The Liz Strauss Comment Counter Plugin Stirs Comment Controversy

Filed as Features on August 25, 2008 10:54 am

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.

In the comments of my recent post announcing the Comment Counter Plugin by Ozh, the feedback has been interesting.

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?

Tony of Compsci.ca responded by saying:

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 , pick up , a 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.

Something must happen to make the process of commenting and tracking comments easier. coComment and DISQUS are a good start. OpenID is another.

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.

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  1. By Steve Hall posted on August 25, 2008 at 11:20 am
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    Some very insightful points here. (Thank you for the linkage, incidentally!)

    I find it interesting that Marina of Hot Words loves the e-mail reply feature of WordPress Thread Comment–the same feature you found aggravating on my blog (because there’s no way to opt out). I think I finally have a reason to implement a poll on my blog.

    Regarding comment spam, I’ve used Akismet from day 1, and I’ve been coupling that with Bad Behavior for the past few months. To the best of my knowledge, in the year my blog’s been around, I don’t believe a single spam comment has gone live.

    Clearly I’ve been lucky, and my blog is a small blog in a small niche; by the same token, I think being conscientious about keeping my spam blockers active and updated, is a plus.

    “…I’m eager to see the conversation come back to the blog. Anything that enhances the conversation helps.” AMEN!

    Reply

  2. By Ozh posted on August 25, 2008 at 11:49 am
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    As I’ve said on my own announcement, I think that showing your comment count, no matter how big or modest, simply shows that you care about comments and commenters. I find this a invitation to welcome by itself.

    Reply

  3. By Mark Sierra at MeAndMyDrum.com posted on August 25, 2008 at 12:27 pm
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    I like the idea of having this counter. I wish I had thought of it!

    As to the commenter you reference in your post who said it would increase competition, I say he/she is missing the point. Competition is what we’re in for when you want to have your blog noticed. What is important is the value of those comments. The judges for assigning that value are the blog owner and the reader.

    If I saw a huge number of comments in the counter I would respond in the same positive way I do when I look at Feedburner’s chicklet. It tells me that the blog in front of me just might have something of value here.

    Will people try to game the system? Well, of course! But that doesn’t mean we should just throw a good idea away. The value of these comments will come to light eventually, so any gaming of the system will be found out in time.

    Reply

  4. By Maria Reyes-McDavis posted on August 25, 2008 at 12:39 pm
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    I think, no matter how you slice it, any plugin or reference tool that builds social proof and highlights the interactivity on your blog — it’s a good thing. This is a great post.

    Reply

  5. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on August 25, 2008 at 5:46 pm
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    @ Steve Hall:

    The failure to opt-out of the WordPress Thread Comment Plugin is a serious flaw. It would be good to recommend to the author to have that feature. Since I was sitting on your blog refreshing, looking for comments and replies, then to have emails sitting in my inbox among the hundreds I get every day, it’s just one more nuisance for those who don’t like Subscribe to Comments options. I get ENOUGH email, I want to be very choosy about which post comments I really want to track through my email. Other than that, it’s a great Plugin.

    If you haven’t had a single spam comment go live, you are seriously lucky. The spammers get smarter and smarter and it takes a while for people to catch on and submit them to Akismet so it can learn to block the new threats. The “This is an interesting post” spams were really annoying as they looked like good trackbacks and comments and they weren’t. If you aren’t paying attention, they can slip by you. Even slip by me and I’m always on my guard. :D

    I’m so thrilled that people are finding the value in comments and not totally turning away from them where there are so many reasons to do so nowadays. I think they are invaluable and anything that encourages them is welcome. Luckily, we have a variety of options to choose from for our different blog styles and types.

    Reply

  6. By blog.2i2j.com posted on August 25, 2008 at 7:26 pm
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    @Lorelle Vanfossen, thanks for your suggestion. once i write the wp thread comment, i always think it is need to add email by author. but i think it is unuseful, because wp thread comment is differently with subscribe. only someone reply your comment, i will send mail to you, it is only! and if blogger setting no email or admin email, it is less mail to you(only admin or none). so i don’t add mail by author in the plugins.

    Reply

  7. By GoingLikeSixty posted on August 25, 2008 at 7:28 pm
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    You forgot to mention that Feedburner stats can be gamed, so it won’t be long until somebody figures out how to game the comment chicklet.

    Reply

  8. By blog.2i2j.com posted on August 25, 2008 at 7:38 pm
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    and i think if you do not want to receive mail, you can type a wrong email address.

    Reply

  9. By Steve Hall posted on August 26, 2008 at 12:37 am
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    @Lorelle: The “This is a nice post” comments have been generally caught by Akismet, at least in the year I’ve been on WP. Of course, between spam and actual comments, I’m between 6-7,000; sometimes it is better to be small than good. ;)

    @GoingLikeSixty: What would be the point of gaming the comment chicklet? Feedburner, I can see: those stats drive rankings. I’ve not yet heard of rankings by comments. (Of course, if someone enjoys cheating at solitaire and thinks that makes her a better person, then she might inflate her comment count.)

    Reply

  10. By GoingLikeSixty posted on August 26, 2008 at 7:00 am
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    @Steve Hall: exactly. Some people just like to seem more important. Others do it for sport.
    I just thought I added to the conversation by reminding readers that Feedburner isn’t always what it seems.

    Reply

  11. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on August 26, 2008 at 12:11 pm
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    @ blog.2i2j.com:

    Thanks for writing such a great Plugin. Many are benefiting from its usage. I still believe that having a way to opt-out makes this an even better Plugin.

    Even Mark Jaquith, the author of Subscribe to Comments, realized that having it enabled by default was forcing people to opt-in – not a kind and gentle, inviting process. It ticked off a lot of people.

    Yes, your Plugin means less email as they would only receive email from replies to their comment, but it means there is no way to turn it off when interest in the subject wanes.

    Thanks again for creating such a great Plugin and allowing us to give you feedback to help make it better.

    Reply

  12. By blog.2i2j.com posted on August 26, 2008 at 6:54 pm
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    @Lorelle:

    Thanks for your comment. it is very honest.

    I know Mark make many code to manage Subscribe, but you know, if build more code, it will use more resources, previously because i want to save resources, i don’t make the way of email.

    not only for save resources, but also for wordpress database, because of lack of wordpress import & export, if i do this, i must add a new field or table in wordpress, but wp’s export not to support it, so if someone rebuild blog, it will lose all replies and email’s way!

    for two reason, i don’t do this all along. i have contradiction for this always!

    here is my post for this contradiction. it is chinese, you can read it by google translation.
    评论那档子破事儿

    btw: i am sorry for my poor english. i want to study english, who can give me some advice?

    Reply

  13. By blog.2i2j.com posted on August 27, 2008 at 6:03 pm
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    if you need, you can test in my blog, my blog test this feature now!

    博客接受回复邮件自选功能测试

    Reply

  14. By boywaterstev posted on October 4, 2008 at 2:23 pm
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    tom you vacant black wood apple free america

    Reply

  15. By naughtysakae posted on October 5, 2008 at 7:11 am
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    I don’t think it is right! ^_^

    Reply

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