I received the following write-up from Lois Smith, SSP Board Member and Communications Director at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. It stems from a session at the 2008 SSP Annual Meeting entitled, “Building a Better Blog.”

If No One Comments, Is It Still a Blog?

At the Society for Scholarly Publishing‘s 30th Annual Meeting last week, I was perplexed, in the session “Building a Better Blog,” to hear that a blog that gets few or (heaven forbid) no comments is considered a failure. Does “better” mean “comment-ier” in the view of the presenters in this session and others who want a blog to enhance their publications? Whose idea was it that a blog must generate comments? What is a (b)log, anyway? A log is a record. Why are records kept? For someone to eventually read and possibly learn from them. When a ship’s or aircraft’s captain keeps a log, does he expect someone to comment on his actions and decisions? Well, no. He writes it so that if he messes up, captains of the future can go back and see where the mess-up began so they don’t repeat it.

I haven’t read many blogs (except Kent Anderson’s The Scholarly Kitchen, which is wonderful), but I thought the whole idea was that a blogger writes to present information on his/her own interests, express his/her opinions, and generally spout about whatever he/she feels like, and the bloggee can read it or skip it. Yes, Kent, I thought that the TagGalaxy site you mentioned on May 29 was really cool, but when I went to enter a comment, I thought, “He already said it was cool, and my saying ‘I think so too’ is not contributing anything of value to this post.”

Maybe that’s why lots of people don’t comment in response to blog posts on scholarly (or other) topics – they just come to read, enjoy, learn, waste time, procrastinate, etc. And what’s wrong with that?

Lois makes a lot of good points and raises key questions about what makes a blog successful. Some topics seem to invite comments. Political blogs are the center of the blogging universe, as this visualization of the blogosphere shows:

As the expert who put this together states, the central bright point is the nexus of socio/political blogging, while the bright spot to the upper right is the nexus for technology blogging, with BoingBoing at the center.

For blogs that are not about technology or politics, the commenting haze grows thin. And Lois’ essential question is, “How do you measure success?” I think comments are a pretty poor proxy in niche blogs like the kinds people involved in STM publishing and information are likely to launch. There just isn’t the massive traffic or low-risk, anonymous flamewar potential. Reputations are more carefully guarded and cultivated in our small space. Traffic is specialized and therefore relatively small.

Comments are great when they come, and always welcomed. This blog has received some terrific ones already. But to me, getting additional authors as good as Lois Smith, Howard Ratner, and Phil Davis on board is a better harbinger of ultimate success with readers and colleagues, and the month-to-month increases in traffic, email recipients, and RSS feed adoption means we’re becoming a trusted source of good information.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


3 Thoughts on "Lois Smith: “Comment-ier” Isn’t Better"

As one of the presenters at that session, I don’t recall personally making any statement that a lack of comments made the blog a failure. In fact, my entire presentation focused on the idea of using a blog to generate awareness of a new journal offering, and that the comments I’ve received are almost completely irrelevant to that purpose. I think there was perhaps a little disappointment among the speakers that researchers are so hesitant to leave comments on blogs, but as far as I recall, there was no consensus that this made the blogging efforts a failure.

Yes, it was the disappointment about lack of commenting that I picked up on pretty strongly, David. Maybe no one said “fail,” but at some point I did hear someone say that blogs as a means to generate discussion don’t work (although they do lots of other very valuable things for scholarly publishers). It was that comment and others that led me to ask a question at the end of the session about whether any of the speakers had ever explicitly asked people to comment and if they found anything useful in comments.

Well, I know I’ve found a lot of really useful things from commenters on my blog. What I was trying to say during the panel was that no one seems to comment much on the entries I write about my journal articles or scientific techniques. I get lots and lots of comments when I write about Web 2.0 technologies and science publishing. I’ve found some great new tools through interactions with readers

But yes, the lack of discussion of science is disappointing, although probably understandable given the social and time pressures placed on most biologists.

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