Community May Not Be For Everyone

This post is part of the Guest Blog Grand Tour over at Life Without Pants – an epic two-month journey of over 50 guest posts. Want to learn more about Matt Cheuvront and see how far the rabbit hole goes? Subscribe to the Life Without Pants RSS feed and keep in touch!

If you know me, you know I preach community in everything I do. I tell everyone who comes to my blog that I don’t talk to people – I talk with them. I bring up ideas, inspire thought, and facilitate discussion – learning as much as my readers (hopefully) do along the way.But it it’s one thing I’ve learned – it’s that the end result is not, nor does it have to be the same for everyone.

An interesting tweet passed through my stream recently from someone I respect – Chris Pearson – the creator of the widely used and much loved by yours truly Thesis Theme for WordPress. Chris states:

Kiss the comments goodbye on the next version of Pearsonified. External validation is one of the current scourages of humanity. YOU own it.

The idea of “closing comments” on posts is something I’ve seen more and more of recently around the blogging community. Typically – comments get turned off on more personal articles – something that may more or less be venting or opinion that warrants no real discussion. But what about an entire blog sans comments?

Chris and I went back and forth briefly and he brought up a great point. While I value and promote community, it’s not for everyone. In Chris’s case, he writes purely for himself – commenting and discussion is not necessary – Proving that there are clearly different strokes for different folks.

Another point worth discussing here is the “validation” comments bring. Admit it or not – the number of comments you get on your blog is what many people on the outside looking in will use as a primary measure of success. And who doesn’t get a little excited to see a new comment pop up on the blog?

My question is – do we measure ourselves too closely with the number of comments on each post? Are we seen as failures when comments are low? Does a lack of discussion discourage you from writing?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions – maybe comments are doing more harm than good.

What do you think? Have you closed comments on a post before? Why did you do it? Would you consider disabling comments on your blog?

Share some thoughts in the comments below (pun intended).

27 comments On Community May Not Be For Everyone

  • That’s a really interesting perspective that kind of goes against the grain in this whole community thing we all keep talking about. It’s a great point though, that we are ultimately in charge of our content and if we’re writing for ourselves, then we don’t need feedback – if we’re writing for community and insight, then comments are a valuable part of that. I’m not concerned so much about the numbers as I am the content of the feedback – I’d much rather have two good insights than 30 “great post” comments, ha.

    Also? It feels weird commenting on a post about not commenting, but here I am anyway 🙂

  • Agreed Doni – Quality trumps quantity every time. I think my ultimate goal (which can be completely different from yours and everyone else) is to facilitate discussion amongst people. Once you have people interacting with each other in your comments, you know you’ve done something right. I’d much rather see people talking amongst themselves than just telling me how wonderful my post is, you know?

  • This is an awesome post, and something I have recently been thinking a lot about. When I bought my own domain last week, the convenient “stats” button on wordpress went away and I haven’t been able to check it – either for lack of know-how or lack of ability, I’m not really sure.
    Either way, it has given my blogging a bit of a test. I haven’t seen how many people are watching – for better or for worst. It is a definite test of this concept – of writing for yourself instead of for others.

    Great thoughts!

    • Beth – it certainly is a test. As Matt asked, are we measuring ourselves too closely? Perhaps we are and perhaps we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to be like that person next to us who is measuring visitors and number of comments or subscribers.

      Sure, it’s a good barometer of how well you’re reaching out to relevant readers, but I think we have to be able to show restraint and believe in ourselves and our writings. The aforementioned will come but it shouldn’t define us — though, the caveat, it all depends on your goals.

      We live in a world of numbers, which where companies/hiring managers/employers are all looking squarely at. And we’re also living in a world where we feed off of conversations and building a community around such talks. That’s where I see great benefit on my blog here and why I love it when my writings inspire people to share their own ideas & thoughts.

      There’s no right answer, of course, but sole focus on the numbers vs. your content and ideas and trying to inspire others, is where the difference lies.

  • You know Leo at Zen Habits did the same, right?
    He’s using twitter as a means to communicate with would be commentors.

    I find it interesting, but not a model I would practice.

    I think closing comments may turn some readers away, so if Chris’ goal is to write for himself then it doesn’t matter, but most people get into blogging for either a)connection b)to have a venue to talk about what they want to c)both.

    • Hi Kelly – Yes, I had noticed this with Zen Habits as well. I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with taking the conversation elsewhere – but I tend to side with you and think that, whether it comes across as vain or not, I want to be able to provide a platform for people to communicate – not simply an outlet that says, “Here – take this for what it’s worth and then go talk about it somewhere else”. I write for myself – It’s personally fulfilling – but part of that fulfillment goes with knowing I’ve had an impression or impact on another – and I ALWAYS want to leave myself open to taking in new ideas and perspectives from an audience.

      That’s the short summation of why I believe community and engagement in blogging is so important.

      • Matt – that’s exactly it. My fulfillment is not to be validated by the numbers, but to impact others and to inspire change and ideas and thoughts. That’s where my true value resides.

        And thanks again so much for sharing your wisdom over here on! You rock.

  • I think this is a really interesting post as well. And can’t count on one hand how many times I’ve actually commented on a post. So here goes..

    I think this post is really begging the question, is conversation for everyone? …Not necessarily community. A community has to exist for communication to exist. The two go hand-in-hand. If you are communicating (writing blogs for the public to view) for your own motives.. just to vent/give an opinion.. a community is still reading your blogs.

    So if community isn’t for you, than stop blogging. If conversation isn’t for you, then turn off your comments.

    • So a community has to exist for communication to exists, but communication doesn’t have to exist within a community. I see what you’re saying here Sarah. I guess I’m still up in the air with the idea of, if you turn off your comments and prohibit ANY discussion, why have a blog for all to see? If you don’t want any feedback, why not open up a Word Document?

      I guess I would get burned out and bored without having that human interaction – but it also is a reflection of my writing style – in which I don’t really talk DOWN to people and answer questions, but rather, share thoughts and perspective that will hopefully inspire and provoke thought.

      I think it truly is a “to each his/her own” situation. Thanks for the comment Sarah!

  • I don’t think you should ONLY use comments to judge your success, unless the end goal for you is comments. In my experience people may comment more on things they already understand vs. things they don’t or are just learning about. The posts that I write that tend to be the most simple (eg. 6 principles of social media marketing) get the most comments, rather than some of the more thought provoking things I’ve written (like how Twitter could affect sports and politics, written back in 2007). So if your goal is being seen as an expert or something other than just generating comments, counting comments isn’t the way you should be defining success.

    • That’s a very interesting observation Jason. I’ve actually noticed that my comment numbers are much higher on, for lack of a better term, more “controversial” or thought provoking topics. For example, I recently wrote a post about Gay Marriage, which turned into a 150 comment discussion. Similar thing happened in a response to a Penelope Trunk issue months ago. They were timely, and somewhat controversial – that has brought upon the highest level of conversation for me up until this point.

      Simpler “10 step” posts seem to be more for digesting than discussing. No?

  • I think in part it would depend on the goal/topic of your blog. If your goal is to foster discussion, then of course you would use comments as one metric of success (although I agree, not the only metric and certainly quality above quantity). In that case, you should manage comments in a way that facilitates your goals (moderating trolls, actively participating in discussion, etc.).

    And perhaps there are some blogs where the goal is not to create a community around the topic. Blogging is a very effective tool for building community. It is also a very versatile format that can be used for other purposes. While building community around my blog is one of my goals, I don’t think comments need to be a part of all blogs.

    • Great points Jess and totally agree with you. It does really come down to your goals and what you’re looking to accomplish. Sure, comments may be a barometer for some organizations, but it shouldn’t be the end all or what makes them tick.

      Some very popular, thought-provoking blogs that I’ve seen don’t get a ton of comments, but that doesn’t make their writings or influence on their specific industry any less than the next person.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • I think it also depends what level of the playing field you are on. Someone like me might write a post and the conversation wouldn’t come off the blog – so I would want to offer that platform for discussion, while someone like Seth Godin, who has a large influence, can write a post that people will take with them and talk about through email, Social Media, or even offline. Maybe it’s all a part of the evolution of blogging?

  • I don’t think I’ve ever felt more self-conscious about posting a comment.

    I’ve thought a lot – and written a bit – about commenting. Generally speaking, I try to follow Don Miguel Ruiz’ second agreement, Don’t take anything personally: commenting on commenting. I believe that anything I say is about me, and anything anyone else says is about him or her. With that in mind, though, some of the things I say about me may (e.g., in a blog post) be of interest or value to others … and conversely, some of the things others say about themselves a (e.g., in comments on one of my blog posts) may be of interest / value to me.

    During a period of time when I saw an increase in spampliments – spam disguised (with various degrees of “thickness”) as compliments in blog comments – I wrote about commenting on validation / validating comments, in which I took advantage of the unsought opportunity to [publicly] reflect on my addiction to external validation.

    I’ve attained a level of detachment with respect to comments. I enjoy them when someone posts them, but don’t fret if / when posts pass without comments. And, just to round things out, I try to practice this detachment in the comments that I post as well. So even if this comment isn’t all that interesting or useful to the author or other readers, it was useful for me to go back to review and reflect on what I’d written. And I hope you won’t take this personally 🙂

  • This is something that’s happened over and over again, especially as a particular writer gets an audience that he feels less and less inclined to ‘write for’. Or ‘write with’. Community is one thing, but it’s not why blogging exists. Blogging is a platform for about a million different forms of sharing and expression, and the Gen Y crowd really seems to value the ‘we’re all in this together’ party.

    There are a lot of other parties happening, and not all of them serve alcohol, which by extension might mean that certain parties should be avoided (I mean…no alcohol?). Either way, commenting is just as much a form of expression as blogging (I’ve come to this realization lately)…if you’re writing For comments, or pageviews, you Will become disillusioned as a writer.

    That being said, your motivations might be professional, or otherwise, in which case you are going to have other ways of estimating the value of your writing/audience.

    Since I tend to ‘speak’ from the Personal Blogger perspective, I tend to suggest people quit looking at stats and comments and all the other b*llshit and focuse on finding their unique voice. I read A TON of blogs, and see thousands of newbie blogs every year – writers Progress, and I think in most cases should try and focus on that progression first and foremost.

    And as a sidenote; turning off comments doesn’t turn off the discussion. It’ll just happen elsewhere.

    • Write for yourself first – and the rest will fall into place. I’ve said this time and time again. You won’t get very far if you’re only concerned with getting big “numbers’. You should write because you love to write first and foremost. The rest is an added bonus. Thanks for the comment D.

  • If you’re only writing for yourself, then why have a blog at all? Start a journal.

    Blog posts aren’t just for the blogger, they’re for the reader too. If you don’t write with the reader in mind, it’s very likely you won’t succeed.

    I think that without comments, a blog loses some of its value to readers. Assuming you have good content, the reader will want to respond with their thoughts. Why take it to an offsite location? Doesn’t really make sense to me…

    Unless you’re Seth Godin, or as big as Seth Godin, keep comments on.

    Community Manager,

    • I think this is sort of where I align myself David. I guess I just don’t really understand the concept of closing comments on your entire blog. As I responded to in a comment above and as you reiterated here – if you are writing ONLY for yourself, why not just open up a Word document and type away?

  • If I worried about number of blog comments, I’d have a total inferiority complex! Lol. I’ve gotten way over that. I seem to get more Facebook messages, feedback, Tweet responses, etc. than blog comments. It would be lovely and validating to get more, but all in good time. At least I can always stroke my ego with my unique hits 😉

    • You bring up a good point and there are so many different ways to measure success nowadays. Comments are one, but only one piece of a much bigger puzzle to blogging success. Keep writing, keep engaging in other mediums, and the comments will come.

    • That’s the thing, Bryna – I think a good majority of us gain more ‘traction’ on other social platforms. But what that touches on even further is immediacy and attention spans of folks in this hyperconnected online world. That, though, is a topic of another discussion 🙂

  • I’m not sure it is necessary to disable comments on a blog no matter the goal of your blog, whether you write for yourself, to build a community or to become an expert on a subject. Either way, I’m sure some type of feedback from others will benefit you, the person leaving the comment or both of you. Although, I do understand the frustration that comes with equating blog success to the number of comments, it is best to leave the option open. I think it is almost impossible to have a blog purely for yourself, because anything online is bound to have an audience. Even if you do not promote your blog, someone will stumble upon it. Disabling comments can also send mixed messages to the reader. No one will truly know why the comments are disabled unless you tell them.

    • Good point Aysel. I think closing comments can send a mixed signal – sort of like saying – I don’t care what you have to say. From your end you may be thinking “I don’t need the validation of a lot of comments” but from the reader, they may be thinking “This person could care less about what I think and can bring to the discussion”. Interesting point – I agree that you want to give your readers the OPTION, if nothing else, to participate.

  • Interesting idea. Seen this before on some other blogs that have also closed comments.

    I’m definitely against the notion. The way I see it, people that choose to write a blog and have it published publicly on the Internet want people to read it, whether they realize it or not. Therefore, why not have people join in the conversation?

    If you didn’t want conversation and an audience, you wouldn’t publish in a public forum, no?

    For me personally, the comments of blogs (the continuing conversation) are extremely valuable. I’ve come to almost expect them (for better or worse).

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  • I’ve never closed comments on my blog and I’ve never really entertained the thought of doing so. I do however work with folks in the real estate industry… I know a few folks who do close comments on their blog. The reason they’ve done so is because competitors often come to their site and post all kinds of negative comments. Sure you can moderate comments but for some people, the level of comments coming in and the time it takes to moderate is more than they want to deal with and so they simply close of comments.

    I guess it’s for some people and not for others…

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