The value of blog postings and comments

It was a long time ago in internet years that I started reading Dave Winer‘s blog, Scripting News, and even longer since I started reading Jakob Nielsen‘s writings on his site, useit.com. These two are truly pioneers of the digital age, with Winer instrumental in the development and promotion of RSS and Nielsen writing the book(s) on web usability.

Winer recently discussed why he doesn’t allow comments on his blog, which morphed into a full-blown examination of whether the ability to comment on posts is what defines a blog.

Do comments make it a blog? Do the lack of comments make it not a blog? Well actually, my opinion is different from many, but it still is my opinion that it does not follow that a blog must have comments, in fact, to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog.

He makes a compelling argument, as previously I was in the camp that believed a blog must have comments, else it was but a mere shadow of a ‘true’ blog. His main point was that everyone can comment on what he writes by linking to it on their own blog, rather than appending their thoughts to the end of his post. Those responses are much more valuable and meaningful, since it will filter out the abusive comments and be more constructive.

Jacok Nielsen’s latest article talked about (to be blunt) how useless most of the blogs out there are because they rarely, if ever, offer something new and valuable to their readers. Most blogs just link to the interesting stuff, and Jakob was lamenting the fact that so few blogs make the effort to create the interesting stuff rather than just linking to it.

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value.

This one really had me thinking for days last week about what I’d done with my blog since February 2006, whether I was creating sustainable value with it, and what I could improve or change to make the stuff I write better. I like to think with this blog it’s a mix of short-term, newsy posts and long-term stuff that would continue to attract readers long after it vacated the home page.

I did a lot of thinking this week about where I want this domain to go in the future and how it was going to get there, and where it has already been and how that turned out compared to my expectations. You’ll probably begin to see the results of my meditations very soon, as I transform this space into something more representative of my various interests.

5 thoughts on “The value of blog postings and comments”

  1. You have to ask yourself what motivates Winer before coming to a conclusion. Personally, I believe that without comments all we have are a series of foghorns. Of course the more popular a blog becomes, the more likely that all sorts of loonies will turn up but that’s the price one pays. Having said that, I would rather have the conversation than not.

  2. Well certainly Dave is going to defend his own way of doing things, but I think he does it fairly well. You and I can still have conversations but through our blogs, which makes us accountable for what we say. That being said it might be more efficient to contain most discussions within a single post and its comments.

  3. Consider the case of http://www.opinionistas.com – in the blog’s early life on blogspot, comments were open. As the site gained popularity, the writer had to kill commenting because of the crowd of nasties it attracted. Now she’s working on her upcoming book.

    The nice thing about the net, of course, is that there isn’t necessarily one single “right” way of doing things, since you can hack out your preferred preference if things are configured nicely (i.e., trackback instead of comments).

    I agree with you on the value of posting stuff with something resembling long-term value. It goes back to the design of your site – short-term gossip on this or that, or a contribution to general/specific knowledge?

  4. Comments are not an indicator of a blog’s popularity at all. Warren Kinsella doesn’t allow comments at all, but his readership is enormous.

    Also, as was recently published in a study, most blog consumers are extremely passive; only a fraction of those who read blogs can actually be bothered to take the time and effort to leave a comment.

    As for my own blog, I get about one comment for every 500 readers or so (sometimes it can be as much as one comment per 1,000 visits).

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