A general question to readers

A general question to readers October 9, 2012

Do you find that when a small group of people post a huge number of comments each day that it suppresses or increases your interest in commenting? I’m trying to get a feel for this since, well, a small group of people are posting a huge number of comments each day. Is it sparking conversation for you or just sucking all the oxygen out of the room and driving the rest of you away?

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  • hmmm, i wonder if I’m in the ‘small group’?

    My eyes start to glaze over in a comments thread after about 10-15 replies, unless I’m one of the first in – then i need to defend my turf 😉 Overall, excluding myself, I’d say that your ‘usual’ commenters are pretty good and I often learn something from them.

    • Mark Shea

      No. You’re not. You’re a regular, but you don’t dominate the conversation. Carry on.

    • Ted Seeber

      I know I am in the small group- and thus, decline to comment further in this thread- but I’m VERY interested in reading the answers. I moderate forums elsewhere, with an exceedingly light touch (I don’t care if you disagree with me, but try to sell something that isn’t connected to the subject at hand and your account will be terminated with prejudice (all comments connected with it deleted); so I’m interested in finding out if my theory is any more correct than Mark’s.

      I have attempted to keep my more controversial posting to original blog posts more than a few hours old for this purpose however- and I’m doing that elsewhere as well.

  • Anne B.

    It’s like walking into a room where a fast and heated discussion is already going at full speed. I hesitate (is anyone interested? Am I going to get jumped on by the regulars if I interrupt, or say something they don’t like?) and then I turn and leave the room.

  • kmk

    I really enjoy reading both the blog and most of the time the comments, but there are some times when I would like to tell folks to take it outside and wrestle on the back deck. : ) (OR, my personal favorite, let’s all go outside and run around the block to let some energy out. )

    SO, I can agree with Ann and Dan F.

  • Francis B.

    It’s a case of “Both,and…”! Isn’t it always?

  • Julie

    I enjoy reading the discussions here, even if they’re often mainly between a few people. I think each person brings enough to the discussion to keep it interesting, varied, and often informative. I have only posted a comment once or twice, but I read your blog daily in part because of the combox discussions.

  • Roberto

    I tend to go away as well, but it also depends on the quality of the comments. Quite often I find that these long exchanges quickly deteriorate into personal bickering, where little is gained by those not involved. In fact I wonder if anything is gained by those involved, apart from a certain amount of frustration and irritation.
    In particular I am turned off by repeated exchanges of the type “I did not say this, I said that”. Clarifying once is fine, going on (as I am doing now?) gets annoying.

  • SpasticHedgehog

    I like reading it but often times someone else has made the point I would make so my input becomes superfluous. So I read along and lurk until I have something to contribute.

  • It has never stopped me from commenting – I am an infrequent but occasional commenter and will always be.

    I do believe that (on other boards more so than this one) a limit (such as 1 or 2 comments per user per day) would prevent flame wars and tend to promote more thoughtful comments.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I distinguish between a frequent comboxer and someone who frequently uses your comboxes as their own personal blog.

    • Mark Shea

      I like that.

      • victor

        I do too. But I also love this chicken sandwich I’m having for lunch. Though I’m not sure so much if it’s the chicken sandwich itself or the fact that it’s been such a good, productive morning. Seriously, after the dreams I had last night I wasn’t sure WHICH way today would go, but it’s actually been a pretty good day so far. Seriously, though, what is UP with everyone talking about Big Bird? It’s like “give it a rest already”. I mean, I like Sesame Street as much as the next guy, but maybe not their recent song parodies. “I’m Elmo And I Know It”? Really, Sesame Street? REALLY? So what you look at whatever vaugely naughty song is in the Billboard Top 40 and replace the naughty word with a muppet? What’s next? Prince’s “U Sexy Mother Oscar?” I can’t WAIT to see what you do with Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”. But anyway, they had a good run but I’m sorry — any show that pulls in millions and millions of dollars in merchandising every year does NOT need the government’s support. Where’s the Federal Dollars for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse — hint: they didn’t get ANY. And they were able to get They Might Be Giants to write a whole bunch of songs for them. Who does Sesame Street get? Tommy Soprano. Or is it Tony Soprano? Honestly, I never watched that show because it was too violent which made him showing up on Sesame Street even more weirder. Does Sesame Street expect kids to know who Tony (it’s Tony, I think) Soprano is? If that’s who they think their audience is, they really need to be more like one of those reality Child Abuse Intervention shows. Maybe they could have Cesar Milan stop by and teach parents how to turn off the television set (with use of a training collar… ZAP!). Anyway, I definitely agree with the commenter (forgot their name, can’t be bothered to scroll back up and read it, sorry!) that people should NOT be treating Mark’s comboxers like they (the comboxers) were their (the poster’s) own personal blogs. I mean, who DOES that?

        • +1

          internetz to make sure my comment is long enough

        • Mark Shea

          Live forever, Victor.

          • victor

            Thanks! I intend to! 🙂

  • victor

    Every bar has its regulars, and they become part of the general soul and character of the place. But I do agree with with the commenters above that trying to read the comboxes for some posts can quickly become overwhelming with the textdense comments. It’s like Polonius said in Hamlet: “Brevity.”

  • Evan

    I’m usually disinclined to jump into any combox that already has many comments (say 50+), regardless of whether it has been dominated by a few people or 50+ people. In that case, I usually feel anything I might want to add has already been covered and that I’m interrupting someone else’s conversation. But I think that’s my problem, not the commenter’s. However, I do find the conversations between the regular commenters (ivan_the_mad, Irenist, Blog Golliard, Andy, Dave, Ted Seeber, etc.) very enjoyable and thought provoking.

    • beccolina

      I second this. I enjoy the usuals and often find their conversation helpful/enlightening.

  • Blog Goliard

    As far as the bottom half of the Internet goes, your comboxes are excellent; I wouldn’t fret overmuch in any event.

    I do think that, as a general rule, the longer a particular thread of replies to a combox post goes on, the more likely it is to become off-putting. A commenter having several different things to say in response to an article is one thing; a commenter engaged in a running battle with another commenter, repeatedly contesting the same general point, is quite another.

  • Michael F.

    I’m only turned off by commenters who get personal or who seem much more interested in scoring points than in fostering honest discussion and understanding. If someone is fostering constructive discussion, I think it’s good. But if you’re concerned about the number of comments made by individual posters, then you might see if you can turn off the “reply” button under each comment. That button naturally tends to encourage interaction between commenters rather than interaction with what you’ve written. Personally, I think it’s a useful button, but it all depends upon what you’re after.

  • Dan

    I prefer to keep to myself – so either way doesn’t bother me. This will be probably be my first and only post 🙂 Love the blog though!

  • Veronica

    I really enjoy reading other people’s comments and I’m OK with discussions as long as the commenters don’t dominate the conversation or turn the discussion into a combox war. I’m generally too lazy to post something myself, but I have to say you have great commenters here!

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Once I see that the Comments have passed 20 or so, I stop paying attention. I hate to comment without seeing what others have already said, but I just don’t have the time to sit and read comments for half and hour over 1 subject.

    Furthermore: I really hate “Comments” below the main article anyway. Messageboards are much more user-friendly. You can browse a wide range of topics and keep an eye on those you’re interested in. Comments like on Patheos don’t allow for that.

    Furthermore part 2: I also don’t care for the new format change on Patheos, where you only get the first few sentences of a post, then have to click on it, leaving the main page to read the rest. It necessitates too much back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Because of this, I’ve found that where I used to read almost every one of Mr. Shea’s posts at least once a day, now I find myself skimming the Subject Headings and only fully reading maybe 2 or 3.

    • JC

      Definitely agree, provided that the blog or site in question is a reasonably high traffic one with at least several comments on every post (Mr. Shea’s certainly counts). Maybe that’s why I’m a frequent reader but a rare commenter :p. Honestly when I do read the comboxes which have a large comment count, I tend to read the first comment and then skim the next couple, and if that particular thread of conversation doesn’t look interesting, I move on. Again, I usually spend more time reading the posts than the actual comments anyway, but sometimes there are some real gems in the comments afterwards.

      Of course, on those rare posts in which I do reply with a comment, I also generally try not to limit myself to no more than three comments on any one post, even if the discussion is fruitful.

      And FWIW, I don’t hate the new format, but I do find that it causes me to skim a lot more posts before jumping in and reading one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.

    • Marthe Lépine

      I agree with Mark S (not for Shea) point No. 2… Particularly when the post contains a link within the 1st or 2nd sentence, it makes for a lot of back and forth. But since I have almost no work nowadays, I have plenty of time to read. And I have used comboxes as an exercise to practice expressing my opinions with some confidence – hopefully my comments are not too bothersome. And the number of comments depends of course of the amount of interest I have in the subject.

    • Re: part 2 – use Google Reader or another RSS application. I see all of Mark’s posts in an easy to read format and can easily keep track of what I have and have not read.

  • Restating what has been said, I don’t like to jump in when there were already 50+ comments and usually whatever point I would make, usually has been made. Nine times out of ten, even if I don’t comment, I know someone will state my thoughts shortly anyway.
    I do enjoy reading the comments though and sometimes the minor drama that unfolds time to time (shame on me).

  • Nathan L

    One of the biggest challenges I faced in managing a chat community in the past, was keeping the community open enough for new people to have a voice. It can be so easy for a small group of “regulars” to dominate a conversation, and to quite literally chase new people away because the new person isnt familiar with “the code” of conduct, behavior, and style that the group of regulars has unofficially generated through their own behavior and posting styles. I’ve seen many a newbie in other communities that have been “shouted” down over their polite and conversational disagreement on a topic, because they were not part of the “in” group, and it just drove them away, not just from the community but also receptiveness to other perspectives in the topic at hand.

  • I don’t know where I fall on the scale, but I suppose it doesn’t bother me one way or another. Sometimes I comment, sometimes I don’t. There are some I’ve learned to ignore, and sometimes I’ll dig my heals in and comment back and forth for a day (if I have time). I don’t think it has anything to do with how many comments are there, or how many are making them. If it’s a post that strikes something in me, I comment. If someone seems to agree/disagree, I’ll respond – especially if I get the feeling I’m not making myself clear, which is a possibility since I’m not a professional writer. I guess it’s case by case, not based on this or that trend.

  • Rebekka

    I read through a feed reader, and click through on maybe 2 of the posts daily, on average, to read the comments. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes I just skim them. When people stop commenting on the actual post and start attacking each other for using rhetorically impure methods of attacking each other, I consider that “blood in the water” and hightail it back to shore. I comment only rarely. Also I’m nine hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time so I’m usually either really early or really late to the discussion/bar fight/bloodbath.

  • Clare Krishan

    IMHO nested comments aren’t as easy to follow cogently (or contribute to coherently) as simple linear listed comments, I don’t blog myself but am known to blog hog sometimes when attempting to share URLs for compelling content or arguements not represented in the echo chambers, for example our domestic national media obsess on the daily insurgent death toll of the ‘Arab Spring’ drumming up manufactured sympathies for heroic youths with guns in far-away places, but there’s [… CRICKETS … ] at for the local tragedy playing at at home:
    They prayed the Rosary to vanquish evil at Lepanto – let’s do the same for our own despondent inner city youth who’s use of guns is NOT heroic but rather despotic …
    (and perversely they see role models of “might make right” lauded on national TV nightly)
    Praying in PA
    … for a redisovery of humanism’s “right makes might” of the natural law
    We Roman Catholics are needed more than ever to publically couteract the falsities being promoted as political truisms (is contributing multiple blog comments in one day/thread the most efficacious means? I doubt it)

    • J. H. M. Ortiz

      Please keep nested comments, Mr. Shea! How else can I quickly correct a typo of mine that I didn’t notice till I came back later to read other people’s further comments?

    • +1 for linear comments. I detest nested comments. They make it far harder to follow a discussion.

  • Will

    I usually avoid the topic if there is a long list of back and forth comments from the same people.

  • Michael

    I was going to comment on this but there are just way too many of the same people already saying the same things. Sigh.

    • Chris M

      I agree. I am not posting this here because of that very reason.

  • I thought about posting my feelings but… eh, didn’t have any interest in it.

  • I think it’s a matter of quality, not quantity. If it’s a good discussion, it works for me, but I’ll rarely have time to read the really long comments either way.

  • Ann

    I don’t comment often on your blog, but thought I would chime in on a thread about comments.
    I sort of glaze over on blog comments as well.
    I do like when the blogger highlights particularly interesting comments or discussion on a topic, in a later post. And maybe responds to them.
    That way I can get a taste of what the reaction was without wading through it all. This takes more time on the part of the blogger of course, but I do appreciate it when bloggers do this. Makes the blog feel less one-sided if that makes sense.

  • Scott W.

    Don’t know. I do know I hate this blog format with the split entries.

  • Peggy R

    I am one of those who over-participated (!) in the recent long thread on income distribution concerns. I was motivated to participate b/c of what I saw as a lack of economic understanding in the thread. (Not to debate that substance here.) I had too much time on my hands this weekend, I’d say. Probably those economic discussions are the only ones that really engage me here, plus some threads about the evils of both parties. I don’t engage in protracted arguments that don’t interest me or that I don’t feel competent enough to engage in. I don’t comment on much else here, except probably to say “Thanks for posting this” or “Yeah, I agree” type stuff. I do have my own place.

    I apologize if I have overstayed my welcome on such threads.

    • Irenist

      “I apologize if I have overstayed my welcome on such threads.”
      As do I.

  • I’ve lurked on your blog for years and have made, including this one, only three or four comments. Over the years, there have been different sets of regular commenters, some of who have been very interesting to read, some not so much. I suppose I don’t comment because I don’t have anything particularly special to contribute. But as a reader/lurker, I’m quickly bored by the number of political posts making the same points I made as a student conservative “activist” forty-plus years ago–especially since, with the wisdom of age, I’m embarrassed by them. Put not your trust in princes, and all that.

    By the way, I cast another vote for linear comments. Nested ones make it virtually impossible to follow a conversation as it progresses.

  • As an infrequent comment but regular reader I’d say “It depends”. Sometimes the discussions ARE interesting and so 120 or so comments are fine. It is the 120 comments of 3 people hurling insults at each other that drain the quality from the comments section.

    • Rachel K

      This. A boatload of comments can be interesting if they’re good comments. I think it also helps that your handful of regular commenters tend to be thoughtful and interesting. If it were a case of “there are seven regular commenters, but two are morons and one is clearly a troll,” it’d be a different matter entirely.

  • 1. I’m of the view that one can’t expect decent discussion in an open internet forum, and other than removing trouble users there’s nothing else that should be done. Good discussion occurs when there are certain thresholds already in place to screen particular individuals. That’s why there’s a huge difference in the kinds of questions presented to a speaker at a college lecture versus a public speech, or why we don’t have intimate conversations in public. It’s the internet’s absence of social context that causes the problems with forums and comment threads. You also have the inherent problem of self-selection, which always leads to open forums and threads being dominated by people with excessive free time (and, imho, typically an autism spectrum disorder). And even installing various screening mechanisms doesn’t help when the community itself is doing the screening, as one can see with, say, Slashdot or reddit, where the screening functions as a positive feedback loop leading to groupthink. I’d tell those dissuaded from commenting for whatever reason to not worry about it – comments are 99.99% garbage everywhere on the internet. Post freely at any site (except 4chan) without fear, but also understand comments are not the same as actual communication and expect them to carry no weight or exhibit any value to others. The Internet: from information superhighway to intellectual ghost town in 15 years.

    2. While we’re discussing comments, I would like to voice my dislike of the blog’s commenting system. The comments are nested but shoved into an already narrow column, so even a short comment looks long. This makes the combox discussions look longer than they really are. Also, the nested system is confusing without any ability to quickly reference a parent. As a solution I would greatly recommend the ability to collapse threads and subthreads. Lastly, comments aren’t nested at all when visiting the site on my phone, which messes everything up. (I know you don’t have any control over these issues, but hopefully the Patheos dev team can see these and other comments on this thread and take them into consideration for the next iteration of the platform.)

  • RS

    A large quantity doesn’t bother me as long as the quality remains high.

    Generally I find the comments in this blog in particular to be quite thoughtful.

  • Dan V

    I visit often, read comments occasionally, and post not at all. I don’t come here for that. I have thought about jumping in a few times, but talked myself out of it. A lot of the discussion seems reasonable enough, unlike a few other blogs I follow. It is mostly the volume that drives me away. At times it reminds me of fans at sporting events yelling their advice to the players, or guests on a talk show talking past each other. Or a presidential debate (shudder).
    But today, since you asked so nicely, I briefly removed the invisibility cloak. Now, back to lurking…

  • Haven’t read any comments, but this seemed like an invitation from God to something I have been thinking about lately. Everyone pkease go read the initial post at hezekiahgarrett.wordpress.com

    And to my fans (Jon W, I assume you have multiple personalities), I cannot say I will ever post a second post, but I promise the rest of you I will try to answer every comment on the first one.

    You should also be able to click my name to go there. If not, blame the web elves.

  • Forgot to mention, the post is titled Mea Culpa. I’m hoping that might induce more traffic.

  • Margaret

    Two thoughts:
    1) I like the nested comments when I read them on a computer, but on my phone, they all flatten out and it because maddening trying to follow the conversation. I think (?) the comments appear on the phone in chronological order. It’s very confusing.
    2) I don’t comment too often, and generally feel I substantially lower the average IQ in the comboxes when I do, but am generally impressed by the quality and civility of the comments. Yes, things get heated and overwrought at times, but we’re kind of spoiled here relative to the internet at large.
    Actually, a third thought: 3) I miss Pavel’s poems! I’m sure I never fully grasped the depths of what he was conveying, but I always came away from reading them feeling a bit more civilized, and a bit more contemplative about the day’s events and problems.

  • antigon

    Seeber – You get back here this minute!

    • Ted Seeber

      The funny thing is this- a few weeks ago when Mark hit me over the head with the knowledge I was in the small group, he restricted me to 5 posts. After breaking that a couple of times, and then suddenly having a day full of real for-pay work, I stopped reading the blog and removed the link from my bookmarks. Within 24 hours, I had an e-mail asking me to come back from Mark. So yes.

      I have never added the bookmark back however, I usually get here through other Patheos blogs I enjoy reading.

  • Kristen inDallas

    I’ll say for myself, I actually “like” when the regulars get a big ‘ole comment exchange going. It’s usually only when one of them says “too much” and puts a foot in the mouth that I find something new or nuanced to add. If everyone only contributed the “meat” of one thought, with no rabbit holes allowed, I imagine your combox would start looking pretty redundant.

  • Josh

    It suppresses my desire to comment.