While I was writing my last post I added links to a couple of old posts from 2012 and 2013, and out of interest decided to go back and read them. I was surprised when I did so to find that they had a lot of comments. Not, like, hundreds, but a decent collection — some of them replies turning into conversations, and others first-time readers popping in to give their thoughts.
Over the past year or two I’ve really noticed the number of comments I get declining, with some posts not receiving any at all no matter how many views they had. While my stats have been low over the last couple of months because I haven’t really posted, this comment phenomenon has been going on far longer, and I don’t think it’s only me, either.
Admittedly, I’m not great at commenting on other people’s blogs. There are some where I periodically check in and comment, and others where I very occasionally leave my thoughts, but very few where I’ll comment on every post. So I thought for a while and came up with a few explanations for this change in blogging culture.
Firstly, a lot of us are reading blog posts on the move. I get mine as email subscriptions, and as a result tend to read them at bus stops, when I’m waiting for someone, or while doing something boring like cooking. Because I’m on my phone and it requires separate apps to comment, I’ll only reply if I have something meaningful to say — there are too many extra steps to take.
Then there’s the fact that I don’t spend a lot of time reading blogs. I think it’s safe to say that my audience here has grown up with me, so while in 2012 the majority of my readers were school-aged teenagers like myself, they’re now either people my own age, or older, as I’ve moved away from more teen-focused posts. So whereas I used to have school lunchbreaks and so on, I now have responsibilities, and I’m sure my readers are in the same position.
I’m also particularly bad about getting very behind with blog subscriptions. I don’t know how much this is a factor for other people and obviously it depends on the type of blogs you follow, but if I’m reading a topical post four months after it was posted, it’s safe to say that the time to comment has passed. Plus it just feels kind of awkward, you know?
(As a blogger, I absolutely don’t mind receiving comments on old posts, mostly because I like to look back at them and it reminds me they exist. But as a reader, I feel uncertain.)
I think a major factor in the general decline of comments is the fact that most comment sections on the internet are vile, toxic places. Read any opinionated news article and people will be vehemently (dis)agreeing with it, insulting people, and generally making their voices heard. Often, this becomes an echo chamber for harmful and unpleasant ideas, as well as a place for trolls to lurk and harass people, very often women or other minorities, for daring to disagree with them.
There are exceptions to this rule — The Toast, which has sadly stopped creating new content as of July 1st — had a wonderful comment section that was often better than the articles themselves. On Cracked, commenters often add to the information or stories in the post, and while there are sometimes unpleasant people lurking, they’re usually downvotes and shut down relatively quickly.
Maybe because I spend time on sites where the comments aren’t toxic, I always end up reading them, whatever site I’m on — which is sometimes a major error, as I end up sad and disillusioned about the state of humanity. But I know a lot of people who have a blanket policy of “don’t read the comments”, and even if they make exceptions for small blogs like mine where it’s possible to moderate every comment, it means you get out of the mindset of contributing and seeing what other people say.
So while in the past I had a readership of teenagers on their laptops happy to chat to each other and me in the comments, I now have stressed uni students and graduates glancing at their phones on their way somewhere and avoiding comment sections because that’s where the trolls live. It makes for a different kind of blogging experience.
On the whole, my style of blogging is more confessional than conversational, which may not help in this instance. I tend to talk about myself, and while I’m unsure how interesting that is, it’s also kind of the point of having a personal blog. But my book blog, which one would think would attract comments expressing agreement or differences of opinion about books, has received barely a handful of comments over the past year.
This isn’t an attempt to guilt people into commenting or to try and justify my own unpopularity — I know my book blog has a small following and that I don’t post here often enough to have consistent stats. I think the change in comment culture is more widespread, and I’m wondering how we can make blogs into a conversation again.
Or has that time passed? Are we just more comfortable expressing our thoughts via other social media because it feels a bit less public?
If you’ve had similar — or dissimilar! — experiences as a blogger, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And of course, any and all responses are welcome. Do you think blogging is fundamentally different to how it was three or four years ago? Or am I just overstating my own experiences?