Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Value of Comments

Many blogs, such as this one, are driven not by the readers but by a single person pushing their thoughts out on people. Comments are there for people to discuss what the leader has already said. It's not so much a discussion as it is a speech with a Q&A session afterward.

Blog experts hold that the discussion can also be much broader. That is, several bloggers talking to each other through different blogs using trackbacks and links to bind it all together. While that's true, it also creates for a complex communications world that requires a bit of technical sophistication to follow.

A few months ago Kristine Munroe and I started an experiment. We wanted to create a blog for the city of Newton, Mass. that wasn't about an individual, but is fed by the people. Our original thought was for people to log in and then use the "blogging" feature to add their voices and thoughts.

A week or so ago we had a pretty big scare: all of our comments disappeared. A glitch in Drupal eliminated everything but the posts and we had to have the help desk rebuild from the backup. But it also caused an epiphany: our value isn't in th blog, it's in the comments.

People comment "anonymously" but still sign their name. It's just easier for them so that's what they do. The restaurant reviews are mostly written by the community and the discussions that go on over such local issues as the proposed new high school are intelligent and thought-provoking. I see my role not as a blogger, but as a discussion facilitator.

Granted, some of the same voices continue to rise to the top, but I'm seeing more people commenting. The only thing I wonder is whether some of the "anonymous" people are, in fact, the same person posting multiple times. But the voices are becoming so numerous that it no longer really matters.


John Cass said...

Losing comments, not good. You are right, comments are an important part of blogging. Isn't that the whole point of blogging to interact with your audience. How do you encourage more commenting?

Chuck Tanowitz said...

In a nutshell, it's not easy. Frankly if I lost all the comments on this blog I'd love some of it's value, but not all of it. That's the main difference.

In some ways it's about leaving open questions for people to answer. It's about being slightly controversial. It's also about focusing on a subject that stokes people's passions. Most of our comments are on restaurants and the proposed new high school.

Some of those comments are our own and in some cases I've called people and encouraged them to comment on the blog. But this seeding pays off in spades, as others jump into the conversation when they feel the passion.