comment_challenge_logo_2.png Rather than boring you to death with 31 Comment Challenge posts, I’m trying to condense a bunch of the activities into each post so if you’re bored, you can easily skip these.

Day 8: Comment on a blog outside of your niche

My husband is definitely a car guy. He watches car shows, reads car magazines, and follows several car blogs (I’m actually a big 50′s classic car fan, but he’s more of an 80s Porsche, Lamborghini car person). He constantly talks to me about one particular car blog called Jalopnik which has a feature called Project Car Hell where you can vote on which horrible old car you’d rather have (and disastrous old French, Italian and British cars are often among the options). I try to humor Adam when he talks about this stuff since I probably bore him to death with talk about OPACs and library blogs and weeding and the like.

So, for this activity, I decided to visit Jalopnik myself. I saw a post about Nick Bollea (son of Hulk Hogan) who has been sentenced to 8 months in prison for driving a 700 hp car at over 100 mph on a residential street and crashing it, leaving his passenger in a vegetative state. I’d watched the Hogan’s reality show on VH1 and was completely disgusted by the way they spoiled their kids, didn’t teach them any responsibility, and even encouraged their son to race cars before he knew how to drive responsibly on the road. So, since I had strong opinions on this, I decided to comment. First, I had to create an account. Then, when I decided to post the comment, it didn’t show up. I looked at my account and it says that it hasn’t been approved yet and it won’t show up until then. But what I said basically was that I hope young people who’ve grown up watching people like him and the people from The Hills learn that money cannot insulate you from everything and that no responsible parent should give a teenager a 700 hp car since even I drove like an idiot at 16/17.

The comments there: definitely a lot more testosterone than I see on most of the blogs I read. A lot of the comments on this post talked about what they hoped would happen to Nick in prison in language I will not repeat on this blog. On other posts, it’s obvious that most of the people here really know their stuff about cars and that these people have been faithful readers for a long time. It’s definitely got a strong community spirit there, but the sort of environment where people will slam you for saying something stupid and where most newbies would not feel comfortable commenting. Most posts get lots of comments, more than 20, sometimes more than 50, and the comments are almost always short and frequently snarky. It’s not an environment I would feel comfortable posting a comment unless I was an expert on what they were writing about.

Day 9: Should We Be Commenting on Blogs?

This is a really interesting question:

Now that we’ve spent several days trying to build up conversations through blog comments, I’m going to challenge you a little with a question–should we be using the commenting capacity to generate conversations between bloggers, or should we be interacting through our blog posts?

Check out this article and the many references to bloggers who think that comments should be disabled on blogs. Read through those posts and consider whether or not you think it’s better to build community through comments or through conversations occurring across blogs–or maybe a combination of both. What, to your mind, is the purpose of comments on blogs and are we better served by encouraging people to respond to ideas on our blogs or over on their own blogs?

I’ve noticed three groups of people who think we shouldn’t have comments on blogs (and there may be other reasons not to have comments, but this is what I’ve noticed):

  1. People who don’t get comments and thus think that comments must be “so five minutes ago”
  2. People who want to write their opinions on things, but not have them challenged
  3. People who are afraid of what commenters might write

I think it’s ok for someone to turn off comments if their blog is more informational and doesn’t encourage conversation. It’s also ok if the person is afraid of comments or just wants that one-to-many communication vehicle without being questioned. It’s their choice and I respect their choice. The one blog that I get really frustrated with for not having comments open is Caveat Lector. Dorothea often writes really opinionated posts that inspire me to comment, but the comments are turned off. If I’m motivated enough by what she wrote, I write a blog post in response. Otherwise, I might email or IM her about it. Most times, though, I just wish she had comments open and do nothing, because I just want to write a short comment. And I’d bet that a lot of other people feel that way, and that some terrific conversations could be happening on her blog if she just opened up comments. When she wrote a post about not being as big a rock star as me (um, whatever), I privately suggested to her that it might have more to do with her not allowing open and easy conversations on her blog through comments than with how she looks. I think that early on, I gained a loyal readership on my blog because they could become part of the conversation instead of just reading me and forgetting about it. Commenting, reflecting, disagreeing, conversating… all of that makes one’s blog stickier. I respect her choice to not have comments on her blog, but I do believe it has had an impact on her readership.

As to limiting comments only to blogs, I think that’s a terrible idea. It limits conversation only to those who have blogs. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with people on my blog didn’t have blogs at all. Some people started by commenting on people’s blog and then started their own later on (Ryan Deschamps is a great example — he used to bust my chops regular before he had his own blog). I don’t want to write an entire blog post every time I have an opinion about what someone wrote. Sometimes, all it takes is a few sentences or two paragraphs-worth of writing. When my thoughts get too big for a comment, it’s nice to know that I can comment on my blog. But I really see those spaces as both being distinct and critical for conversation. And unlike David Winer and others, I feel like blogs are about conversation.

Day 10: Do a Comment Audit on Your Own Blog

This is so not a place where I have problems. I tend to be shocked by the number of comments I get on a lot of my posts. But anyways, I’m supposed to look at this post, Six Reasons People Aren’t Commenting on Your Blog, and see how my blog measures up:

1. You sound like a press release.

I don’t know that every blog is designed to create conversation and that’s ok. There are some blogs I read that I learn a lot from. Steven Cohen’s and Sarah Houghton-Jan’s blogs are perfect examples and are two of my favorites. I learn a lot, but I rarely feel compelled to post a comment because their posts are usually about pushing useful information out to us.

While some of my posts are informational, a lot of them are more about my ideas and feelings, and so are more the type people might want to comment on. Doesn’t make the informational blogs less useful; they just serve a different purpose.

2. You sound like an infomercial.

I rarely promote things on this blog, so I’m not too worried about that one.

3. You sound like a know-it-all.

I don’t know if I sound like a know-it-all. I think usually write what I think and make it pretty clear that my view isn’t the be-all-end-all on things. I often ask people to share what they think about things, which hopefully also helps to make me sound less know-it-all-ish. But I’m sure I have my moments, especially when I feel really strongly about something. It’s definitely something I try to avoid though.

4. You haven’t showed them how.

You all know what comments are, right? You know you can comment on any post I’ve written right at the bottom of the post. Given that the majority of my readers consume my content via an RSS reader, I’m going to guess that you’re a pretty blog-savvy bunch.

5. You haven’t created the right atmosphere.

I get a lot of comments on this blog, so it makes me think I must have created the right atmosphere where people can feel comfortable posting comments. We’re no Jalopnik here. No one will tear your head off for what you write. And it’s definitely not cliquey here; I see a lot of first-time commenters here all the time, and everyone has just as valid a voice as everyone else. But if you can think of anything I can do to make the atmosphere of my blog more conducive to conversation, I’d appreciate the suggestions.

6. You just don’t seem that into it.

If there’s one thing you can say about me, it’s that I’m very into it. There are periods of time when I don’t write much because I don’t feel like I have a lot to say. I tend to write when I feel inspired, and I hope it comes out in my writing. I have a real passion for this; otherwise, I’d be working on the article I’m supposed to be writing for Library Journal instead of working on this post! ;)

Day 11: Write a Blog Comment Policy

This is something I’ve already done in response to some issues I’ve had on this blog with commenters in the past advertising their products, writing offensive things, and posting under another person’s name. It’s short, sweet and to the point:

The author reserves the right to delete any comments she deems offensive, irrelevant, or blatant advertisements. Any fraudulent comments will be deleted and every effort will be made to publicly expose the perpetrator(s).

I really take pains to avoid deleting comments, but sometimes it’s necessary. I feel like I want to make this as open a forum as I can, but, in the end, this is “my house” and I have to make rules about the types of behavior I will and won’t tolerate. Offensive or fraudulent comments only serve to discourage conversation, so my policy is all about encouraging conversation and discouraging creeps.