A Culture Of Commenting 

A Culture Of Commenting 

While I was writing my last post I added links to a couple of old posts from 2012 and 2013, and out of interest decided to go back and read them. I was surprised when I did so to find that they had a lot of comments. Not, like, hundreds, but a decent collection — some of them replies turning into conversations, and others first-time readers popping in to give their thoughts.

Over the past year or two I’ve really noticed the number of comments I get declining, with some posts not receiving any at all no matter how many views they had. While my stats have been low over the last couple of months because I haven’t really posted, this comment phenomenon has been going on far longer, and I don’t think it’s only me, either.

Admittedly, I’m not great at commenting on other people’s blogs. There are some where I periodically check in and comment, and others where I very occasionally leave my thoughts, but very few where I’ll comment on every post. So I thought for a while and came up with a few explanations for this change in blogging culture.

Firstly, a lot of us are reading blog posts on the move. I get mine as email subscriptions, and as a result tend to read them at bus stops, when I’m waiting for someone, or while doing something boring like cooking. Because I’m on my phone and it requires separate apps to comment, I’ll only reply if I have something meaningful to say — there are too many extra steps to take.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t spend a lot of time reading blogs. I think it’s safe to say that my audience here has grown up with me, so while in 2012 the majority of my readers were school-aged teenagers like myself, they’re now either people my own age, or older, as I’ve moved away from more teen-focused posts. So whereas I used to have school lunchbreaks and so on, I now have responsibilities, and I’m sure my readers are in the same position.

#adulting

I’m also particularly bad about getting very behind with blog subscriptions. I don’t know how much this is a factor for other people and obviously it depends on the type of blogs you follow, but if I’m reading a topical post four months after it was posted, it’s safe to say that the time to comment has passed. Plus it just feels kind of awkward, you know?
(As a blogger, I absolutely don’t mind receiving comments on old posts, mostly because I like to look back at them and it reminds me they exist. But as a reader, I feel uncertain.)

I think a major factor in the general decline of comments is the fact that most comment sections on the internet are vile, toxic places. Read any opinionated news article and people will be vehemently (dis)agreeing with it, insulting people, and generally making their voices heard. Often, this becomes an echo chamber for harmful and unpleasant ideas, as well as a place for trolls to lurk and harass people, very often women or other minorities, for daring to disagree with them.

There are exceptions to this rule — The Toast, which has sadly stopped creating new content as of July 1st — had a wonderful comment section that was often better than the articles themselves. On Cracked, commenters often add to the information or stories in the post, and while there are sometimes unpleasant people lurking, they’re usually downvotes and shut down relatively quickly.

Comments on The Toast take a strange but entertaining turn

Maybe because I spend time on sites where the comments aren’t toxic, I always end up reading them, whatever site I’m on — which is sometimes a major error, as I end up sad and disillusioned about the state of humanity. But I know a lot of people who have a blanket policy of “don’t read the comments”, and even if they make exceptions for small blogs like mine where it’s possible to moderate every comment, it means you get out of the mindset of contributing and seeing what other people say.

So while in the past I had a readership of teenagers on their laptops happy to chat to each other and me in the comments, I now have stressed uni students and graduates glancing at their phones on their way somewhere and avoiding comment sections because that’s where the trolls live. It makes for a different kind of blogging experience.

On the whole, my style of blogging is more confessional than conversational, which may not help in this instance. I tend to talk about myself, and while I’m unsure how interesting that is, it’s also kind of the point of having a personal blog. But my book blog, which one would think would attract comments expressing agreement or differences of opinion about books, has received barely a handful of comments over the past year.

Meanwhile, Twitter followers are usually quick to comment on shelfies

This isn’t an attempt to guilt people into commenting or to try and justify my own unpopularity — I know my book blog has a small following and that I don’t post here often enough to have consistent stats. I think the change in comment culture is more widespread, and I’m wondering how we can make blogs into a conversation again.
Or has that time passed? Are we just more comfortable expressing our thoughts via other social media because it feels a bit less public?

If you’ve had similar — or dissimilar! — experiences as a blogger, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And of course, any and all responses are welcome. Do you think blogging is fundamentally different to how it was three or four years ago? Or am I just overstating my own experiences?

13 thoughts on “A Culture Of Commenting 

  1. Agreed that I don’t really have the time to comment on blogs nowadays, even when I do read them on my laptop. My parent is moving house at the moment, so my days are filled with packing, and so whilst I’m free from uni for now, it still feels like I have loads to do, and blogging is down there on the non-priority list.
    On the other hand to you, my style of blogging, I’d say, is more reporting than confessional, so that can also limit the amount of comments, as I tend to lean towards things that may seem not open for particular discussion.

    1. I guess some of mine is reporting, but about myself? So I’ll express how I’ve been thinking or feeling, or what I’ve been doing, and while people CAN contribute to that by agreeing or disagreeing or whatever, they don’t necessarily feel the same NEED to comment as if it were a more discussion-based topic. But controversial things stress me out because then I get newcomers to the blog who may not understand that my comments section is a friendly place and prejudice / hate isn’t welcome, so… :/ Can’t win, really, can I? No comments without trolls.

    1. Yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve found. Especially on controversial or personal issues, people sometimes send me their thoughts via Facebook or something, instead of commenting. However, I think the social side can be a good thing. I’d love to have a comment section like The Toast’s, where people end up having entire conversations and it creates beautiful nerdiness. But I’m not as cool as The Toast. Alas.

  2. This is interesting! As a WordPress-only using blogger, I know that I used to be in the habit of only ever commenting through the WordPress feed, and if it required me to actually click and go to their blog, I wouldn’t usually do it. I was a lazy bean and also the internet was slow as heck. I’ve gotten into the habit nowadays of actually visiting people’s blogs rather than just the post feeds, but it’s weird how that stuff happens.

    1. I’m definitely more likely to comment on a WordPress blog than one that uses, say, Blogger — that comment system is a pain. But it’s interesting that you use the feed, because I pretty much never use that. Funny how two people use the same site so differently, isn’t it?

  3. Ahhhh, now I feel strange commenting because I very rarely comment on your blog myself. THE SHAME.?? So honestly…I have noticed even my comments going down a bit. But that’s probably laughable to most people because I still get around 50+ on a discussion post. I feel like a lot of that (for me anyway!) is because I spend so much time commenting back and things? I’m definitely out bothering people till they talk to me.?
    But I also entirely agree with what you said about trolls and things. It’s sad, but true! I avoid reading comments in a lot of places where they get toxic. (Hellooooo facebook pages….scary)
    Sometimes, for comments, I do think it’s what you put out? Like if you spend a lot of time interacting with others they tend to talk back. That’s my experience anyhow. Although, omg, commenting is so exhausting sometimes. *collapses on face*

    1. Yeah. A lot of the blogs I follow are like… industry blogs? I mean, I don’t follow all that many because I get overwhelmed, but of the ones I read, only a handful are personal blogs. So it’s kind of hard to have the reciprocal relationship — I should seek out more blogs like mine and make friends, but I never get through all my subscriptions anyway :/

      I just glanced at my stats and in 2014 I had fewer views but 700+ comments; in 2015 more views but 400+ comments, and then this year… 162 comments so far. Which suggests it’s going down. But maybe I can breathe new life into it by focusing more on my blog and paying more attention to it. Who knows.

  4. I’m curious if the blogging culture as a whole has also decreased. During the short time I blogged (which, coincidentally is how I met Charley, and then by extension you), blogging was at its heyday. Social media was still very small, and not popular. Blogs were one of the main forms of Internet expression. That and forums, which functioned on a similar comment and discuss foundation. Now, however, instead of pages long discussions? However, people can post quick 140 character tweets, or speedy status updates on Facebook. And like you said, our fellow bloggers have aged up and gotten busy with life. Blogging is still massive, of course, but I’m wondering if it has been replaced for the average, less verbose user with other forms of written expression.

    1. You may be right. Blogging has endured from its early internet roots and it’s changed, and I don’t think it’s going to disappear entirely, but it’s used differently now. You see a lot of long, thoughtful posts on Tumblr, but they’re often the product of a chain of reblogs — a more collaborative form of media. Maybe it’s not that blogging itself is fading away, but the idea of one person having their site and other people visiting it is a bit more alien in a world when we’re more accustomed to having a corner of a larger network and interacting with people instead. So we turn to microblogging and conversation rather than a detailed solo blog.

  5. I guess I can only say this within the context of what I know and am familiar with in my experience, which is limited since I have a small following too. But I remember that a couple years ago, there was a big “Commenting Back” movement, and literally hundreds of bloggers publicly committed to visiting each of their commenters’ blogs and leaving a comment in response. I’m wondering if a lot of other people are experiencing what you have, and that as a whole has contributed to the overall decrease of commenting back. As people are getting older and getting busier and moving on to more interesting pursuits, they stopped blogging, and if there is a new generation of bloggers appearing on the scene, they don’t have that background or commitment.

    So, it’s something I’ve noticed, too, and I’m thinking that this might all be a part of a greater behavior. Maybe.

    1. Hmm, maybe. I know a lot of my commenters are people whose blogs I follow or periodically read, but I have to confess I rarely click through to check out their blogs simply based on a comment (although sometimes I check someone out if they’re a first time commenter, to see what they’re into). I try and always reply to comments, but it’s not really as significant as commenting on other people’s posts. I know I used to be involved in blog chains and things as well, which brought people to my blog on particular days and usually involved a commitment to comment on other posts in the chain — possibly the lack of those blogging communities is a factor for me, although other people may still be involved in them.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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