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The Art of the Comment

The Art of the Comment

Image via Louise Williams

If you’ve ever written something on the internet, you know the feeling. You just poured your heart out onto the digital page, re-read, edited, and clicked “Publish”. Then, you try to go on doing whatever else it is that you do, but find yourself refreshing the page, waiting and waiting for someone to leave a comment. Maybe you’re one of the magical ones who has such a devoted following that you get tons of comments on everything, no matter what you write. Or maybe you’re one of the rest of us who has noticed a decline in opinions comments as of late, not on our own blogs necessarily, but on others that we read and respect.

It’s an interesting dynamic. We are required to create this outstanding content. Content that leaves people thinking, that evokes emotion, that causes a response. There are buckets of great stuff everywhere. People have so many amazing ideas, I can’t even begin to keep up while also having a more-than-full-time job.

So, where is the response? What happened to the comment?

I remember back in the old blogging days when the only way you knew if anyone was reading was if you checked your RSS or email subscription numbers or counted the number of comment. It used to seem like people left comments because they wanted other readers to know they had been there. To mark their territory in a way. It was cool to comment. But with the popularity of social networks rising among the average Joe, a “like” or a retweet seems to be the replacement for the comment. Wasn’t the comments section one of the original social networks? Now, all readers seem to want to do is give you the virtual high five. Clicking one button is so much easier than writing a comment, true, but to me, it’s a superficial endorsement for the article. How lame and impersonal! And what does it even mean? Did you actually like what I wrote? Do you support my opinion? Did you think it was ridiculous? I can infer a bit from these shallow forms of approval, but what did you really think? 

I’ve started to notice this subconscious thing that I do. When I see an article without any comments, no matter how good the article actually is, I’m thinking, “what’s wrong with this post?” As if it’s got a bum leg or a lazy eye. When no one has commented before me, I’ve realized that I’m less likely to want to comment or share. Maybe because I feel like I need someone else’s endorsement first before I’m willing to put my name and face at the bottom of the post.

And then I think back to my own writing. What if no one leaves a comment within the first few minutes of publishing? Will anyone else comment? Or will they all be waiting for someone else to be the first? And if I am the first to comment elsewhere, will the author see my comment right away? Or will it be locked in comment purgatory somewhere between “Spam” and “Approved”? Then, will he or she respond? What amount of time is appropriate to wait before responding to commenters so that you don’t look like you’re constantly refreshing the comment page (even though you are)? Will anyone read my thoughtful response?

Is anybody even listening??

And that’s the real question here. That’s what I’m itching to know, and what I wish the comments section was still used for – for people to share their sentiments, proclaim that YES, they are listening, and that they have an opinion. I ache for the confrontation and intellectual curiosity from people who read my words and the words of others, yet some of the best writing I’ve seen is sitting in a dark corner of the internet gathering dust.

Why? Are we so lazy now? Are we afraid of the implications of our digital footprint, worried that our opinions will someday surface and eat us alive? Maybe we should be afraid given the way our society works. In our world, you can’t be too successful or others will spend their days exploiting your achievements and scouring the net for ways to bring you down. They’ll find that politically incorrect comment you made in 2005 and post it to Buzzfeed. And then they’ll watch you squirm because even though it’s childish and irrelevant, you know you’ll have to bear the wrath of our gossip-driven internet economy as it beats down on you with unsupported yet widely accepted claims of your ignorance and questionable values.

So you’re safer not leaving any comments at all. I get it. But just remember, if you keep your voice down for too long, you might just lose it altogether.

  • JayBaer says:

    comment. feel better?

    December 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm
    • jessostroff says:

      @JayBaer Soooo much better. Rarrr.

      December 19, 2012 at 11:10 pm
  • Brade says:

    I do think it’s largely a result of social media. Conversations COULD be happening about our content somewhere else, but it’s difficult if not impossible for us to know. I don’t necessarily mind this, if I can find out about these conversations. Seems possible for most social nets to expose this info, if they wanted to.
    Another thing is the ease of the commenting system. I still accept instant comments on my site with name/email/comment (although akismet does a good job of catching obvious spam). The livefyre system that you are using is pretty restrictive, and most people might not bother with it =(
    Good thoughts, and keep blogging! I for one am still a Google Reader consumer…

    December 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm
    • jessostroff says:

      @Brade I agree on the crazy commenting systems but want to support some friends by trying this one. I also thought the idea behind the new commenting systems was a good one because it could link to your social networks and that seemed to be the poison of choice, as I mentioned. And I appreciate your thoughts always in general although I wasn’t suggesting this is an issue for me! I realized this whole post may have been mislead. Alas! These are just thoughts. Does Google Reader allow you to comment within?

      December 19, 2012 at 11:09 pm
  • Otir says:

    “It used to seem like people left comments because they wanted other readers to know they had been there.” I still often leave a comment for that reason. When I take the time. Which has become so rare. It has become the major reason, for my part, that I started commenting less and less. I see that comments have also become part of the digital footprint, when at the beginning of my blogging experience they were more volatile (like the “like” buttons are now, but will probably become tracked soon enough too, and this will also change “likers” behaviors at some point!)
    The need to let an author know that I was there has not diminished in my mind, but the means to let them know have diversified, and I have felt that they maybe cared more about their numbers more than about the actual validation of their idea, their opinion and mine. It has become a fine line between thanking someone for expressing an interesting idea, and actually contributing to that idea with mine.

    December 31, 2012 at 2:59 am

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