June 01, 2008

Are Blog Comments Really Conversations, or Are They Just Replies?

The issue of comment fragmentation has been rearing up every other week or so since the initial discussion flared up in early April, but of late, I've been thinking about the purpose of comments in the first place. When you make a comment on a blog, is it to respond to the blog author and say they did a good job, especially if comments are currency, effectively making a longer version of a "thumbs up or thumbs down," are you looking to further the conversation with the blogger, or are you instead using it as a reply, without anticipating a response from the author?

This morning, I posted a question, using Google Talk, to FriendFeed, saying:

“Are blog comments a "conversation" with the author, or just answering and responding to the author? Do you expect the author to respond to your comment?"

For me personally, on those posts I do where there is a lot of conversation, I'm pulled in two opposing directions - the first, to reply to comments and engage with readers, and the second, to instead not reply and avoid dominating the comment thread. With Disqus tracking my every comment on the blog, I can make myself look like a fairly noisy egoist in no time. So, it is tempting to see the comments on posts as only replies, and fight the urge to respond. Typically, I end up replying to those comments that ask new questions, or spur the conversation forward, but of course, I read every single one.

When I post to other blogs, I don't usually expect a reply from the author. The bigger the blog, the less likely the response, and for small blogs, responses are almost a guarantee.

In response to my note on FriendFeed, the answers were strongly weighted toward conversations, rather than replies.

Brian Sullivan said, "The most successful bloggers it seems to me are conversational."

J.C. Hutchins said, "I always assume that author will read my comment, but rarely respond. Always feels validating when they do, though."

Susan Beebe said, "Blog Comments = Conversations with the world; AND yes, most importantly the author. I do not expect the author to respond to me; however, I am always really glad when they do!"

Of course, if every comment on every blog gained a reply from the original author, the most popular bloggers would spend just as much time responding to comments as they would creating new content. And if you take it one step further, if those replies also generated replies, in theory, the conversation would never end.

As Steven Hodson of WinExtra wrote in Comment Fragmentation isn’t the Blogger’s Fault earlier today, "In the end though we have absolutely no control over where the conversation; if there even is one, will take place." That works both in terms of the blog author not fully controlling where comments take place, and also from the commenter, who cannot force a conversation through leaving a reply. Now that comments are being bandied about like currency, both at the blog and through a myriad of RSS readers and social aggregators, maybe it's time to think about the whole structure of blogging and commenting in the first place.