The Liz Strauss Comment Counter by Ozh WordPress Plugin has been released by PlanetOzh and it is stirring up comment controversy everywhere.
Recently, John C. Dvorak of PCMag asked what’s the value of online comments, bringing up an issue that confronts many bloggers as they mature in the blogging world.
At first, comments were greeted with fear. Fear of how to control them, whether they were worth the risk of opening yourself up to feedack. Fear of exposure – what if someone will really respond? Soon, blogging became defined by its interactive purpose – a blog wasn’t a blog unless it had comments. A race was on to encourage readers to comment which escalated into a measure of a blog’s success. A comment was a point in our favor that we were on the right blogging track.
With the advent of comment spam, especially human comment spammers and those eager for Google Page Rank scores to raise from links within comments, bloggers grew weary of fighting an uphill battle for quality comments and interaction. With the increase in clever comment spammers, it’s becoming harder than ever to tell a good comment from a bad comment. Don’t get me started on the subject of comment trolls spoiling the blogging experience for so many.
Now, Dvorak and many more are asking themselves if comments are worth more than the trouble they cause.
…The first few comments on a discussion thread will seem useful, but then the horde comes. As the thread grows longer and longer, it decays into an unread mess of nothingness. Yet that doesn’t stop the horde from posting more comments…
It seems to me that online comment boards are becoming more and more of a place where frustrated individuals think they can air their petty grievances or spew some online venom. Comments should be for honest discourse and to correct factual errors found within an article, and there should be an online etiquette for comments.
John offers his guide for comment etiquette, similar to mine, How NOT to Comment on Comments, and concludes with:
I’m a believer in the usefulness of comment threads if they are moderated to eliminate the bozos out there who just can’t help commenting on everything just because they’re bored or feel obliged to.
I also have mixed feelings about setting up barriers to commenters. Should you let them freely fly, or should you restrict the commentators with registration or subscription restrictions? If the moderation is heavy, then open comments are fine as far as I’m concerned.
I totally agree that useful comments should be allowed to stay in the blog conversation, but useless comments should be edited or deletd. They don’t help anyone and get in the way. A strong comments policy helps to set the tone and standard for the definition of a “quality” comment. I also believe that nothing should get in the way of a reader and their comment. That’s why I’m such a loyal supporter of the various comment spam fighting tools and WordPress Plugins that makes commenting, and responding to comments, easier, no matter where you read your favorite blog posts.
Most see this innovative Plugin, which displays the total number of valid comments on your blog in a Feedburner-like chicklet, as a fun and exciting way to promote their comment count as well as stimulate the blog conversation.
Just as the Feedburner counter promotes a blog as being “successful” by the number of Feedburner subscribers, a comment counter could act as a measure of your “social” when it comes to participation on your blog.
One commenter said:
No discredit to Ozh or comments in general, but I don’t want to see such total comment-orientated nonsense on any of the blogs I read. It’s stupid and immature. I’m all for more comments, but a competition for higher numbers of comments is meaningless and can at best distract from the actually interesting content a blog might have.
If you’ve been blogging and reading blogs long enough, some of the most interesting content is found in the comments. Let’s not forget that comments are content, too.
Since no one has complained about the Feedburner chicklet being a distraction, I’m sure that a similar comment counter will be equally as non-distracting. However, both influence the visitor as they offer information about the blog, don’t they.
There are a lot of bloggers so desperate for comments, they welcome comment spam. They use Most Recent Comments Plugins, ratings, score cards, and all sorts of gimmicks as incentives to get people commenting on their blogs. Look at the growing popularity of coComment and DISQUS and their attempts to put comments under a single, manageable roof. What’s one more comment widget?
Crunching it all down into a single number could give an idea of how active the visitors are, but not necessary about the quality of the said activity.
Which is where guides like those of Dvorak, myself, and other top bloggers helps. If you aren’t cleaning up your comments, then your comment quality is low and any count is valueless.
Which brings you, the blogger and webmaster, into the picture. If you keep a clean blog, free of worthless and time wasting comments and comment spam, then you have a blog to be proud of, comment counter or not. It means that you are putting the needs of your reader first by keeping your house clean in anticipation of their visit.
The Value in the Blog Conversation
Marina of Hot For Words was one of the first to embrace the new Liz Strauss Comment Counter Plugin by Ozh. A very popular and interactive site, Marina also installed the Thread Comment WordPress Plugin to encourage more comments as well as keep track of the comments posted. After installing the Comment Counter Plugin, she was amazed to see the total number of comments.
It is hard to believe that I have 52,000 comments! :-) One of the reasons I do is because of a wonderful Plugin called WordPress Thread Comment where the Plugin emails a commenter if HIS/HER comment is SPECIFICALLY replied to…. that keeps commenters coming back multiple times a day to participate in conversations mostly among themselves.
A blanket Subscribe to Comments Plugin would not work on my site as my posts get 300 comments at times. People would be inundated with emails all day long… and would QUICKLY turn off email notifications. This Plugin ONLY alerts them if THEIR specific comment has been replied to.
…This has created the perfect environment to spur LOTS of comments and stickiness :-)
Understanding the importance of blog comments, Marina realized that using the Thread Comment Plugin and Comment Counter Plugin encouraged even more comments, creating a more forum-like feeling and encouraging her blog readers to become a community, supporting each other individually through their comments.
Kestrel Aerie is also a fan of the Comment Counter and Thread Comment Plugins, saying:
Well, why not? I know I’m not the only blogger who revels in conversing with my readers through comments. So, we can see at a glance how much “conversation” is going on. If you’re a regular visitor, you have probably noticed I try to reply often. Especially now I have installed WordPress Thread Comment, I work even more diligently at conversing with my commenters.
Why not make a game of it? How long can we keep a relevant conversation going? Of course, we can do that via Twitter as well, or e-mails. Blog comments are just one more way we can continue our socializing. Ours is a culture of measurement (Olympics, anyone? “Faster, Higher, Stronger”).
For that matter, how quickly can we hit 1,500 comments? 2,000? 5,000? Contests, anyone?
Many are finding the Comment Counter Plugin also gives them information they didn’t have before, new data for their web analytics. The Liz Strauss Comment Counter by Ozh WordPress Plugin provides a summary of your blog comments, posts, and other interactions on the Administration Panel’s Plugin configuration panel such as this from Kestrel Aerie’s blog:
As of today, there have been here on this blog 1169 comments, 50 pingbacks & 5 trackbacks. Given that you currently have 251 posts (including pages), this makes a conversation ratio of 4.88 comments per post.
What can you do with those numbers? It changes the metrics by which some judge the success of a blog post by the number of comments, doesn’t it? Instead of working towards the most comments on a single post, you are evaluating how successful your comment-to-post ratio is across your whole blog. Might that change your blogging and commenting strategies?
Liz Strauss, for whom the Plugin was named, is noted as one of the top experts in the art of the blog conversation and online relationship building. At WordCamp Dallas this year, Liz Strauss blew away the crowd when she announced that her blog had almost 70,000 comments.
She is an expert in the social web and writing content that starts a conversation. Her innovative Tuesday Open Mic Nights on her blog begin with a question and the blog audience takes the ball and runs, talking to each other as much as themselves. Her entire blog is dedicated to relationships and conversations, emphasized in her new book, The Secret to Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog — The Insider’s Guide to the Conversation That’s Changing How Business Works. Reading the announcement and comments about the Plugin, she said:
I look at the comments here and I see one more reason that we all together make a better conversation. The statements that quality can’t be measured are words to keep close and always remember — we can’t measure engagement, new ideas, or thoughtful exchanges. But we can let every person who invests the time to write a response or a question that their comment counts as a respected contribution.
There is a change going on in the web today that revolves around the social aspects of communication and conversation. We are talking to more people more frequently through more venues than ever before. While many companies are working hard to start more social programs and services, it was interesting to see Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, pick up BuddyPress, a WordPressMU Theme-based version that may change the face of the blog as a centralized social playground. It is designed to collate all your online social activities into one spot, your blog. Instead of creating a new social service, it restores your blog as the center point from which all social should revolve, including conversations. It features threaded private messages and more forum-like features, bringing the social to you and your blog. BuddyPress is expected to impact comment-to-blog relationships and statistics as it evolves.
Personally, as more and more social media services and microblogs like Tumblr and Twitter pull the conversation away from the blog, I’m eager to see the conversation come back to the blog. Anything that enhances the conversation helps.
Not all blogs are conversation blogs, not do all blog posts require comments, but the magic of creating a social center for your online life through your blog is a great way of building a support network and fan base.