No Comment?

writing-a-comment.jpgI have so many more readers for this blog than I ever thought I would. I have great fun writing it, to the point of distraction from my other responsibilities, including sleep. From day to day, week to week, I don’t know exactly where I’m going to take this thing. What I’m going to write about and what I’m going to say is as much a process of discovery for me as it is a surprise for you. This blog has given me a chance to gain confidence and refine my “chops” as a writer, which (after the past two years of Lewis-Carroll-meets-John Grisham-meets-James-Ellroy has “repositioned” my career) is a direction I intend to pursue seriously.

So, when I open up “From the Desert to the Sea…” each day, I am happy. Except for one thing.

Days, sometimes weeks, go by without any reader comments.

The sites I admire the most, irrespective of subject matter or point of view, get lots of comments. Jon Weisman’s Dodger Thoughts, where I am part of the commenting community under the nickname dzzrtRatt, will get a hundred comments during a rain delay. Ann Althouse‘s posts on the day’s news will spark a fascinating discussion in the comments — often with little further input from Ann herself. Likewise Jeff Jarvis‘ site on the media, BuzzMachine. I don’t always agree with him, but the combined effect of Jarvis and his erudite commenters is always stimulating.

Each of these sites succeed in creating a conversation, which is the ultimate flowering of the web medium. In print or on TV, the writer is king. On the web, in a blog, optimally the writer is merely the instigator.

Now, I know that Jon Weisman, Ann Althouse and Jeff Jarvis have been blogging much longer than me. They do it better. Weisman and Jarvis also stick to their knitting better than I do. When you open their doors, you know what you’re going to get. Althouse, a law professor who likes to stray from writing about the law, has established a persona and seems like a friend. (Some other sites legendary for their high volumes of comments attract a politically homogeneous community, from the right or left. Obviously, that won’t work for a polymorph like me. I don’t want or need a bunch of yes-persons saluting me.)

Some might say, maybe comments aren’t that important. Two of my other favorite sites, LA Observed and Instapundit, don’t even permit them. Kevin Roderick and Glenn Reynolds are such prolific posters, I imagine they don’t think they have time to moderate the dozens of comments they’d undoubtedly get.

But with all due respect to both gentlemen, I believe their sites would be even more interesting if we could read the conversations their posts stimulate. “Naked Conversations” co-author Shel Israel posted about comments the other day, expressing relief that his broken comments capability had been fixed. He asked his readers, “Do Comments Help?” The first comment he got, from Doug Karr, said it all to me:

Without comments, you’re merely a writer.
With comments, we have a conversation.
By not acting on comments, I have no choice but to leave the conversation or yell louder.

The context was a little different than this. Israel is one of many writers trying to talk corporations into blogging — a pursuit that is fraught with at least as much peril as opportunity. But the point applies just as much to a blog people read purely because they like the writer’s style or subject matter. All my life, I’ve read newspapers, magazines and books with a running dialogue going in my head–or to be more precise, a parallel running monologue. Now, technology has created an opportunity to turn that into a dialogue.

So, I ask. If you are a reader of this site, why don’t you comment? Is it me? Do I come off like a writer who’s said it all,  smothered the subject and left no room for anyone else? It is you? Are you afraid of letting other people know what you think, or what you think of me? Are you too busy? Or just too bored. Don’t hold back, I can take it.

To facilitate more comments, I’ve changed how they are processed. I no longer moderate them — although they are still subject to a spam filter. The spam filter is not perfect, so a few spammers (out of hundreds each week, by the way) might get through. I’ll remove spam as soon as I see it. Also, I believe I was asking people for their e-mail address before, and that might’ve been a deterrent. If I’ve gotten the widget working correctly, you won’t need to do that anymore. I will delete comments later if I think they’re abusive, or raise legal concerns, but the bias now will be that comments should appear.

So let me know. Do you want to comment? Do you not want to comment? Are there things just better left unsaid? Whatever to you want to say about it, please, leave a note right here…


14 thoughts on “No Comment?

  1. I comment when I think I have something worth adding. Your moderation doesn’t bother me (politically or here, he chuckled). In fact, if someone doesn’t want to be identified as a member of the commons, perhaps they shouldn’t post. When I read the anonymous idiots who post on Mayor Sam’s blog, for example(they savaged some woman who used to work for Jim Hahn with incredible sexist posts), I’m delighted that you take the extra time to moderate.

    I also think that the eclecticism of your posts means people don’t necessarily have something to say about each one. If you focused on fewer topics, you might have more comments, but then, we’d lose part of the joy of reading John Stodder, who is obviously far more than a “political” blogger, or a “music” blogger.

    Don’t narrow the focus. Count hits, not comments.


  2. As someone who’s been blogging for (goes off to double-check) 4 1/2 years, I know where you’re coming from. I rarely get more than three comments on a post, and often none. I still haven’t decided whether that bothers me or not. I don’t do the same kind of writing you do; I tend toward the “link to something and make a snide or approving remark” variety. That may be why I don’t get much comment volume; what’s there to say? Agree with my take on it, and there’s no need to add anything; disagree, and then what?

    Part of it’s knowing your audience, but part of it is also deciding who you’re writing for. If for yourself, comments are gravy. If you’re trying to influence people, comments become more important.

    I read a lot of blogs, and I leave comments around, but I don’t kid myself; what value am I adding when I comment? Often, not much, because that’s not really what I’m being asked to do by the blogger. He or she has made his point in the original post.

    I dunno. I’m rambling.

  3. Well, I’m really just commenting to help John achieve some gaudy numbers here.

    John, as you know, I’m a fairly new reader of your blog. As we’ve discussed, we have many common interests, and I look forward to being able to snoop through the archives here and catch up on the stuff I’ve missed.

  4. Thank you everyone. This helps adjust my expectations, and I think all your points are valid. I will stop worrying about this phenomenon. And of course Shel Israel is right as rain about the underlying question behind my concern.

    Now it’ll be interesting. I’m taking a couple days vacation, so I’ll see if my new, liberal comment policy causes my blog to break out in hives while I’m gone.

  5. I really value the comments at Dodger Thoughts, but it’s been harder than ever to moderate. Some people seem more interested in asserting their authority than engaging in a dialogue, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

  6. Actually, I’d meant to come over and comment here after you mentioned Ray Davies’s new album over at DT a few days ago. Then life intervened, and it slipped my mind.

    (I was kind of disappointed in it. It could be because I have such high expectations of Ray. Even after listening to it over and over in my car for about a week, none of the songs really stuck with me.)

  7. I share your feeling that traffic (even as small as my own) is no substitute for feeling you have engaged the reader enough to get them to speak back. I haven’t figured out why some blogs generate conversations and others do not. I have toyed with your idea about a “writerly” blog being perhaps less inviting. I’m not sure that’s entire fair or accurate, but its the same impression I get. Making people angry (either in concert with your or in opposition) seems to help, as you noted about the political blogs.

  8. Well, if you really want some comments, here is what I usually think while reading your posts.

    *good point*
    *I couldn’t agree more*
    *oooh. pretty*

    After years of reading being a one-way street, I have very, very seldom felt the need to respond to an article or web posting. And when I have, the mechanisms have either been non-existant or even more frustrating than silence.

    I tend to talk sideways while reading (asking questions of others, passing the article along) and not directly back to the author.

    Of course, bbss and listservs and usenet have long been a two way street, but those have a very flat social strata. This seems a little in my mind like talking back to the teacher. Or priest. I feel reluctant and exposed.

    As a beginning web genealogist, though, I completely understand your need. I often want to tap the glass and write “Hello. Is this thing on? HELLO!”

    Thank God and Google for google analytics.

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