I was quite fortunate to have dinner this evening with Andrea Weckerle. Andrea and I went to law school together, and we’ve both chosen what the law school career office no doubt calls the “alternative route”. (Which is to say, neither of us is practicing law. And from the tone of tonight’s dinner conversation, it’s safe to conclude we’re both quite happy with our decision.)

Andrea talked a bit about comments on blogs, and how important they are to her. She wrote about this recently, and this nugget stood out for me:

By all means link to other blogs when there’s a legitimate reason to (i.e., not just for the sake of garnering favor or to increase a blog’s ranking). But on some level, leaving comments is just as important as linking. It lets people know you’re reading their posts and lets them know you’re out there, which can make a world of difference to a blogger. It lets them know you consider them important enough to take the time to write a substantive comment… or even just a short “interesting post, thanks for alerting me to this.” It shows you took the time to read that particular post over the tens of millions of others floating around out there.

I have to confess, I never thought about it from this perspective. In the four and a half years I’ve been blogging, I’ve defaulted to commenting only when I didn’t feel like fleshing the comment out into a full post on my blog. In fact, to the extent I’d given the matter any thought at all, I’d actually concluded that linking to a blog was far, far more valuable than commenting on that same blog.

Why? Well, Google and Technorati, for starters. Google sees a link as a vote (bear with me, I’m oversimplifying) — and after a long time of blogging, I’m in the odd position of actually being considered something of an authority by Google (as for what I’m an authority on, well, that’s a bit fuzzy), which means my votes count more than some other sites. I’m kind of like an Ohio voter in a presidential race, if you want to use a political analogy. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Technorati, which uses links between sites as a way to establish “authority”, similarly can interpret those links and in fact relies on them to map the relationships among sites.

Comments, by contrast, carry no such information. Given that I work at a company that’s focused on how to add value to information, I guess it’s only logical that I’d look at it from the programmatic perspective. But I wonder whether there are efforts afoot to blend these two approaches: use comments — and in particular, whatever’s known about the commenters (for instance, their blogs, where they’re leaving comments, etc.) — to inform our interpretation of how authoritative a particular site is. Anyone know of anything being done in this area?

Maybe this is an academic issue, but it’s intriguing to me. From a technical perspective, 2000 inbound links tell us a lot more about a site than 2000 comments. But to hear Andrea and others at her site say it, they value the comments as much, if not more. I could care less about the A-list discussion that tends to get wrapped up in this — specifically, who’s an “A-list blogger” vs. any other list — but I am very interested in learning more about how we could get smarter about inferring something from the comments (both the number of comments and the identities of commenters).

I’ve been so focused on the day job lately (and that’s a good thing, I’ve never had this much fun in a job!) that I haven’t taken a step back in a while to look at this stuff. I need more hours in the day.