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How to keep blog conversations going?

Recently I was listening to Mitch Joel’s podcast „Six Pixels of Separation“ (esp. episode #86 somewhere in the 2nd half) and one of the topics was about what is better: Comments or Trackbacks. The discussion started because the blog of marketing god Seth Godin only allows trackbacks. This led to some discussion if they might eventually be better than comments because you can comment in your own realm.

Comments vs. Trackbacks and the amount of conversation

Regarding this topic I would say though that comments and trackbacks should be enabled both. Comments are a very easy way to get a conversation going and often I don’t have to say that much about a topic that it would justify a separate blog entry on my page (depends on your idea of your blog I guess) and I would have joined the conversation more than once probably if certain blogs would allow for comments (like Ning’s Marc Andreessen also only allows trackbacks).

Another point of this discussion was the question if trackbacks maybe keep the conversation keep going on for longer on a certain blog post. Because if we look at blogs it is quite obvious that only the most recent entries receive comments (if at all). If it’s further down the page or even on the next one it is very unlikely that anything more will happen there. This might be partly because people think it’s old content or maybe because they think that nobody will see that comment anymore anyway because it’s somewhat buried in the site then.

I wonder though if trackbacks can help that. Indeed it is more complicated to follow trackbacks because you leave the site and might only check out the first trackback which is there. Moreover you don’t know if the link if any good because you first have to click on it to check it out. With comments this is easier.

Where conversation works

So one might say that conversation on at least a single blog post might be a bit limited mainly because the blog post is seen as the main content and it’s not on the same level (visually) as the comments. This of course might be different with trackbacks.

But let’s look at forums and mailinglists. Here conversations on a certain thread seem to keep going a bit longer. Of course here the same applies: Old content is not too interesting anymore but at least the initial post and the replies seem to be somewhat on the same level visually. It seems to me more of a conversation.
Of course there are also differences as you might subscribe to a blog because of the author and you trust her to create good content and raise some discussions. On forums/mailing lists more or less anybody can post and thus the danger of a bad signal/noise ratio might be a problem.

What could be done?

I am not sure but here are some ideas:

  • Make comments more visible on the blog, especially new ones.
  • Maybe move recently commented blog posts up again (but this might be a problem if you simply want to read new blog posts and not old ones all over. New ones might be buried then).
  • Maybe simply post comments to blog post as separate articles on the blog. Thus article and comments might be more on the same level again. Of course there might be spam related problems because you don’t want to have spam on a central position of your site (homepage)
  • Trackback excepts maybe could be longer or the full article posted. This if course means that you’d need some mechanism to retrieve the text of that article. A blog might then be more some mix of a blog and an aggregator.
  • Maybe it already would help to include the comments in the main article feed (attached to the article). There is surely some WordPress plugin made for this already, isn’t there? ;-)

Why are comments and trackbacks not handled better by Feed Readers?

One thing which struck me actually when thinking about this is why comments and trackbacks are not directly visible inside Feed Readers. You have all the blog entries there but no comments unless you manually subscribe to a comment feed (but then they are not attached to the blog article). The same is true for trackbacks.

Why not displaying comments along with the article sort of like threads on forums/mailinglists. Why not being able to directly post a comment from your feedreader? This would make quite a lot of sense to me as clicking on the entry, searching for the comment box is sort of annoying and hinders discussion a bit. Also doing all of that offline would be a big win (I am writing this right now while being on the train without network access and it would be great to be able to answer to some blog posts instead of somehow remembering them and doing it later which I probably never will do).

I know that the formats might be missing for that but using some RSS/Atom extension cannot be too complicated. Moreover there are standards for content publishing used by blog editors, so why not repurpose such things for comments?

So why are feedreaders build as if they were made for Web1.0? This is what I am wondering about. There are certainly opportunities to make this better.

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