What makes a blog a community? And are such communities indeed highly fickle?

blogging, people and relationships, society, technology

I’ve spent much of this weekend dealing with my blogfeeds.  I have well over 200 (haven’t bothered to count ‘em exactly), and I’m tens of thousands of posts behind.  Some feeds I’ve just had to (often regretfully) unsubscribe from, others I’ve “reset to zero” (admittedly just masking a larger problem), but—most interestingly to me—I’ve become more acutely aware that some blogs have a thriving community and others do not.

Some examples of blogs I perceive to have strong communities:

What indicates a strong community on a blog? (I’m not counting “meta” sites like Digg, Slashdot, MeFi, etc., by the way)

  • Entries tend to have many comments.
  • Commenters tend to stick around over time (there aren’t just a lot of one-off commenters on individual entries).
  • Commenters aren’t just “talking” to the blogger, but also to each other.

So what helps establish and maintain a strong blog community?  Some guesses:

  • Reasonably frequent posts (2+ a week)
  • EASY commenting (e.g., no insane captchas, required registrations, etc.)
  • A fixed topic that fascinates a lot of people (politics, gossip, sex, techie stuff, etc.)
  • Many readers (though, perhaps unsurprisingly, this is clearly neither necessary nor sufficient)
  • Popularity of the blogger in real life (due to career, good looks, large friend base, perceived influence, etc.)
  • Popularity of the blogger online.

The last item is complex enough to merit its own subitems ;-).  Popular folks online recursively attract more popularity because:

  • Their blogs are linked from many other sites (more traffic, greater perception of “importance”)
  • Commenters (rightly) perceive that posting on their blogs will attract attention to *them* (the commenters).
  • Additionally, commenters (again, often correctly) assume that A-listers may notice them and think more highly of them, link to them, etc.

Note, by the way, that “compelling, original content” and “engaging writing” don’t seem to correlate with the strength of blog communities.  I have plenty of blogs in my feed list that have amazing content and feature outstanding writing… but are devoid of any measurable sense of community.  Conversely, I’ve seen quite a few blogs (no, not the ones I listed at top!) that tend to offer somewhat stale writing and uncompelling content, yet still feature a thriving community.  I suppose it’s much like the Entertainment world at large, eh?  Popular megab(r)ands rake in the fans and the bucks while many independent artists starve for funds and attention.  But I digress.

*  *  *

I do have a somewhat obnoxious theory, though.  I think about 2% of blog readers account for 98% of blog comments.  The LC:  Loquacious Commenterati.  Often un- or independently-employed, quite often geeky (sitting at a computer all day and often into the night). 

Why does this matter?

  1. Blog communities are likely to be less diverse than one might wish.  My very-smart-and-interesting parents, for instance, do e-mail, send IMs, read newspapers and look at photos online, but I am fairly certain they’ve never commented on a blog.
  2. Blog communities (like any communities, I suppose) can be fickle, both due to selfish reasons (A-lister no longer works for Impressive Company, cute blogger is no longer single) or more extrinsic reasons (commenters get demanding full-time jobs, start getting laid, start having families—though not necessarily all at once!)
  3. Blog communities can pressure bloggers to alter the frequency, topical focus, transparency, monetizeability, and other aspects of their blog, even when such modifications are not necessarily in the bloggers’ interests.

With all of that said, I must nonetheless insist that I am not attempting to denigrate all LCs (of which, admittedly, I am often one myself).  Many are my kind friends, colleagues I greatly respect, and so on.  But in the aggregate, I still find the seeming-capriciousness of blog communities and LCs to be both fascinating and occasionally disconcerting.

*  *  *

So now, in a rather ironic but not-unexpected twist, I welcome your comments below.

  • Why do some blogs boast a thriving community, whereas others are commently-baren?
  • If you’re an LC, what motivates you?  Do you feel that motivates most LCs?
  • Are blog communities and LCs really as fickle as I suggest?  And if so, is that even a bad thing?
13 comments… add one
  • Joseph Hunkins Aug 26, 2006

    I think these are good points about LCs though I’m guessing it’s more like 10-20% in the commenter pool rather than 2%.  In tech blog communities usually seem centered around key, engaging folks at important companies.  e.g. Cutts, Zawodny, Scoble, Fake, etc.

    But IMHO blogs SUCK as communities even as they are replacing forums as the place to “hang out” because they relegate comments to such low status.  I’d like to see some hybridized blog/forum emerge.

  • M Aug 28, 2006

    Check out http://www.yarnharlot.ca

    That’s community for ya!

  • Adam Aug 28, 2006

    Joseph…

    > I?d like to see some hybridized blog/forum emerge.

    How might such a beast look and work? 🙂

    And M… wow, that’s a pretty popular blog it seems!  Is it yours?

  • Joseph Hunkins Aug 28, 2006

    Adam – Hey – maybe something like Yarn’s blog which seems to have an enormous number of contributors *and* commenters?

    I don’t have a good solution in mind but it seems to me the analog offline is something like a party or informal conference space (e.g. the Meet the Engineers session at Google Dance though it ended too early for me to introduce myself to … you!). 

    In that environment there are “conversation leaders” who are the center of attention and gather people interested in a specific topic, but you can also break off to talk with somebody you just met there.  Blogs seem to suffer from too much focus on the blog author and forums from too much focus on worthless or off topic comments.  Wikis …. just don’t usually work well due to lack of participation.

    I have a feeling the “solution” may come from virtual spaces like SL or game environments which can leverage available technology (e.g. web search, messaging, threaded conversations) with the social component we all seek as primates.

  • Xitanto Aug 28, 2006

    I don’t know… I think you should also bring into the equation how many people visit the site multiple times.

    See my site, http://www.mediahug.com/

    I get 5000 uniques a month, quite a few of which come back weekly or even daily. However, most of the commenters are my own network of friends. *shrug*

  • Philipp Lenssen Aug 29, 2006

    Interesting thoughts. I often think of being the bartender at Google Blogoscoped. I need to make sure everyone sits comfortably, that there’s a good atmosphere, everything’s tidy, and when people have feedback I need to listen and act on it. And of course I need to serve stuff every day, preferably at low prices. Annoying ads or complicated registration systems can be a price too high to pay for many.

  • Joseph Hunkins Aug 29, 2006

    Philipp I think your blog is closer than most and I like the ‘Bartender / BlogTender analogy.  Certainly agree that more than the simplest form of registration is a barrier to communication (Adam – your blog suffers from overkill registration requirements IMHO).

  • Adam Aug 29, 2006

    You know, bartenders… actually multiple bartenders… that’s an image and issue I hadn’t thought of.  Bartender: facilitating conversation and camraderie.  And having more than one, that makes it more social, less about one speaker, more about the community.  Very interesting!  Sadly, I don’t think BLADAM would fit the multiple bartender model, but it would behoove me to actually answer comments more often :-P.

    I think having a relatively consistent theme plays a significant role, whether it involves around a space like consumer electronics or online marketing or even a particular powerful personality.  It provides a rallying point.  Otherwise, you have a bar that serves beer, koolaid, hot dogs, foie gras, and features both a children’s petting zoo and in the other corner naked lap dances.  Definitely a curiosity, but putting-off to too many folks. 😮

    But of course, there are exceptions there, too 😀

    Lastly, Joseph:  I’m a bit surprised and concerned regarding your BLADAM registration comment.  Since registration isn’t required for my blog (just encouraged, to protect nicknames), I’m not sure how I could make it much easier or less onerous to post!  Suggestions? 😀

  • Joseph Hunkins Aug 29, 2006

    Adam – I think I assumed I had to register and log in to comment but that was … wrong.  However I’m spontaneous so perhaps I was just overwhelmed by more verbiage about commenting than I’m used to.

  • Mike Jul 6, 2007

    Im trying to get my SEO blog http://www.webordead.com off the ground. I know there is a lot of competition for this type of blog so im up against it. I do get a few comments though, but most of them tend to be spam. Any tips would be appreciated. 😀

  • Adam Jul 14, 2007

    Joe, this blog is due for an overhaul—thanks for the feedback :-D.

    Mike, some advice for both you… and me!  Include more voices and reach out more in your blog (link out to more folks, throw in shout outs, give kudos, argue with people, etc.).  This not only captures the attention of people who are ego-surfing, but also makes your blog seem more inclusive and interactive.

  • Mike Jul 15, 2007

    Thanks for the tips Adam. I will take them on board. 🙂

  • Mark Mar 3, 2008

    Relation between the authors and visitors of the blog.
    As the author responded to the viewer what he need exactly than it will create a chances for blog to become more than a good community place.

What do you think?