Sunday, October 17, 2010

Commons: Comments and Community

Robin of Metanoia wondered in this post about the development of communities around the comments in blogs. Who visits? Who comments? Why? Has the rise of aggregation software like Google Reader, which makes it easy to rifle through and read the most recent posts on your favorite blogs, reduced the likelihood that someone will comment — and thus diminishes whatever sense of community might exist in that virtual spot? I know that each extra click reduces the chances that I will comment. Is what I had to say worth moving from Reader to the blog? opening the comment box? typing in the code that confirms I'm human? typing it in a second time when I've failed the test? or forgotten if this particular anti-Turing test is case sensitive? Oh -- never mind!

I'm curious about what leads to a building of community around one blog but not another -- for example, the People for Others blog at Loyola Press has a regular body of commenters, with some interesting perspectives on the posts and some give and take, while the comment traffic on DotMagis, also out of Loyola, is much lower. I like them both, the content is always first rate. Why does one engage readers in further conversation and the other not?

And then there are the blogs who have groups of commenters who, while not quite trolls, are certainly not out to build a community but there are boatloads of comments. I suspect that a blog needs a certain amount of traffic to sustain a conversation in the comments. Certainly one way to do that is to be deliberately inflammatory, but I'm wondering about other ways to invite conversation.

Fr. Christian Mathis at Blessed is the Kingdom invites visitors to introduce themselves at a subpage on his site. I've toyed with the idea off and on and once my peripatetic month is over (that's another blog post!), I may do the same.


  1. Well, now I have to comment, don't I?

    I think the DotMagis site is difficult to navigate. And now that you know from Wernersville how much trouble I have with terrain on which I am actually standing, imagine my difficulty with virtual geography! I have learned with that site to click directly on a blog post link when it appears on my own page, because I am completely disoriented when I go to the main page. (So if you guys are reading . . . ).

    And yes, I am convinced that Google Reader et al. diminish community, because of the whole sequence of steps you list. Now if one could both read the comments and post her own from Google Reader, a conversation might get going! I guess we should tell them, not each other.

  2. And I certain should reply, no?!

    Navigation is certainly an issue -- if I can't figure out where to comment, I'm may wander off as well.

    I wrote a bit during the writing workshop I was leading about medieval inns and my blog.

  3. I agree that in order to sustain a community by the discussions generated in the comment section of a blog that there have to be a certain number of regular readers and contributors. I have just recently gotten to the point where I feel this is beginning to happen on my blog. Recently I have found more and more commenters who not only respond to the posts but to one another and this is the beginning of a community, virtual though it is.

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  4. Michelle, you raise some interesting questions about how community develops in the blogosphere. I think there are ways to encourage comments from readers who use RSS feeds, but the competition to be compelling exists. Extra steps will turn away commenters, but some regular readers, particularly when we’re talking about spiritual blogs, don’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing in the public forum that comments provide. We don’t expect every visitor to become a regular commenter and we respect that.

    Robin, I’m project manager for, so I have behind the scenes experience with the dotMagis blog. I’m curious to hear why you find the site difficult to navigate. We strive to be easy-to-use, and your feedback would help us improve. To not take over Michelle’s blog, please e-mail me at so that we can discuss it. Thank you.

  5. I think I'll have to check out FCM's blog. Maybe I'll even say something!

    I also agree with what has been said elsewhere that posting comments on religiously-oriented blogs/posts is a risky business. "It only takes one" for a thoughtful, many-faceted discussion to veer into a cascade of polemical attacks.

    However, without comments, no community. There are several blogs which I read regularly, but since my occasional comments have elicited no response, even on the blogs in question, much less comments on mine, I have concluded that the writers are more interested in expounding upon their own lives and views than in conversing about them -- which is certainly their privilege.

  6. Well, I answered the questions at FCM's blog and they disappeared -- I sure hope he has comment moderation on, because it was a lot of work!

  7. Robin and Michelle--- I hope the folk at Google Reader listen to your recommendations

  8. Robin,

    Yes. Comment moderation for the first comment someone leaves. It makes it easier than coming back to weed out the spammers. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. It always helps me to learn a little bit more about those who are visiting the blog.


  9. Fr. Christian,

    I agree traffic is at least part of it and certainly a post structure and style that encourages some response from the reader helps as well.

    Denise, thank you for responding to Robin! As part of my "residency" this week (I'm doing some teaching around contemplative practices at a university in Virginia) I had an interesting conversation about what stimulates a sense of virtual co-presence. There's another post there, but it did give me some ideas about why PFO might have a vibrant set of commenters. It'll give me something to write on the travels to my next destination!