No Comment

Dear Reader

I am going to make a complaint. This is a complaint directed to many of you, but by no means all, so bear with me. I know I am not the only blog-writer who feels this way, so I it seems a good moment to register my annoyance. So what has got my beef?

I know you are reading my posts. I see interesting comments circulating, but not on the post itself. I am not on Facebook so I have no idea what happens there, but I do know that on Twitter people often tweet brief remarks, or links to related articles, that it would be great if other people had the opportunity to share. By keeping their remarks in the Twittersphere it is impossible for many other readers to react to the comments and/or to join in the discussion. By its very nature Twitter is ephemeral: here today and gone – certainly by tomorrow and probably sooner. To give a very recent example, when I wrote something about emergence (see here) some people tweeted good links to easily accessible papers or articles. I am sure many people would have appreciated knowing about them in a quasi-permanent way, not simply because they happened to have their Twitter-feed open at the appropriate moment.  Or, referring to the same post, maybe there were other authors whose work confirms or contradicts my position – it would have been great to have added them in. As it was, I was delighted to find philosophers taking a lead in this debate by actually posting comments.

Please take note, as there are many other examples I could cite. That is just one recent case in point.

Even in the relatively short time I have been blogging (actually it’s no longer that short, it’s 3/12 years, but I still feel I’ve only just got going), it would seem the comment stream has significantly dried up. Occasionally I get a lot, but nothing has beaten two relatively early posts about the EPSRC and about Impostor Syndrome. Those two posts undoubtedly got people’s commenting juices going. I wonder if they still would. Perhaps it was down to the specific topics, but I think it is also the case that there is a shift in modus operandi of commentators.

Why do I say I know I am not alone? I was struck by a post I read on the LSE Impact blog about SpotOn2013 by Alan Cann. To quote the relevant section on commenting on posts:

The issue of commenting on blogs was also discussed in the session. For most blogs, comments are dead and any conversation is now based around is now retweets and reposts to social media sites rather than a threaded stream on the original site. The same is also true of online commenting on scientific papers – on the PLOS and Nature websites for example. There is plenty of discussion going on about the content, but it is distributed across many networks rather than being focussed into an easily accessible thread. In spite of a relaxed attitude to this by some, in my opinion this is a problem as it encourages superficial commenting at the expense of more in depth conversation. Sharing on Facebook is a good thing but it is not a substitute for a good discussion thread on a thorny issue. In science in particular, putting your head above the parapet and being seen to criticise the work of senior scientists is still a risky business, even when such comments are made in neutral tones and intended as a positive contribution to ongoing work.

Now I am by and large not going to get upset if a junior scientist doesn’t agree with me (see this earlier post where I reflect on this in a different context), so I hope that is not why people are not writing comments. But I totally agree with Alan Cann that the loss of in-depth dialogue is a shame.

There is another issue when people use Twitter to post comments. Very often they will begin the comment by addressing it to me as @athenedonald. If you do that with no prefix, the only people who will see it will be myself and anyone who happens to follow both me and who is tweeting. Very often I am pretty convinced that is not their intention, but that is the effect, thereby narrowing the range of people who will be party to the tweet to a tiny number. If the tweet is meant to be for general consumption, my twitterhandle has to have something in front of it. Personally I use a full-stop, others use quotes. If there is nothing, the tweet is in essence barely in the public domain.

So, my friends and readers, if you are trying to have a general conversation, can I please urge you to post your comment explicitly on my post. If you really do mean to have a quiet word with me, of course sending me a tweet personally is absolutely fine. But be sure you know that what you’re doing is what you think you’re doing.

This entry was posted in Communicating Science, Science Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to No Comment

  1. I’ve noticed this too. I get a lot of people responding to me via email and I often email back and ask if they would put the comment on the blogpost itself. Some don’t want to because the information is something they’re happy relaying to me (because they trust me to ascribe it to them), but don’t want to make freely available. I try to argue against this fear because I think ascription via one’s name in a blog comment is proof of authorship enough, but I don’t get anywhere.

    On WordPress, which I use for my blog, I get a ‘pingback’ if another blog links to a post of mine and I can choose to have the pingback displaying as a comment (which I usually do). It would be useful, I think, if there were some way of blogs tracking tweeted links to one’s blog and if the blog then had a widget for displaying these. Of course, they’ll ossify as well, but it would be better than the current situation.

  2. Renee says:

    I think the are some WordPress plugins that can collect tweets (at least the ones linking to the article) and show them on the comments page.

    I rarely read blogs directly and often get to the posts via Twitter, so where I go back to retweet and/or comment. However, I do try to tweet in a way that is publicly visible (add opposed to just tweeting @you) and therefore my comment and the post is shared more widely, hopefully gaining your post more visibility.

    I understand the desire to have comments on your blog, but I think commenting here it’s against the “nature” of how social networking works, unfortunately.

    On the other hand, I’ve also seen blogs with many comments in response to a question asked of readers at the end of a post. I’m just not sure people are willing to change their “workflow” to participate in a discussion on a blog vs with their social circles in their space. Maybe that’s what’s happening.

  3. Renee says:

    Another thought, i used to get to most of the blogs I read via Google Reader and I was more likely to post a comment on the blog then. Now that it is defunct, I’m a lot less likely to. I’m thinking it’s because of my mindset while browsing. I got on Google Reader to read blogs I was “loyal” to, while I get on Twitter to see what people are talking about.

  4. Heather says:

    Little-to-no feedback has always been the plague of bloggers.

    First, because most people are by nature, lurkers. Only a (vocal) minority, with an agenda, truly ever wants to engage in a direct discussion with an author or any other creative type. Usually, people just want to make a judgmental pronouncement, and only some of those will have the impetus to actually write about that. (Recursive case in point right here.) Remember that 1% rule?

    Second, because initially many didn’t really understand the technology and that they could participate in a conversation. Or they’re shy. And now, from Renee’s comment, popular “social” technology has moved in directions that are less conducive to these sorts of conversations, anyhow. Now the infrastructure been built, there is no longer a dearth of builders – only a dearth, perhaps, of a representative diversity among them. That’s a different problem.

    I guess that the upshot is, you’re probably in fact used to this, by now, and by any measure outside perhaps of your personal satisfaction, your blogging has been successful.

  5. stephenemoss says:

    If there’s one sure fire way to get people to comment on a blog, it must be by writing a blog complaining that people aren’t leaving comments on blogs. And I’m afraid I stand guilty as charged. I am a terrific consumer of blogs, I read just about everything that gets posted on OT and much enjoy its diverse menagerie of contributors, but my commenting has dwindled to barely a trickle. Here are some possible reasons.

    1. Blog topics can eventually start to get repetitive, even important ones like open access, impact factor abuse, the REF, and women in science (your Athena Swan blogs were of real help in informing the application my own Institute submitted last year). Whilst the bloggers continually find new angles to discuss, commenters such as myself may have expressed their views first time round and feel that they have little to add.

    2. Many blogs have regular commenters and there can be a feeling that, as an irregular commenter, one is stumbling uninvited into a private party.

    3. Time! Even a brief comment requires a least a few moments of cohesive thought, and such moments can be hard to find. Now, on a Sunday morning, is a good time, but I’m already becoming anxious at how long it’s taking me to compose this brief response.

    Finally, I don’t really get Renee’s remarks on WordPress versus Google Reader. I do have a WordPress blog of my own that lies dormant for much of the year, but the ‘platform’, if that’s the right word, has no bearing for me on whether or not I decide to comment. I imagine your blogs have thousands of readers, so perhaps the blogger is evolving to become more like the novelist whose published works may be read by tens or even hundreds of thousands, of whom all but a garrulous few will constitute a silent but appreciative audience.

    • Renee says:

      I wasn’t comparing Google Reader to WordPress, but my experiences with “dedicated blog reading time” back when I used Google Reader (I use Feedly now but not nearly as often) vs now getting to blogs most often from Twitter, where I go to see what people are sharing and to share with them and have mini-conversations about topics.

      It’s more about the mindset of when/how I’m reading (and whether I’m using a computer or tablet or phone at the time) that affects whether I’ll slow down enough to write a thorough, thoughtful comment on the blog, or retweet it for my followers to see.

  6. Brian Clegg says:

    I prefer people to comment on my blog on Twitter (as long as they link to the post), as that spreads the post to new readers, while comments on the blog don’t. It’s swings and roundabouts.

  7. Rachel Berry says:

    Your blog posts are usually fairly sane and complete. People tend to respond to the flaws or fill in gaps. So when presented with something that makes sense, and has case studies anecdotes confirming don’t offer their own. I know it’s frustrating. Perhaps invite feedback with a question asking for more info or something that needs solving….?
    My most popular blog recently has no comments but its a list of useful tools to use with our product! There’s not much to comment on or debate!

  8. Thanks Stephen, for taking the time to respond. I understand your comments about feeling you may have said your piece about recurring topics. My issue was actually (at least mainly) somewhat specific regarding those who tweet links to relevant articles but don’t post them. I do sometimes respond to them asking them to add them as a comment. Perhaps I should simply ask them if they’re happy for me to post them and, if so, attributed or not. Other more personal comments I have sometimes encouraged tweeters to add but recognize they may be fairly deliberately not leaving them for posterity to see. I certainly don’t think anyone should ever feel they are an ‘irregular’ commenter and so less welcome. Rather on the contrary, it’s always good to get a fresh perspective and I particularly welcome new voices at the ‘party’ you refer to.

    I also sort of get Renee’s comments about Google Reader. I miss it too and, although I use Feedly I don’t feel so comfortable with it.

    Brian – of course I am delighted by individuals using Twitter to spread the word, but that isn’t quite what I meant by comments. Someone saying, nice blog plus link is always a pleasure, but I meant when they say that they disagree (why not say why in a comment?), or that someone else expressed it better and here’s the link. Those are the things that would start a real conversation.

    Through Twitter there has been (yes, through Twitter) a dialogue suggesting it is a combination of lack of time and reading blogs through phones and tablets which make it harder to comment. I agree my phone would be a very uncomfortable medium through which to comment, but I hate reading blogs that way too. On the other hand, I don’t find my iPad a limiting factor in commenting. Do note there are no captcha hazards on this (or any OT) blog to complicate things though,although there is some moderation.

    Finally, as Eva says, I do allow pingbacks to show conversations with other blogs as they develop. Sometimes, though, these can be long afterwards and then it is harder for them to be useful.

  9. Catherine says:

    IMHO, blogs aren’t really set up for commentators. You often get little or no feedback about your comment, it’s really difficult to find out when someone has made a reply (normally either the option of an annoying email or repeatedly checking back at the blog post), and you quickly forget where you commented in the first place! Compare that to forums (or even the Guardian website) where you normally have a login and can easily access all of your posts and easily tell when a thread has a new comment on. Twitter is easier as people tend to spend more time on there in the first place, tracking multiple topics at the same time, and don’t have to remember to check back to other websites.

  10. Dave Fernig says:

    We will gossip around the village well with those we know. To gossip with “strangers” in the global village is perhaps outside our orbit and something that may only change with time? We should be starting with our students perhaps, to ensure that positive engagement in discussion/argument outside the tutorial/seminar/workshop is rewarded.

  11. vla22 says:

    I’d echo the plugins that allow one to show tweets as well as comments. Also, there’s often a ‘trackback’ feature, where you can see whether other bloggers have been inspired by your wonderful words.
    I do think the evanescent nature of Twitter does encourage quick notes, then moving on. And it does mean that one might be less inhibited about commenting. After all, your comments can end up visible for years, and that can be intimidating. On Twitter, one can move on.

  12. Mike says:

    Following on from the pingback suggestion above, you could perhaps add a custom hashtag at the end of each blog for twitter users to sync/aggregate the conversation, e.g.

    “If you tweet about this post, please use the #ADcomment” hashtag”

  13. Aidan Budd says:

    Been enjoying your blog posts, Athene, pretty much since I started using Twitter, and that’s how I first came across them.

    This is only the third time I leave a comment on a blog. I expected I could somehow use my wordpress account to log on, so that my comment would be linked to my other comments/blog posts, something I’d prefer, making it easier for me to keep track of what I’ve said (and had said to me), but I guess you’re running a stand-alone wordpress, where my account is. Spent 5+ minutes checking this out; would be much quicker for me just to comment via Twitter.

    So (i) ability for me to keep track/linked together my online comments and (ii) speed at which I feel I can make a comment, are two reasons I make comments almost always via Twitter, rather than in the comment section directly.

    And several of the other comments above are also related to my reasons for not typically commenting in this area (those of Renee and Catherine, in particular).

  14. Steve Caplan says:

    Athene: my problem now is how to reciprocate – if you write a blog entitled “No Comment,” what am I to do, write a blog called “Athene Donald’s Blog?”

  15. Two things, I think; first Twitter, and second what Steve Moss said about running out of things to say, or feeling it isn’t worth saying the same thing again. The latter applies to blogs as well as comments, I think.

    I have certainly stopped writing blogs (mostly), and commenting on them much, since most of my social media-type activity moved to Twitter.

  16. Ash says:

    Often making a comments required you to sign up to “Disqus”, or log in via FaceBook or some other nonsense, so I don’t bother. If people want comments, they better make it REAL easy to do so. As, so far as I can see at this point, you have done here.

  17. Alison Atkin says:

    I have only recently begun blogging regularly, but I brought this up in one of my posts ‘Chatterbox’ (

    The relevant section of this post reads: “If in any situation if you don’t understand me, let me know and give me an opportunity to respond… If you do agree with me, please let me know. I will be trying to do the same from now on – instead of reading and running.”

    That being said, I’m still guilty of reading and running – even after the above post. But I do try hard to respond to any comments on my blog, as without them I find judging the impact of my posts (whatever its scale) without them.

  18. Alison Atkin says:

    *difficult; …as without them I find judging the impact of my posts (whatever its scale) difficult.

    (Sorry, Sherlock was starting!)

  19. Lorand says:

    Another reason people may take discussions elsewhere is that future readers of this blog may not include their intended audience. (Or, perhaps, the audience they automatically try to engage without stopping to consider the choice.) A post here will reach Athene Donald and future readers of her blog. A tweet will reach Athene Donald and many of the poster’s associates, including those who’ve never heard of the blog and those who’ve already read the article and are unlikely to return to it. While the later may not be the most useful audience, it’s the one that most closely approximates chatting around the department coffee-maker. At least from the viewpoint of a twitter neophyte, that seems closer to the tone of most academic twitter traffic than, say, formal commentary on published articles. I suspect fewer people in general are driven to write, “Dear author, please consider the following. . . ” than to say “hey friends, here’s an interesting blog post, but I wish the author had considered the following. . .” What’s changed is that now the author has the opportunity to learn that the conversation is taking place.

    But, none of the explanations offered in comments here make the phenomenon less frustrating for bloggers, or argues against suggesting that people comment directly.

    Also, a belated thanks for pointing out the hidden nature of tweets that start with an @. It’s not at all obvious, and I might never have learned it if I hadn’t seen it mentioned in a previous comment of yours. I remain surprised that someone chose that as a default behavior.

  20. Ted Morrow says:

    First I understand your frustration – but I think you can have your cake and everyone else can eat it, if you know what I mean.

    A simple solution is to capture the Twitter discussion on your blog by including a Twitter feed based on a search term – a widget time line. There are instructions here:

    So you write a post and embed a twitter feed based on responses to that blog on the same page – so it’s all in one place. I have no idea if Facebook or other social media have the same functionality though, they might. The tricky part maybe getting the right search term to capture all the responses. Maybe use a unique hashtag in each of your blog post titles?

  21. Grant says:

    I prefer people comment to on my blog, too, and wish people would discuss more often, it’s part of the reason I write. I have to admit the lack of discussion one of the reasons I’m a bit discouraged from writing, too.

    Readers, worth remembering this then: if you like a post – let the author know. (In a way that’s distinguishable from spam!) Feedback is almost always appreciated.

    FWIW, one reason I have commented less on Occam’s Typewriter is mostly that I’m still recovering from a change in my default email address for my blog forcing me to pass initial-post moderation all over again for most blogs I used to comment on… In the case of Occam’s Typewriter and a few other sites it seems to encourage the blog software to file my most-definitely-not-spam comments into their spam folder! Ha. Now let’s see what happens to this comment…

  22. Owen Dunn says:

    I think the twitter @ behaviour is a bug, really, but I don’t imagine they’ll ever fix it.

    Twitter as a whole seems a bit of a disaster for decent debate: it shares pointers to content, but tends to make that content read-only as comments come on Twitter itself; the brevity makes these comments by necessity more simplistic and often just agree/disagree statements; and people’s tendency to follow/retweet like-minded friends gives an echo-chamber effect so people see things they already agree with and links are shared with a tag predisposing the reader to the groupthink.

    • Renee says:

      To me, one of the benefits of Twitter is the brevity. Sure it’s not set up for in-depth discussion, but it’s nice to be able to long on and scroll through lots of content in a short time. Also, for conversations, sometimes forcing someone to be brief in a response can be a positive thing 🙂

      And the @ reply is by design, when you want to tweet to someone and not have your entire followership have to see every single response. (I sure don’t want to read everything all 900 people I follow say to other people I’m not following. Also, it does show you if two people you’re following @ each other.)

  23. Pam Cameron says:

    This is the first (and probably last) time I’ve commented on a blog. I now get all of my information from Twitter and I pass it on, through retweets or via Facebook. I rarely read blog comments (or comments on news articles) because they’re often taken over by a vocal minority who either have an agenda to push or who are loud, rude and sometimes bigoted. Perhaps some new software to link comments, retweets, Facebook posts, etc by tracing the original URL could be a solution to achieving continuity of debate?

  24. I’m glad to see this has sparked debate. And, unsurprisingly, a lot more comments on Twitter! I’ll look into aTwitter feed for this blog, although that will only capture one part of the dialogue. A rolling Twitter feed will be just that, rolling, and probably still quite ephemeral but an improvement I think. It is clear I know what is going on there, and more of my readers seem to use that medium, but I have no idea about Facebook and probably other strands too.

    The other comment that keeps coming up over Twitter is that it’s so hard to keep track of login requirements. Well, Occam’s Typewriter really is straightforward. No logins, captcha or other such hurdles. But first-time commenters, or indeed those who have several links in their comment, will be moderated. Pretty simple really. Maybe more of you will be encouraged to try. At least, that’s my hope. Thanks to all of you who have joined in here.

  25. fakename says:

    You need BIGGER font. More pictures and videos. And some flame wars. If you want, I can draw you into some different existing battles and make some of the blood spill into your world.

    P.s. Why is the email required? I’m allowed to use any pseudonym, but have to put an email in? I just put a fake one. Really dumb.

  26. Frank says:

    Coincidentally after reading this yesterday I saw a report that Facebook had just bought out an outfit called Branch that is “creating a place to have an intelligent conversation”. Maybe some better solutions to integrating comment streams will be with us soon.

  27. Shane McCracken says:

    You could ask the nice OT sysadmin to look into

    Another site I read: uses it to include conversations about a post from Twitter. Seems to work nicely but I’ve not tried it myself.

  28. Jeremy Fox says:

    Interested and surprised to read about your experience on this, as it contrasts with my own. Pageviews, comments, and retweets have all grown over time in (very) rough parallel at Dynamic Ecology. My impression is that the Twitter conversation about our posts is an addition to rather than a substitute for commenting; people who RT our posts wouldn’t comment even if Twitter didn’t exist. At least, I hope that’s true. Like you, I’d be very unhappy if Twitter started replacing our comment threads, which are one of the best parts of the blog.

    p.s. Ironically, it was a commenter who pointed me to this post…

  29. anna says:

    But I can’t comment on your older posts, though I would like to. Are comments disabled after a certain amount of time?

    • Yes, after about a month in order to reduce spam. Feel free to respond to the earlier post here and I’ll see if I can put it in the right place!

      • anna says:

        Ok here is my comment for ‘Turning the mirror on Oneself’. Has anyone been asked at a conference ‘are you a booth babe?’. And what is a good answer? A simple ‘no’ doesn’t convey the disgust I feel for the question and asker, but what else can be said without turning confrontational or unprofessional.

    Back in 2011!!! I was privileged to be a collaborator with Professor Conor Gerty on his ebook. At the time he was Professor of Human Rights, and it was an intensive time with his weeky posts and our responses. I rather doubt that it would work today? The social media world has such a short attention span, and events are more trivial, but I thought you may find this interesting, as a continuous and considered discussion. I’m not a scientist and I don’t tweet, but I do hope to raise the profile of inspirational women ( not invisible any more!) How do I follow you?

Comments are closed.