Blogging Archaeology Week 3: If I were after more comments here’s what I’d do.

And now Blogging Archaeology Week 3.

A final down­side to the short form is the appear­ance of dia­log. Noting this vir­tual round table and other blogs (like MS) as excep­tions, most archae­olo­gical blogs that I read have very little in the way of dia­log through com­ments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talk­ing to myself, which in a way is cath­arsis, but if an archae­ology blog­ger writes and no one reacts, are we really chan­ging opin­ions or mov­ing the field for­ward?” I would add to this, how do you attract read­er­ship? Without too much in the way of SEO chat­ter, who is your audi­ence and how to you inter­act with this audi­ence? What do you want out of inter­activ­ity by means of blog­ging about archaeology?

I’m not sure if I’m the right per­son to answer this for archae­olo­gists. For a while I set up a sep­ar­ate site and barred Google from it, so I could blog thoughts without large num­bers of people vis­it­ing. I’m not hos­tile to read­ers, but the read­ers I want are the one who come here any­way, not simply a large num­ber count. It’s partly down to why you blog.

At the same time I can say this worked depress­ingly well in terms of view­ers. I also changed the name of the site to “The Britney Spears Site of, like, Really Old Stuff” and changed the theme to a Britney theme (it was 2005). But I don’t know if it changed anything.

I think I can come up with three reas­ons why com­ments might not happen.

  1. Subject Matter.
    If your blog repeats the news, then I won’t com­ment. It’ll be some­thing that I’ve already seen before or else will see repeated sev­eral times over. What about the oppos­ite? Add ori­ginal com­ment­ary and that will encour­age com­ments yes? I’m not sure it will. There’s plenty of people writ­ing good ori­ginal posts. I won’t always com­ment though because these will be inter­est­ing art­icles out­side my imme­di­ate field. What I need to do is read round the sub­ject before I can add any­thing more than “Nice one”. That takes time. It’s some­thing you don’t get on some sci­ence blogs, because a lot of sci­ence is the same round the world, but archae­ology is very localised.

    I think for most archae­o­b­log­gers one way to more com­ments is to dumb down massively, or go over the top and aim for a purely aca­demic audi­ence. In the lat­ter case I think you’d still need the social con­nec­tions to pull com­ments in. To get com­ments you will need people read­ing who feel happy talk­ing about the sub­ject of your posts. Which takes us to…

  2. Audience Size.
    Of your audi­ence only a small frac­tion will par­ti­cip­ate by com­ment­ing. This is gen­er­ally known as the 90–9-1 rule. For blogs Neilsen, writ­ing in 2006, said that the ratios were skewed fur­ther to 95–5-0.1. These num­bers describe how people inter­act with your site. The first num­ber are pass­ive con­sumers. The second are occa­sional con­trib­ut­ors. The final num­ber is the heavy con­trib­ut­ors. Using these fig­ures if you have 1000 people read­ing your posts you can expect around five or six com­ments, with one from a reg­u­lar reader. Most archae­o­b­logs aren’t get­ting that kind of read­er­ship. There are ways to lower the bar to com­ment­ing, but even so it’s not likely many blogs will get the read­er­ship levels to get reg­u­lar com­ments. Because of their size though, they’ll be much more vis­ible and you’ll have a skewed idea of how suc­cess­ful you blog is or isn’t.

  3. People don’t com­ment on blogs.
    This is from AJ Cann, who does have com­ments on his blogs. He also runs MicrobiologyBytes. Compare the num­ber of com­ments on the blog with the num­ber of com­ments on Facebook. On the blog there are acres of No com­ments, while the Facebook page picks up com­ments and likes.* This is part of a shift in where we com­ment on blogs. For the last post within a quarter of an hour I saw this tweet from the light­ning fast Åsa M Larsson. Commenting has moved from blogs to Twitter and Facebook. Often the com­ment is purely asso­ci­at­ive, as a like or retweet. Comments on blogs aren’t dead, but usage has changed. It isn’t 2006 anymore.

So what do you do? One is to pull the com­munity to you. Ning built their busi­ness on this and every so often I’ll get someone telling me I should sign up to their Ning site. I’ll do it for work, but not if I don’t have to. The oppos­ite way is the answer. If you want to use a blog as out­reach and com­munity engage­ment then you go where the com­munity is. There are plenty of good reas­ons to be Facebookphobic, but that’s where the audi­ence is. If I had an out­reach blog then I would have to have a Facebook page for the blog, and AoB Blog does. If you ‘like’ it for a few days you’ll see there’s a con­stant drip drip of botan­ical good­ness into your Facebook stream. The reason AoB Blog does this is that we wanted to put the blog where the audi­ence was, and in a place where they’re already com­ment­ing on stuff.

That’s not enough for most archae­o­b­log­gers. A small audi­ence on your blog is still going to be a small audi­ence on Facebook. I think what Facebook could offer blog­gers is easy net­work­ing to increase the poten­tial audi­ence. A col­lect­ive could set up a Facebook page and choose a few admins. The next thing you add is RSS Graffiti. This takes an RSS feed and adds a post to a Facebook page wall for each RSS entry. It’s what we’re using for the Annals of Botany page. The clever thing is that RSS Graffiti can poll mul­tiple RSS feeds. So mul­tiple blog­gers could auto-post to the same page with RSS Graffiti. For any­one who’s post­ing less once a day, the tick­ing over of posts from other blog­gers helps keep the site act­ive so that when your post appears it’s in front of the col­lect­ive audi­ence of all par­ti­cip­at­ing blogs and not just your own. The Facebook wid­get also acts as a way to advert­ise your posts other blogs in the col­lect­ive (word​press​.com users might need a spe­cific RSS feed). And because it’s Facebook you still keep you blog on your own site with your own design, etc. Blogger users aren’t com­pelled to move to WordPress and vice-versa.

It sounds simple but there is a prob­lem. Some blogs you like some you don’t, so who do you include and who do you exclude? Can you exclude people in an inclus­ive way that doesn’t erect a big “Sod off” sign to read­ers? That’s a head­ache that I wouldn’t want, but it does emphas­ise that the answers to social media prob­lems are social.

*Though the inverse is true for Civil War Memory blog and Facebook page, so it’s not a hard and fast rule.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

5 Responses

  1. Bravo, Alun you’ve pro­voked me to com­ment. Although I am not strictly an Archaeoblogger (I try to cast a wider net) — Yes, in the almost com­plete absence of com­ments, I do often feel that I am talk­ing to myself. The anti­dote, of course, is to get a good stat­counter and burn a feed. Reading the num­bers cheers me up (although I’ve never worked out if those who read me on feeds should be added to the stats; or not :-); this is self-indulgent, per­haps, but spurs me to keep on blog­ging.

  2. Kandinsky says:

    I trawl through many web­sites as an arm­chair stu­dent of his­tory. Although I learn a lot, my sub­ject know­ledge rarely jus­ti­fies post­ing com­ments. ‘Nice post’ or empty plat­it­udes seem point­less. From time to time, I post out of empathy for the blog­gers who spend months between com­ments. It’s often a thank­less occu­pa­tion for the blog­ger, but there are people out there in the darkened silence who appre­ci­ate the work.

    In a sense, most blog­gers are throw­ing mes­sages in bottles out to sea. All I can say is…keep throw­ing your thoughts and find­ings ‘out to sea.’ Some of us are pay­ing attention…even if we rarely show it.

  3. Great post Alun. I’m ambi­val­ent about com­ments. As you point out, it’s often very dif­fi­cult to make an appro­pri­ate and use­ful com­ment as a reader and I think that people who visit my site likely have the same issue. I don’t think a lack of com­ments is neces­sar­ily a bad thing. Sure it can be dis­ap­point­ing to pose a ques­tion and have no responses, but I find that visit length is a met­ric that is almost as sat­is­fy­ing. For example, a post with no com­ments but 25 unique 1–3 minute vis­its is encour­aging: someone is at least read­ing. I’d rather have reas­on­able read­er­ship stats than com­ments I think. I very rarely com­ment myself.

    I also think we need to write in a way that can be eas­ily be com­men­ted upon. I now try to keep my posts under 300– 500 words because people seem to rarely bother with read­ing any­thing that is longer than that (at least on my site). But that’s dif­fi­cult, and may not fit with everyone’s pur­pose for blogging.

  1. March 23, 2011

    […] Alun Salt helps us under­stand why we don’t receive more com­ments using the 95–5-0.1 rule–wander on over to his blog to check it out. He points to Facebook as the place where people will com­ment on posts rather than on the blog itself. Blog-commenting isn’t a very vis­ible activ­ity whereas inter­ac­tion on Facebook has both vis­ib­il­ity and a more instant pay­off. Even if oth­ers within your Facebook social circle do not read the blog post, they can see that you are inter­ested (and are there­fore inter­est­ing) in the con­tent of the blog post. Alun expands on all of this, it’s really worth check­ing his entire post out. […]

  2. March 29, 2011

    […] another author. A com­mon obser­va­tion is that the com­ments have added value to the car­ni­val. I think Kandinsky adds some­thing to my post here, and I’m hop­ing this adds value to the pre­vi­ous posts I’ve linked back to. Jonathan […]