In our recent discussion of theory and practice, ZD hit 10,000 comments. (The 10,000th comment, by the way, was Geoff J’s #6 on that thread. Congratulations, Geoff; your prize, a T-shirt that says “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” and a subscription to BUST magazine, will be in the mail.) I have to say that it’s a bit strange to think that our relatively small blog has this many comments. (Just think of the number of dissertations that could have been produced by all that writing. Of course, they might not have been coherent dissertations.)
Comments, I think most bloggers would agree, are both one of the most fun and one of the most challenging aspects of running a blog. How much do you try to keep the conversation on track? When do you bring in the heavy hand of censorship? When do you engage people’s trollish-sounding arguments, and when do you just ban them? Unless things are clearly over the line (spam, dramatic name-calling), I find that I struggle with those judgments. I note that different blogs have different norms on this—and I’m highly unlikely to object to the way anyone else runs things, both because it’s their blog and therefore their decision, and because I find dealing with those questions so challenging myself. It’s easy to complain about a blog being tyrannical; it’s not so easy to run one. And I don’t envy the bigger blogs, which have to deal with this much more than we do.
In fact, I feel quite lucky that this hasn’t been too big of an issue on ZD. We seem to have a lot of long comments—as Ziff noted in his nacle numbers analysis of 2007,
ZD’s average comment (146 words) was over 20% longer than the second longest average, FPR at 125. Not only are we long winded, we attract long-winded commenters.
And, on a non-quantitative level, I might be biased, but I think we generally have high quality comments, written in a thoughtful and reasonable tone, which is something I really appreciate. I also like that our blog is a bit slower, that you can mull over things a bit and then jump into the conversation, that you can come back to a topic after a couple of days. I quite enjoy reading the fast-moving discussions at the big blogs, but I sometimes find that by the time I’ve formulated a thought, the train has long since passed.
Around here, I would say that we’re generally fine with threadjacks, since we tend to think in pretty random ways. The only exception would be those that start an emotionally tense argument that detracts from what was previously a thoughtful conversation. If you want to push our buttons, on the other hand, probably the best way is to sound condescending, or to hint that our problem is just that we need more faith. I’ve also noted that my co-bloggers have varying tolerance levels. I’m possibly more on the impatient side, more likely to get exasperated with things going in a direction I don’t want to deal with, and shut them down.
One of the other challenges in comment management, I think, is that of not letting people slip through the cracks. On the faster-moving blogs, it’s simply impossible to acknowledge everyone who adds something to the conversation. But I know it can be discouraging to take the trouble to write something, and not see any evidence that anyone actually read it. And I do think we try to respond to people here, though sometimes on the longer conversations, some doubtlessly get lost.
I have two sources of guilt when it comes to blogging. The first is my tendency to write posts which attract interesting comments, and then run out of blogging energy and disappear. Then to make things worse, I might find myself wanting to comment on someone else’s thread, but I’ll feel like I can’t, because then it will look like I’m ignoring all the people on mine. (Am I just completely neurotic, or do other people worry about this kind of thing?) For what it’s worth, I can guarantee that we do read all the comments, even when we’re too lazy to respond to them. My other source of guilt is that a lot of people take the time to come here and comment, and I’m a slacker and don’t reciprocate on their blogs. Part of the reason is that I’m busy writing my long-winded comments here. Part of it is also that I’m much more comfortable just rambling here, but I feel more pressure to carefully think out what I’m saying when I’m elsewhere, so it takes more energy. But I do keep meaning to repent, and be a better Bloggernacle citizen.
So those are some of my random thoughts on comments. What are yours? (But please don’t write comments that will cause me to agonize over whether I should sic the Bouncer on you, or just delete them.)