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.

3 responses to “Comments”

  1. Interesting issue. I think looking at a blog's comments to post ratio may tell you something about the blog's profile. A higher ratio would suggest that the blog has a strong community, or possibly that it throws out strong opinions that draw more comments. Unfortunately, it could also mean that the blog does a horrible job preventing comment spam. The recent Washington Post blogging issues related to comments make me thing that the WP is approaching blogging from exactly the opposite perspective Andrea takes. They felt threatened by people talking back to them, took days to respond to comments pointing out factual inaccuracies in a column, and eventually shut off comments entirely due to their lack of understanding of how comments and blogging interactions really work. Surprisingly, they didn't have even simply spam control measures in place to blog offending IPs or filter/moderate posts by keyword. Hopefully they'll get better soon.As for links, I think they're earned by providing valuable content, and comments clearly contribute to that. Great blogs often reach the point where there is actually more value in the comments than the posts themselves. And this together leads to more people linking to you, thus increasing your blog's authority. While linking really is important, losing track of the real reason to link to a site (because it's somehow valuable to you and what you're writing about) can lead to trouble.

  2. Invariably, I get more comments (and good comments) via email when there's a particularly good blog post than I ever get directly on the blog.Rick, if there was an API and a way of systematically tracking and measuring comments, I'm sure that people would start to value them more. I can put a Feedburner button on my blog that says “157 subscribers” but there's no moral equivalent of “and … comments made”.Forum software is always better at doing this than blog software – there the distinction between author and commenter is blurred and you simply have items and responses with less status distinction in who does the first post on an item.

  3. For me as a publisher of my thoughts and ideas on, I value it immensely when somebody participates in the conversation either via a comment on the blog or by blogging about something I wrote. Whether one or the other, I have mechanisms set up to alert me.Where comments are more useful than links from other blogs is for the reader. The blog will alert them that a specific article has comments whereas posts on other blogs that link to the article may remain undiscovered. I know trackbacks are supposed to address this but I find they are not used consistently.

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