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Are Comments A Good Measure Of Blog Success?

When I started blogging, there was no such thing as Twitter. Nor was there a Foursquare, an Instagram, a Formspring, or a Gowalla. There wasn’t even a Facebook, really, at least not in an incarnation that was useful to me. And there was certainly no Google+ (have you figured out Google+ yet? I have not. I am not ashamed to admit this.) Anyway, back in the early days of my blogging career it was just me and my blog and the great big ocean of Internet and all the virtual boats floating thereon, sailing up to each other and past each other and signaling each other with lights and toots of virtual horns. There was no such thing as “social networking.” There were no other “social media platforms.” People came to my blog, and they commented, or didn’t comment, and I went to their blogs, and commented, or didn’t comment, and whatever discussions were taking place about the content on our blogs were taking place, well, on our blogs.

That, of course, has all changed. Now, our blogs — if we even have them, and it is by no means a requirement of being involved in social media that we do (see, for example, anyone with a successful independent YouTube channel) — are more often than not only one of many spaces that we occupy on the Internet, and only one node in the many conversations that we’re having there. Where we once carried all of our conversations in the comments sections of our favorite blogs, we now have many of those conversations over Twitter, or Facebook. Numbers of comments, however, used to be a marker of blog success (not always an accurate one, but still.) Is commenting declining? If so, what does that mean for how we think of blog success?

Comments, taken on their own, have never been a reliable measure of blog success, if we understand success as a numbers game (which we shouldn’t; that’s another whole post). There have long been successful, high traffic blogs that do garner high comment numbers, and there have also long been ‘smaller’ blogs which have really high engagement. Comments, in other words, have always signaled conversation, and conversation is a measure of engagement, but it is only one measure (linking and subscribing are others). And, of course, conversation now takes place across a variety of mediated spaces, so comments in one space don’t necessarily tell us anything about a blogger’s social media engagement overall.

Much of the traffic on my personal blog comes from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve seen the conversations that used to take place on my blog (and between my blog and other blogs) shift and move and spread themselves around. Those conversations take place, sometimes, on Facebook, where posting a link to and an excerpt from a post can yield long threads of commentary that stays entirely on Facebook. The same is true of Twitter: Many readers will opt to tweet something to the effect of “I read your post and…” — even if they have to spread their remarks over multiple tweets — instead of leaving a comment at the original post. Which I can totally understand: Twitter and Facebook are more public forums for discussion. Leaving a comment on a post on my blog restricts any discussion of that comment to commenters who spend the time actively reading the full comment stream; making a comment on Twitter is open to everybody who follows you (and, if I retweet it or respond, me). The discussion is more open, and more people — potentially — see your contribution to it. Same goes for Facebook: Making comments there includes (again, potentially) more people in the discussion. Comment threads on blogs are a closed communication system; Facebook and Twitter (Twitter to a much greater degree) are open. Open communications systems are, obviously, more compelling than those that are closed.

That’s not to say that discussion no longer occurs at my blog; on controversial topics, in particular, really active threads can get going and sustain themselves for days. But I’ve also noticed that there are times, now, that I’m more inclined to want to pursue discussions off-blog, or to avoid them entirely, and let whoever wants to take it up, take it up in whatever space they choose. This isn’t because I don’t value the community that congregates around my blog — I adore that community — but, rather, that I’ve come to believe that that community deserves only the best of my attention, and to recognize that I am not always equipped to provide it — or, specifically, to provide it in my blog space.

So it is, then, that on days when I’m writing just to get my writing on and then disappearing from the Internet (something that I find is sometimes necessary for my sanity) and so not available to respond to commenters and engage in discussion, it’s a blessing to be able to close comments and know that those readers who are really keen to discuss whatever it is that I’ve put out there will do so by taking it to whatever forum they’re most comfortable in. Or not. The point is, if I’m not putting all of my own discursive energies into my blog space, all of the time, I shouldn’t expect my readers to do so either. Why shouldn’t they go to Facebook and Twitter? I mean, I go to Facebook and Twitter. I like it at Facebook and Twitter. (I should note, too, that I use Twitter much more that I do Facebook, and that I don’t use much else in the way of social networking tools. As Katie said yesterday in her great post about avoiding social media ‘monkey mind,’ concentrating your social media effort on those spaces that yield most benefit to you – and are most enjoyable for you to use – is an excellent strategy for maintaining social media focus.)

So, yes: Although there are more people visiting my blog in the age of Facebook, there are fewer people engaging in discussion there. Or, more accurately, the people who are engaged in discussion with or about the content on my blog are doing so in a manner that best serves them, in the spaces and at the times that they prefer. And that, I think, is a good thing.

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