You arrive at Times and Seasons, and you think “I’m home.” You read posts by Russell and Rosalynde and occasionally even Nate, and you agree with them. You feel that this is your community, and that you belong. And then one day you decide to do more than just lurk — you decide to comment. And so you spend a half an hour carefully composing a comment designed to elucidate and amuse. You imagine the smile on Kristine’s face as she catches your allusion to her post from three weeks prior. You ignore the butterflies in your stomach, and you click “Post Comment.” And then you wait for the replies.
You hit “refresh” every hour to see if anyone has replied to your comment. The hours go by, and no one responds. People are busily discussing same-sex marriage in the prior thread, and talking about some philosopher you’ve never heard of in the next thread over, but that one thread with your comment in it, your baby, your contribution to the bloggernacle — it remains silent as a tomb. And you start to feel resentful, disappointed, cynical. Why is no one replying to your comment?
Late the next day, the silence is broken. The Recent Comments bar shows that “Mike” has posted something. Surely it’s a well-thought reply to your contribution. You quickly click over to Mike’s comment, and you read: “Come play poker at www.online-poker.com.” Dang. It’s just a spam that slipped by the filter. And twenty minutes later, the admins notice “Mike,” and even that is gone. It’s official. Your comment will never get a reply. The blog is placid, its surface like glass; the stone that you cast in has not left a single ripple.
Why did nobody respond to your comment? Why did we, who seem to be nice people, choose not to validate your participation in the blog?
It could be a lot of things.
(1) Most likely, it’s the tripple-whammy combination: limited time, information overload, and divergent interests. Let’s talk about all three of these briefly, because they combine to form a potent combination.
(a) The first element of the triple whammy is limited time. There are days when I can more or less blog all day (not in a single block, but where I check in regularly). And there are days when work heats up, when I’m traveling or in a deposition or something, and I’m essentially cut off from blogging for stretches. There are times when I have family needs that keep me off of the blog. Because Real Life(tm) tends to intervene, it’s quite normal for me to be more or less blog-inactive for days on end; less often, for weeks or more.
(b) This combines with the second element, information overload. We get upwards of 100 comments each day. On a busy day, we’ll go over 200; on a very busy day, we’ll pass 300. That’s a lot of comments to keep track of. Yours can quickly disappear below the line.
(c ) Finally, the third whammy is the divergent interests and skills of the different bloggers. Perhaps your comment was a pithy note about how Nietzsche relates to the D & C. Perhaps it’s eactly the sort of thing that Jim or Russell would enjoy very much, and that would probably elicit a response from either of them. But Jim is out of town that day, and Russell is tied up at work, and the only permabloggers who read your comment are Kaimi, Gordon, and Julie, all of whom (for purposes of this example) think that Nietzsche is a boring hack not worth discussing. And so your comment is ignored, not because it’s something that no one at T & S thinks is exciting, but because of unfortunate bad timing. You’ve become a victim of the triple whammy.
In my opinion, the tripple whammy has to be the single most likely reason why any particular comment is ignored. And the tripple whammy is not your fault. You can do everything right and lose comments. It’s the sad reality of a blog as busy and divergent as this one.
But let’s be thorough — what else might it be?
(2) I’ll try to say this as politely as possible: Perhaps you have inadvertently missed one or more of the elements that would make your comment a likely candidate for replies.
Let’s go over a few possibilities — not meant as criticism, but as a kind of generally directed attempt at constructive feedback.
(a) Perhaps your comment is either too long or too short to make for good blog conversation. For example, Jim posts about a scripture, and your comment is “I really like that scripture too.” Now there’s nothing wrong with that comment. But it’s unlikely to elicit further replies. On the flip side, if you post a 2500-word rebuttal comment, many readers will simply skip over it as their eyes glaze over.
(b) Perhaps your comment is too eclectic for others to understand. You may realize that you’ve structured your comment as a chiasm and worked in references to Shakespeare’s problem plays in every other line, but the rest of us are unlikely to grasp that on first reading. And let’s face it, with 200 comments a day, a first reading is all that you’re likely to get. So don’t make the comment unnecesarily complicated. Similarly, don’t forget to fill in the blanks — if’ you’re replying to a prior comment, note that “Ben writes __” to start your comment rather than just saying “I agree” or “that’s wrong”; it may be unclear who you’re agreeing with, especially if other comments are active in that thread.
(c ) Perhaps everyone is sick of the topic. In particular, threads on a topic like abortion or same-sex marriage often start out hot, with dozens of comments in the first hours as everyone stakes out a position and angrily denounces their opponents. After a certain point, however, that gets old. And when that happens, those threads can die suddenly. (One sign that your thread many be dying is “chupacabra!” comments from danithew or Steve, who perform a valuable function as thread killers.)
(d) If you’re relatively new to the blog, perhaps it’s that others aren’t sure who you are or where you stand, and are hesitant to reply to you. There is a natural shyness among blog readers, which may take a little bit of time to relax. This isn’t anything against you. (More on this below).
(e) And an important possibility that is quite positive: Perhaps your comment was just so good that it needs no follow-up. If you’ve summed up the issues in a cogent way and shown decisively that a particular argument fails or succeeds, perhaps there is nothing more to say.
So, what should you do if you didn’t get the replies you wanted, and you feel that your comment is ignored?
Well, I can start out with a few suggestions of what not to do. First, please don’t take it personally and think that T & S hates you. If we hated our readers, after all, we probably wouldn’t be blogging. Second, please don’t post a follow-up saying “why did no one respond to my comment?” As well-intentioned as those may be, they invariably tend to come across as whiny.
What you might consider doing is posting a substantive self-reply. Such as
“Well, in my last comment I wondered what it meant that Mary saw the resurrected Christ first. I guess no one wants to take me up on it. But in any case, I’ve been thinking about the issue more, and I thought of a few possibilities that I didn’t mention in my earlier comment. For example . . .”
That gives the bloggers and readers a new reason to notice your comment. If done well, it’s quite possible that such a follow-up will spark the conversation you had originally sought.
A second possibility is e-mailing one of the permabloggers. We generally try to be responsive to e-mails. On the other hand, this carries some risk — if the reason why Jim didn’t respond on the blog is that he’s out of town at a conference, he’s also unlikely to get to your e-mail until days later, and he may be so flooded by post-travel e-mail catching-up that your e-mail also gets ignored.
A third possibility is to e-mail another reader. We have a great community of readers. Without wanting to put words in anyone’s mouth, I suspect that if you e-mailed any of the regular commenters — Steve, Clark, danithew, Bryce, Kevin, D., William Morris, Geoff, or Dave, for example, just to name a few possibilities — and said “I just commented yesterday on the T & S thread about ___. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that area” that you might get some responses. (E-mail addresses aren’t visible for commenters on T & S, but many of our commenters have their own blogs or have their address available online. In addition, the old “drop me a line” comment works well: “Steve, I’d like to discuss this with you, please e-mail me at . . .”).
If you’re new, you may want to try posting a few more comments. As your name crops up more often, it may start to become familiar, and readers may start to get a feel for what you think, and feel more comfortable addressing you and replying to you. If you have a common name like David or John, or a duplicate name of a common blogger like Nate or Clark, try to use a distinctive handle. We’ve come to know “a random John” and “John H.” and they’re very different people. In the absence of a unique posting name, we might have a hard time getting to know one John from the other.
One hint which may or may not help is that comment posting has its own unique dynamics. Most people read comments from the front page or from the Recent Comments list on the sidebar. Because those are the main paths to comments, the risk of your comment going unnoticed will be higher if you comment on an inactive thread during the time that another thread is particularly active. So for example, let’s say that Frank’s Economics of Mormonism thread is very active, drawing 20 comments an hour, and you comment on an old thread of Nate’s. The problem is that your comment will be pushed off of the main sidebar (which lists the 20 most recent comments) within an hour of posting. And it’s on an older post which is no longer on the front page. And so you have less than an hour for someone to notice your comment, and reply to it, to perhaps reactivate that old thread. Otherwise, with your comment off of the sidebar and in an inactive thread, it is unlikely to be looked at again for days. The take-home point is that if you have a thought to add to an older thread, and you really want to increase the chance that someone will reply, the strategic approach is to post your comment at a less-busy time (such as an evening or during the week-end) when it’s not going to be bumped from the sidebar so quickly.
Finally, please member that your comment may well have been appreciated by readers, even if it did not receive a reply. I can’t emphasize this enough. Hundreds of people have read your comment and enjoyed it. But just like you before, they are lurking and perhaps commenting about it at home. So imagine all those hundreds talking about your input!
Anyway, those are some thoughts. I do feel bad that we don’t respond to every comment. I fondly remember the early days of T & S, when we got 20 comments a day, and I read all of them, and responded to many of them. And had I but world enough, and time, I would continue to read all of the comments and reply to many of them. But I often don’t have the time anymore, and neither do my co-bloggers.
And that, constant reader — some combination of the above factors — is probably the reason why we haven’t replied to your comment. Please accept our apologies.