I’ve often asserted that blogging is a social process, that the mere publishing, caterwauling, prettying up templates, is only a piece of it– blogging is also participating in other people’s blogs.

There is nothing that will energize a budding blogger more than getting feedback, and the impact is even larger when it comes from someone distant or unknown. It validates (or invalidates, or infuriates) a blogger’s writing. It says that you are not just spewing words out into the ether, that they land somewhere. And it connects us.

My favorite example described by Matthew Kirschenbaum as “Comment Blogging” he describes the actions of François Lachance who lacks a published blog, but instead blogs in the comments space of other blogs:

I can predict the range of theoretical positions such a “blog” (should we call it a comment blog?) might be said to occupy: this is blogging in the margins, distributed blogging at the interstices of the discourse network. François appears on no one’s blogroll, his entries are not tracked by blogdex or weblogs.com or similar sites. He is an utter non-entity in the standard ecological renderings of the blogosphere, yet he unquestionably has a presence “here.”

Consider my friend and colleague Brian Lamb’s blog request for suggestions to presentation he had to deliver and how the network delivers the goods:

You never know what might happen when you make a blanket appeal for feedback, such as I did in the run-up to the blogs and wikis talk tomorrow night at the VPL. People are busy, and I asked some deceptively difficult questions.

I’m simply overwhelmed by the responses I’ve gotten back. Within minutes I got a trackback from Germany (wish I’d paid a bit more attention in my high school classes). Christopher Sessums contributed some notes toward what became a pretty groovy wiki-based presentation of his own, demonstrating how to be tremendously supportive of others while working to achieve one’s own objectives. Vicki Davis pointed to an array of wonderful multimedia she is using with her students, it’s easy to see why this work was named Wikispace of the month last December.

I’ve been fortunate in 2.5 years of blogging to get some attention/linkage from others, but cannot recall a post that got more than 10, pretty paltry when you see the 5, 100+ comment streams some über bloggers get. Also, I meet a lot of people in conferences and emails who tell me they “read/like” CogDogBlog (though I can never remember seeing any comments- they are silent blog consumers, which I need to say up front- there is nothing wrong with lurking).

So I decided to fish around my database tables to see what the numbers said. My copy of Spam Karma gives some basic stats- going back to January 1, 2005 before I even implemented SK2, it has caught 1438 spam messages, and I moderated another 78 into the pile, and that there are 670 legitimate comments.

To get a grasp on the unique commenters, I did a quick mySQL query:

which says find me all comment authors since January 1, 2005, tell me how many comments they made, and list them in order of most commenting authors.

So the results give me 380 unique commenters (well if they did use the same name in the comment form), which actually is quite a lot. I don’t even know 380 people, you’d have to go down an order of magnitude and divide again by 5 or so. So thanks to my top commenters:

Alan 146
D’Arcy Norman 76
Alan Levine 32
Gardner 27
Cheryl Colan 26
Scott Leslie 21
Stephen Downes 21
Bruce Landon’s Weblog for Students 17
Brian 17
Situativity 16
Abject Learning 14
XplanaZine 10

Gulp- that’s me doing a lot of commenting back, 146 instances, no wonder I feel like I am not getting any work done!

It’s a little bit worse on our MCLI iForum– a print+web publication from our office we turned into web-only and publish with WordPress. One of the added benefits (we hoped) was an ability for readers, and mainly our internal Maricopa audience, to “interact” with the articles. We ended most articles with some open ended questions, yet 2 months after publishing there are 8 legitimate comments (the last one more than a month ago), and 197 spam attempts caught by SK2. We got individual phone calls, emails, and verbal positive responses, but there is some unseen inertial force keeping our folks from making public comments (and they can choose anonymity with a fake name).

We are rather stumped by this…. so what is it that prevents readers from interacting with blogs? Does it only happen when there are points provided by a teacher? I know not everything needs a comment, and I certainly do not post comments on everything I read.

Commeenting- never underestimate its power, reach, and affect (unless you are a spammer, die a foul fetid death you wastes of human flesh!)

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Alan, you don’t know how vital comments are until they stop coming. At the moment my edublogs address has commenting closed (out of my control) and a handful of frustrated commenters have e-mailed me to let me know and to give me their comments at least. But others may have wanted to leave a comment but couldn’t. And that means a conversation can’t develop because noone else can see the comments and the flow on from that. To paraphrase James Farmer (who I hope is solving my problem as I type) blogging without comments isn’t blogging!

  2. I feel your pain, Graham. Actually, I think I was browsing your blog just yesterday, and I regret not leaving a comment!

    But I am guessing James has all 10 of his hands full with the latest rounds of spam attacks- they ahve gotten much more cunning and are exploiting WordPress’s moderation rules. Since I run my own version, I clamped down hard on the barriers, but it is an ongoing fight that chews up your time.

    I hope it clears soon for you!

  3. Yo, cogdog, I count 178 barks from you (unless “alan levine” is a pseudonym used by someone else 😉 )

    But, wtf am I doing leaving 76 comments on your blog? Sorry for the stalking behaviour.. I’ll try to lurk a little more often…

  4. 178 is pretty tame… I just ran the query on my db, and here’s what it spit out:

    D'Arcy  551

    you scored 32 over at my place – 5th place overall. 🙂

  5. Alan, I started a conversation about why readers do and don’t comment last fall on BOP News, which inspired a treasuretrove of responses from readers there.

    Some of their replies were very specific to the context of that particular blog. However, many of the comments seemed relevant to almost any blog.

    Your 178 comments should stand you in good stead, though: one point that the conversation highlighted was that readers feel most confortable to comment when the author actively engages with readers, especially where they build up a relationship over time.

  6. I think most of us are reluctant to openly disagree on someone’s blog, and on the flipside it seems kind of pointless to leave a “Yes, I agree, well said” comment every time you like a post…so that eliminates most potential comments right off the bat.

    “Real” comments that bounce off the post and add something new take time and energy we often aren’t willing to spend, especially in someone else’s space…so if a post really grabs us, we’ll blog it instead. Of course then subsequent readers of the post don’t get to participate unless the trackback works properly and they think to follow one…

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