I recently read Seth Godin’s e-book Who’s There (PDF), which is subtitled as his “incomplete guide to blogs and the new web”. It’s not exactly rife with original ideas, but it’s a decent read and a good place for business people to start if they’re blogging noobs. I did, however, disagree with his view on comments:
My blog doesnâ€™t have comments, though. There are two reasons for this. The first, which is childish, is that I hate reading angry rants about my ideas, and having comments on my blog made it harder and harder for me to post because I lived in fear of trolls (the angry little men living under the bridge). The other reason, more practical, is that we now live in a world where many people have blogs. So if youâ€™ve got something you want to say about one of my ideas, go ahead and trackback it and put it on your blog. Your non-anonymous blog. Your blog where your comment is now in context with all your other comments.
There are angry little women who are trolls too, but that’s beside the point. I can appreciate where Seth is coming from, as he’s got a wildly popular site and he’d probably never be able to keep up with the spam, let along respond to comments. It’s a nice problem to have, but very few people have it. [more]
More importantly, very few people have blogs. Technorati tracks 17 million blogs, but how many of those are active? Let’s be optimistic and say two-thirds. Let’s also knock off another 10% for spam blogs. That leaves 10 million blogs. Even if we omit India, China and all of Africa (to eliminate the world’s poorest, and therefore least bloggy, people), that leaves us roughly 3.3 billion people. What does that mean? 3 people in 1000 have a blog. If you want to include the entire planet, that’s 1.5 in a 1000.
Let’s guess and say the US has 5 million active blogs. That means 1.5 people in a 100 have a blog.
So, it’s misleading for Seth to remark that “many people have blogs”. Most people don’t, and probably never will. It’s also important to recognize that few people outside bloggers understand how to track conversations across sites, either using trackbacks or tools such as Technorati or Feedster.
In short, the vast majority of humans have no voice, and have no ability to understand cross-site conversations. Therefore, the best place to have an accessable discussion about an issue is directly under that issue, in a comments thread. If, as an individual or a company, you don’t have the bandwidth or wherewithal to monitor the conversation in the comments, just say that up front.
It’s also inaccurate to say that my blog is where all of my comments belong, because that’s the context for them. This is deeply wrong. The comments belong first and foremost where the discussion takes place. Which is the more useful context–the subject matter or the commenter? Clearly it’s the former. To put it another way, what’s said is more important than who’s saying it.