Being technically nice to commenters

If you are a blogger, no doubt you've read plenty of those helpful articles on building online communities, how to attract comments to your blog, how to manage comment discussions, etc. The aspect I'd like to highlight here is very simple: make it technically easy for people to comment (if you want them to comment).

I've been blogging for some years, and because I like reading certain blog posts and because I like it when people comment here, I make an effort to comment on a post on someone else's blog if I have enjoyed reading a post. I know that other bloggers are like me and like people to comment on their blogs. So I think it is worth bloggers paying a bit of thought to their readers and making it easy for them to comment. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Do you really want people to have to log in to your blog in order to comment? If you don't have a good reason for this, don't do it. It is just one more barrier between the commenter and the comment they want to leave and it will have no effect on spam. (Sometimes people will not comment on a blog that requires a login as they don't want to provide personal data, whatever the disclaimer.)

  • You don't need to have log in AND a spam catcher. Anyone who can get through the log in is not a machine. If they are one of those "paid spammers" they will get through the captcha (or other spam catcher) anyway and plug their product.

  • Have a search box on your blog, high up enough for readers to find it without having to scroll down too much. Sometimes readers want to refer to one of your earlier posts on the same topic when they comment, and the best (sometimes only) way to find that post is via a search unique to your blog (not via the dreaded Technorati). There are lots of free Google search widgets out there (eg via Google itself or Widgetbox).

  • Check your settings in your blog dashboard so that it is easy for people to comment. Some blog platforms have defaults, eg only people with Google accounts can comment, anonymous comments are not allowed, only registered users can comment, etc. Check that these settings are as you want them, don't just leave settings at manufacturer's defaults.

  • Do a usability test every now and again: access your blog from a different computer from the one you usually use, and leave a test comment. Similarly, if you find it frustrating to comment on someone else's blog for a technical reason, or you think there may be a technical fault, the blogger will probably very much appreciate it if you drop them a line to tell them. People have done this favour for me before and I have been very grateful.

    Nowadays, a lot of people are reading blogs in RSS readers, rather than at the blog itself, and click through to the blog only if they want to comment on a post. Services like the excellent Friend Feed are simple to use and have really, really great user interfaces that provide no barrier to comments and conversation among your group. It is much easier, technically, to read a blog post in an RSS reader, "share" it to Friend Feed and comment there, than to go to the blog and wade through the various thorns and thistles in order to comment on the post itself. I will always make an effort to comment at the blog if I read a post that interests me, because I know the blogger is likely to prefer that than a discussion of their post at Friend Feed or elsewhere, but the growth of these lovely-to-use "conversation platforms" is something that bloggers need to bear in mind!

    There are some blogs on which I will not even attempt to comment, because I've had to provide a username and password, which the system doesn't remember from my previous visit and nor do I, also provide name/address details, and then go through spam filters. By which time I have forgotten what I was going to say, or it has stopped mattering. There are therefore strong incentives for bloggers to make their blogs as comment-friendly as is consistent with being spam free.

  • 11 thoughts on “Being technically nice to commenters

    1. This post certainly deserves comment! Your recommendations are very helpful. I must admit that I haven’t, as yet, done all the things that you suggest, and my only excuse is pressure of work. But they strike me as extremely sensible and positive things to do.

    2. Thanks, Martin! Your blog is lovely to comment on, both technically and in terms of the posts you write. In fact I think I was commenting on your most recent post at the same time that you were commenting here.

    3. Well, I concur with these points. I’ve read things online I wanted to comment on, but was stopped dead as soon as I had to create a google or blogger acc’t. I’m far too lazy, though when I commented on a related blog that I couldn’t post on the new one, someone said I was being typically American (this a Brit blog) and afraid my identity would be stolen. Puh-leeze. I don’t think anyone else would want it — I’m poor!

    4. Touche, Kerrie! I use that Vox blog as an archive for my reviews without having first realised that it is a “community” platform which is only open to people who have signed up to that (free) community (I am a sucker for trying out new blog platforms!): I do always feature the reviews when first written on Petrona but I take your point that people might wish to comment subsequently. Maybe I should re-archive them all on a Typepad blog, which would take a while, but could be done….Or, I could add a link to the Petrona post to the bottom of the archived review in case people want to comment without joining Vox. I’ll try to book the time with myself to do this!
      In the interests of full disclosure I should also note that you have to sign up to FriendFeed in order to use that!
      Susan, you are quite right. I believe that if a blogger responds to you in that way, he/she doesn’t deserve comments! Not all bloggers want (or even allow) comments, which is fine if that is what they want. But based on my experience I think there are a lot of ways in which readers are inhibited from commenting on blogs for reasons of which the blogger is unaware (eg system default settings) or which hadn’t occurred to him or her because, quite reasonably, the blogger is more focused on blog content than various technical/user-related matters.

    5. Thanks, Meg. Your blog is also beautifully easy for commenters!
      I should perhaps add a rider to what I wrote so confidently about spam. If a blogger removes some barriers for comments and find spam goes up and my advice on this point is wrong, it is easy enough to lift the barrier again. Worth a try I think, in the case of some blogs. However, the most common problem, I have found, is default settings on a blog which require an account with the platform (or other); settings that can be changed at one-click if the blogger realised it.

    6. Thanks Maxine. Friend Feed is very easy to use and a treat for lazy people like me. I can see at a glance what is new on the core crime fiction blogs and then check on any extra blogs that I keep an eye on.

    7. Yes, friendfeed is great! I prefer this to commenting on the blogs now.
      One thing I’ve found when commenting on typepad is that if I ‘go backwards’ (sorry, I’m sure there is a technical term for this) I end up repeating myself. Not sure why this happens, but it only seems to happen on typepad…and only to me!
      Also just wondering – is the search facility on the top left hand corner of blogger good enough? Or would it be better if I tried to get some other search gadget on there too?

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