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Life without comments

I had shut down the comments about ten days ago when I was moving server (a big thanks to my brother for making it painless and possible!) - I didn't want people to leave comments and then they would get lost because the database was already elsewhere.

Anyway, I forgot to turn the comments back on! So, for the last three posts, I've been wondering why there are no comments at all - I realised why today, and so if you want to leave a comment to this post you may :-)

The thing is, it was bothering me... I'm used to normally getting one or two comments, and when they were not appearing, I started to worry a bit - were my posts completely uninteresting? Were the advertisements (especially the one in the centre of the screen - removed now) putting people off? An indication of how it was troubling me was that this morning, while peeling and slicing fruit for breakfast and to store in the fridge, it was trickling through my mind again and finally it clicked that I had turned the comments off.

It reminded me of one of the central arguments I have in relation to the blog as medium - that perhaps the most important difference that it has in relation to other media is the comments feature, and I would go so far to say that a blog without comments enabled is 'not really' a blog.

For my research, I need to identify the key blogging practices, and see how they come together to form the blog-as-phenomenon. So, taking comments as an example, what other practices derive from or cluster with them?

• Authorship: with comments, the author-blogger is not the sole voice in the blog; this means that s/he has to negotiate with the commenters regarding the meaning and import of the content. This 'negotiation' can be one-sided - as the blogger can just delete comments, but this can reduce the interest of the blog to readers.
• Dialogics: a newspaper may benefit from Letters to the Editor, but they are not published alongside and at the same time as the post. The post and the comments make up the blog post - this is the dialogical aspect of blogging - i.e. it is the result of a 'conversation' (as Jeff Ooi often says). One result of this can be that the blogger seeks to draw in comments by - for example - asking questions to the reader (as this post will end :-))
• Time sensitivity: there are only so many comments a person can make, for regular readers who like to make comments the blogger needs to provide regular fodder. This is not to say that the importance of regular posting only relates to giving opportunities for comments, but it is one factor that feeds into it.
• Personalising the audience: the blogger gets to know some or most of the regular commenters, who frequently have their own blogs - this is the genesis of a 'community of interest' or perhaps a 'community of practice'.
• Meeting space: in some blogs (such as Kenny Sia's), where there are a large number of comments, there seems to be people who regularly comment there and get to know each other. So, in effect, they use the space as their own meeting space online; the actual content of the blog may become less relevant to them as opposed to the opportunity to socialise with the other 'regulars'.
• Motivation: the blogger - many of whom have a creative or socially-concerned impulse - is not talking into a void. Comments mean that someone has been moved in some way or other to respond, meaning the work has not been in vain.

OK. That's all I can think of now. What do you think? How important are comments for a blog? How do they affect the way a person blogs?


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Lisa on :

yeah i can feel how you feel.

If no comments on one of my post, i will start to think what have I done wrong to this post :-)

kennysia on :

This is a comment to let you know that you have done nothing wrong in this post! hehe

mktheberge on :

I agree with you around the blog without comments not really being a blog. But is what underpins our feelings about this specific to the type of blogs we have..or the type of blogs we engage with?
And I'm curious---when you talk about the 'blog as phenomenon' do you break down the blog category into different sorts of blogs? Or do you consider all the various kinds of blogs part of the phenomenon?

mktheberge on :

Oh, and I still get an advert in the centre of the screen, and your blog posts only begin way down the page, below your Blog Admin button. Maybe this is just me?...

julian on :

Woohoo! I'm alive again :-D Thanks for the comments!

Lisa - Ya, and you can never know why, really... (unless you've accidently stopped comments that is)

kennysia - hey thanks for dropping by, and for the comment :-)

mktheberge - hmmm... OK I think that we tend to have blogs similar to the ones we engage with - I remember starting to blog and I would pick up ways of doing things from other blogs. I do think it's safe to say that 99% of blogs have comments.
'blog as phenomenon' - I do break them up into categories - e.g. SoPo (social political), personal, lifestyle (the latter two can overlap), tech, 'mom blog' (more accurately 'parenting blog'), etc.
I guess I said 'blog as phenomenon' in order to include the blogger too, and as a way of underlining the contingent nature of what I see as blogs at the moment; since blogging started there has been increased differentiation, and if you are implying that one could start to divide up blogs as separate media I suppose it could happen. Perhaps 'microblogging' (e.g. Twitter) is one example of that - if someone only uses Twitter (rather than having it as a part of their blog), then that would reasonably be described as a separate phenomenon.
Interesting question, thanks :-) What do you think?

Oh, the blog posts should not start so far down, thanks for telling me. I thought I had fixed that problem, but maybe it depends on the resolution of the screen etc. I will try to resolve that now.

mktheberge on :

I like your term, blog as phenomenon. I think it's important not to forget the blogger behind the blog and the comments. They are the key parts to making blogs the social activity and social sphere that they are.

I do think you could start to divide blogs up into separate media categories. Microblogging could count, yes, but I mean they should be divided up along other lines. There are too many to list here, but there are clear differences between The Huffington Post and my blog, for example. HP is more of a major newsmedia outlet in my mind than a blog. It draws on blog structure and calls itself a blog; it even prompts for comments. But there is little personal interaction in the comments between the writer and commentors. The dialogue in this case is often limited to insults or comments like "right on!". The comment section has lost all purpose and function; the site may as well not even have a comment section...which brings me back to it existing more as a news source than really being a blog.

julian on :

Ya, sometimes I find myself writing 'blog/blogger' because each one includes the other and to leave one out seems wrong.

As for dividing them into categories, I think it goes back to the issues of genres and medium. danah boyd argued that blogs should be considered a medium, with various genres - it's an approach I agree with.

As for comments that have "lost all purpose and function" - I think that may be a point of view that doesn't take into account the relevance of those comments for the commenters and readers; one can assume that for the commenters (at least) the fact that they can leave a comment is pertinent, and encourages them to read the posts... Though I do have the same reaction as you as regards 'real' blogs - there's a famous 'blog' in Malaysia ( which some bloggers don't see as a blog, but rather a 'news portal' or something.

me on :

great post!

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