Setting Comments Adrift: Impact Can Be Silent

Brass Tack Thinking - Setting Comments AdriftThe web changes.

The way people behave on the web changes, the way it affects them and motivates them changes too. That includes the writing we do on blogs.

The holy grail of blog success was often thought to be comments. In fact, once upon a time, that input and conversation was part of my my validation and reward for writing. That I inspired someone to write something to me in return was fantastic, to contribute to a dialogue right before my eyes.

Comments were enthusiastic and abundant. It was the time on the web when conversation drove everything, because the novelty of interaction was still fresh.

Now it’s not so simple.

A thoughtful comment, question or contribution is always welcome, and is still a cornerstone of many a blog, including this one. I still delight in the brilliant contributions and banter of readers old and new (even if I’m sometimes lousy at responding to comments).

But can you feel it?

While some parts of the web become ever more superficial and flighty, others are slowing down. Filtering carefully. Seeking something they can ease into a chair with for a while. It’s as though the rapid-fire chatter has finally worn us down a bit, made us less eager to just say something, anything and more apt to wait until we have something to say that’s worthwhile.

So now, blogs could be about inspiring someone to take away an idea quietly, ruminate on it, maybe write something of their own. The reward isn’t just making people talk, it’s making people think. Sit and marinate on an idea, or simply absorb it and move on to something else, perhaps adding a small spark that wasn’t there before. Improving their business. Adding joy to their life. Giving them a shot of reassurance or inspiration or a moment of laughter.

We may not always know if or when those moments happen. In fact, most often, we won’t. (Oh, the cries should I have an analyst here trying to measure the efficacy of my blog). Does that shift mean that this or any other blog isn’t successful? Or is it just different-successful? Would I know? Does it matter?

Over time, my purpose in writing is no longer just to drive a reaction. It’s to spark inspiration, a little provocation. Hoping I can inspire someone, somewhere to think a little bit differently, even if it’s not here and not now.

Often that happens much later when the words on the page click with the loose bits of someone else’s idea, rattling around in their head.  The more I wander around this crazy web, it’s not the immediacy of discussion that becomes the motivator to create, but the long, slow, and hopefully incremental impact over time. An impact I may never, ever see. It runs counter to so many of the principles of velocity and real-time on the social web, but I think it’s a critical part nonetheless.

Perhaps these things aren’t always mutually exclusive. But more and more, contribution to the Big Collective Something isn’t about the immediate gratification in the moments after you hit publish. Sometimes it’s about putting an idea on the water, like a little paper boat, and letting it drift off on the waves and out of your sight.

Will it sail? Maybe. Sink? Many will, never to be heard from again. But launch a thousand boats with blessings for their journey, and at least a single, slightly sodden, and certainly determined one is bound to reach an unfamiliar and distant shore.

Who knows what new adventures that could bring.

  • Ryan Deschamps

    Thanks for the encouragement – I cut out a previous (still reasonably successful) blog for a new one and found it pretty discouraging to discover that tweets and Facebook statuses have taken over comments. I’m guessing that mobile’s taking over and the long thought-out comment may be a thing of the past.  Maybe with the new Windows product we’ll see people more willing to type out a long-thought-out and meaningful comment on our blogs.

    Now I have The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” in my head.  :)

    • Amber Naslund

      People want to talk where they want to talk.

      Also, we like to be the one to present and discover information, hence the strength of things like sharing a great article on our own FB wall rather than commenting on the post. We like to be the hosts of the discussion. And as comments become more crowded and noisy, the interested and inspired will take the discussion somewhere where they can keep an eye on it themselves, or use it to fuel their own community conversation.

      Sure, some of it is just the time we don’t have to write out long form comments. But we have the same time we’ve always had, it’s just that our motivations for how and where we spend it are changing along with how we understand what the social web means for us.

  • Carolyn Stephens

    You are so intuitive. I don’t leave nearly as many comments as I used to and I don’t post on Twitter nearly as much. Posting just for the sake of being visible has lost its charm. There is so much great information out there, it’s hard enough to read it and digest it without having to write pithy comments as well. Thanks for understanding.

    • Amber Naslund

      It’s the nature of media. Social’s interactivity is what makes it attractive. But the maturity curve of such things always suggests that we frantically use them to talk, talk, talk…until we get burned out on talking. Then we realize we only have so much space in our heads, and we need to use it differently.

      Blog comments have long been lauded as the crowning achievement, the “community” if you will, behind a blog. I believe that communities can still be strong without a stream of essentially meaningless commentary, and that instead we’ll see a shift to either no comments at all (a la Seth, and yes I still think that’s “social” despite what many think) or much more focused dialogue.

    • iwonderskysoft-tips

      Like you, I also don’t leave nearly as many comments as I used to and I don’t post on Twitter nearly as much.

  • Jim Mitchem

    This is my motivation for every blog post I’ve ever written. It’s never been about the comments for me. 

    • Amber Naslund

      I think every blogger says that, Jim. We all believe that we write to encourage people to think, and I believe we mean that. But the standard yardstick for whether mainstream blogs are any good has been their “engagement” factor, or whether they get comments (as well as traffic).

      I think that’s changing. I’ve always said that I write to discover what I think. That’s no less true now than it has been before, but the way people consume content – and process it – is changing regardless of our motivations.

  • Amber Naslund

    I also think I should amend something I wrote. I said that “Over time, my purpose in writing is no longer just to drive a reaction. It’s to spark inspiration, a little provocation.”

    That’s true, I guess. But the better statement would be to say that over time, I’ve come to understand that readers’ impetus for consuming blogs is changing, as is their purpose for leaving comments (or not) and reacting to something vs. using it for fodder for their own endeavors.

    It’s not accurate to say I’ve ever written for “reaction”, but I think I once placed a value and meaning on a robust comment stream that I no longer do.

    • KM Huber

      Your revised statement regarding the change in readers and how they process blogs is not only important but hopeful. It does seem that many of us, writers and readers, are weary of instant chatter. 

      Initially, I was swept up in my blog’s numbers–views and comments–I almost stopped blogging as I really was no longer writing what I wanted to write for I had an eye on the numbers, which is not to say that my numbers were high but they did surprise from me and still do. Let us hope that as writers and readers we are considering authenticity in what we write and what we read, reserving comments for those moments when it simply will not do not to comment.Excellent post.Karen

  • clarestweets

    Yes to the thoughtful inspiration behind this post.
    The reward isn’t just making people talk, it’s making people think and in that new thought, perhaps a new business, process is formed; a new connection cemented. Thanks Amber. 

  • Susan M Steele

    Thinking about “success” differently is tough to do, though I think very helpful. When I wrote my e-newsletter for my subscribers yesterday, I said something very similar to this.

    I think we’re conditioned to believe that blog comments = success.  After all, how can I measure what I’m doing if nobody makes any reply?  But the idea that your thoughts are like dropping a stone in the water definitely has its appeal.  
    Great thoughts — lots to think about here!

  • Robyn McIntyre

    Since I get few comments on my blog I began to wonder what I was doing wrong. I posted that I was thinking of shutting down the blog and asked if anyone found it useful. I got enough answers that I’ve kept it going. Now I still ask for comments, but don’t feel quite as bothered when I don’t get any.

    BTW – I often find your posts articulate what I’ve been thinking and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

  • Melonie Dodaro

    I just loved what you said, that from the goal of driving
    a reaction, you’re now so much more into creating an inspiration.  I guess there’s just no better way to put
    it.  You just made me think a little
    harder. Thanks!

  • Ralph Dopping

    Interesting fodder here. Hey, I am not going to tell you that I don’t care about comments. Comments and “engagement” are why I blog. It makes my day when I get some thoughtful responses. I don’t care that there are few.

    You said one word here that sums it up for me; time. 

    Anything that we do takes time to develop, anything. The web is rife with quick and disappointed folks who just don’t understand that or refuse to. Choice is important and making good choices focused on your growth is as critical in the social spaces as it is IRL.

    Thanks for the platform.