What Makes a Comment?


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

There are many out there who claim that blogging as it once was is dead. One of the biggest reasons given is the death of the comment. The question that does not seem to get asked very often is what it actually means to comment and what might it mean to bring the comment back?

The reality is that there is not one clear reason why to comment, instead it is something that is specific to each and every instance. The conundrum though is not necessarily with the why, but rather with how we go about it and what actually constitutes a comment. Like with so much of digital technology, there are so many ways to seemingly achieve the same outcome. Below are some of the problems and platforms as I see it associated with supporting the act of responding:

  • In-App Commenting: When people talk about comments, this is more often than not what they mean, the section at the end of every post that allows the reader to provide their point of view. Depending on the platform, this can either require signing in or simply providing your name and email. Depending on the platform, comment via mobile devices can be frustrating.
  • Post as comment: In a reflection on the inequalities of gender in educational technology, Audrey Watters questions whether we should be obliged to house comments in our own spaces. She instead suggests that maybe comments are better served as posts on our own blogs. An alternative to this is the idea of the post as a remix. Maybe this might be the creation of a new idea or some sort of homage to the original.
  • Syndication: Whether it be a collaborative blog like Inquire Within and the Echo Chamber or different platforms, such as Medium and Linkedin Pulse, the approach of publishing on your own site and syndicating elsewhere can create the problem of which space to carry out the conversation in.
  • Sharing Spaces: As Mike Caulfield recently shared, “to make content more findable, put it everywhere.” This means posting links to Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Reddit, Diigo etc. Each of these platforms provides the means to comment and keep the conversation going in their own way. The problem with this model is that there is nothing which brings the discussion together.
  • Curation: Whether it be Feedly, Pocket or any other curated application, these places often provide a streamlined experience. Although this makes it easier to read, it can limit the ability to respond. This is resolved by opening the post in the browser, while some bloggers in fact force this. 
  • Short Response: Many writer’s rue the move of comments to short form epitomised by Twitter. Although such constraints can make for their own creative solutions, such as visual quotes and sharing excerpts, they have the tendency to limit the potential of deeper conversation and engagement. Instead, lending themselves to extremes and absurdities. Some platforms, such as WordPress and Known, allow you use a plugin to drag tweets in as comments.
  • Sound and Vision: There is a growing trend of late to allow different means of commenting and communicating. For example, Speak Pipe allows readers to leave a voice message, rather than write a response. While Voxer provides the means to connect with authors either directly or as a part of a wider community. There are also some like George Couros who have explored the potential of video working within the 30 second constraints offered by Twitter. A couple of hurdles with these platforms is that they require you to go through the rigmarole of setting up an account, while it is not always clear how to store and archive such responses.
  • Disqus: A cross-platform application, Disqus is a platform designed to connect different comments in the one space.  As a community, it provides recommendations and channels to help organise comments (and posts) into different themes.
  • Livefyre: Designed for businesses with a focus on marketing and engagement, Livefyre is considered as a one stop platform for digital asset management. It provides real-time social curation, allowing you to drag in interactions from a number of platforms, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Livefyre is the same company behind Storify and was recently acquired by Adobe.
  • Sumo Me: A plugin designed to help users grow their audience, Sumo Me works by adding a pop-up layer on top of the website. Along with the ability to grow subscriber lists and share content, Sumo Me allows users to highlight text as a form of response.
  • Hypothes.is: A free platform, Hypothesis allows users to annotate the web through an add-on or WordPress plugin. Although not directly connected to the site, Hypothesis allows users to collect and collaborate similar to Diigo. It is a site for users, rather than creators, and reminds me of Steve Johnson’s discussion about the connection between open source and ideas.
  • Medium: When it comes commenting, Medium optimises many of the functionalities associated with commenting in one place. Whether it be highlighting text, commenting on a particular section or directly linking to other bloggers.
  • IndieWeb / Bridgy: A community of practice with the intent to own our presence on the web. This is done through the use of various plugins, with a focus on posting on your own site and then syndicating elsewhere. Similar to apps like Livefyre, this allows you to bring in comments for a blog from others spaces.

After unpacking all of the options, it makes me wonder if maybe the comments never left, but rather have become dispersed across various spaces. Maybe the answer is that everyone moves their content and conversations to Medium, but what happens when that space changes and folds under the pressure of investors. Maybe as Martin Weller recently suggested, “Blogging is both like it used to be, and a completely different thing”. Rather than a call to go back to basics, to a time when commenting seemed to be simple, what I think is needed is a broader appreciation of what constitutes a ‘comment’. As with the discussion of digital literacies, maybe we should focus on the act of defining, rather than restrict ourselves with concrete definitions.

So what about you? What do you think? As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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What Makes a Comment? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

8 thoughts on “What Makes a Comment?

  1. Thanks Aaron,
    You know me as an outspoken proponent of blogging and commenting. I see both as opportunities to connect and learn. I see comments as a way to show appreciation, to ask questions, and to dive deeper into the topic. In school, I’ve helped students write constructive, contributing comments. An amazing transformation takes place as they become more civil and conscientious with their face-to-face interactions. Learning to relate better to other human beings can and should be practiced in a variety of arenas.
    I learned much from this post – thank you.
    Bob

    1. Thank you Bob for your thoughts. We ask so often why blog, but it feels as though we take commenting for granted. I feel that maybe I overlooked something. The face to face connections, even if they are via virtual platforms.

  2. Hi Aaron, a very thought provoking post.
    I think that I have become pickier with the posts that I read. Some are too long, some are the same old chestnut expressed slightly differently. I like posts that make me think again, learn something new like this one or that help me understand someone else’s world view. There are some blogs that I no longer bother to read right through if the first paragraph doesn’t interest me. Is this laziness or discernment?
    I do subscribe to some curated blogs and have been pleasantly surprised on finding the occasional rare gem amongst the gravel.
    Again I am amazed at your ability to draw together so much useful information so succinctly into one post. Thanks Aaron

    1. Thanks Anna. I worry that many of my opening paragraphs lose readers, let alone the titles. I find that more and more I follow people, rather than particular posts. I am interested in them and their thinking, as much as what they share. I am glad that you find something of use.

  3. Here, I post with trepidation as I had no idea “comment” was such a hydra-headed beast. Thank you for a very informative post.

    1. Thanks Susan for the comment. I think that in the early days when ideals ruled that comments seemed obvious. However, it has become a space ripe for innovation. With this the focus becomes about being the company that controls the space, rather than invests in value. In this respect, that is why Medium is such an interesting platform.

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