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Blog Commenting Isn't Dead — It's Different
Takeaway Thursday Ya'll — are blogging comments dead? With the rise of facebook groups and other membership community platforms, some bloggers have disabled comments on their platform favoring connection and conversation in other social streams like twitter, medium, etc. I'm rebuilding my blog at the moment and I am going to relaunch in May with a new optimized site and I was planning to *probably* disable comments.
This week's Pulse newsletter had me wandering and bingeing through the archives at Productive Flourishing (as one does when they are avoiding the important creative work that moves your own defining projects forward...).
I love reading Charlie's work (even if it is from 10 years ago) and the piece 'What Makes You Better' was more exceptional because I read all the comments, too. Check out this gem from the article itself about "deliberate practice":
"Many of us are having a hard enough time doing the actual things we want to be doing in the first place, let alone improving at those things."
Then I read through all the comments and this one irritated me: "constant feedback must play an essential role, no use practicing badly…"
I don't agree that there is "no use practicing badly" although I am not entirely dismissing the concept that you should have a review process vs. "fiddling" for your work (as Charlie discusses in other posts from this series). If I am creating, why would I burden myself to label the things I produce as either good or "bad". Should creating simply be considered inherently good? If I draw a stickman and it helps me feel restored, focused, or ready to conquer a more challenging project, that is not "practicing badly". Granted, my stickman drawings are unlikely to hang in a gallery, but practicing/doing...this is a very good thing if serving a purpose as part of my process. "Practicing badly" has a time and a place and I don't agree with the absolute assertion that it is of "no use".
Now, as I mentioned, I was leaning towards disabling comments on my blog but then I had this strong reaction reading a simple blog comment and it has me realizing that I could miss some important conversations by disabling comments (raising the commitment required for others to participate). Do you comment on blogs? Do you read comments on blogs? I'm going to come back to her point about creativity as play and creativity as a grounding activity, but for this post, I'm going to weave in the aspects of my internal conversation that she touched on:
the value of the backlist of content and the fact that we'll be coming up on the ten-year anniversary of my blogging here,
what's different about blogging now than then,
how do we assess the value of commenting, in general, and specifically the value of the history of comments we have here.
I'm going to focus on #3, though, since her post addresses that directly. This is an extension of a conversation we've had multiple times here, with the most recent being Why We're Still Leaving Blog Comments Open from 2014. It's a long read that discusses some of #2, but concludes with my decision that leaving comments open was less about technology and trends and more about values. Closing comments didn't align with our values then and it still doesn't.
How Medium Catalyzed Reflection on the Value of Comments
This values consideration has come up again for me because I've been exploring how Medium fits with what we're trying to do. Writing on Medium feels like the exciting days of blogging circa 2007-2010 when people left comments and bloggers talked with each other. I'll write more about this as I go along, but one thing that's jumped out at me is how refreshing it is to actually know who's reading your work by their recommendations and comments.
I've been noodling on migrating PF to Medium whole-hog rather than just having a publication/outpost there, but one of our teammates rightly pointed out that our comments wouldn't move with us. I've thus been wondering: would anybody care? Especially since it doesn't seem that people are keen to leave comments here anyway. We still get feedback in the form of shares and likes, so it's not quite crickets — it just feels much less human than we didn't have a one-click button as a surrogate for "Thanks" or "this helped" or "This spoke to me."
But a few times a month, someone tells me that they got something from one of the comments on the blog. It'll be obvious when I illuminate it, but comments are someone else's contributions to the conversation — that is, value they've created that we would not have received had they not picked themselves to add to it. So there's more than just the vanity and creative fuel aspects of comments to consider. Leaving comments open is an invitation for people to contribute and add value to the conversation; moving to Medium completely because it fosters conversation at the cost of killing historical conversations is at least in tension, if not irreconcilable.
Two things here:
We have to distinguish between new readers (PF is growing faster now than ever) and long-time readers. If we migrated, new readers would never consciously miss the old conversations because they wouldn't know they were there, but they might miss the serendipity. Long-time readers would know the comments weren't there, so it's probably a loss in value there.
I completely get why some people turn comments off, and I'm not arguing that every blogger should have open comments or invite people to a conversation about their ideas on their blogs. This conversation is about what makes sense for our team, our community, and our values.
Given that we're in the "let's see what happens" stage with what we're doing on Medium, it's quite possible that I won't have to decide between the loss of the history of comments here and moving to a more conversational platform. But I do appreciate the thought catalyst the consideration has been, though.
Weaving Disparate Comments Into Coherent Conversations
The post I'm writing here was spurred by Nadia's post in the Creative Giant Campfire, which itself was spurred by a comment she read on a post I shared here years ago. A blog post led to a comment that led to a social media post that led to blog post.
This type of thing has been happening for years with our community and I'm seeing it with new eyes because of how Medium flattens everything there to just be a story. There's a little "hierarchy" of content in the sense that original stories are much more visually dominant than responses, but everyone's responses count as a story and every one of your followers sees every one of your stories, whether it's a "post" or a "response."
As I've mentioned elsewhere, 98% of what I share here would start like this post — "Somebody said something ..." or "I was reading this post and ..." — if I didn't edit it out. I've long considered not editing it out, blogging norms be damned. Those "blogging norms" are exactly what's being damned on Medium because it's flattened the conversation. And I get more followers from my comments to other people's stuff than on stuff that I'm sharing, and I actually really like that. My best work has always come as a response to someone else's — I respond better than I initiate and I'm good at weaving coherent conversation from disparate parts. This is also why I love things like the open Q&As a la the Monthly Momentum Calls and being on panels and breakouts when I speak.
That this conversation started in the Campfire is no accident, either. I kicked the Campfire off as a response to two things: 1) people are already on Facebook a lot and 2) people are more likely to interact on Facebook. I've asked our Fire Tenders (moderators) to share their reflections on content in the group and may start sharing those reflections here because they're whip-smart and have a lot to say.
Aside: I know from experience that if I asked them to write a guest post, all sorts of stuff would come up for them — even if it were to write exactly the same content, for exactly the same people. Outside of the Medium ecosystem, we place more weight and importance on blog posts than we do social media posts. Social media posts = safe; blog posts = not safe, gotta take it seriously, the trolls and haters on the Big Bad Internet are going to come after me, oh crap oh crap oh crap...
In other words, I created the catalytic conditions for us to have this conversation, but what I haven't historically been good at is pulling disparate threads back here. Why? Because I've under-appreciated the value of those comments as contributions to the conversation and the value of weaving them into a coherent conversation. (There are also a couple of other major reasons that I'll share sometime in the next week or so. If I went into them now, this post would never get published.)
To Comment and Converse Is Human
As I mentioned in "On Blogs Being Dead", "X is dead" typically means "X is harder." I want to amend that to say "X is harder and/or different."
More people are commenting now than they were in those golden days of blogging that we lament. More people have social media accounts and micro-comment through likes, shares, and emojis. Trends show that more people actually feel obligated to micro-engage than ever.
Even if we were on the cusp of a mass exodus from today's major social media platforms, commenting and conversations are going to find a new home somewhere else. Why? Because to comment and converse is human.
The challenge is how to cultivate the types of relationships we want to have with our community and to respond to the changing technology as needed. This challenge is not just a challenge for bloggers, marketers, writers, entrepreneurs, and businesses — it's the challenge that we are facing as a culture because technology and culture influence each other. When one changes, the other does. If you've yearned to actually talk to someone on the phone rather than text with them, you've experienced a piece of this broader challenge yourself.
What to do? Hell, I don't know. But what I'm excited about is doing a better job of pulling these disparate threads together.
Comments are appreciated. :) <3