A new report confirms that blogs and social media are now the main things people spend time with online.
Blogs? Aren’t those so five years ago?
Hardly. In fact, blogs are growing faster than many headline-grabbing social media sites, and they’re everywhere.
How pervasive are blogs today? Three of the top 10 social networking sites measured in a recent Nielsen report on the state of the media are blog providers — Blogspot, WordPress, and Tumblr. (By the way, the entire Nielsen report is worth reading — it’s slick, and covers a lot of the digital landscape.) There are now more than 181 million blogs, up from 36 million in 2006, when blogging was cool.
Blogs may not be cool in that same way they were in 2006, but they’re growing faster than Facebook, and that’s noteworthy. Also, half of all bloggers are between 18-34, making it a young medium as well as a growing one.
Most bloggers are female, and bloggers are more apt to post in other online forums.
Yet, despite their popularity and potential, blogs are hindered by a sad reality — the bigger they get, the more unmanageable and crude the comments become.
In an interesting discussion of how blogs can improve, Anil Dash and others talk about the flaws with comments:
It seems like some of the basic elements of the form, such as comments, have been stuck in a model that doesn’t work very well to encourage quality responses [Dash] . . . . I don’t care what most people have to say . . . [o]f course, I care a lot about what some limited number of people have to say. [Williams]
This “I care a lot about what some limited number of people have to say” sentiment must be in the air. Perhaps it’s the fatigue bloggers feel fending off comments that can be boorish, off-topic, and downright nasty. As Nick Denton of Gawker Media said in an interview with CNN:
I don’t like going into the comments. . . . For every two comments that are interesting — even if they’re critical, you want to engage with them — there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic.
Denton also notes that as sites get more popular, it’s harder to control the comments, which get nastier as the audience drifts from its core community. We’ve experienced this here — as our traffic has increased, comment threads have gotten longer (fine), wilder (usually fine), and nastier (not so fine).
Denton now feels that the notion that comments can generate a thoughtful discussion is “laughable.”
Denton has an alternative, one that sounds an awful lot like a mass media version of peer-review — hand-picked experts to comment instead of the open throngs:
Denton said his sites are planning to post some stories that allow only a hand-picked, pre-approved group of people to comment on them. That, he said, would make the comment section an extension of the story and allow people, like Charney in the above example, to have their say without fear of being piled onto by others. . . . “What I want is, I want the sources — I want the experts to be able to comment in these discussions.”
Comments in online scientific journals have been notoriously poor — either too much material of uneven quality or too little discussion to amount to a hill of beans. All too often, commenting has to be shut down because internecine and tiresome debates break out, creating more noise than signal. The best comments are scholarly, and borrow extensively from the form of letters to the editor.
After more than a decade and millions of blogs, it seems one main lesson practitioners are learning — myself included — is that dreams of what we would call “post-publication peer-review” need to be reimagined. Not only is commenting failing overall, but communicators striving for a high standard are reinventing the wheel of invited experts to help improve materials.