Note: 95% of this was written on a flight from San Juan to Philadelphia, so please excuse any spelling/grammatical errors or anything that just doesn’t make sense. I haven’t had time to really proofread this and I wanted to finish the challenge in a reasonable amount of time.

Day 26: Exploring Other Ways to Comment

Today, I’m supposed to be looking at alternative ways to comment, such as through audio or video. Personally, I’m more of a text person. I express myself better through text than any other medium. But I can understand why others may want to comment in different media. Greg Schwartz recently implemented video commenting on his blog, and some people responded very positively to it. I’m sure some people would rather comment through audio or video. It would create a much more personal connection if you could see and hear someone making their comment. It would probably lead to people being more kind when they comment since they are really putting themself out there and it’s more apparent that the person on the other side of the screen is a human. It also might lead to fewer misunderstandings regarding the tone of people’s comments.

On the other hand, some people probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable commenting like that (me included). It could take more time and effort to comment. I know I often comment in my PJs, or while talking to my husband, or while watching TV, or all three at once. To do video, I’d really have to stop everything and focus on that, which just doesn’t fit into my current workflow.

I can definitely see video and audio commenting as being an interesting possibility for making deeper connections through commenting, but not for me. I prefer text or face-to-face conversation, not recorded audio and video.

Day 27: What Do You Communicate About Your Personal Brand Through Commenting?

I hate the term branding when it comes to people, but I recognize that we all are essentially building a brand with every action we take online. Each little thing we write online, or that’s written about us, creates a perception of who we are (which may or may not be accurate). I know the way I comment is just as important as what I write on my own blog. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, I take comments I make elsewhere more seriously than what I write on my own blog, because it’s like being in someone else’s house. I always sign my blog comments, but usually it’s with “Meredith” rather than “Meredith Farkas.” However, I always provide a link to my blog, so it’s easier to find out which Meredith it is.

When I look at the comments I’ve made so far in May (around 60 — wow, that’s a lot more than usual!), I think they’re very consistent with the way I write my blog. There’s a lot of me in them and I try to be supportive/constructive in my comments, though I occasionally challenge someone’s view of things. I feel pretty good about the brand I’m putting out there.

I’ve noticed that some people exhibit very different behavior on their blog vs. in comments on other people’s blogs. Some will be very civil on their own blog and then will be quite argumentative or insulting in comments elsewhere. It’s almost like they think their hands are clean so long as they keep their own blog clean. I only know a few people who do this, but I find it almost worse than just being true to who you are everywhere online. It feels very dishonest to me.

And that’s probably why I don’t like the whole idea of branding on individual blogs, because I think it encourages people to focus on creating a brand on their blog rather than on being real. But I completely understand that whether we like it or not, we are creating a brand.

Day 28: What’s Your Blog Commenting Strategy?

On this day, we were supposed to read this post and discuss our own commenting strategy. My strategy is definitely different now than it was when I first started blogging, especially since I don’t really have much of a “strategy” now. Even early on, I never had such a calculated strategy as Caroline Middlebrook, more because I was pretty clueless when I started blogging than anything else. I literally started reading library blogs when I started writing my own. When I first started blogging, commenting on other people’s blogs was a great way to build a network and get my name out there. Unless you’re Roy Tennant or Stephen Abram, when you start a blog, you’re an unknown quantity and you have to build your readership. A big part of that is through good posts, but people may still not stumble upon your blog and find those good posts. Linking to prominent bloggers helps because they then see your blog in their ego feed and will probably take a look. Commenting also is a great way to get more exposure, and not just from the person whose blog you’re commenting on, but also from those who follow that person’s blog. If you write interesting comments, people will likely click through to your blog.

Now, my strategy, if you can call it that, is to comment on posts that interest me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a post from a prominent blogger or someone just starting out; if they write something that I feel compelled to comment on, I will. For me now, it’s more about making connections with interesting people than getting new readers (though hopefully that is happening too).

Day 29: Write a Commenting Guide for Students

This is actually a useful exercise for me since the students in my class at SJSU do have to comment on each other’s blogs and it’s something I didn’t provide much guidance on the first time I ran the class (though their comments were quite insightful in spite of me).

I’d say that my guide would mirror what I wrote about what makes a good comment:

When you are commenting on someone else’s post, consider the following elements that make for a good blog comment:

  • It’s relevant to the original post
  • It is thoughtful and insightful
  • Your unique voice comes through in the comment
  • It is civil in tone — no jabs at other people
  • It is short enough to be readable, but long enough to be meaningful

There are many, many, many flavors of good comments and most good comments will not meet all of this criteria. Some may be encouraging while others may challenge everything you wrote in your post. Some may be personally revealing while others may be very academic. Some may be a sentence long, others may be a blog post in themselves. Some may be insightful, some may be supportive, and others may just be funny. The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re writing a comment on someone else’s post is to be true to yourself.

Day 30: How Can You Use What You’ve Learned about Commenting to Change Your Teaching Practices?

I don’t know that this challenge has changed my teaching practices, per se, but it has impacted what I will teach about blogs in the Fall. I never thought much about commenting before I started this and likewise, I didn’t think it required much comment in my class on social software. Now I see it differently. I plan to discuss more the importance of commenting and how critical it is to building connection and community online. I’ll discuss some of the things from this challenge, like what makes a good comment and the different ways to comment. I hope I can communicate to my students how valuable commenting is to community-building and give them the confidence to comment on blogs outside of the class (I may even make that an assignment!).

Day 31: What Were Your Top 5 Lessons from the Comment Challenge?

I initially started this challenge because I’d been feeling a little disconnected from my online peeps. It had been a difficult winter for me and I’d disengaged a little from the online world. So I really wanted to sort of re-commit myself to my community through commenting. It ended up being a really illuminating experience through which I learned a lot about the value of commenting and my own feelings and actions in that realm.

Here are just a few of the things I learned:

1. Commenting is a critical component of community-building in the blogosphere. While we can connect through our individual blog posts with trackbacks and whatnot, comments keep the conversation going and allow everyone to contribute, regardless of whether they have a blog. It’s a beautiful thing.

2. I feel more connected to others when I comment. I commented more this month than I have in the past and it really made a difference. I felt more connected to the people whose posts I was commenting on and more connected to the profession in general. I found it very personally rewarding and I hope to keep it up.

3. I take commenting very seriously and that’s ok. It takes me a long time to comment usually, because I think very carefully about what I’m going to write. A blog is like someone’s home and I’m not going to put my feet up on someone else’s coffee table like I would on my own. That being said, I definitely do feel more comfortable posting on friends’ blogs, mainly because I know they will be less likely to misinterpret anything I write.

4. Never comment when you’re angry or frustrated. It’s not like I didn’t know this before, but this challenge really convinced me that writing angry comments is a horrible idea. Chances are you will regret what you wrote, but also, if we are creating a brand with everything we put online, I don’t want to be a person who writes angry comments. I’m an impulsive person, but I’m not a mean person and I’d hate for anyone to ever think I am.

5. I need to be better about responding to comments. I’m not going to respond to every comment every time, because I don’t always have something to say to your comment (which doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your comment, I do). However, I am going to try to engage more with my commenters whenever possible. Sometimes I get too busy and I hope people understand that and don’t assume that I have a lack of interest in getting comments. I love getting comments; it makes me feel like what I wrote mattered to someone else. It means everything.

This has been a wonderful experience and I’m very glad I took part in it. I didn’t find every activity useful or enlightening, but on the whole, it was a good learning experience.