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Friday, Mar. 16, 2007 at 3:42 pm

Do Great Minds Blog Alike?

By Robert Gorell
March 16th, 2007

On Wednesday, Bryan Eisenberg asked a very important question about the nature of blogging: “What Makes You Comment?

Before posting, Bryan scoured the Web, in search of a similar post but was unable to find one. Sure, there were plenty of posts about the value of commenting (notably by Chris Garrett, who Bryan links to in his piece), yet nobody had seemed to ask the fundamental question. Then, just one day later, we noticed that Steven J. Dubner, bestselling co-author of Freakonomics, had posed the same question to his readers.

Now, we’re not the types to suggest that correlation equals causality–particularly not to Dubner & Levitt–but the responses to this question on both blogs have been truly enlightening. Today, Dubner shared some insights he’s gathered from asking why you comment.

Above all, I learned that you, the people who read this blog, are amazing! Based on yesterday’s comments, you are interesting, kind, smart, inquisitive, and a few other things. I will say this: it seems that the typical blog commenter is more of a Type-A personality than the typical first-time commenter who wrote in yesterday. This is not surprising. As we all know, web dialogue can encourage, and even reward, a sort aggression that is actually punished in the real world. Indeed, there are sectors of the web where the aggression is so robust that it discourages the saner folks from even bothering. I am very pleased, and proud, to be the co-host of a site where so much sanity is practiced. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to think about this subject, to respond, and to continue reading.

At this point, we’re still more interested in reading your comments than drawing conclusions, but it’s interesting to see commonalities between our readers responses, particularly in terms of how answers may have been shaped by the ways in which the questions were asked. What other factors might be at play? Site traffic? Reputation? Scope of topics covered? Gender, even?

In her Marketing to Women Online blog, our own Holly Buchanan adds some post-post analysis of what she’s noticed about our comment-post commenters (yikes!):

It seems the female respondents were more likely to add positive “great post” supportive comments. Some of the guys felt that was a waste of time.

Some of the guys [even] felt comments as a whole were a waste of time and didn’t bother reading them.

So, what do you think? Do great mind blog alike, or what? And, if they do, do great minds comment alike as well?

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Comments (10)

  1. Robert, note that Dubner asked the opposite question. He asked why people do *not* comment, vs. why they do. So, the two questions form bookends. The why not question was sparked in part due to the moderate number of comments on their site (around 18 average I think) vs. some sites with hundreds.

  2. Paul,

    I appreciate you bringing up this nuance, but I still don’t believe Dubner is asking a different–let alone “opposite”–question. Rather, his question is “…what kind of person comments on a blog, and why?” So, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it seems you’re suggesting that by not explicitly saying that we were also in search of qualitative variables about the commenters themselves, that we’re not every bit as interested as Dubner in why “lurkers,” would-be commenters and commenters (habitual or otherwise) do what they do as we are in the content that spurs them to comment (or not) in the first place.

    (Sorry, even I had to re-read that last bit ;)

    In fact, I’d argue that Dubner’s question didn’t do much to address the role of blog content itself as a key variable in all of this, as he chose to ask only about the people themselves and not their interaction with content. When he says the following, it’s not implicit that he’s only seeking people who don’t comment, just that his data will be skewed unless those who don’t generally comment do: “…regular commenters will be overrepresented in the comments — unless, of course, a whole bunch of you who never comment decide to go ahead and log in and, in the comments section, tell us why you never comment. Or why other people do.”

    So, what’s the point? The point is that, in both blog posts, THE COMMENTERS themselves chose to address the question the same way: from, as you say, the bookends.

    As anyone who runs a heavily trafficked blog knows, comments are more the exception than the rule. In other words, commenters-to-readers, the rest being automatically pegged as “lurkers” (nothing wrong with that) is a fuzzy, correlational metric for the blog’s ability to engage its readers. And, ultimately, figuring out these variables from the readers’ perspective was the goal of both blog posts.

    Of course, Dubner’s more than welcome to comment here and let us know if he agrees with my assessment.

  3. Commenting isn’t exactly new. Newspapers have letters to the editor. So what caused people to get out a stamp, lick the darned thing, and pay for their own envelope and mail it to the editor? The reason they do it, is because of:

    1) They feel strongly (very strongly) about something.
    2) They feel they’ll be heard in the community.

    For comments to exist, there must be a viable community. For comments to thrive, there must be the concept of someone listening–possibly acting. Comments by themselves are nothing but a big tree falling into a big sea, when no one is around.

    And yes…the concept needs to be powerful enough to stir up emotions in people. The more you’re mad/happy/sad/ whatever, about a topic, the more chances you have of getting a comment.

    If you go back to newspapers of yore, you’ll find your answer lies not in the blogosphere, but in the stamp-licking readers of yesterday (and today) :)

    -Sean D’Souza

  4. There are a lot of reasons why or why not a reader will comment a post, some have been mentioned above. The subject has to be somewhat agitating to the reader, as Sean notices. The feeling that one’s comment will be heard could be the strongest motivation.

    As an infrequent blog reader, and a even more infrequent commentator, by asking myself what makes an article worth responding to it besides all that, I came to the conclusion that it’s neccesary

    1) That I have enough time to
    a) read the full post,
    b) read all of the corresponding comments,
    c) find something not mentioned yet,
    d) want to share my thoughts,
    c) write an own comment, and of course
    2) That I’m in the mood, provided
    3) That I’m a forthcoming person.

    Since time is precious, and I’m quite busy most of the day, I have to decide whether to spend my time on this article or on some other one, provided I can spare some time.
    This doesn’t change just because I’m stirred up by a subject. Sometimes I feel I would have something to say but I just don’t have the time.

    Someone’s mood can be changed by a subject, but only the flexible upper 10 percent of it. So, if you simply don’t want to participate, no subject in the world can make you change your mind completely.

    Finally, you have to be somewhat talkative by nature. I am. But only if I have time and if I’m in the mood.

  5. I make quite a few brief comments on blogs and websites–ad choose not to do others. I am, quite frankly, most willing to comment when commenting will advance my own agenda for the world and/or for my business. So I tend to comment on the things like ethics in marketing or my views on current politics. Sometimes I’ll comment because I strongly disagree with a post and want to show the other side; sometimes, to thank someone for a post I feel was spot on; sometimes, it’s to position myself as a resource on frugal marketing, copywriting, etc.

    And as Sean points out, letters to the editor have been around for years. I used to write a lot of them, and now I mostly write comments instead. They are faster, provide a link boost, and the acceptance rate is nearly 100%.

    I still do write letters–actually got one in the NY Times last year. But I do a lot more blog/website comments, as well as discussion list participation, which serves to firmly brand me to the same audience over and over, as opposed to comment posts, which talk to the specific audience for that post.

  6. In all honesty I am more likely to comment on blogs and forums that do not use the “nofollow” tag. Nofollow strips a lot of value from the commentor and can be a less equitible exchange in favor of the blog owner.

  7. CVOS, it does seem unfair. Those folks are throwing out the baby with the bath water. However, if the only reason you comment is for links back to your blog then how valuable are the comments? My view is that in a community their are contributors and takers. Long term contributors do better.

  8. I agree with Sean, Robert (Augustin) and Shel…all the variables they talked about come into play in greater or lesser degrees depending on the day and the amount of time available. However, I disagree that people who post on blogs are likely to be type A personalities…I post, sometimes, sometimes not. It really depends on the topic and if I have something I feel might be (at least a little bit) valuable and will add depth to the conversation.

    Plus, we are all learning from each other, different viewpoints, different beliefs and different backgrounds. It’s always interesting to see who comes out with what and sometimes there’s a juicy tidbit of information that sparks that next big idea or works in a project you might be handling at a later date. So, I tend to think there is a positive outcome to participating and commenting.

  9. In all honesty I am more likely to comment on blogs and forums that do not use the “nofollow” tag.

  10. Interesting statistics! I was actually thinking about comments last night and this morning (particularly, how to utilize the feature to promote increased interaction). Thanks for the tips.

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