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Where Have All The Comments Gone?


Years ago, the online design community was a thriving conversationalist — of sorts — through the comment sections across the community. It was through leaving meaningful comments that the thought-provoking ideas presented and discussed in a post were examined by others whose perspective and experiences may have provided them with a slightly different take.

The continued dissection and discussion of the topic expanded the dialog far beyond the initial post, challenging and redirecting ideas and allowing dialog to evolve; it showed a certain level of critical thinking from within the community. We still have sites1 that2 are3 design4 conversationalists5, but unfortunately they are rather exceptions. And it seems that the problem occurs not only in the design community, but in other areas6 as well.

Since those good old days, things have taken an unexpected turn. Comments are becoming less and less expansions on the ideas presented, and more and more just simple offerings of praise or agreement. Even in articles where solutions are being sought for problem areas within the field, numerous comments show acceptance of this need for action but offer no solution or approach; often, the comments also show that the ideas were not given much consideration by the reader.

This is certainly not indicative of every comment on every post out there across the blogosphere, or a generalization about the community — just an observation of an increasing trend. Once, posts would inspire active discussion and participation with such a wide range of opinions that the post would take on a whole new life. That phenomenon has faded.

What Is This Saying? Link

The rise of the less-than-conversational commenting can make it look like we are losing our capacity for critical thinking — at least, with regards to the topics being presented for discussion. It can sometimes feel like there are those who rush to throw their support behind the author of the post without considering what is being proposed. Even if you agree with what was said and wish to show your support, there are still ways to comment that indicate a more thoughtful approach.

Sometimes comments can also leave the impression that the commentator just skimmed through the headers and did not read the article in full. The sentiments left behind in such comments, though they may be honest, can impart a hollow feeling rather than the intended encouragement.

So, What Happened? Link

There is one important aspect of online content that we often tend to forget. With most posts (beyond those intended to offer inspiration and little else), the ideas presented are there to be examined and dissected; they are not the “final word” on the subject, but a perspective presented for consideration. They don’t have to be correct and they don’t have to be accepted “as is”. The current commenting attitude can effectively undercut any potential ongoing discussion that the author of the post set out to have. When, and why, did the dialog die? Perhaps if we can root out the cause, we can better address the problem.

1. It’s a Matter of Time Link

One obvious consideration is time. Our multiple daily online “obligations” can cause our time to be finely divided; we may opt to leave behind a quick sentiment because our RSS feeds are calling with dozens of other articles that we want to give our attention to; because we have e-mails to attend to; or because any number of time-consuming reasons keep us “running” the whole time we are online.

2. The Social Media Connection Link

Perhaps the rise of social media shares some blame for the devolving of critical commenting. People started using social media networks more frequently and offering follow-up thoughts mainly when they shared a post, usually limiting their comments to little or nothing; it became easier to simply share a post, rather than to actively formulate a meaningful follow-up comment to leave on the post itself. And as the path of least resistance is often the one traveled most, here we are.

3. Just a Visual Contribution Link

We also have to consider that for some of the blogosphere populous, commenting is more about visibility than actually contributing to the discussion. At times, the only purpose is to be “seen” on the website or to have their information linked to the website via the comment section — especially if they can be the absolute first to leave a comment. It does not really matter what the post is about; in fact, they may not have even read it. What’s often overseen in these cases is that links next to a meaningful comment are an indicator of author’s competence and as such much more useful and therefore much more valuable than simple link dropping.

As Content Creators, What Can We Do? Link

What can content creators do to generate more discussion and critical thinking among readers? Many of us are unwilling to adopt a focus on putting out content that does not promote critical thinking; we wish to keep challenging our readers and colleagues. We like to read content which gets us thinking and questioning, so in turn, we like to create the same type of content.

Photo credit: Ian Muttoo8

1. Maximize Engagement Link

Find creative ways to ensure that the content we are putting out is as engaging or interactive as possible. If you can involve your readers in the post, you are more apt to get them thinking about the ideas being presented. Ask them questions throughout the article to get them into an inquisitive state of mind, so that they may end up reading with a much more critical eye and have more comments to make.

2. Respond in a Timely Manner Link

Watch the comments that are coming in and reply to them within a day or so. This is not to say that we have to be available at a moment’s notice to respond to each comment; but if readers take the time to consider your ideas and to leave their thoughts, we need to take the time to reply. Most will check back in a day or two to see if you have responded, hoping to keep the discussion going; if we have not gotten back to them by then, they might write off the idea of continuing the dialog and move on.

3. Foster a Conversational Environment Link

Create an atmosphere that is conducive to dialog. If we are already asking questions to get responses and are responding back, we need to nurture the conversation by being approachable. If your ideas are challenged, you have done well; don’t let that make you feel defensive about your original points as that tone will come across in your replies and might degrade the discussion into a debate, with both sides becoming more entrenched.

4. Adapt the Discussion Link

If our audience is turning to social media networks with their thoughts and follow-ups, we might have to adjust our approach and adopt an “If you can’t beat them, join them” mentality by moving the conversation there — even if it leads away from the original post. We can then try to later steer the conversation back to the comment section attached to the original article or post.

As Commentators, What Can We Do? Link

We cannot forget that we end up as both creator, and commentator, in our daily online lives — or at least, we should. Admittedly, having fallen victim to the social media networks, I now tend to comment less on blog posts than I did before. We have to fall back on that golden rule: treat others as we wish to be treated, and seek out other articles to read through and critically consider. When we don this hat, we need to take the responsibility seriously and give as good as we expect to get.

1. Offer Personal Highlights Link

Even when we are in complete agreement with a post and have nothing to expand on, we can still leave meaningful comments: we can always take the time to let the rest of those participating in the comment thread know what areas resonated with us. By highlighting what connected with us, you allow the author to get some insight into what is landing with the audience, and by default, what is not.

2. Be Constructive Link

Remain as constructive as possible so the conversation doesn’t get derailed. There is no use in belittling or insulting the points presented even if you disagree with them, especially if you are interested in actual dialog or in getting the author to rethink a position. This does assume that our intention, as readers, is to expand on the ideas presented; if we feel we cannot reasonably or respectfully contribute to the dialog, we should just move along without leaving any comment.

3. Read Fully Before Drawing Conclusions Link

If we are going to leave a comment, especially one that raises a point of contention, we need to fully read the post. If we are pressed for time and have a “Shoot first, ask questions later” attitude, we may skim through the post, get something out of context, and immediately jump down to the comment section to dispute it — forgetting that the rest of the article could contextualize the point, or even cover what we are about to comment on.

4. Ask Questions Link

Ask relevant questions about the points that were raised to instigate further discussion. When creating content ourselves, we often lean on queries to spark dialog and to get comments flowing; why not employ the same tactic when we are on the other side of the discussion? Even if all of the ideas in the post were expressed plainly enough, one can always ask follow-up questions. Again we want to keep the tone of our comments in mind, so that our inquiries stand a better chance of being well received and of getting answered.

Contributing our own experiences can further the discussion and bring others into that portion of the continuing conversation, but only relevant contributions need apply: it is one thing to offer a story to really accentuate a point made in the article, but quite another to share a story that has nothing to do with the post.

In Conclusion Link

Many factors could have brought about this uncritical commenting trend, and there are many ways that we can combat diminishing dialog to spark critical thinking in our readers and encourage them to “see” what they read with inquisitive eyes. Most bloggers have no problem receiving praise for their posts, but when the readers are additionally provoked to think more about the topic and to leave a comment that carries on the discussion, the post evolves — a win for both the blogger and the readers.

…So, What Do You Think? Link

Footnotes Link

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Rob Bowen is a staff writer for Web Hosting Geeks and Top Web Hosting, a longtime freelance designer, and burgeoning videographer and filmmaker whose creative voice and works can be heard and found around the web.

  1. 1

    FIRST! Great article thx!

    … seriously though, I wholeheartedly agree. I blame the listicles culture – the content swallowed itself in a sea of “50 [jquery/CSS/techniques] you [should/must] use” articles. The content became disposable and the comments reflected that. We are still seeing the after effects.

    • 2

      Its all getting so post-ironic on this site I’m not even sure what is a real comement and what isn’t! Presuming you calling him a prick in genuine, he was being playful and pretending to be the type of comment this post is highlighting as a problem. Having said that, if you calling him a prick was doing the same, you are blowing my mind!

    • 3

      You do realize the whole point of this article was to bring thoughtful discussion to the forefront. I don’t believe you understood the point, Mike.

      If you reread Jordan’s post, you would realize that he was using sarcasm at the beginning. The problem with comments today is what he pointed out with “FIRST! Great article thx!,” which doesn’t lead to any conversation because it has no value and you made his point perfectly valid with your demeaning reply. Please read point 3 again under the heading “As Commentators…” to get my point.

    • 6

      Thanks, Jordan, I think you are on to something there! Appreciate the follow-up.

    • 7

      Perhaps I was wrong. It seems even those comments like were highlighted can even start a discussion. ;)

  2. 9

    Chris Butterworth

    November 19, 2010 4:26 am

    I’d agree entirely, there are a lot of visitors to blogs that just don’t post anymore.
    There might be a lot of reasons for this but they are a mystery; it could be shear laziness.
    But you’re right the only way to get more user engagement, is to engage them more; create more interesting posts and topics, create discussions and leave personal insight.

    • 10

      One must remember the international audience of Smashing. Many readers, while being able to read English can’t or are embarrassed to respond in English. The love and desire is there but not the ability. I say respond in your native language and let others translate!

      • 11

        I’ve seen this done before. It’s kind of nice to see people from your country commenting in your own language. The problem might be that you’re leaving out other users that may wonder what you’re saying. But then again
        But anyway, if you can’t write in English, I guess it’s better to at least share some knowledge / insight.

        • 12

          Gabriel, only Americans are limited in language skills. We have yet to think globally and students take a couple of years of French or Spanish and most fail at basic English. We do have got us a lot of them nuclear missiles!

    • 13

      Thanks for the added insights! Creating the discussion is a big part of it. You want to leave room for that discussion to unfold, which could mean, undercovering a topic so there is more left to discuss in the comment section.

      Very true, speider, that is something to consider. I like seeing comments in other languages (even if I don’t understand what is being said at first), but understand completely those who are uncomfortable enough to go there. Thanks!

  3. 14

    I agree, It’s extremely hard to get a constracrive comment this days. As said in the article I think this is mostly because lack of time this days…

    • 15

      Please accept this little piece of constructive criticism: use a spell checker before posting a comment. If the issue is lack of time, then don’t bother leaving a comment.

      • 16

        Could you explain why thats important? its about communicating quickly, if you have an anal preoccupation with spelling and grammar that’s your problem, as long as it’s readable then what does it matter?

        • 17

          My pleasure to respond Davek. Call me anal, but the comment above only seemed a tad ironic in light of the ensuing discussion in response to the first comment.

          These types of comments (e.g. flaky praise, redundant remarks, even inattentive spelling and grammar) only illustrate the crux of Bowen’s essay, that the uncritical commenting trend permeating the blogosphere is very real.

          Perhaps I’m being a little too critical for calling out a minor spelling error but it seems many people are simply too distracted to take the time to think about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.
          So by all means, continue not investing the extra 1 to 2 minutes required to proofread what you’ve written—ultimately the choice is yours. You can strive to communicate in a clear, concise and intelligent manner or perpetuate the conclusions set forth by Bowen.

          • 18

            Darryl, I agree with Davek here – how does criticizing grammar or spelling add to the conversation? More to the point, how does poor grammar or spelling take away from it? I’m reminded of the cn y rd ths sentce evn th letts ar missng trick. If you can read and comprehend it what’s been lost?

            In the context of this article I find the practice of berating or “constructively” criticizing someone’s grammar and/or spelling to be particularly distasteful and dare I say, elitist. People read and reply from across the globe on a myriad of devices. Not all of them have access to a spell checker, some pay hefty fees by the minute, others have poor English, some are on a mobile device, few copy/paste their comments from a word processor.

            Personally, I post on comments less because of just this sort of thing. Without fail there will always be at least one of each of the following:

            Obvious spam
            Cloaked spam
            Grammar police

            Consider what a person has to say and excuse them for any imperfections. Do use your intellect to contribute something thoughtful, don’t use your intellect to criticize others constructively.

          • 19

            Darryl Jonckheere

            November 23, 2010 9:46 pm

            Shimone, I appreciate your thoughts even if they do contrast with my personal point of view. I feel you are right in this case, perhaps I was being a little too harsh of another person’s comments.
            If I take a certain pride in emphasizing good diction I should not expect or berate others for failing to to so — my apologies.
            In fact, the more I think about it, offering a complete stranger in the blogosphere a piece of constructive criticism appears to carry with it the added consequence of being called-out by others who may themselves be critical of my thoughts.

            In retrospect it would have been much easier for me to simply click the ‘thumbs down’ button and remain completely anonymous wouldn’t you say?

  4. 20

    I definitely agree that there is a major lack of participation and engagement across a large percentage of blogs and other social media (I’d argue that it’s reflective of our world in general, but that’s a whole other conversation). In my experience, more often than not, when I go to comment, I find that people have already echoed repeatedly my exact thoughts on the issue (sometimes using identical language, to boot), so I start thinking it’s repetitive and doesn’t add anything to the conversation. Other times, it’s simply just a matter of time.

    Discuss. :)

    • 21

      Yeah I totally know what you mean, I’m often times in the same boat but maybe it would be a good idea for us to think of new things to bring to the table? :). Or throw the conversation in a new direction?

    • 22

      That could be the reflection you were talking about. Very true. And I get what you are saying about not wanting to echo what others have said. That does make sense. Though, from the perspective of the writer, it is still nice to know if something raised in the post resonated so much with so many. If multiple comments come in along the same lines, then you know that you really hit that point or completely missed it. Either way, the more people talking about it, the more it shows resonance. IMHO.

      Time is the big one for me. I often find that I want to go back to a post to comment later when the clock is being kinder to me, but I don’t always remember to do so.

      • 23

        There isn’t much incentive in posting a long reply in the comments section. And there is less incentive to repeat what someone else already said. I know that you, as an author, want to know everyone’s opinion and whether a certain position is popular among your readers but then again, that’s just what YOU want as the writer. It goes against the popular mantra of giving the users what they want.

        I’m a person who writes really long comments and coming back to the site only to find out that no one else read through the long comments section and replied to my well-thought out post. It becomes disheartening after a while. So I can sort of understand why someone wouldn’t bother to repeat or rehash an idea, or even expound on an interesting point.

        I’m not blaming people for not reading through long comments. After all, the web has grown so much and visibility has become a luxury. Users’ attention and time has become the new “non-renewable” resource – if you’re going to post something long and insightful in the comments section, might as well post it in your own blog. This has a larger chance of being read all the way through rather than being buried and forgotten in a site’s comments section. Plus, all your thoughts are in one place: your blog/site instead of being scattered around cyberspace. There’s less chance of you contradicting yourself that way. Hehe

        (Kudos to you though, I bet this article will have loads of long, insightful comments compared to the usual)

        • 24

          Hi Mary, I’m sorry you feel disheartened when it seems as though you’ve poured your heart and soul into a written piece and no one makes the effort to leave a comment or provide any meaningful acknowledgement.
          As an avid blogger of several years, I can vouch for the fact that comments—especially those of the thoughtful variety—are on the decline. Unlike the high traffic sites, including Smashing Mag, most bloggers publishing outside of the digital limelight (myself included) are lucky to get even 2 or 3 comments on any given post. This is the reality of our hyper-connected digital landscape. Most people are simply too time-constrained or distracted to bother reading at length online—let alone leaving a thoughtful comment.
          Don’t let a lack of feedback stop you from blogging—if you really enjoy writing, keep pursuing it.

        • 25

          Hey Mary, don’t get disheartened now! :) I’ve read your comments & I’m really glad to read comments like yours that are long and informative also presenting a different opinion!

          Also, I agree with Darryl. I’m not an author, I’m just a reader, & i’m trying to be a better commentator, but times have changed. There are so many choices, so many articles to read, that we are in a rush! Honestly, sometimes, when i read an article, i forget that i should comment! Also, on many other occasions, when i really like the article, i just leave by a few lines like ‘great articles’ or ‘thanks’ like that! It’s kinda hard for me to comment on all those articles but at least when i leave just some words of appreciation, i think it’s good for the author & for me too!
          “there are always more likes on a post or a photo in facebook than there are comments”, its a fact, people prefer to click the like button much more than commenting!

          But, anyways, I go through most of the comments to get some more from the article, & they are indeed very helpful! So, for people like us, people like you and others those who possess a wider vision & knowledge regarding that subject, should comment without getting disheartened!

          • 26

            Thanks. :) (and thanks to darryl too)

            Don’t worry, I still read absurdly long posts and write absurdly longer comments.

      • 27

        Yeah, I’m usually totally in the same boat. At work I like to read articles fast and don’t have enough time to reflect on articles. Now I’m starting to read a lot more at home so it works out nicely :).

  5. 28

    I very rarely post comments on any blogs I read. In the same way I don’t email newspapers or magazines. I have read an article because I wanted to read/learn something, not because I feel that I have any specific or worthwhile to say.
    Generally if I do comment, it is a ‘awesome, thanks for sharing’ or ‘nice one, I’ll try that out’ kind of vibe.
    I don’t know – I think you are overthinking and overplaying this.
    Just me…

    • 29

      Advitum Webdesign

      November 19, 2010 5:48 am

      I don’t think this is overplayed!
      It really is hard to start a discussion on a blog lately. Constructive and thoughtful comments can give the author an impression how his readers think about a special topic. And new ideas often are born out of a discussion.

      I wish the readers of my own blog would give me some comments. Without comments, I somehow feel like they don’t think about what I write.
      My Blog (it’s German):

    • 30

      I agree with you in a sense Duncan, I think everyone has a right to their own thoughts and it’s just trying to get the message across that the level of thought going into contributing to an articles conversation is dwindling. But yeah, I’d say do what feels comfortable for you.

    • 31

      Oh, I get that, I do. Like Ryan pointed out, this post is highlighting how much this conversation has shifted. I myself have left comments like those talked about. It happens. The post just questions why, and seeks to get others thinking about this. Again, I completely understand where you are coming from.

      And like Ryan said, you need to do what feels comfortable for you.

  6. 32

    Insightful article. Certainly to comment with constructive ideas is important to strengthen our community. Your ideas for commentators and creators of content are perfectly applicable.

    I always try to comment when I can, just for support the blogs where I learned much of what I know about web development. The lack of time and no proficiency in english is the cause why I don’t comment with more frequence.

    An article like this one is essencial to slap the face the community and show to us the importance to participate and maintain our habitat.

    • 33

      yeah I totally agree, I’m in the same boat, I don’t take out the time for it. I think it’s really important though to grasp more of a connection with the article and the readers to to grow with the community.

  7. 34

    I agree. Most comments aren’t really ingenious or even helpful. I think the main cause of this is a matter of time. Let me tell you how I experience this: Since there was twitter, I didn’t use my RSS-Feeds much. Today, I don’t use them anymore. Sure, there are some nice and precious blogs/bloggers out there who don’t twitter. But I think: If they don’t want to give this service the right attention, their blogs/articles won’t earn attention, too.

    So far on this, BUT: In our company, and I think there might be many other people like us, use multiple twitteraccounts. Like one for the company, one for a company’s blog and a private one. To be able to retweet important tweets, there might be some “double-followings”. I just follow “interessting” bloggers or companies, but this is annoying part: Every two minutes a new tweet shows up like “read that”, “whatch this!”, “what do you think about that?” – and if you follow some nice blogs of our business like Smashing, DesignInformer, WebDesignStandards, WebdesignDepot, etc. there are dozens of retweets. While I am riding this, I got 3 new tweets like that.

    Even if you don’t work the whole day, you can hardly read or even check these links and give an adequate feedback in a comment. This might be a reason. There is just too much of meaningless information/inspiration out there and the nice, valuable articles “disappear”. It’s quality against quantity. I would rather read 3 or 4 good articles per month, than 6 per week which aren’t even worth the time reading them.

    Perhaps we should go back to RSS? Or think about what to twitter?

    • 35

      Actually I do find myself moving back to my RSS reader more and more.

    • 36

      I have found myself moving away from Twitter and back to the RSS feeds as I can obtain a more objective insight on the point the author is trying to get across. I find Twitter with it’s 140 char micro posts un-meaningful and lacks the ability to truly instill debate with the readers. Anymore I just use Twitter as a way to push good articles that I come across so the folks who follow me can click through to the articles.

      I miss the debates and insightful commenting which is why the long hiatus on posting something new on my blogs. I have been working in the IT field for sometime now and I am sure there are other old farts like me who stay away from posting do to the same reasons which is the lack of true interaction that most of these micro blogging sites have taken away.

      Not to say that a quick ‘Kudo’ comment is not welcome but tell the author WHY it was a good article. Life is more than just tweets by twits. kwim?

    • 37

      Wow, I think you nailed a big cause right there! I was just mentioning above that with the growing number of content creators, we are essentially swimming through the floods of content. Not always time or desire to follow up. Perhaps there is an element of overwhelming with so many links flying at us from all directions. Maybe you are right, and RSS is the way to go.

  8. 38

    I know that I start the morning at work by working through my RSS feeds, which usually results in having anywhere between three and ten articles from the community open. At which point they stay open, all day, unread.

    Usually, by the end of the day, I might have a chance to skim through a couple…certainly not enough to feel I can contribute. Most of the time they go in to my “Read It Later” stuff, which right now stands at 84 articles.

    While I think part of it is time, the other part is how many blogs there are now to read that have worthy content. Overnight I can usually end up with up to 30 new posts in my reader, and that doesn’t include all the stuff that will be posted throughout the day. More to read plus less time to read results in a problem.

    I think what we the readers can do is focus on one or two sites that we are going to commit to not just reading, but participating. We can still read the others, but we should really make the effort in those couple of sites to be part of the site, as opposed to just another visitor.

    I am going to make a “Read and comment” folder in my reader and fill it over the next week with a couple of sites I think I could contribute to regularly, and then set aside the time normally devoted to skimming everyone to really being a part of those sites.

    I also agree with Jordan above – the plethora of “Top 20” articles has probably contributed to this. Not that I don’t appreciate those, but comments to those articles are going to be limited to “Great list” and “You forgot…” type posts.

  9. 40

    I find it funny that the first 5 comments are exact examples of the content of this article!

  10. 45

    I think your “Just a Visual Contribution” point is the key here. I doubt anyone is under the illusion that “great post, thanks” is a meaningful contribution. They are posting to get their name and link out there. Half the time they are low-quality blogs with boring, unresearched “top 50 jquery plugins” type articles.

    I love the approach of CSS Tricks, where low quality comments are hidden or removed. Maybe Smashing Magazine could try that? It would certainly make the comments much easier to digest!

    • 46

      I am with you on that the clutter of useless contributions does make it more difficult for the readers interested in the discussion to sort through. Good idea for sure.

  11. 47

    In the past I used to be more engaged in online forum discussions specifically around design and dev. I still post on forums but the gaming type.

    I think the move from portal to blog sites may have had a play with this, also. Blog commenting is way too accessible there’s no real credit to build. While with portal you would sign up and be more engaged with an actual captive community and over time get to know folk. You don’t always get that with blog sites. There’s no sense of obligation.

    • 48

      Good point. There isn’t that sense of obligation, which as you pointed out, does play a part. Perhaps as creators we need to find a way to tap into this and create this sense within our readers through our content. The more they are engaged, the more they will feel like they need to contribute? Maybe?

      • 49

        Intriguing. That could work.

        What make blogs attractive is that it could be maintained even by one individual. Unlike with portals of which you eventually needed the help of others, or even for some, from the community (by assigning moderators etc).

        Now that was from the software maintenance aspect and content moderation. Now with this responsibility set aside the question is then how to actually keep the community engaged without having to increase the level of maintenance. Where would the balance be?

        What could possibly work is by allowing more interactivity with the content in itself, like you suggested through content. For example, in an article an individual can quickly highlight and nit pick a point in the article which would be linked to a further discussion on another section of the site. Think two tabs; Article, Views. In the Views there could be an extended discussion on the points set out in the Article – or even the highest ranking comments from the Article page are displayed in Views for further discussion.

        Think of it like Forum 2.0. Maybe then visitors would feel they could contribute their opinion based on a point of interest (at the same time allowing them to build their credibility) and possible create this “obligation” which is missed.

        Of course there’s a lot of aspects to consider… but definitely something to think about.

  12. 50

    Thought-provoking. I often find my WP site riddled with falsetto comments attempting to advertise a product or what-not. Personally I think most people are sick of the intentional flaming/flame-baiting/advertising that consumes the majority of comment sections, and would rather watch paint dry than have to sift through the plethora of drivel and asshattery to find the 1 meaningful comment. So…my real question would be: how do we stop the spammers/bots from turning away the otherwise would-be commenters?

    • 51

      Really good point and question, Jeff. The spamming is just going to require more vigilance on us as site runners. We have to vet the comments we let through more carefully to prevent these from sliding through.

    • 52

      The solution might just be to build a system that works without comments. You might think you need comments on your WP site because it’s some measure of reader participation but if all your getting is spam and the occasional “that’s great++” you might be better off turning comments off. The same can be said for most web applications.

  13. 53

    > 2. The Social Media Connection
    > 4. Adapt the Discussion

    We’ve started trying that. We’ve created hashtags on areas where only comments might have been available in the past (and then aggregating tweets and comments together).

    You can see it in action here:

    While this was a one-off experiment for events, it could clearly be pursued for a blog, magazine, etc.

    “Comments are becoming less and less expansions on the ideas presented, and more and more just simple offerings of praise or agreement.”

    While, I can’t say an experiment aggregating tweets as an alternative/compliment to comments led to more expansion on ideas, it might be interpreted as something more than shallow discourse. More an incentive for redistribution of information and social filtering, perhaps? A measure of attention in the diary of life? It definitely generated more “engagement” and discovery of other people interested in a common topic.

    And I believe that this is very different than simply allowing a person to authenticate to a site via openid/oauth. The end user (commenter) retains their individual contribution and it is connected to both their own online identity and the content object itself.

    I’d be interested in any thoughts …

    • 54

      Interesting. And kind of right on the mark with the adapting of the discussion. Take the conversation and expand it. I think this is interesting and would like to see more of these kinds of solutions.

    • 55

      I’ve been thinking of doing the same thing with a site I’m developing and there are defiantly other benefits. By using a platform where the author has a previously established social identity, they might be less likely to engage in trolling or spamming behavior. Obviously, users can still opt to sign-in using a secondary account on twitter where they do their spamming or trolling with some measure of anonymity but there’s a few simple solutions for that too.
      1 – check their friend count, spammers and trolls aren’t going to have many
      2 – check for links that don’t that don’t reference your domain.

  14. 56

    I agree, and I think you’re right in that some of the reasons are a lack of time and the event of social media.

    I believe people have an increasing amount of information to process. This causes stress and in order to keep up with all this information many people often interact with an easy “like” or “share” action.

    The networking factor plays in too, where participating in comments on a blog that relates to the topic of your blog, can be a way to form a fruitful connection both between bloggers and readers. The drawback is that as some blogs gain popularity and success, the less known blogger often hesitates to say anything that can be perceived as critical, and opts to flatter instead of contribute more deeply to the discussion.

    Oh, one more thing, I think that as the web evolves, people are getting tired of creating free content for a site that ultimately makes money off your activity and engagement. For example, when Amazon was new, many people submitted well written reviews of books, but as time has gone by it seems to me that people are less willing to do that.

    It’s an interesting topic!

  15. 57

    What about the trend towards social media integration replacing comments? Even on my almost no traffic blog all I get are spam commenters, which has prompted me to turn off commenting completely and replace it with a “Like” and “Tweet” button. I can not remember right now where I got the idea, but I think there’s some merit to that approach.

    The down side is of course the “conversation” aspect gets greatly reduced (as you point out), but maybe the content spread is greater.


  16. 58

    Floris Fiedeldij Dop

    November 19, 2010 5:09 am

    By the lack of quality of comments the irony is overflowing .. what a shame.

    Great article, but has been obvious since 1984 basically. <- not trying to troll.

  17. 59

    Fredrik Björeman

    November 19, 2010 5:10 am

    A thought which struck me while reading is that the cause could be as simple as reader- and commenter-ship going up.

    When readers, of any site, were limited to the select few deeply involved in the topic at hand, productive discussions could arise in comments to an article much easier. But the higher the precentage of readers and commenters who possess only tangential interest, the harder it becomes (mentally, if nothing else) to get a good discussion going. Good comments build into discussions more easily without random “filler” or “thumbs up” to distance them from eachother, and I personally seem to be unlikely to try and start a discussion if there are too many comments already (good or not). Chatting with a few people you share interests with in a cosy pub is quite a different thing to trying to engage a crowd of 500 in an auditorium, even if the topic is unchanged.

    • 60

      This is my thought exactly. 10 years ago — maybe even five years ago — relatively few people were involved in the field. They were, perhaps, more committed and dedicated, because this was still a little bit of a hobby and obsession. Now enormous numbers of people read the articles, particularly on something like Smashing, and many of these are neither expert nor deeply involved.

      Rather than being a community of equals within a small field, we have become a community where there are large numbers of beginners and/or learners who are simply trying to find things out from those who are more expert. In that case, the beginners have far less to contribute, other than their thanks.

  18. 61

    You may be committing a bit of historical revisionism in some of the claims you make here, but it’s definitely a problem that is getting worse. The main reason I think that there are so many who leave completely fruitless comments is that there’s absolutely no threshold to making comments.

    All I have to do to comment here is write in a name (which I can fake), an email (which I can fake), and then my message. If I had to actually verify who I was, or definitely put my real name to the comment, then you’d remove quite a few people who leave meaningless comments.

    If someone really has something relevant to say, something other than “OMG so good!” or “You’re retarded!”, they will make that extra effort to put in a comment.

    Let’s say I found a grave error in something you wrote, and felt I needed to make sure you knew about it. Now, you could put up any number of hurdles for me to comment, even make me verify myself with full name – I would still do it because I would stand 100% behind my comment. Why? Because I feel like the comment I want to make is actually meaningful to me, and will be meaningful to others.

    On my own blog, I force people to log in via Disqus with a registered account, like Twitter or Facebook. This has led to a lot less comments than the previous blog I had with the comment gates wide open – yet the percentage of meaningful comments has shot through the roof. Now almost only those who feel they have something of value to add, do.

    That’s my advice, anyways!

    • 62

      Just wanted to make a quick point about Disqus; I have an account, but I rarely use it.

      This is because whenever I go to post on a site that has it enabled, I’ll spend a while writing out a nice, long response… then it’ll throw an error in my face. If I really care I’ll keep working through it (sometimes as long as five minutes) in order to make my comment. Sometimes I’ll even email the author of the blog directly instead when it really fails.

      Most of the time I get fed up, abandon my nice, thoughtful comment, and walk away.

      I can understand why it would have the desired effect of negating the less useful comments, but it’s also possible that you’re missing out on some really good ones too.

  19. 63

    Well one other reason might be that many people abuse comments for their SEO strategy. They only post comments to get links to their website. This makes comments in many cases useless and discourages authors as well as commentators.
    So the commenting of articles in a short manner is not a lack of time, moreover it is a way of creating tons of links for search engines.

    And thank you for that article!

    • 64

      Advitum Webdesign

      November 19, 2010 5:53 am

      I think it is a good strategy that you can not post an URL with your comment on SmashiingMagazine. This way, these SEO-rubbish is stopped! And if you have to post a link which is relevant for your statement, you can just place it in the text ;)

  20. 65

    good post, thx for sharing :)

    • 66

      Hehe, you beat me.

    • 67

      I am “like”-ing this comment for the sense of humor. I just wish other readers would see the joke.

      For those who marked this comment with a negative… WTH. Just because they’ve read a let’s-save-the-drying-practice-of-commenting article, everyone is on a hate-short-funny-comments rage. Funny comments have uses too. Like breaking up long, boring discussions.

      This comments section “seriously” needs some lighting up. =P

  21. 68

    Social media has definitely impacted the way we communicate. I call it “The Twitter Effect.” We are now forced to be so concise in many of our digital communications – 130 characters or less in some cases, which I think changes the way we think and contribute. Its hard to develop a theory or construct a valid argument / suggestion / alternative when we have been programmed for brevity. I have definitely seen a correlation (not necessarily causality) between The Twitter Effect and the lack of input within our community. We are almost victims of our technology when it shrinks the brain think within our highly creative and technical field.

    We must take responsibility for our community’s development, who’s with me? Take this comment as my own reinvestment in quality communication that stimulates the great minds within my community of designers and developers – you are oh so talented!

  22. 69

    Guilty as charged. Both as a commenter and a blog owner (I think).

    My reason for responding with less throughtful comments than I used to is (as you pointed out) largely to do with the time I have available. However its also to do with the way the posts or other comments have been written.

    As an example, some posts now seem to be looking less for interaction and discussion than recognition and praise – I can’t speak for anything else but that puts me off more than a thoughtful article that doesn’t directly ask me for anything. As far as other comments on posts go, if you can see 10s or 100s of other comments all saying some variation of ‘great post’ then I become less inclined to take the time to actually post something. It’d most likely be dwarfed!

    In those situations I either leave it entirely and maybe tweet the post, or offer the same sort of comment. More often the former.

    When trying to resolve this sort of thing I think you’re probably right in your approach and suggested steps (community, taking time to reply, etc). I don’t think that will do it alone. It feels like there’s some x-factor going on where some sites are doing it the right way, at the right time, and getting the desired response (time seems key there) and others can be doing very similar things but not. No solutions here from me yet unfortunately, though it’s interesting to note that some of the sites I respect above most others (thinking of Seth Godin’s in particular here) don’t even allow comments.

  23. 70

    A few thoughts:

    1. Look ay where people are coming from. I’d guess that people surfing in from a Twitter, Facebook, delicious, stumbleupon or RSS entry are mostly looking for a ‘quick hit’ after which they’ll reshare and move on as opposed to lingering around to participate in the discussion (thereby opening up a new distraction for them to manage).

    2. It’s tough to post anything really meaningful from a mobile device (from a UX perspective) unless you have lots of time to kill. Might seem silly but IMO mobile devices tend to encourage content and conversations to be consumed and conducted in ‘bite size chunks’.

    3. Commenting is more complicated than simply sharing. Look at all the extra steps involved – need to enter your name and email address, comment, post and then often approve your comment via email.

    Obviously this is a spam-related thing but nonetheless, given the choice between commenting and sharing (1 or 2 clicks) – commenting ‘loses’.

    What would happen if sharing options were removed entirely, or perhaps only allowed as a part of the commenting process?

    It’d probably affect the viral spread of stories negatively, which puts content creators in a difficult position – go for reach or go for engagement?

    Just a few thoughts. I’m on my mobile so little time!

  24. 71

    Mark @ Alchemy United

    November 19, 2010 5:37 am

    A couple observations of my own:

    1) A tweet does not mean the person actual read it. I’ve seen plenty of crap articles tweeted. This seems particularly rampant on M*sh*ble. That is, if they had read it they probably wouldn’t have tweeted it.

    2) That said, a tweet is not a Like. Sites display the number of times an article is tweeted presuming that it indicates the number of people who liked the article. We all tend to think that as well. Tweet counts do not indicate quality.

    3) Which leads me to, as a general rules too many of us, at times myself included, are stuck in the old media model of measuring quantity. More is better. No! Better is better. More crap is just more crap. We all need to adjust our mindsets to stop being obsessed with quantity, as well as be willing to *politely* leave comments when the crap meter peaks a bit too high. And if you get such a comment, be willing to *politely* reply.

  25. 72

    I read a ton of blogs almost daily. And I rarely comment on all of them.

    For me it’ a mix of things. Blog like this I rarely comment on because there is usually very little discussion going on, thats not to say that users’ comments aren’t constructive, helpful or intelligent, which unlike 90% of the internet they actually are.

    I dont really feel like spending my time tapping out a response that’s going to go ignored by most and unanswered by all.

    I am active on other sites where users actually discuss the topic or subject, usually websites where websites are help up for criticism or blogs that have a smaller readership.

    On top of all that, I hate replying to 400+ comments of “wow nice article” and “really useful and interesting” when I dislike the article or didn’t find it useful. And no offense to any non-english speaking users, but websites where a majority of comments are either in broken english or flat our retarded sms-speak, I just rarely have the motivation to say a thing.

    As to why I’m choosing to comment on this, who knows, maybe I’m going crazy.

    (also the thumbs up/down system allows a lot of people to show their approval disapproval with a single click. I can next to guarantee if that kind of system wasn’t in place there would be a lot more comments, perhaps no constructive comments but comments none the less)

  26. 73

    I understand your point, Robert. Out of the tremendous numbers of Smashing readers, there might be more comments, but I know with my articles, as well as yours and others, the comments are part of the article and the lesson involved. Often the discussion that ensues is as important as the points we authors put forth and it is enhanced and elevated by the readers.

    While some may only post kudos for the article, it still helps to authenticate the decision of the Smashing editors to publish the work, as well as to show other readers that there is value in spending the time to read such information. Even the “likes” and tweets are reader-based inclusion that quantifies not only the article, but reader inclusion and “commenting,” albeit through the actions of a click and not actual posted thoughts through posted words of their own.

  27. 74

    I think the first finger must be pointed at the content. If there is nothing in the content to initiate conversation (i.e. the infamous list posts) then one can’t expect any type of interaction to take place. As the rise of the list posts encouraged the decline of the comment quality, I think it helped to breed a less engaged commentator. Pair that with the increased usage of social media and the constant engagement in less wordy banter, it becomes far more time-consuming to write a well thought out comment than to tweet your thoughts in 140 characters or less.

    Yet another great post, Rob, and it appears you have inspired some great commenting too! :)

    • 75

      Advitum Webdesign

      November 19, 2010 5:55 am

      Definitely! Why should someone write something different than “thx” or so under these kind of top-50-lists? They simply don’t give any opportunity for a solid discussion!

  28. 76

    4-5 years ago design forums were popular. Then it became blogs. Now, as you said — it’s social media sites. I feel that it’s getting more impersonal as it progresses.

    Forums had a lot of interaction from several people. You could post a piece of work to share with the community and would get 100’s of replies within the thread.

    With blogs, you could post something and you’d have the first idiot saying “FIRST!” and that’s all, followed by a slew of “cool i like it!” and other one line comments.

    At least with social media sites, we’re getting back to the concept of the forums…

  29. 77

    My thoughts are this, if comments are important to you as a blogger you should “referee” them to a certain extent. I agree with the posts earlier that meaningless comments such as “great article” should be hidden. Also as a blogger it’s crucial to engage the commenters of your article by responding and not getting defensive.

    The more meaningless comments there are the less of a reason people who may contribute meaningful comments will have to even enter the forums (for god sake take a look at articles comments–total crap). So please bloggers filter and delete. Along with the “report abuse” button let’s also have a “meaningless” button.
    Let’s also quit blogging for SEO/face recognition and start blogging with purpose–if you have nothing meaningful to add as a writer, or if you are just regurgitating and rehashing articles that have already been written please stop (i.e “should web designers have to code”)

    To leave a taste of a meaningful article with meaningful comments here:

  30. 78

    It seems to be a growing trend to trim our thoughts into tiny 140 character bursts of conversation. You see this originally on Twitter but, maybe because of mass update tools like TweetDeck, it’s starting to become common on Facebook and other platforms as well. I like social media apps but I really think they are detrimental to the state of conversation.

    I find it better suits me to not post anything if I can’t put it into enough material to actually contribute to the conversation. I don’t say anything unless it’s worth taking a long time to say.


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