Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Day 28 task - My Commenting Strategy

Tena koutou katoa

to you all

The task for Day 28

Write a post on my commenting strategy.

Like a lot of people who I’ve commented with in this Challenge, I am new to commenting. The long and the short of it is that most of my commenting was done in the last three to four weeks. Have I a commenting strategy? Well, it sort of became one, though I wouldn’t have called it a strategy.

A pot-shot commenter

I suppose what there was of a strategy evolved from me being a pot-shot commenter in the first week to something less random. Though during the first few days, I felt a bit like Robert Redford in the film, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid - ready to shoot a comment at any blog that moved. But the trigger-happy approach would have become boring if it weren't for fun in meeting new bloggers.

Blogging as part of my strategy

That’s when I decided to start my own blog. I might have given up if I hadn’t made that very important strategic move, for there was little pay-off (if that’s the right word for it) that I could see other than when I got a reply to a comment that I’d put on someone else’s blog.

Come back to my pad

Having my own blog meant that my commenting strategy changed in a subtle way, for I was almost subconsciously writing comments with a view to pulling someone’s interest in what I had to say. My secret hope was that someone might want to have a look at the posts on my blog and, perhaps, leave a comment.

Commenting with a view to discussion

I enjoy discussions. Early in the piece, I found that simply agreeing with a poster or commenter, which is comfortable and nice to do and was a firm strategy for sharing ideas, didn’t really stimulate vigorous discussion.

Being the devil’s advocate was a strategy that returned some good results, though I found that it was difficult to maintain a discussion for long unless I had some empathy for the advocate. It was certainly more likely to bring forward healthy debate than one where my comment simply agreed with the poster. Contrast this attempt, being first to comment in agreement on Clay Burell’s post, which returned a feeble reaction added as an after-thought to a list of beefy replies, with this more antagonistic approach to another post by Clay that seemed to generate more energy in discussion.

Does the topic have real comment fodder?

Having enthusiasm for a topic on someone's post seemed to be a key way for me find easy fodder for a comment. Also, if I was looking for a discussion to get into, it was always best to get in as quickly as possible. I found the RSS feed useful for this. The topic also had to have some element that I could write a comment on, some thread that I knew something about that could possibly spark further discussion. Check out the reply that I got to my comment on Jeff Nugent's post.

Sometimes this happens serendipitously, and the subject of the topic doesn't need to be particularly philosophical for it to propagate discussion. Check out this comment on Tony Karrer's post that sparked a whole series of unexpectedly diverse conversations where contributors seemed to dive in to what can only be described as a commenting free-for-all.

So in summary

My commenting strategy, although it's still in its infancy, is shaping into something that is giving me a lot of fun. It's still flexing its little fluffy wings. Quite frankly, it has barely permitted me to fly the nest yet.

Ka kite anō
Catch ya later


Christine Martell said...

I'm interested in your idea about jumping in early. The only reason I am early this time is because I started at the top of my feed reader instead of the bottom as I usually do.

With the comment challenge, I have frequently felt I am following the end of the conversations rather than being in the thick of them. Some of it is time zone, being on the West Coast of the US, it seems the rest of the world has already done the day as I get up in the morning.

I'm wondering about this in relationship to posting frequency. If you really want to have full discussions, I wonder if it helps to post every other day just to let the world catch up before you initiate your next idea?

Anonymous said...

Ken, the response to your comment was "feeble" because you basically said "I agree" and "I wish I could disagree," though you took several paragraphs to say it.

My take on the comment challenge thing, and your "strategy" is evidence, is that it turns what should be simple, spontaneous, authentic conversation into something very unnatural.

Back to the basics: comment when you want, don't comment when you don't, and certainly don't try to manipulate other writers into wasting their time responding by using "strategies" aimed at generating a reply.

I'm part of a sizable block of people who disagree with the results and approach of the whole comment challenge thing. On my own blog, I had a high success rate at identifying commenters there for the "challenge," versus those there for intrinsic reasons. That speaks volumes about the difference between authentic and contrived commenting.

Even the longer thread we had was less natural than most. At times it seemed like you were intentionally trying to provoke more responses (your strategy, it seems now), which can come off as trolling.

I'd be interested to read a critical reflection of the whole comment challenge enterprise here. Doesn't seem like you've questioned how the experiment changes the nature of the thing experimented on.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Christine - Yes I mentioned this because I felt that I also had an advantage in being in New Zealand - the zone is important.

Of course, New Zealand is the first country in the world to experience any particular day, according to the date on the calendar. It's rather a cheat in itself :-)

Ka kite

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia Ora Clay.

I will attempt to clarify some points here:

Despite the aim of the post, I never actually claimed to have a strategy for commenting. After all, I’m a beginner and I did not beat about the bush over that important matter.

In my opening words in the post I said, “like a lot of people who I’ve commented with in this Challenge, I am new to commenting.” Then in referring to my commenting technique I said that “I wouldn’t have called it a strategy.”

I went on to discuss various possible strategy tactics, since that’s what the post, as an assignment, was supposed to be about.

You may have got me wrong – I had no intension of using the devil’s advocate for soliciting discussion, principally for the reason stated in my post where I said “I found that it was difficult to maintain a discussion for long unless I had some empathy for the advocate”.

So basically I didn’t use the devil’s advocate approach to any practical extent. I certainly did not use such an approach when I submitted my comments to your posts.

The opinions I tried to convey in those comments and all subsequent ones on the same posts were not any attempt at taking the “devil’s advocate”. Neither were they in any way submitted with the intention to waste your time. I apologise here if that was what you took from my comments after you had read my latest post.

I have since revisited the first comment that I made on your blog. There is nothing in it that I would describe as bogus argument. Rest assured that there was no intention to wind you up by wording my comment the way I did. I tried to express my thoughts as succinctly and as lucidly as I could.

But, hey, perhaps some of what you have picked up is a characteristic of my novice ‘voice’ - my inexperienced approach to discussing something on a blog.

You said that “even the longer thread we had was less natural than most. At times it seemed like you were intentionally trying to provoke more responses (your strategy, it seems now), which can come off as trolling.” I would be interested in examining an analysis of how you thought this “was less natural than most”.

I wasn’t intentionally trying to provoke more responses from you (or anyone else). But if in stating my opinion it happens to provoke a response, would not that be what’s expected in discussion?

If it’s not my intension to disagree, then all I have to do is ignore all posts that I disagree with and only comment on those that state opinions similar to my own. Do you follow that principle when commenting?

You also said “I'd be interested to read a critical reflection of the whole comment challenge enterprise here. Doesn't seem like you've questioned how the experiment changes the nature of the thing experimented on.” Your point about the experiment is a philosophical one.

It is not unlike the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle that asserts that one cannot observe a particular phenomenon without the act of observing having a significant effect on subsequent events related to the same phenomenon. Like most experiments conducted in complex systems, it is often difficult to observe what would have happened if some influencing factor had not been engaged. Hence, in this instance, it is extremely difficult to run a control.

With the exception of yourself, how can anyone predict what you might have said about my comment if I hadn’t written it the way I did? On this score though, I can give some insight to how I write comments.

It is simply that I try to state as clearly as I can the precise meaning that I wish to convey. Given that “the blog” is an environment where body language, tone of voice and other subliminal indicators are completely absent (emoticons aside) I check as carefully as I can that what I’ve written is what I wish to put across. Don’t you use a similar approach when you write a comment?

And now I come to the points where I agree with you.
You said “the response to your comment was ‘feeble’ because you basically said ‘I agree’ and ‘I wish I could disagree,’ though you took several paragraphs to say it.” You are right. But I believe that discussion usually tends to centre on differences of opinion, however slight, rather than on points of agreement.

In the comment you referred to, I was somewhat disappointed that all I could do was to give my support, for the simple reason that I’d enjoyed our previous discussion sparked by my comment on another of your posts (that latter discussion centred on our differences of opinion rather than on where we agreed).

I’d expected you to respond feebly and you did so. Furthermore, the reference to that response in my post was not meant as a criticism. My point was that agreement rarely fosters robust debate. Frankly, I would expect a less than vigorous response to any comment that I submitted where the poster was already in agreement with the commenter. Nevertheless I felt that there were other points that I’d attempted to bring forward in giving my support to you. And your response was one of pleasant agreement.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

BK said...

I'm here for the pleasure of it all. I know that when I land on your blog, Ken, I'm going to find some wonderful and refreshing writing and if this discovery was all that happened as a result of this month, I'd be totally satisfied.
And there's more...
I have been reading lots of posts and leaving a bit of me behind. I have returned to conversations and left a bit more. For sure, I keep it positive. I enjoy the connections I am making, expanding my virtual connections with a community of educators that I can't really do with just Twitter. Challenges, are wonderful to keep us involved for a substantial amount of time.
I love writing to a challenge and then clicking around to see how others respond.
It's been fantastic. Let's continue the connections.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

My Dear Bonnie!

You make me feel as if I'm one of the sponsors! But you are so right. The Challenge has been great, and it's all about people and meeting them and sharing with each other through the connections. It is a gift.


CB said...

Real quick, Ken:

1. I respond when a) I disagree, b) I agree and want to extend, and c) I agree but want to qualify.

As for some of the comments that seemed meant to provoke, to claim that a problem like global warming is only a problem if a person thinks it's so, or that a coin-toss by a child that lands 20 times in a row as heads is as valid a scientific "proof" as fossil evidence or whatever - both of these seemed disingenuous to me. But as I said in my post, it's very possible you're just more fond of abstract theorizing than I am (I'm pragmatic above all).

Anyway, back to marking papers.

I think the comment challenge erred in many ways. Comments should be fairly short, spontaneous, to the point, clear. They should above all be intrinsically motivated. The idea of 'assigning' comments is just bizarre to me. I'm glad the challenge is over, because it made my own blogging conversations feel inauthentic and left me with the dilemma of trying to politely answer lots of comments that only seemed stopovers before the next dashed-to comment, or rudely blowing them off because they didn't seem authentic.

Call me a curmudgeon, but that's honestly how the whole thing felt. Okay, there were exceptions....

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Clay - You think that's quick?
This is quick!

Ka kite

Anonymous said...

Commenting is part of my daily routine for two main reasons. 1) It's an important part of my personal learning; my learning is enhanced by reading other people's post and interacting through commenting. 2) Over the years people have supported and mentored me so I like to pay this back by supporting others especially new bloggers.

I totally agree with Clay that 1. I respond when a) I disagree, b) I agree and want to extend, and c) I agree but want to qualify. Exception to this are 1) I will comment to support a blogger however I will always try to do this in a way to add to the conversation 2) Thank a blogger if they have linked to a post.

But I do want to clarify Clay's comments about the comments on his posts. Clay I have checked through your comments. From what I can tell there are only three people who were part of the Comment Challenge who wrote comments on your posts in May. One of whom stop participating in the Challenge early. There is one other person who mentions comments written on your posts but wrote those comments in April.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tena korua!

@Sue - Wow! You certainly know how to do your homework. Thanks for the summary of your reasons for commenting - brief and fundamentally sound. I concur with those.

@Clay - I'm a practitioner who recognises that theory is useful; practical scientists tend to follow this principle.

You said that some of what I said seemed disingenuous to you. I think you misunderstood my text.

I'll be brief :-)

The first step in solving any problem is recognising that it exists. Simply by stating there is a problem does not permit it to be seen as a problem by those who don't think it exists.

Global warming? Now there's a problem.

Ka kite