Comments. They have really been around a long time in many other avatars.
We are familiar with letters exchanged between writers and poets, review letters published in newspapers, of recommendations by kings and patrons of court writers and popular playwrights, of records of isolated instances of reader reactions recorded in commentaries by established critics.
These responses from readers are invaluable to us now to realize how readers reacted to pieces when they were first published and how those reactions shaped those authors themselves and what the reading public was like when something was published.
But “comments” in their present incarnation are something new. They are instant reactions which are visible to everyone, not just to the writer, and so lead to lateral discussions between writer and reader and between readers. They are non-hierarchical in the sense that the exchanges could happen between anyone–not necessarily established players. Sometimes the comments could actually be pingbacks from other posts, equally long and involved as the original post, equally well thought out.
I have been very fortunate to have had many great commenters. They are great readers, fun, and often the comments themselves have been great posts by themselves.
I thought I’d use the post today to think about how comments have helped me. I tried to list a few kinds of comments I’ve received, which of course, is an artificial classification. If you can think of other kinds of comments, please feel free to keep adding more.
1. Comments that encourage: These tell me readers liked the post. Even two or three words to express this sentiment brightens my day. The best ones also tell me why the reader liked the post and which parts stood out. They make me feel I’m on the same wavelength as my readers.
2. Comments that express a shared experience: These are responses to something in the post that struck a chord in the reader. They often describe a similar experience that happened to the reader in a different context. I am always in awe of these comments because they often extend whatever I was talking about in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. These often turn out short, complete compositions by themselves talking about an experience.
3. Comments that interpret or extend: Sometimes, one reader will interpret something in my post which another reader will comment on from another angle. This will lead to a discussion about a point made in the blog. I find these discussions highly valuable because again, these comments make me think about the various kinds of meaning my posts create intentionally or unintentionally.
[For example, my previous two posts talked about telling stories. This led a reader to think about God as writer from a Christian perspective to which another reader posted an involved comment about the author as God from a secular point of view. It was an exchange of ideas. I had not thought of these directions my post could go into when I wrote it.]
4. Comments that refute, disagree with or challenge a point: These comments are great when they provide constructive criticism. They always help me re-think points, make my points stronger or simply acknowledge counterarguments better.
5. Comments that show wit and humour: I love these. They add the great light touch which I sometimes lack when I get too serious or save me when I am attempting to be funny. Or they just create the atmosphere of friendly exchange which any discussion in the public sphere should have.
To those whose posts I have commented on: When I read a post that triggers thoughts in my head, they dart about my (mostly) empty skull and I have to have an outlet. The space for commenting that you’ve left open has helped me channelize my responses to your posts. I would have burst otherwise!
To those who have commented on my own blog posts: A big thank you to all who keep taking the time to comment on my posts. I always read each and every comment on my blog and they always help me grow as a writer/ blogger.
Addendum: My response to davexrobb’s question “Any thoughts on how to generate more feedback?” under comments might be of interest to some of you. Also, a reader just alerted me (through the comments section below 🙂 ) to a post by WordPress on comments: Quick Tip: Be the Perfect Guest.