Herding Comments In The Digital Wind

Posted by

The ability to understand the community and engage in the discourse is hitting an all time low (and high) at the same time.

Here’s a truth: I truly miss the power of the community in social media. It’s not that there isn’t a community. It’s the fragmentation and disparate locations of how these communities now share, that it make it so challenging for content creators to engage. Chris Brogan decided to turn off the comments on his blog yesterday. Yes, THAT Chris Brogan. The one who is all about turning digital connections into real relationships. In his blog post, cutely titled: Turning Off Comments and Why We Will All Be Okay, he lists the reasons as:

  • Comments are everywhere. For a content creator, you have to spend a ton more time in places like Facebook, Twitter, Google + and more, if you really want to be a part of a conversation.
  • We’re adding more opinion. Because of this, community members are simply writing their own blog posts, responding in podcasts, creating video responses on YouTube and more. In short, we’re not just adding our opinions in a comment section on a blog, but we’re creating an entirely new piece of content (like this blog post).
  • Spam. Blog comment spam is brutal. I went through this exact same issue for months on end, and we wound up ditching our original comment system to bring in Disqus. Still, herding the spam is a part-time job (and one that I am failing miserably at).

The failure of success and technology.

Here’s the thing: the true game of content creation is not just about sending people to a destination website or blog. The need for brands, individuals and content creators to build an audience is all about being where that audience lives and breathes. That audience is very transient. Even if you’re on all of the popular online social networks, it’s hard to be active on all of them at the same time and to be engaged with an audience in real-time. YouTube viewership can grow over time, while a tweet on Twitter has to be engaged with at that, specific, moment or it’s gone forever. Nobody has ever said, "did you see that YouTube video that was posted one day ago, because it’s dead now" (YouTube has a long half-life), while nobody has also ever said, "did you read that awesome tweet that Mitch wrote last month?" (Twitter has a super-short half-life). These are challenging times for content creators. We have become limited by both the way that these very different publishing and broadcasting channels were created, and that is significantly exasperated by the unique ways that consumers engage and connect with the content within them.

One space to rule them all.

I don’t think that Chris is frustrated by this. I’m not frustrated by this either. But, I am sad. I am sad that there is no way for us to really understand the discourse, engagement and conversation that is happening around these unique pieces of content that are being created in one single, simple and easy to interact with interface. It would be amazing to see how these new pieces of comments and commentary spread through these online social networks, and how they can then be unified in one place (for those who care to read them and connect with them). Hashtagging the content won’t do it, so what will? (and, for the record, I’m often sad that trackbacks died). In the early days of blogging, the original thinking behind the value of comments was to create a centralized place for the discussion to take place (it was a place where people who didn’t want to start their own blogs could still have a say and a voice). The side benefit was that these comments enabled more links and shares back to the content creator’s own space (there’s material equity in that). This was good for bragging rights, it was good to build a platform, and it was good for clout (and Klout). 

So, now what?

It seems like Chris is going to spend his time creating more content, and commenting back in a myriad of other places (and not on his blog). So, if you really love everything that Chris does, you have to follow his blog, follow him on a bunch of other social networks and maybe even follow the people that he’s commenting on as well (and, in this instance, I’m using Chris as a metaphor for anyone you like and want to connect with). I don’t know about you, but that feels like a ton of friction being created for people who want to see more than just a blog post. In fact, one could argue that the beauty of technology and online publishing was that it removed friction. Strange, isn’t it that we’re all feeling like the ability to have a conversation around any piece of content has now been thrown to the digital wind… and there doesn’t seem to be an ideal solution waiting in the wings.

I smell the start of a wonderful startup idea here. I hope someone is up for that challenge.