Do Comments Add Value To A Blog?

Do you comment on blogs? Do you read blog comments? Do you think comments can add value to a blog?

Dave Winer doesn’t think comments are necessary and may even hurt a blog. Joel Spolsky takes it even further calling comments an infringement on the freedom of expression of the blogger. Rand takes the opposite point of view and sees comments as incredibly valuable. I side with Rand here, though I will offer the it depends caveat and also say that both Dave and Joel make some very valid points.

How Comments Can Detract From A Blog

Dave’s main point is that the blogger’s voice is what makes a blog and that comments have the potential to stifle that voice.

If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think — then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it’s not.

If, as a blogger, you allow your voice to be changed because you are pandering to your comments then I agree it’s not a good thing. However, it’s not that difficult to maintain your voice in the midst of dissenting opinion. If a blogger allows his voice to be altered by comments I’d argue that voice wasn’t all that strong to begin with.

Dave further thinks the appropriate place to comment on another’s blog is your own blog. If you have something to add write your own post and say what you want.

As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment.

Joel agrees and takes it even further saying about comments:

They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don’t have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else’s thoughts. That’s not freedom of expression, that’s an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they’ll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you’ll move up in PageRank, and you’ll have influence and your ideas will have power.

He points to a blog post from a real estate site and notes that within a few comments they degenerate into first noise and then an all out flame war. He admits it’s an extreme example and continues to say:

I don’t know how many times I’ve read a brilliant article someone wrote on a blog. By the end of the article, I’m excited, I’m impressed, it was a great article. And then you get the dribble of morbid, meaningless, thoughtless comments.

Both Dave and Joel do make valid points as I’ve mentioned. A blog doesn’t necessarily need comments in order to be a blog and I’ve said before that the voice of a blog is far more important to it’s success than anything else. I can’t think of a single blog I read solely for the comments and it’s true that many popular blogs end up with a lot of comment noise. Yet I still take Rand’s side in the debate.

How Comments Add Value To A Blog

Rand puts the focus on the blogger for the type of comments they get.

If you’re unhappy with the comments on your blog, you haven’t been building your community in the right way. It’s easy to blame comments and anonymity and the ignorant masses who read your site and want to interact, but it’s tough to put the blame where it belongs – with the blog or community owner.

You don’t need to look much further than SEOmoz to find a community that adds a ton of value to the blog as a whole as well as each and every post. While it wasn’t the comments that first brought me to the SEOmoz blog and while those comments aren’t the primary reason I visit every day they often contain as much if not more valuable content than the post directing the conversation.

Make no mistake. I read SEOmoz daily for Rand’s voice and for the voice of everyone who contributes to the blog, but the community that comments on the site also has a voice that draws me in. I’d be lying if I told you I read every comment that’s ever been left, but I do read the vast majority of them and on many posts I do read each and every comment.

Yes, the SEOmoz community of commenters has a voice. Rand shaped it with the voice he used to write posts and in his own comments. It’s shaped by what is and isn’t allowed and by the individuals Rand’s voice attracted to the site. And yes that community does add great value to the blog. Sure it sometimes goes off on tangents and creates some noise, but more often than not it adds to the conversation instead of detracting from it.

Rand offers some ideas for creating a great community.

  • Reward them
  • Recognize them
  • Prune
  • Make it a Challenge
  • Engage in Your Own Comments

The first two I don’t do nearly enough. Let me say a big thank you to everyone who does comment here and I do have plans on more rewards and recognition in the near future. Feel free to let me know what you want as well.

Pruning is something you may not need to do at first, but as your blog and community grows pruning can be important to reducing noise. Even beyond noise you can shape your blog’s community by pruning. By selective allowing and removing comments you direct the type of comments you later get and the type of people who comment on your site. Be careful when pruning all except for the obvious noise. I also think it’s very important to respond to the comments left for you and to carry your voice into the comments.

I disagree with making it a challenge, though. Rand’s way to make it a challenge is to require membership and login before commenting. While fine for a popular blog most of us are trying to increase blog comments and not turn comments away. Once you’ve built a strong enough community you can make it more difficult to leave a comment. It will turn most of the noise away, but know that it will also turn away some quality comments as well. As you’re building a community I’d opt for making it easy and spending more time pruning if you have to.

My Thoughts On The Value Of Comments

I do understand the points Dave and Joel are making and I agree that it’s not necessarily the comments that make a blog. It’s the voice that makes a blog and the voice that carries a blog. However, comments can and do add a lot of value and I encourage you to build a community around your blog.

A single voice drives a blog, but more than anything a blog is a conversation. That conversation may span across blogs, but it can be valuable to have that conversation in a single place. It encourages community and brings people back. There’s no denying you interact more while engaging in a conversation than you do while reading. You can’t have that interaction without allowing comments.

Comments provide feedback that can help you shape your own thoughts. I think this would be a big sticking point for both Dave and Joel and really goes to the heart of their argument. They would prefer you not let others shape you at all. And depending on the nature of your blog I agree. For most of us we’re looking for more subscribers and sometime readers that we can turn into advertising or leads or sales or some other form of monetization. If you want to attract more people to your blog it helps to know what those people want to see. Comments will give you that feedback.

The conversation that comments promote can help bring more readers. It would be vain to think only you have something to say. Comments here have helped me to see things in different ways and have helped me to grow as a blogger, seo, marketer, designer, developer, and person. And in helping me grow they help the blog to grow.

In the spirit of being in favor of comments I’ll ask for your opinion. Do you think comments add value to a blog and what do you do to foster the type of community you want to see on your blog?

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4 comments

  1. I definitely think comments add value to a blog. I’ve often found that I’ve written a post and then someone comes along and adds a comment that either expands on the point or makes me think about things in a new way.

    As to fostering a community, I think there are three ways to do that. First, I go and leave comments on blogs I like and think are well written. I do this in the hopes that they’ll get to know me and come and see what I’m saying on my blog and hopefully comment. I’m pretty selective about where I comment as I’m hoping to attract smart people with definite opinions to my blog.

    The second thing I do is try to leave the type of comments on other people’s blogs that I would like them to leave on mine. I rarely leave “Good post” or “Great job” comments. I try to leave substantive comments that enlarge on the point of the post or which move the discussion along. Again, my hope is that people will see my comments and take them as a guide when commenting on my blog.

    The third thing is to get rid of the trolls as soon as possible. So far I haven’t had much of a problem with that on my blog, but I know other bloggers do have that issue. I think a clear statment somewhere on your blog regarding what sorts of comments are acceptable and what aren’t is a must (and something I don’t have on my own blog at the moment). I also think you need to be prepared to ban people who are not contributing to the discussion in a meaningful way. I think you also have to be secure enough to be able to understand the difference between those who respectfully disagree with you and those who are just jerks. Debate and discussion of alternate viewpoints can be a good thing. Personal attacks and general crappy behavior should be stopped as soon as possible.

  2. Thanks Kristine. It swells my head a little when you mention how you only comment on well written blogs that you like. I guess I’m doing something right.

    I feel the same way about comments expanding on points in the post and making me think too. I do understand the point that you don’t want to stifle your own voice to pander to comments, but I think it’s a wise person that listens to other points of views and is willing to adjust thinking based on new information. None of us is perfect. I’m happy when someone can let me know what I’m doing wrong or where I might be off base. It helps me get things right the next time.

    I try to be the same when leaving comments. I’m guilty of starting a comment with nice post, but I do my best to add something more. I’m sure I’ve left my share of meaningless posts, but it’s not my intention.

    I haven’t had too much of a problem with trolls either, but I suspect as both our blogs grow we’ll get more. I don’t have the acceptable comment thing here either. I try more to set the tone with my own writing and the way I respond to comments, but at some point it might be something to add.

    And absolutely a troll is not automatically someone who disagrees.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Most people start a blog as a way to share their thoughts and establish a community around their site. A blog is a two way conversation. The blogger has a voice and a vision of where he wants his blog to go. But at the same time, the community around the blog has a voice that we you hear via the comments. Because of that, I think comments are very valuable in growing the community.

    Since the conversation is initiated and controlled by the blogger, he does have the power to influence where the conversation goes.

    Khalid

  4. I see it the same way Khalid. I know there’s usually a single guiding voice on a blog, but they become so much more when you add the community voice. To me the absence of comments makes it something different. I think a commentless blog can still provide great value, but I prefer those that allow the community to add something more.

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