By J. Dean Spence
Blogs are public documents, and the threaded comments found at the bottom of most of them proves this.
Commenters expand on posts, offer their own view or advice, ask questions, and answer questions. Many bloggers, in fact, hope for these comments. Why? Many bloggers understand that commenting on a blog is a social activity. The act of agreeing, disagreeing, or adding to the original post highlights the “sociality” of blog publication according to Bryan Alexander in his highly recommended book The New Digital Storytelling: “Rather than a dyad of reader and written, we experience a tripod, where two people connect through shared interest in an object.”
This sociality suggests that a certain degree of commitment is required of bloggers. They must monitor engage with commenters by responding to those commenters’ posts. Amy Lupold Blair and Susannah Gardner, in Blogging for Dummies, write “A blogger who neglects to read and respond to comments in a timely manner risks losing [their] community of readers as they become frustrated and feel they’re not being heard.” In fact, Blair and Gardner argue that comments differentiate blogs from most websites by encouraging interaction and conversation.
According to scholar Michael L. Kent, in “Critical Analysis of Blogging in Public Relations” blogs are dialogic, allowing for interaction between individuals, groups, and firms—often threaded comments are more interesting than blog postings themselves. I would add that sometimes the comments are more factual that the blogs themselves!
For example, I came across a blog called “How Long Does Wine Last?” written by Madeline Puckette which was full of useful information about the correct storage of wine. However, Puckette incorrectly argued that fortified wine can be stored longer than other types of wine because fortified wine has a higher sugar count. The problem with that premise is that not all fortified wine is sweet. In the comment section of her blog, Matthieu Delauncy correctly stated that it is not really a question of sugar level in fortified wine, but more of style.
Because all commenters are free to express their views and no one’s voice is privileged, Kent argues that blogging is as close as one can get to objectivity on the Web. Another scholar, Eric Schliesser in his blog “Is Blogging Philosophy (or Science) Really?” adds that he likes blog comments because they allow people the space to adequately articulate themselves.
Unfortunately, not all comments are created equal. Many of them are nothing more than distasteful ejaculations, rants, flames and irrelevant comments. Many tools exist (such as Disqus; Facebook Comments; IntenseDebate; Livefyre etc.) to help you manage the comments on your blogs. And it is vital that inappropriate comments be weeded out because they can reflect poorly on the quality of your blog—possibly even raising the issue in the minds of your readers of your blog’s trustworthiness and security.
Therefore, it may be necessary to make your readers know what is acceptable comments look like. Blair and Gardner write, “Ideally, your visitors provide on-topic and interesting feedback that encourages conversations with other readers. Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, so setting some community guidelines for participation on your site can help clarify your expectation to your readers. Make those guidelines straightforward and clear.”