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State of the Blog

It’s the end of another month. In January 2004, Your Humble Blogger managed 39 posts; y’all Gentle Readers obliged me with 106 comments, leaving only 14 commentless posts. These numbers should be compared to December 2004 with 32 posts, 121 and 10 commentless posts. Not bad, particularly as I was away for the first week of it. The number of posts appears to be settling into the thirties, which is probably more or less right. Forties would be all right, I suppose, but fifty posts a month would be too much, I think. It looks like I read eight books in January, and somehow none of them were re-reads. Not a bad month, although I need to be more conscientious about the parshot. I still owe everybody a note on last week’s Yithro, and it’s already Tuesday night and I haven’t read next week’s portion. The highlight is my first guest post, which I hope will begin a trend.

I suppose, as this Tohu Bohu gets to the end of its second year, it is about time I figure out why I’m doing it. It turns out that I’m doing it for the comments.

One of the odd things about the set-up here is that I don’t see the statistics for the site. That is, I’m sure Jed at some point told me how to get them, or volunteered to send me information about them, but in fact, I’ve never done it, and have no idea at all whether there are ten regular readers of this Tohu Bohu or ten million. Well, I suspect the former is closer. But I don’t know. As a result, I have managed to keep from becoming obsessed with how widely-read this Tohu Bohu is, or how I could claw my way up the blogosphere’s ladder of whuffie. My knowledge of my Gentle Readers is confined, pretty much, to the commenters, with a couple of exceptions. That turns out to be lovely; when I write, my audience is clear in my mind, and it isn’t statistical numbers but commenters with names.

Now, as it happens, Your Humble Blogger has himself essentially stopped leaving comments on other people’s blogs. At least, on blogs kept by people I don’t know. I’ve actually cut back quite a bit on my blog reading altogether, for a variety of reasons. I still read half-a-dozen blogs—oh, why be coy, I read the Language Log, Rhetorica, Whatever, Nathan Newman, the Decembrist, and the CJR Daily, as well as Altercation (which I no longer particularly enjoy, but read anyway) and Eschaton (ditto) and on occasion Pandagon. I have also started reading Michael Bérubé’s blog, but I doubt I’ll keep it up. And there’s Fafblog, of course, which remains the world’s only source for Fafblog, but is better if I don’t read every entry.

Where was I before I started blogrolling? Oh, yes, I’m down to reading about ten blogs (not counting, by the way, journals and blogs written by friends or friends of friends; rest assured that I read and enjoy your blog, Gentle Reader, unless you’ve locked me out of it, you bastard), and I’ve pretty nearly stopped leaving comments on any of them. Not that I was ever a prolific commenter, but I would probably leave one or two posts a week, around the ’sphere. I’ve never had particularly good experiences doing so. Oh, I’ve had responses, and now and then interesting and challenging responses (particularly from Mssrs Scalzi and Cline), but I’ve never felt that I was either participating in the blog or building a relationship with a person. And in the absence of any particularly good experiences, the few bad experiences I’ve had have led me off the whole commenting business.

At the same time that I’ve gone off the commenting business elsewhere, I have come to enjoy the comments here as the best part of blogging. I assume that this is because (a) the comments here are ever so much better than those elsewhere, and (2) all the comments are in response to Your Humble Blogger, a subject of great interest to Your Humble Blogger. Still and all, what I want is to make my Gentle Readers happier about commenting here. Not that I necessarily want more comments out of you lazy malingerers, just to make commenting here that good experience that I haven’t had elsewhere. I have no idea how to do that.

The big difference, of course, is that most of my Gentle Readers are old buddies of YHB. I do still leave the odd comment or two on the personal journals/blogs of people I know (my aggregator has 21 such, 16 of which are on LiveJournal, and about half-a-dozen of which are essentially dormant). Now, most of these are ham-and-eggs journals, which is all right, because I actually care about what my old buddies have for breakfast. That’s not to say that these ham-and-eggs journals never talk about philosophy or books or politics or Scripture or economic theory, but for the most part they are talking about their lives, day to day. The comment conversations, then, mostly talk about those lives, which is nice enough and accomplishes the good experience I’m looking for there, but not what I’m looking for here.

So my question to you, Gentle Readers, is what can I do for you? This breaks into a couple of things, some of them technical. Would a different format be better? The threaded comments over at lj seem cool, but I’m reluctant to take this Tohu Bohu over there due to the ham-and-eggs connotations. Would any others like to be guest bloggers on occasion? I’d be happy to post notes from those of you that don’t maintain blogs of your own, or of course from those who do but want response from the group here. Am I failing to respond to too many comments, or am I hogging the last word? Am I making it clear that I actually think about each comment, even if I don’t respond to it? And I know y’all are busy, and I can’t do anything about that, nor about the internet thing that seems to require thought before posting if you don’t want to say things you don’t want to say.

Then there’s the RSS issue. Jed tells me he could set me up with one the same as his, but I’m reluctant. I find in my own experience that if I get the note in the aggregator, I don’t bother to go to the blog to see if there are any comments (as the comments don’t show up in the aggregator). And, of course, having read the note in your aggregators, I don’t know if you will hit my home page a few days later to see that the conversation is still going on. I think aggregators are terrific for things you want to read but not comment on, but I want you to comment. On the other hand, if you don’t read the thing, you can’t comment on it, so if having a feed means you would read more of the notes, then that would be good, too.

There are other things I could use advice on, but in general, I’d like to ask people who comment what their preferences are, and people who don’t to either make an exception or email me to tell me if there is anything I can do to make this Tohu Bohu a good commenting joint. Unless I’ve already had a nice long conversation with you about it, in which case you are Off the Hook. Everyone else, have at me.

Thank you,


RSS pressured me. i kicked it off the computer until it learned some manners.

I read Jed's RSS feed on my LiveJournal friends page, but I also have kith.org linked from my home page and vis his actual journal about once a day to check up on comment threads. The downside to not having threaded comments here or there is that it's hard for commenters to have a dialogue. With LJ's system, the journaller gets an email whenever someone posts a comment, but if a third person replies to that comment, both the journaller and the original commenter get an email, enabling conversations much more fluidly.

I like that this isn't just a ham-and-eggs blog, but I do like how there's a mixture of both flash and substance here. (And that seems only appropriate for you!)

I do get the sense that you read and respond to things, and I don't think you have to respond to more comments than you do. Though it could also be said that we, the commenters, comment not only because we are fascinated by the opportunity to put words in front of Our Humble Blogger's eyes, but also because our lives are given new and profound meaning when he gracefully addresses our comments. (Well, ok, maybe not new meaning. I'll be shameless and admit that getting a reply is probably almost as good as you getting a comment; but that holds true in large part because you reserve replies for when they add to the dialogue or answer specific questions, rather than vapid "thanks!" and "yay!" and "MeToo!" comments all too prevalent in some corners of the web.)

So, Oygevalt has updated his personal journaling system such that the number of comments (and date of most recent comment?) shows up in the RSS feed output. This seems like a pretty helpful compromise --- if i'm scanning one of his entries on LJ and notice that another comment has been posted, i almost always go over and look.

Not, mind you, that i am trying to make your life or your host's more difficult, but that sort of thing could make life easier if you wanted to go the RSS direction.

Honestly, though, i've reached the perfect compromise for myself --- i have your URL on the list of websites i check daily, many of which are webcomics, but some of which are columns and blogs, so i come over here every morning and see 0-3 new posts and 0-6 new comments, and that's all good, except that every time i stop to leave a comment, i am late to work. But what the heck.

What can you do to nurture your commenters? Well, as you once commented to me: ask more questions! ...Although I believe what stimulates us most is when you express an opinion/frustration/curiousity in a way that's personal to you and invites alternate views.

I would strongly argue against threaded comments. On every site I've wandered into that uses threaded comments, the threads tend to isolate conversations down to just a few particpants: only the people who've already invested in a thread have the incentive to check that particular part of the thread for new comments, so you rarely get mixing of multiple perspectives. At which point, threads seem to converge pretty quickly to either silence or a flamewar.

The only reason to go to threaded comments is if you are getting such a large volume of comments that it becomes unmanageable without a means to break it down into smaller conversations.

About responding: "hogging the last word" only applies in a heated argument. Otherwise, a response is almost always a reward and an encouragement to comment again. At least, that's the way I see it.

Wow, really interesting take on threaded comments. I enjoy reading them, myself, although now you mention it I have noticed that they devolve into a series of discrete dialogues. As Wayman points out, the dialogues are nice, but perhaps they get exclusive. Hmmm.
If I do the RSS thing, I should ask oygevalt to send Jed the code, although (a) since he redid Jed's code in Java rather than PHP, it might not work, and (2) if Jed really does switch to a box system, he oughtn't spend time spiffing up this one. Notice, here, that I'm not making any snide comments about how it's hard to tell if oygevalt's RSS feed works; he may journal at his own pace. Loser.
Now, if only someone adds another comment here, I won't have hogged the last word ...

Dude, where's my word?

Hey, man, don't bogart the last.

(V, if you're on a statistics binge, why not count up your top last-word-takers? I am prepared to accept my share of the shame.)

Not so fast ... just as I don't have access to the hits stats, I don't have access to the database (that is, I would have to bother Jed). I do have a record of comments, but it isn't sortable by, anything but chronology. I can't even easily keep a tally of frequent-commenters. I certainly can't run nice queries like last-word-takers.

But, hey, thanks for feeding the geek.

As I think I said elsewhere, I don't think the idea that LJ connotes ham-and-eggs is necessarily accurate. It may be true that a statistically large number of LJ users write ham-and-eggs journals, but I don't think the site is intrinsically better or worse for that sort of journal than for anything else. (Although it's not great as a discussion forum; aside from the fragmentation of threads, there also isn't a way for someone other than the owner of a journal to say "mail me all the comments on this post" -- to "subscribe" to the post, as it were -- so you still have to keep going back and checking old posts if you want to see if someone has replied to something that someone else has written.

If you want a discussion blog, I think that would be the ideal feature. (The "subscribe to this post" button.)

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