The state of blog comments in 2013

It seems like the recent trend has been toward publishing blogs without public comment sections. For one thing, people are sick of spam, Internet cranks, and the work required to have a comments section that adds to the site rather than detracting. As an example, here’s Matt Gemmell explaining why he turned off comments. At the same time, many writers are using static publishing engines or sites like Tumblr that don’t even support comments. (I know you can use third party commenting tools like Disqus, but most people don’t.)

Here’s a chart that shows the comments per post broken down by month going back to the first month that I added comment support to the blog. As you can see, the number of comments per post has dropped, even though I’m publishing fewer posts. That said, the variability has been pretty high, and the months with high averages are a result of extreme outliers — blog posts that got tons of traffic and comments. A real statistician would also share the standard deviation for each data point.

Comments per post

So I think that not only has publishing a blog that includes comments gone out of fashion, but commenting has as well. It’s easier to link to a post from Twitter or Google Plus and just discuss it in those venues, or respond to the author of a post on Twitter rather than in the comment section. I understand the impulse, but these venues are especially ephemeral as compared to blogs or even blog comments.

I used to be pretty reluctant to comment on blog posts on other blogs, but these days if I have something to say and I’m not going to write a post about it of my own, I generally post a comment, especially if the publisher moderates the comments effectively. I do this because I see it as a way to signal my respect for the writer. I also think it’s more social.

Those of us with blogs have also always had the option of responding to posts on other blogs with posts on our own blogs. The upside is that you hopefully deliver some readers to the blog you’re linking to. The downside is that unless the writer links back to you, your commentary is probably lost on everyone who finds the blog post that is the subject of your comments later.

Maybe it’s the Twitter effect, but I find that I crave more discussion when I post something. Looking at traffic numbers is far less interesting than having a productive or enlightening discussion. For that reason, I hate that commenting appears to be on the wane.

9 thoughts on “The state of blog comments in 2013

  1. /agree 100%

    But another factor has loomed in the demise of blog comments which is [mostly] positive — proliferation of platforms that make online publishing so easy — tumblr, posterous, blogger, wordpress, google+, etc.… If you have something to say, no greater time than today to be able (and without the technical know-how) to publish online and share.

    Also, another factor is the change in net culture that at one time embraced the ethos of free speech and refrained from ham handed moderation (other than spam or egregiously over the top personal attacks). Now, it seems blog (and forum) moderators eagerly clip anything remotely offensive.

  2. I find that’s true for me as well, actually. I sort of lost interest in writing about politics for the most part. I’ve also lost almost all interest in media criticism. I just don’t have any desire to beat up on people who write dumb things any more. It’s just not that interesting.

  3. I’ve got an IFTTT recipe so that Disqus comments get posted to my tumblr / linkblog.

    There are some commenting systems (e.g. Livefyre) that do an OK job at putting social reactions inline, just like comments.

    I am actually reblogging / linkblogging more than I have in a while. Same there: if Trackbacks weren’t filled with spam, I’d love to have a useful record of other peoples’ posts that reference my own.

    Is, ultimately, spam still the thing to blame?

  4. I’ve been looking for a better mechanism than trackbacks to enable cross-blog discussion. What I’d really like to see is some way for people to say “hey, this entry over here is a comment on that over there” (or, better yet, some way to exchange comments so that people maintain ownership of them, but I’m not totally sure how this comes together yet).

    That’d go back to what blogging was like in the late ’90s, when we’d do the “So Rafe said X, lemme tell ya why he’s wrong…” thing. Of course then we also had Dave Winer as something of the intermediary to make us aware of other participants in various conversations.

  5. I didn’t even realize that your blog still had comments until I saw this post. That’s some pretty tiny print there, mentioning comments…

  6. I’m with Dan Lyke on this one. Time was that the conversation aspect of blogging was conducted blog-to-blog, rather than by way of comments, and I miss that. Of course, it was a smaller world then, too. I have no idea how people find me these days– it doesn’t seem as though blogrolls are a thing either. To the extent that I care about readership (not so much) I guess I get what I get by writing provocatively on subjects other than the subjects that everyone else is writing about, but I did used to enjoy the give and take.

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