One of my favourite movies growing up was The Incredible Shrinking Woman with Lily Tomlin. The main character, Pat Kramer, is an ordinary woman who gets sprayed by some perfume that causes her to shrink. Shrink to the point where she tumbles into the garbage disposal in the sink. Shrink to the point where she becomes microscopic -- not discernible to the naked eye.
I liked the movie because what child wouldn't want to crawl into their dollhouse? But it was also scary to see her shrink, and as an adult, I watch the trailer with not a small amount of trepidation. Who the hell wants to watch herself disappear? Watching things or people fade away can be frightening. You know, people... blog comment sections...
There has been talk around the blogosphere about comments tapering off; where there were once vibrant conversations, there are now only a few people talking. And yet the same people report that their overall stats haven't fallen. Readership for the most part remains constant, but the discussion has tapered off, almost as if it has been sprayed with experimental perfume and we're witnessing the Incredible Shrinking Blog.
Like the film, we sort of know what caused it, but we don't (1) understand how it happened or (2) how to undo it for our own space. I mean, it's obvious to the viewer (and from my vague memories, the characters in the film) that the perfume kicks it off. But we (and they) don't know how this perfume is causing someone to shrink nor how to reverse the effects and get Lily Tomlin back to her normal size. Replace the perfume with the terms diffusion and consumption and you have the cause (yet not the how or the solution) to the blog comment situation.
Diffusion refers to all those other social media sites which are absorbing the conversation. Look below this post: BlogHer provides the proof in the pudding. They bring the Twitter conversation, Facebook conversation, and actual comments all into a single space below the post. If only comments were visible, you'd think that people weren't talking much at all. But if you start seeing the tweets and Facebook comments (not to mention the numerous other social media sites from Google+ to Pinterest), you realize that the same depth of conversation is taking place; it's just diffused across multiple mediums.
And it doesn't really matter if you are on other social media sites. The reality is that a lot of your readers are there, and that's where they're talking. Hence why there is nothing you can do on that front to shunt people back to the comment box; nor would you want to get rid of all those other social media spaces in order to bring the conversation back to a single place. Social media sites bring conversation as well as take it away, plus they fill other community-building gaps.
Consumption refers to the medium on which people are reading blog posts. Many people read on their phone or tablet, which makes commenting annoying at best. Add in obstacles such as auto-correct and word verification forms, and it sometimes feels like leaving a comment is more work that it's worth. I have a tendency to read a post, mark it unread so I'll return to it once I'm on the computer and can comment easier, and then unfortunately let things pile up so I never get to it at all. Good intentions; poor follow through. I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only person who is reading blogs in a medium that is not conducive to participation on said blogs in the same way that computers are the perfect medium for jumping into the conversation. It's one thing to type out 140 characters from your phone. It's another to write a comment with 50+ words, pulling in quotes from the main post to highlight your point. Blogs were created for a medium (computers) on which they are no longer the sole way they are being consumed.
So we know the likely cause -- diffusion and consumption -- but we don't know how these things that were supposed to add to the conversation ultimately took it away. Do blog comment sections need to change in format to reflect our new needs? Should blogging software pull in all mentions of the post across the Internet and compile them under the post so people can see all the threads of the conversation in one place? Should we create a method for a person leaving comments from their phone to be able to bypass the need to fill in all the fields such as name, email address, blog url and only focus on the comment box (moving from field to field is one of my problems)? What about everyone getting rid of comment verification boxes so people don't have to suffer through captcha guesswork in order to leave a comment from their phone?
And we don't know how to reverse it, to bring back the conversation to the comment box. I have to admit that I'd rather have it there than in other places because I like being able to return to other people's thoughts and see them in conjunction with my own. Words on other social media sites are great in the moment, but irretrievable in the far future. But I don't want to give up talking about blog posts in other social media spaces. And I'd never want to give up reading from my phone or tablet because the reality is that I also read more now than I did before. I'm more likely to read a blog post while I'm waiting somewhere alone whereas I used to only read blog posts on the computer. And if I couldn't get to a computer, I couldn't read.
The only thing I think people can do to bring back the conversation is to talk openly about it. Tell your readers that you also love hearing their thoughts in your comment section so you have it in the future. Make it easy for people to comment by getting rid of obstacles such as difficult-to-utilize from a phone log ins and word verification forms. Or, change the way you view the change: accept that diffusion doesn't mean drop-off. There may be fewer comments than before, but there is more conversation all around. The reality is that the blogosphere has always waxed and waned, and perhaps we're just seeing it at one point of the cycle. Even without doing anything, we may find that the conversation makes its way back to the comment box on its own.
At the very end of The Incredible Shrinking Woman, the main character -- now so tiny that no one can see her -- falls into some household cleaners which cause her to regrow to her normal size. Of course, the movie finishes with the open question of whether she stops growing once she reaches her original height which is answered with the shoe splitting open.
How amazing would that be? If not only did people figure out a way to reverse the trend and bring people back into the heyday of blog conversations but caused those conversations to grow exponentially. Think of how much good could be accomplished by people actually talking things out.
Have you noticed a drop in comments through your overall blog traffic remains pretty much the same (obviously, if your traffic has dropped, there are different causes at work)? Are you conversing on other social media sites about other people's blog posts?
Photo Credit: Miniature Blog via Shutterstock.
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