of each post. The twitter community around hackeducation and MakerEd is far larger than the comment section indicates, but there’s no easy way to check on it. Comment sections on established blogs demand defensive attention more than anything else; nuke the spam, mute the troll threads, avoid the rage posts. In the odd chance a comment sparks a new thought, blog incentives clearly favor responding in a new post rather than in comments. The utopian version of this trend is a vast network of trackbacks, where the conversational thread bounces between individual blogs and every post adds new layers and insight to the discusson.

If any of you have found that network, please link me in.

Audrey posts, Andrew comments, Tim RTs, Rachel shares on G+, and there’s no visible conversation. It’s almost enough to make me pine for Maximus and WWIV.

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8 thoughts on “Comments Suck, But Silence is Worse

  1. I am really frustrated by comments too, for this and a myriad of reasons. (see: http://audreywatters.com/2012/11/03/comments/)

    I feel as though I’m part of the problem — I don’t really foster much “community” on my blog. That is, I don’t respond to people and as such, don’t really encourage more than the fly-by comments. I’ve made it a goal to try to get more discussion going in the comments (the alternative I’ve toyed with is just scrapping them altogether). But so far I keep neglecting/forgetting/running out of time and energy to do so.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Audrey-

      I didn’t mean to call you as anything other than a writer who’s work I find engaging and wish I had more opportunity to talk about. Comment sections are a bad scene on any site with substantive traffic. There’s little incentive to spend hours being comment-host that could be spent researching and writing new material. There’s also little incentive for drive-by commenters, even with wonky aggregation systems like Disqus, since most of us first interact with posts through a reader that hides comments entirely.

      The old Google Reader “Shared Post” was close to ideal, becuase it brought the comments into my RSS feed, tied to the post, but limited the participants to the FoaF of the original share. If Branch can capture some of that, maybe create a single hub for hackeducation inspired conversations, then I’ll be thrilled to support it.
      Twitter should work, but between links to the original post, and the wonky addressing system, you’re left with 60 characters to say something.

      • You read my mind on the Twitter problem. I was just coming here to comment on how the system at Twitter discourages people (myself included) from expanding on a link with any substantive comment. I’m sure I had a few characters left but I tire easily of that game. If I can’t speak freely without counting characters I’m less likely to say anything at all. App.net free’d me up a bit in that regard, but I just don’t go there and there’s little conversation happening there for the people I follow. You’re also right that since I’m reading most things in an RSS reader the ability to engage in the text is limited (sharing out is easy of course, but no back and forth). I’d love to see more developments on these fronts.

  2. Way to guilt folks into commenting. Clever, Carle. Clever. :)

    I have the same excuses for not commenting: (1) lack of time (2) shortcomings of apps (3) lack of energy (4) the fact that sometimes I bump up against something so thoughtful that I need to reflect for a while. When I come back to it, there’s the feeling that too much time has passed so why bother?

    I may not have a lot of virtual conversation, but blog posts and Twitter usually make for some great local conversations. So there’s that.

    But you’re right. Participation is essential for community. Silence is unacceptable, and just clicking “like” or a star icon makes me feel like I’m living in Idiocracy.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      President Camacho likes this post.

      I really identify with that depressing “why bother” sense. For blogs with near daily posts and higher traffic streams, last week’s posts are the smelliest sort of fishwrap.

      Your phrasing is great; I do participate in a lot of “local” conversations, though the term is largely unmoored from geography. Having one face to face meeting at a regional event like EdCamp, or a destination event like CMK, can cement that sense of community. There’s also a sweet spot for bloggers where they post regularly enough to see the comment updates, but not so frequently that it’s a constant stream of noise. It’s like finding a functional PUG in WoW. :)

      • (I’m choosing to comment on an existing threat, rather than on a new thread, because threaded comments are one of the ways we build community.)

        I read this post on my smartphone. That meant that I had to email the link to my computer, and remember to comment later, when I was at a keyboard large enough to comment on. And now I’m having a hard Tim remember what I wanted to say.

        Oh, right.

        Blog posts, increasingly, are the way I go about refining and developing my own thinking. I don’t expect feedback, and I expect only tiny amounts of feedback when I get any. Usually I get a twitter comment back, or a few comments when I crosspost to Facebook, on Facebook…. The joint nature of the conversation is lost into the ether of the Ethernet, and I become the sole thread-holder.

        As you’ve noted before, I write a lot of good stuff (so do you, so do your commentators, but this is about my experience). The vast majority of it sinks without a trace, though. The archive remains, and at times it becomes an extraordinary thing— some woman in Spain found my archive in October, and read nearly the entire archive of 3000+ posts in October and November. But she commented once to say how much she enjoyed the experience. Commenting back to her resulted in no conversation — she had already moved on.

        One of the ways this gets handled is through aggregation: putting a number of blogs on the same website. The increase of pro and semi-pro writers in one place leads to a community of semi pro and amateur writers forming around that community… But it’s a lot of work to manage and develop such a community. Not sure that I’m up to the challenge, although I had that idea with the Makers’ Grimoire.

        I’m definitely the most prolific commenter on my blog, by a factor of five or eight,with high triple-digits of comments. That means the next most common commenter is in low- to mid- double-digits. That’s not a community. It’s a lopsided letter-writing campaign, really, between a prolific writer and a casual fan base.

  3. I’ve written a hundred blog posts and eight or ten had a good conversation actually held in the comments section. At first that was depressing – I loved getting comments for the sense of validation it gave me. Now… I don’t know, I just don’t expect people to respond to my posts. Why would I – it only happens 10% of the time!

    But I’m _always_ in some conversation or other. Some blogs have enough followers that there’s always someone who wants to talk. Twitter certainly has enough people. You can make things that other people can use, and they’ll want help using it.

    So, I think that if it’s conversation you want, you just have to be ready to go look for it. If it’s writing you want to do, write on your blog. For me, at least, they aren’t the same activity.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Riley-

      [tl;dr – Do you find that many of your conversations extend past your normal social graph? What drives or anchors *those* conversations? ]

      Thanks for stopping by. This isn’t about comments on my posts or blog, but about the fractured and social self-selection that drives conversations on the web. I share your view of the blog as writing outlet rather than conversation hub.

      So, you’re here! That’s great. I think it’s because we’re nominally math Tweeps, or because my school uses ActiveGrade. We have this bridge of social connection that puts us “in range” of each other, and opens the door for any number of ongoing, multi-format conversations.

      When I read something interesting out in the world, I can RT it or reblog it, but the best case scenario is that prompts a conversation between my social graph. Maybe graphRadius +1 if I’m really lucky.

      I’m lamenting the lack of a tool to collect and connect all the public conversations about post/topic that exist as disjoint subgraphs. To be precise, that’s my lack of knowledge of a tool that’s productive for users of exactly my level of social savvy and connectedness; I recognize that this complaint may be selfish and idiosyncratic at the core.

      Tagging response tweets with something #hackeducation provides a hook for the conversation, but doesn’t provide a way to propel it outside my social graph. But if Audrey does that, then she’s linked the the conversation and whatever crazy trollish ways it might diverge. That might be a good system for reader looking to piggyback on the larger reach of the blog, but it doesn’t offer much return for the “sponsoring” graph.

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