Is 608 Comments a “Conversation”?

24 Mar ’07

The NY Times’ political blog the Caucus now has 608 comments on its post about John Edwards’ announcement that his campaign will continue. This is hardly an original thought, but reading a few of them really drove home the point for me that very often comments have absolutely nothing to do with a ‘conversation’ in any meaningful sense of the word – they really serve more of a miniblog / bulletin board function – a quick way for someone to scrawl “I was here” on the cave wall before returning to their daily life. This is more likely to be the case, surely, where a media property is heavily trafficked.

I’m sure the NYT prefers that people scrawl on its walls and not on its competitors’, but this strikes me as a pretty thin form of ‘engagement’ to have with a customer. If you don’t offer this to your readers you ought to have your head examined, but if you do, you’re just keeping up with the Joneses. And of course, if people are just scratching their name on the cave wall, they’re not spending much time in their visit reading what others have written, and they’re certainly not returning later to read new contributions. And, since you can’t really absorb advertising while you write (and particularly since many / most don’t even run ads on the page below the first few comments, it seems to me that having comments in a heavily trafficked property – like a major newspaper – will prove to be more of a defensive tactic than a sound strategy for creating new revenue.

Last point – why don’t the newspapers offer a feature that builds a survey in to every commentable post? – a simple binary agree or disagree choice, for example. (eg, I support John Edwards’ decision to continue his campaign despite Elizabeth’s announcement of cancer / I do not ….). 608 comments is getting into interesting poll sample size territory – surely the data would often be useful, if only as marketing data for the NYT. But perhaps also as raw data for polling organizations.

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