Gas station without pumps

2015 January 2

Why doesn’t anyone comment on blogs?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:27
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Nina Simon’s Muesum 2.0 blog post, What You Lose When You Become Embedded, and a Moment of Mourning for Blog Conversations, discusses how her posts start a lot of conversations that she is not privy to, and that she would really like to be included in discussions of her posts.

Problem is, I’m only part of a tiny fraction of those conversations. I’m learning less. I feel more lonely in my writing. It makes it harder to keep it up.

This “problem” disproportionately impacts only one of this blog’s thousands of users: me. For me, this content being embedded across different platforms and conversations is lovely in the abstract but frustrating in the day-to-day. I used to feel like a party host with really amazing guests. Now I feel like a street performer. I’m part of a bigger city. I supply some content but only get to talk with a few gadflies who stick close to the show (of whom I am very appreciative). One of my greatest blogging-related joys is when someone shares a blog post with a colleague and accidentally hits “reply” instead of “forward”—thus letting me in on their conversation.

This is what it means to be embedded. To not be the center of attention. To be used by someone else, somewhere else, without notification or participation. To be more important, but to feel less important.

In response to a comment of mine on the post, Nina Simon pointed me to another article about blog comments that she wrote way back in 2008, Museum 2.0: Why Doesn’t Anyone Comment on Your Blog?:

When people ask about blogging, the question of comments comes up more frequently than any other. It’s a bit strange. Why not ask more typical website questions, “why don’t more people visit my blog?” or “why don’t more people link to my blog?” There are many good ways to measure a blog’s value, but somewhere inside ourselves, we feel that comments are the thing that validate a blog’s existence. They prove that the conversation is two-way. They demonstrate that the blog is a more participatory vehicle than other kinds of media. So when people ask, “Why don’t more people comment?,” it gets me excited. It means that you are blogging because you want to hear from someone else.

In both her old post and her new one, she talks about why people don’t comment much. Although it is clear that she accepts the rather low ratio of commenters to readers, it is also clear that she would rather have more public conversations in her blog.

Me too.

The external commenting rate on my blog is about 0.6%—that is, about 6 comments from people other than me per 1000 views.  I’d like to have a rate more like 2–3%, that is, four or five times as many comments as I now get.

One of her commenters pointed out that a lot of ephemeral discussion happens on Facebook and Twitter, and that many people are intimidated by the greater permanence and public nature of blog comments.  Some of her lurkers have promised to try to comment more on her blog (though they recognized that this was likely to go the way of all New Year’s resolutions).

I don’t even have that comfort of triggering discussions on other platforms, as I doubt that my posts are getting much attention on Facebook or Twitter—the referral numbers to my blog from either is rather low. About 2/3 of my views are coming from search engine hits—people are looking for specific material that Google thinks they can find in one of my blog posts.  They may read just one blog post and not return, though I do have a (small) number of regular readers who subscribe to the blog.

One big difference, I suspect, between her blog and mine is that she has a fairly large community of regular readers on her blog, almost all of whom are interested in museum administration. They have a lot to say to each other. My more scattered posts on electronics, programming, teaching, home schooling, university administration, and random stuff that interests me does not result in a large, loyal following. People who are interested in only some of my posts may have nothing to say to people interested in other of my posts. When I put up a series of posts on one topic, I may lose subscribers who were only interested in one of the other topics.

I follow a lot of blogs (too many, actually, as it eats up too much of my time), and I try to comment on them whenever I have anything to say, because I know how much comments mean to blog writers. Even slightly stupid comments are better than silence. (I try not to make stupid comments, but I’m sure I do sometimes.) Some of my most frequent commenters are fellow bloggers whose blogs I comment on—we sometimes have blog conversations that are not contained just within the comments, but that trigger longer posts on our own blogs.  These are often quite satisfying conversations, which we are glad to share with other readers—and we invite you to join the conversation in the comments.

For those of you who don’t feel you have anything to say, here are some questions I’d like answers to: What brings you to my blog? What should I write about to keep your interest? What topics would you feel more comfortable commenting on?


I’m a bit of a fringe member of Nina’s blog community, having gotten interested in the Museum 2.0 blog mainly because of what she had done to turn the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz from a stodgy little provincial museum, of no interest to almost anyone, into a vital part of the community. I keep reading her blog, because she writes well and gets me thinking about things I would otherwise not consider, even if much of what she writes about has no application to my professional or personal life.

26 Comments »

  1. I follow your blog via RSS and read only those posts that sound interesting to me (mostly ones about syllabus creation/pedagogy). As I think about what might make me comment more, I think about my fledgling #NaBloCoMo experiments of the last two years (doing a blog comment once a day for the month of November). I do it because I know what a thrill it can be to get a comment. But I also try to make sure that my comment solicits a reply by asking a question at the end.

    I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this paragraph, but what the heck, you asked. For commenting on your blog, I do sometimes pause. Take my last comment as an example. I said something about how with my current approach to assessment (Standards-based grading) I have seen more people fail my courses. I said something else as well, but the details escape me. Your reply said something about my other point, but then ended with something like “I’ve blogged 10 times about SBG, it doesn’t work” or at least that’s how it came off the screen to me. To be honest, that shut me down, and I didn’t participate in the rest of the discussion.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how to foster communities with other teachers/physicists/whatever. I know I often fall into echo chambers because they’re comfortable, and I’ve often appreciated how your comments on my blog break me out of those at times. I’m not sure what the best balance is between an echo chamber and situations like the last paragraph when I took myself out of the conversation. What do you think?

    Comment by Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist — 2015 January 2 @ 15:34 | Reply

    • Are there any RSS readers that provide automatic comment-reply buttons? It would seem to be an obviously useful feature.

      Because I’m often sending my replies at odd hours when I’m not completely awake, the comments may not always be as carefully crafted as I’d like. Feel free to call me on it if I’m shutting down conversation rather than opening it—I’m not always aware of how I come across (in person or in print).

      I’m sorry that my comment about SBG came across as sounding like “SBG doesn’t work”. I think it does work for some teachers, and there some aspects of it that I found quite appealing. The 10 posts mentioned were my struggle with trying to figure out how I could use it in my classes with my teaching skills. I ended up deciding that it didn’t quite work for my classes, though I did increase the amount I used some aspects of it (like allowing students to redo any assignment that they did not do well enough on). I suspect that I was pointing to the posts not to say “It doesn’t work”, but to provide pointers to the thinking I’d done about it, and why I ended up not using it despite its initial attractiveness for me. In fact, if someone could point out flaws in my thinking in those posts, where I misunderstood what is needed for SBG, I’d welcome a chance to revisit the issue and see if there is a way I could use SBG (or something closer to it than what I currently use).

      I welcome pushback from my readers, particularly when backed by experience, and I do sometimes change my opinion as a result of the discussions.

      I’m not looking for an echo chamber (I do comment on some blogs that have that feel), but a polite discussion among people who have similar goals (like educating young adults) but different views on how best to achieve those goals.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 2 @ 17:24 | Reply

      • I had the same feelings as Andy. I’ve commented a couple of times, and been informed that I didn’t understand the problem (probably true) in (what I felt as) a dismissive manner. So I’ve gone back to my rocking chair, yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

        I primarily read your blog for the technical and teaching aspects. I’m still involved in the former, and have fond memories of the latter.

        Comment by John Hassler — 2015 January 3 @ 08:52 | Reply

        • It’s good that I asked for why people weren’t commenting, as it brought up some things I was not very aware of—like that my replies to comments were being seen as dismissive. That was not generally my intent (I can think of only one commenter that I’ve felt that way towards, and it isn’t any of those who have responded to this post). So it is clear that I need to work on the tone of my replies, as they aren’t having the effect I want, of eliciting more thoughts from the commenter.

          This news does not come as a great surprise to me, as I have had a similar problem sometimes in classes, of shutting down responses when I was attempting to get deeper responses. I’ve gotten somewhat better at it in classes over the years, so there is hope that I can get better at it on the blog as well.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 3 @ 09:26 | Reply

  2. I’ll tell you why people don’t comment. Commenting on blogs is broken. If I wanted to continue in this conversation, how would I do so? Subscribe to the RSS feed for comments? No. Click the “Notify me of new comments by email.” button? No. Come back and revisit this post to see if anyone else has commented? Almost assuredly no. Only if I’m REALLY invested in the community or the conversation. Casual readers will never leave comments. That makes it very hard for casual readers to evolve into committed readers.

    This is all ignoring the fact that I read blogs via RSS, which doesn’t allow for a commenting interface to begin with.

    If I’m going to respond to to a blog post these days, it’s almost always via twitter. That makes it much easier for me to continue the conversation.

    Just to reinforce my point, this is my second attempt at commenting. The first attempt was on my iPad, where I got a WordPress login screen after typing out a very similar comment. The login screen hung when I entered my password (which might have been wrong; I somehow ended up with two different WordPress entries in 1Password, which is telling us something), so that attempt failed. I understand the problem of comment spam, but having to login to post comments presents yet another hurdle to commenters.

    Sorry to be so negative. This sounds more ranty than I feel. Happy New Year.

    Hi Andy!

    Comment by Chris Goedde — 2015 January 2 @ 16:14 | Reply

    • My blog doesn’t require people to register (at least, I’ve not checked that option box), so if WordPress.com is requiring login, then there is a WordPress.com bug. I did check “Comment author must fill out name and e-mail”, which is a lower level of security, but seems to be enough to keep out the comment spam (at least on wordpress.com, where the spam filter is pretty good).

      I read blogs via RSS feed also (using inoreader, since Google reader was shut down and The Old Reader did not welcome new users). When I want to comment, I click through to the post and comment there. Some blogs do make it a real hassle to comment with Captchas, login, or both. The blogspot blogs seem to be particularly bad about randomly refusing comments after long delays. I’ve tried to make my blog easy to comment on, but I’m constrained by what WordPress provides.

      Are there any RSS readers that provide automatic comment-reply buttons? It would seem to be an obviously useful feature.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 2 @ 17:10 | Reply

      • I think WP detected that the email I used belonged to a WP account, so it asked me to verify that I was me.

        But my main point is that the whole format of blogs doesn’t really encourage commenting; the whole format is set up for one-way communication (author -> reader) not two-way conversation. Comments are buried behind posts, getting notified of new comments or continuing conversation is awkward, and the most-recent-at-top format doesn’t encourage sustained conversation.

        Via twitter, Andy is encouraging me to try the “Notify me of new comments via email” button, but I think it’s telling that he and I are discussing this post via a second channel rather than through comments here.

        Comment by Chris Goedde — 2015 January 2 @ 17:26 | Reply

        • If you have a WordPress.com account, the “comments I’ve made” menu under the dashboard is a handy way to check up on conversations on other WordPress blogs. That doesn’t work for non-Wordpress blogs, of course. For some of the blogs I read, I subscribe to the RSS feed for the comments also—that can bring me back into a conversation. I don’t do it for the blogs that have really voluminous comments, though—if there are 100 comments on a post, I have to be really, really interested to want to read them. Very few of the blogs I read have that sort of comment stream, though, so i subscribe to the comments for most of the blogs I read.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 2 @ 17:50 | Reply

      • I’ve had problems commenting here as well — let’s see if this works.

        Comment by HelenS — 2015 January 4 @ 12:05 | Reply

        • Seems to have. I hope this means that whatever problems WordPress has caused for commenters have been cleaned up.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 4 @ 14:03 | Reply

  3. When it comes to commenting a lot has to do with the topics you discuss, how you discuss them, and how your readership is. Often I read your posts and basically all I have to say is “Yep, this sounds about right,” and don’t have much intelligent to add.

    You don’t have a lot of posts where you ask for reader input or complain about a problem, that’s just not your style.
    People who do get a lot of traffic tend to post controversial stuff, or ask for community input, or post emotionally charged pieces (e.g. rants) — those tend to get a lot of hits and a lot of comments, not all of which are pleasant.

    Since I moved to xykademiqz I think some of my readership changed; I think many of the biomed bloggers are now leaving me alone, which is probably for the best. I have a small number of frequent commenters and we usually have nice discussions, even if there are disagreements. That’s all that I have wanted in comments, honestly.

    As for Andy’s comment above, that sometimes one can get a chilling response from another commenter or the blog owner. That probably happens at my place, too. I try not to take it against people who are generally good and respectful commenters if they are a little short or otherwise off on occasion, we’re all humans and often blog reading and commenting is done in a hurry.

    Anyway, I like the blog as is and, as someone said somewhere, “the quickest way for a blog to die is to think about what others want to read rather than what you want to write.” Just keep doing what you’re doing, I personally enjoy the mix of in-class, technical, and general academic/education musings.

    I will try to comment more often in the new year!

    Comment by xykademiqz — 2015 January 2 @ 16:20 | Reply

    • Thanks. You are now one of my most frequent commenters, and I find your comments valuable (as I do for most of my commenters).

      I have no intention of writing anything other than what I want to write, as this blog is primarily a recreation for me, and a way for me to think out loud about some of the things that concern me. The thinking-out-loud part works better if people point out where my thinking is a little off (or completely wrong), or provide extra anecdotal evidence for or against my arguments. But I have 174 draft posts that I could work on and probably another 100 links that I have been thinking would be worth writing about, so getting some feedback from my readers could help me choose which of those posts would be worth the trouble of completing.

      I’ll be teaching the freshman design seminar again next quarter (gack! it starts on Monday), so I’ll probably be doing a series of posts about how that class goes. I don’t think I’ll do a series on the senior thesis writing class I’m also teaching next quarter, but I could do a post or two if people are interested. I’m also trying to create a new tech writing course for someone else to teach (my 14 years of teaching a tech writing course burned me out on doing it any more, and I’ve already got 6 courses a year when the normal load is 3)—I could share some of the design documents for that class. I could talk about the redesign of our bioengineering curriculum that I pushed through last year, or the hours I’ve spent on the self-study this year for our accreditation visit next year (just WASC, not ABET—I’d need another full-time faculty member or two to do all the paperwork needed for ABET accreditation).

      I’ve got lots of material, but not lots of time—what do people most want to hear about?

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 2 @ 17:38 | Reply

      • I think posts that translate well (easily?) to the experiences of other people are likely to be well appreciated.

        For instance, I would definitely like to read about the technical writing courses (your experiences, design, etc.) I am fascinated by the topic of writing, and especially interested in technical writing and teaching it effectively to students.

        I am also interested in learning about some of the admin stuff you do — for instance, we have one faculty who does ABET and it looks like it’s a huge amount of work. So I would be curious to hear more about what your admin duties are, what the load is, how you organize your time, how is it with respect to what your expectations going in were, what you would like to see changed, what you think is possible to change, if it’s increased or decreased your appreciation for some other admin or staff duties, how you deal with the presumably large numbers of people that require face time (you might have written about this before…) Have these admin duties changed the way you view academic politics or how you work with people in general?

        Comment by xykademiqz — 2015 January 2 @ 18:49 | Reply

  4. I most often read your posts on your son’s educational experiences and his college application and selection process. This is because I am the mom of a homeschooled 16 year old boy who no doubt will be a math/engineer/computer science kid when he arrives college himself. Both hubby and I are electrical engineers, so it’s genetic, no doubt. (Now, however, my son is happiest on the ski slopes, where he trains as a ski racer, 9 am to 3 pm six days a week all winter long. Luckily, son is smart and whips through most academic undertakings very quickly. This life does limit the courses that can be taken online, however, to those that don’t require attendance at a particular hour each week – they don’t work with training and racing schedules.) My son is an AOPS math/CS kid (800 Math 2 subject test, 5 on AP CS), but I am paranoid that he won’t have all the classes/credentials/etc. needed to get into top tier. Your son was over the top prepared — kudos to you and your wife! I’m still trying to find sources/materials for more courses, etc. so will be going back to read your old posts yet again, I’m sure.

    Comment by Sally — 2015 January 2 @ 23:24 | Reply

    • Being “over the top prepared” is no guarantee of getting into top-tier schools—it just gets you a slot in the lottery. White or Asian males interested in computer science, no matter how good, don’t get any bonus points for diversity. The ski racer credentials may be more important for getting into top-rated schools, as sports still trumps academics (even at Stanford, though they are not as bad as places like UC Berkeley and Michigan State).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 2 @ 23:35 | Reply

      • That lottery is what concerns me. Unfortunately ski racing is an obscure sport that brings in no money to a school, and I doubt that any top-tier would have a team where my son could race. Ski racing scholarships often go to foreign students – a diversity enabler. We haven’t been paying attention to the NCAA academic requirements – I don’t even know whether he fits. He won’t be racing in college. But perhaps his dedication to a sport will make him an interesting applicant in the pool and get him into the lottery – best spin I can put on this crazy life. I wish my son were more dedicated to math competitions or some other academic endeavor.
        I do thank you for all of your posts and thoughtful observations about the process.

        Comment by Sally — 2015 January 4 @ 04:43 | Reply

  5. I read most of your posts, probably just skimming the electronics posts. I like your blog, I think, because the mix of ideas within and just beyond my own comfort. They make me feel connected and challenged at same time.

    I, in general, commented on blogs more before I got a smart phone and commented more before I got on Twitter. I agree that RSS is a also barrier to commenting as well–not a huge one but just enough. The posts I thought about commenting to recently but didn’t were both about pressures to dumb down degree programs.

    You are getting lots of comments to this… Is this because the content or the invitation? I suspect it’s both.

    Comment by Brian Frank — 2015 January 3 @ 05:03 | Reply

  6. I “found” the blog when I stayed in your lab some years back. Now, I follow via RSS and open up any post that strikes me as interesting. I suppose I could be considered part of your small loyal following.

    I like many of your thoughts and the ensuing discussions on university and high-school level teaching, grading, programming, etc. I’m teaching again at our university, so your input is used to develop my own opinions on these topics. Any disagreements I have with your posts are not yet sufficiently thought out to conquer my politeness and manifest themselves in replies. Your questions at the end of this post makes me think the “polite” thing to do might be to leave a reply anyway.

    I also follow the posts about your sons progress. While the way you brought him up may not be completely normal by american standards it appears vastly different from what Ive observed anywhere in Denmark. We’re expecting our first child next summer so the whole topic takes up a lot of my thoughts. The motivation you’ve been able to instill in Abe and the way you’ve engaged in his projects and helped him plan is admirable and I hope I’ll be able to do the same for my child.

    “What should I write about to keep your interest?” Teaching, programming, experiences and thoughts on university level management, and maybe things that keeps me up to date on life in Santa Cruz in general. The hardware design posts have not carried a lot of meaning for me.

    “What topics would you feel more comfortable commenting on?” I don’t think comfortability comes with the choice of topic. You’ve always struck me as thorough and rational which makes for an interesting read but a boring discussion as I mostly wind up thinking “that sounds about right”. Maybe the problem is that you mainly write about things that you already have a well thought out opinion on already. I never had the sense that replying to your posts would contribute significantly to your thoughts on the subject. Your replies to comments are usually pretty decisive which can leave commenters with a sense of dismissal. My motivation for engaging in online discussions is usually not to gain something myself, but to help or affect someone else.

    Thanks for an interesting blog and happy 2015.

    Comment by Rasmus — 2015 January 3 @ 05:05 | Reply

  7. Privacy is a huge issue, with blogs. I have to carefully censor what I say, because if it got back to my employer, I wouldn’t want them to be embarrassed.

    I always vastly preferred mailing lists. I participated in quite a few, and the discussions were free wheeling and far ranging. Mailing lists often became real communities. Sometimes they could be lifesaving, such as the ACOR cancer mailing lists. Because of one of my children, I participated and still participate in one of them. We learned so much there, and shared lots of information. Often the parents on the list knew what was happening, research and treatment-wise, before their local hospitals did. Sadly, traffic on all the lists is way down because of Facebook. But Facebook discussions are inherently different. Even though a private group was set up there to replace the ACOR list, it has never been the same. The communication model does not lend itself to in depth discussion, and everyone is leery of privacy while on Facebook. I really miss mailing lists.

    Comment by Bonnie — 2015 January 4 @ 08:36 | Reply

    • I understand the point about privacy, though some of the mailing lists I’m on have 1000s of members (homeschool2college, tagfam, tagmax, …), so the “privacy” of the mailing list format is largely illusory. The lurking-to-commenting ratio is not quite as bad on the mailing lists, though, with 2–5% of the members sending messages.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 4 @ 09:06 | Reply

      • The TAG lists are too huge to have a community. Our ACOR list was very different since it is tightly moderated, and since we tended to see each other in real life at various points during treatment. I have been on other mailing lists with a strong sense of community – all tended to be special purpose, moderated, and with a certain amount of real life interaction.
        Years ago, I posted a comment on why women leave CS faculty positions on a blog, using my real name. What I said wasn’t particularly controversial, but it still came back to bite me, slighlty at least, during job interviews. Now I try to be more careful.

        Comment by Bonnie — 2015 January 4 @ 11:06 | Reply

  8. […] my request for comments, xykademiqz mentioned that she’d like to hear about the tech writing course I’m […]

    Pingback by New tech writing course | Gas station without pumps — 2015 January 4 @ 15:07 | Reply

  9. “For those of you who don’t feel you have anything to say, here are some questions I’d like answers to: What brings you to my blog? What should I write about to keep your interest? What topics would you feel more comfortable commenting on?”

    I follow your blog because I also homeschool in N California. I appreciate your frankness about the quality of education and students at the UC’s. I am particularly interested in learning about what I can do to better prepare my students to study engineering in college. Because of this blog, I’ve stepped up our study of computer science, electronics, and microcontrollers. I’ve adopted your mantra of “let’s try it and find out.” For all these reasons I am grateful for your blog and sorry I don’t post more often. I also enjoy hearing about your son’s successes!

    Comment by V John — 2015 January 6 @ 20:21 | Reply

  10. I am wondering if your rate of comments has increased since you made this post. Just curious.

    Comment by Sally — 2015 January 31 @ 11:44 | Reply

    • I don’t really know. The WordPress.com stats page does not provide very good statistics for keeping track of comments—there isn’t even a download option to get a csv file that I could analyze.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 January 31 @ 11:48 | Reply

  11. […] posts based on whichever criterion they are using are also mostly not from this year (only the Why doesn’t anyone comment on blogs? post is from this […]

    Pingback by Blog year 2015 in review | Gas station without pumps — 2015 December 31 @ 17:07 | Reply


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