Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Meta-Blogging: Commenting

To revisit my question in class, I'm still wondering whether there is a way to foster more of a discussion, via comments, on a blog like this. I agree totally with KSalib's point that commenting can take a lot of time. I'm certainly the sort of irresponsible student who will spend an hour constructing a comment on a post rather than doing my homework. However, even in the Halcyon days of weeks 1-3 there were not a lot of comments. It seems like their rate has been more or less steady over the quarter.

My first thought was that people were uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with fellow students and also unwilling to get into a protracted discussion that might take up a lot of time. Another reason that seems plausible to me is that the odd disjunct between the informal nature of blogging and the formal nature of classwork made it hard to gauge how to approach comments. As somebody else pointed out, it feels a bit wrong to just comment "oh, that was cool, good post." However, I don't necessarily think that such comments should be discouraged. I did wonder whether the fact that post authors often did not return to reply to comments was partially a cause. However, even on threads where authors did respond, the conversations never went far. The final issue I thought of was that people weren't sure about the blogging medium itself. This is a two-fold question, in my mind. First, since we are pioneering the idea of a course blog (certainly I've never participated in one), were we just unsure what was appropriate? Second, have some (or many) students just never used a blog, either as a blogger or a reader?

I'd be interested to know whether any of you have suggestions for how to inspire comments on a course blog. The easy answer is of course for the professor to mandate comments, but that seems like it would lead to forced comments rather than a useful discussion. Another less formal way would be to mention that they would factor into the participation or blog grade, or serve as extra credit for one of those categories. This might be the most straightforward method to inspire good comments, but I wonder if there is a more organic way.

PS to non-class member lurkers: Commenting was not restricted to class members but nobody outside of the class commented (aside from one of my comments which another person [TE] contributed to). I know that one person tried but couldn't get blogger to take his post, a bug that seems to occasionally pop up on blogger/google platforms. But I'm wondering, was there something stopping you from commenting, or did you just never feel the urge?


  1. As an inexperienced blogger, I certainly felt a disconnect you describe above, with respect to the appropriate tone to take with posting and commenting. Perhaps it reflects poorly on my writing in general that I have a hard time presenting my thoughts as simultaneously ruminating/meditative/contemplative (which is the tone I associate with blogging) and as an academically rigorous response to questions raised in class. I often felt too exhausted after treading this line in my own post to engage in that of someone else. Perhaps also having conversations via comment boxes is alien and intimidating to me. As a writing exercise, I think the blog project was quite useful, but I am unhappy that my own unfamiliarity with the form limited my involvement.


  2. I know that I've also felt a bit of that disconnect while writing posts as well. On the one hand it seems that the blog calls for short essays, on the other that because it's a blog we can be much more relaxed and, possibly, innovative. The inclusion of pictures and video is certainly a bit of a difference from the typical essay, but I feel like we could have experimented with the form as well.

    In terms of the usual tone of a blog comment, I think that there are all kinds. On some of the blogs I follow I'll occasionally leave something akin to "I like this post." I think that it's nice to let bloggers I'm friends with know that I like their output, even if I don't have some huge insight to impart. At other times I've left comments that are much more academic and rigorous (I cut my blogging teeth in a very tense community of bloggers and commenters where any misunderstanding would be called to attention). And sometimes I leave comments which are just plain silly.

    For me there are three levels of blogs, blogs whose authors I know well either because I've followed it a long time or because I know the author personally, blogs who I follow but rarely comment on, and blogs that I read but don't comment on because the audience is too large and there is no point (I think the classic example of a blog like this would be Michelle Malkin's, although I don't read it). All of those different blog types require a different type of comment, although all can have posts which vary from silly to professional, which opens up the possibility of changing comment registers. I think that ultimately this boils down to the community of the blog. Some blogs are as communal as CNN, some are only read by good friends. Once you're a part of the community you can judge where you fit and comment accordingly.

  3. I think it's also worth mentioning that, to the best of my knowledge, google/blogger eliminated the ability to track a thread. This meant (at least for me) that you had to keep checking back on your post/comments to see if anyone responded. I know blogger used to have this feature, but I think they disabled it. I know other blogs, such as those on (no laughing!) livejournal, that do allow email alerts when there are new comments have more discussion.

    If there's a way to turn on the ability that all class members/those who choose could get emails when there were new posts or comments, there would be more discussion and comments (especially given that a comment on a blog post you've already read might spark a comment the post itself didn't).

  4. I think that if you click the "subscribe by email" link below the comment box, you can subscribe to the comments. This should result in you getting an email for each new comment on the thread. I'll try it with this one and see what happens (I also don't think you have to leave a comment in order to subscribe to the comments, which is good).

  5. Personally,
    I believe it has something to do with the fact that whenever I tried to post a comment under a blog post I thought was interesting or insightful, I would reread it and think it would not make sense to anyone else that was going to read it. I believe that it probably has a bit to do with the fact that I'm an undergrad and this course and all the blog posts were more of a learning experience in Medieval culture and the background, and that I didn't have the literary knowledge in order to perhaps make more insightful comments. That in no way means that I have not learned a lot through this course and from the blog as well, its just that it seemed to me that my comments were more mundane and less important without the background knowledge. I think that now, at the end of the course, we are all able to draw more insightful comments and incorporate all we have learned over the course. I definitely agree with B.T. It all comes down to the community that is supposed to be blogging, and we just need to make others comfortable with the fact that all their comments matter, regardless of their knowledge background.


  6. @ Hannah: OK, I definitely got notified of O.B.'s comment. So I guess we should have noticed that earlier.

    @O.B.: I think that is a very helpful comment. I think that if you had commented the comment would have been well received, even if it was just to ask a question. But I certainly understand how hard it is to start commenting on a blog. It's a very public forum, and the stakes for this blog in particular seem quite high. Do you think that there is a way to make undergrads in particular feel more comfortable?

  7. Look at that! I had never noticed that little "subscribe by email" link before - it would have been so helpful! Thanks!

    OB, I think it's definitely true that a lack of literary/historical background hurt commenting (especially by we undergrads!). It seemed to me that blog posts got more informal and less reliant on outside knowledge as the quarter went on. Did this trend seem evident to anyone else?

  8. Wow, I think this is the largest number of comments anyone has ever gotten on their posts!

    @BT: I can't think of any direct way to make undergrads feel more comfortable on this blog. For me, at least, there were times when I realized I was not engaging with the texts at the level that most of the people in our class was. Most of the time I would just read the posts and be like, "That's so interesting and well thought out!"

  9. Like JT, I am also inexperienced with blogging, and I felt unsure of how to approach the tone of my posts. Part of this stems from considering the intellectual force of this blog as a collective enterprise and dealing with that feeling of, "Hmm, have I phrased this comment in a manner consistent with the other comments and posts?" (a feeling I'm grappling with at this very moment!).

    The more I think about it, this space is not merely a digest of unrelated response papers; it's more like an experiment in exquisite corpse, with the question of how one approaches the subject of animals in the Middle Ages serving as our rule or point of orientation. Together, we created a body of work, and our distinct views and voices gave the larger collection of our essays a rich, multivalent character. So when I posted here, I felt not only that my words represented me but that they stood--publicly--for all of us. And this for me generated some of the hesitant feelings described in the above comments.

    The spirit of collaboration and the presence of a unifying theme aren't what set this blog apart, though. Plenty of blogs these days have a scope that is similarly focused, and many of these sites have multiple contributers. I think what truly distinguishes this blog is the fact that it does tend to be so carefully thought out, and each of us thinks carefully in his/her own way. You'll certainly find thoughtful, informed essays on news-and-current-affairs blogs, but due to the ever-hastening pace of the news cycle, such sites are under pressure to produce opinions and analysis quickly, sometimes before the enormity of a given issue can be fully absorbed (take the blogosphere's haste to set the record straight on the latest Wikileaks data dump, an event whose significance we may not grasp entirely for years to come). While our subject here is indeed important, there isn't exactly a general clamoring for fresh (and fast!) insight on animals in the Middle Ages. But I think our slower pace and thorough interrogation of our topics and sources have led to some extremely well-crafted and consistently engaging posts. Moreover, our restraint or hesitance in the comments sections is probably more of a strength than a shortcoming. More blog commenters should be as careful with their words!

    I guess all of this is just my way of saying, "Cool posts and awesome comments, you guys!"

    It's been a pleasure.