[As a blogger, this is a topic that has been on my mind for quite some time. Back in December, Lady Grinning Soul wrote a brilliant post listing five reasons why blog-readers should always comment on the posts they read. In January, Hubman also expressed his thoughts on the subject of commenting. Rather than reiterate their points, I thought I would simply give our thoughts on the subject as a whole.]
I just posted a comment on a blog that we follow. It's not the most exciting blog out there, but the person who runs it seems pretty nice. According to the widget on the sidebar of her blog, she has thirty-two followers. Her last several posts have received an average of one and a half comments. Three of her last several posts have just a single comment, from Jill and I. (One of those three posts also has a comment from her in reply to our own.) I don't know if she's ever commented on, or for that matter even seen, our blog.
The blog in question has existed since early 2010, with an average per-month of six posts. Her first few months saw not a single comment or interaction of any kind. A particularly active month for her in 2011 - a month featuring eight posts - yielded an all-time high of thirty comments. Of these, fifteen were her own replies, and four were comments that for whatever reason had been double-posted. As you may have guessed, the remaining eleven comments were not submitted by eleven different people, but rather three.
Why might a two-year-old blog have so few regular visitors? Let me rephrase that: Why might a two-year-old blog have so few regular visitors who leave comments? Clearly there is no correlation between the number of page views and the number of interactions with visitors. I can only speak for our blog, but while you're virtually guaranteed to have a significantly larger number of views than comments, sometimes the discrepancy is enormous. Our most-viewed post has well over two-thousand views, but only one comment.
A fellow blogger once advised us not to comment on blogs that don't already have any. Her rationale was that a blogger who doesn't have any comments probably doesn't leave any, and likely is not interested in the community aspect of blogging. Therefore, she suggested, our efforts would be better spent on a blogger who is likely to visit our blog and leave a comment in return. She was probably right, but when we see a blog so barren, so bereft of interaction, especially a blog that is updated regularly, our first thought is, "This person could probably use some feedback." We comment because we have something to say, but often we are also trying to open up a dialogue and/or make a connection with the other blogger. Commenting is a form of social advertising, if you will. It is a means of getting the word out about our blog, and many of the online friendships we hold most dear are the ones that began with a comment that was returned in kind.
Generally speaking, it seems that bloggers who don't have many - or any - comments on their posts are those who don't make other bloggers aware of their blog by commenting in the first place. I know that this was once true of us; in the early days of this blog we had no idea how to foster awareness of it, or for that matter how to find similar blogs to read and comment on. We would have appreciated it if a more seasoned blogger happened upon us and decided to share his or her thoughts. You might think, then, that a less-read blogger would be grateful, even flattered, that we took the time from our busy blogging and masturbation schedules to leave some feedback, but this is often not the case. Many bloggers will never venture out into the greater blogosphere, just to see what else is out there.
Why is this? The most likely reason that someone might adopt an isolationist blogging strategy is because they were never in it for the interaction in the first place. Many bloggers see their blogs less as a social network and more as a means of expressing things that they cannot otherwise. For these individuals, blogging may be a means of venting about a selfish or neglectful spouse, a stressful job, or a dysfunctional home life. It doesn't matter that no one comments or even reads it; in fact, this may be preferable as the less attention the blog receives, the less likely someone is to discern the blogger's identity. All that matters is that the blogger has a means of stating his or her feelings in a private and safe environment. In such a situation the blogger does not need, nor might he or she even want, the interaction.
Before I go any further, I need to state unequivocally that we appreciate your feedback, and we enjoy receiving comments. It's not our main reason for blogging, however. In fact, we've always been wary about placing too much importance on the comments that we receive, or at least on the quantity of comments that we receive; we imagine that it would be difficult to ever be satisfied with blogging under such circumstances.
Case in point: With twenty-five comments, our HNT post from December 15, 2011, was briefly our most-commented-on post. Emboldened by the tremendous popularity of this post, we fully expected the following week's HNT to receive even more. We were somewhat disappointed when it fell short of its predecessor by eight comments. We hadn't even considered the fact that, as it was mere days before Christmas, our fellow bloggers were on vacation, busy with travel and holiday preparation, away from their computers, or otherwise experiencing a break from the routine.
I'd say we blog about fifty to seventy-five percent for our own sense of satisfaction at having a forum in which we can talk about sex, and twenty-five to fifty percent for the social interaction and the feedback. It was probably six to nine months before we began receiving comments from people who were not "real life" friends of ours. We are used to posting things to our blog that get absolutely no feedback. It happened on occasion in the early years of this blog, and it still does on occasion. Therefore we've always blogged primarily for ourselves, with the hope but not necessarily the expectation of feedback.
As we have always been free of hang-ups, we are unable to understand the seemingly arbitrary gag order placed by society on something as natural and positive as sex. Think about it: we are allowed to discuss in so-called polite company virtually every single aspect of life that we as human beings enjoy. Even politics and religion are fair game. Attempt to engage in a thoughtful discussion about sex, however, and see how quickly you are branded some kind of pervert. Given the difficulty or impossibility of discussing sexual matters with much of our social circle, we highly value the outlet that blogging provides. For us, that outlet is the primary impetus behind this blog. The social interaction that we enjoy, and the friendships that we've made, began as unexpected fringe benefits, albeit ones that mean more and more to us every day.
It is not my intent to downplay how important feedback is to us. Every comment we receive tells us that someone liked something that we posted, or perhaps that they didn't, but still took the time to interact with us. Even a piece of negative feedback means something to us knowing that the person who left it went to the trouble to do so. We affected them. But we must also acknowledge that even if we received very few comments - or no comments at all - we'd likely continue to blog. It would be a much different experience, and it's conceivable that we wouldn't have the same level of satisfaction that we do now, having enjoyed the vocal following that we currently do. But at the very least our primary motivation would still be there.
As I suggested above, one of the most rudimentary lessons that blogging has taught us is that you've got a better chance of flying by flapping your arms than you do of having an equal page-views-to-comments ratio. In fact, forget equal. On most of our posts the ratio is at least ten to one, though frequently the gap is even wider. Lurkers - those who read without commenting - are a fact of the blogging life. They are the foundation of the typical blog's readership, so omnipresent that the blogosphere sets aside a day in their honor.
The vast majority of blog readers are not going to volunteer their opinions. The reasons for this are numerous, including but not limited to reluctance to commit one's thoughts to the internet (our friend Lisa once confessed that she has "a hard time communicating my thoughts effectively and am certain whatever comment I leave is going to be idiotic"), unwillingness to reiterate a point already made by one or more commenters, or the perception that one's comment is somehow unwanted. In some cases, a blogger might just have little or nothing to say about a particular post. He or she may not fully understand it, and therefore might not wish to sound foolish by leaving a comment that misses the point. He or she may find that the post doesn't exactly apply, and that to leave a comment may seem disingenuous.
We frequently promote this blog on Twitter, and I imagine that relatively few of the people who follow a tweet back to one of our posts are bloggers themselves. Most are likely unfamiliar with the aforementioned importance of blogging as social interaction. Therefore, the concept of blogger equiquette is probably lost on them.
What is blogger etiquette, you may ask? As I understand it, the term refers at least partially to the expectation that a comment on one person's blog will be repaid in kind. In other words, if you post a comment on our blog, civility dictates that we post a comment on yours. And while we do our best to live up to this, we do so primarily out of a desire to further our acquaintance with anyone who has visited and commented on our blog, more than out of a sense of obligation or quid pro quo. We understand that most bloggers don't observe the concept of blogger etiquette, so we don't expect it; and furthermore we recognize that there have been times when we've inadvertently neglected to repay a comment left by another blogger, and we prefer not to think that our lapse constituted an unforgivable offense.
First glimpsed (by me, at least) on Hubman's aforementioned post, the term "blogger etiquette" attempts to depict the blogging community as one of courtesy and good manners, and furthers the expectation that bloggers are refined, considerate, and affable at all times. And while this is certainly true of most of the bloggers with whom we've interacted, there are undoubtedly those who blog because they are so antisocial that they wouldn't think to hold a door open for someone they know and care about, much less leave courtesy feedback on the blog of a stranger.
To an extent, blogger etiquette exists. But its continued survival is dependent upon the bloggers who observe it. While there are many bloggers who are dilligent participants, sworn to uphold this hypothetical "comment for comment" standard, there are countless others who don't or can't. Many bloggers read posts on their phones or other mobile devices, and because they prefer to wait to comment until they have access to a standard keyboard, they sometimes forget altogether. This has happened to me more than I would like. Some bloggers, on the other hand, have such an extensive reading list that they can't possibly comment on - or even read - every post that shows up on their blogrolls. This is something that should never be taken personally.
As I stated earlier, we appreciate all of the feedback we get. In fact, though I must reiterate the point that we do not blog primarily for feedback, we would love it if even more people commented on posts that they enjoy than do already. Without comments, we have no way of knowing what people think of the things we share. For all we know, the majority of a typical post's page views are the result of links clicked by accident. We assume that this is not the case; clearly people are reading our stuff. The comments we do get are largely positive; clearly people are enjoying what they read.
Actually, I'm not necessarily even talking about commenting on our blog. We would love it if more people commented on blogs in general. Doesn't matter whose blog it is. Doesn't matter what kind of blog. Doesn't matter if there are no comments or if there are twenty. Doesn't even matter, really, if you like what you read. If you read a blog today, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to leave some feedback.
Nothing can compel you to comment on this blog or any other. I'm not the sort to claim that if you read blogs but do not comment on them you're stealing. Comments are not currency, and this is not a public television pledge drive. If you enjoy a post, if it makes you think, or moves you in some way, let the author know. Then, if you read another blog, repeat the process. You have nothing to lose by commenting; I can all but promise you that no blogger is going to judge any comment you leave; likely he or she will be far too busy appreciating that you went to the trouble. Your small effort may make a world of difference.