Is commenting dead? Or is it more alive than ever before? No and Yes. And Yes.
Here are some thoughts on why.
DARN IT, I JUST STARTED BLOGGING AND NOW YOU…
Comment fragmentation, as it is called, has a lot of people talking on blogs and Twitter and FriendFeed. The fear is that commenting on blogs is dead or at least 2/3 dead.
Is this true? Are comments really dead or dying?
The rumor of the death of the blog comment may have been over-exaggerated, but there’s actually a poignant truth to it. Evolution via natural selection suggests that change is almost always inevitable.
Rather than the extinction of an entire means of dialogue, mutations are spawning new species of commenting tools (think FriendFeed). As these tools proliferate across the interwebs, comment fragmentation becomes increasingly more common in spite of tools to fold them back into original blogs.
As comment fragmentation grows, a critical mass of comment fragmentation builds (see the red line pictured above). This critical mass creates a bottleneck in the flow of information across the web which traditional blog commenting may eventually face.
Think of a population bottleneck as a horizontal version of Seth Godin’s Dip, except a lot crueler. Population size is the number of traditional blog comments, assuming services like FriendFeed do what Robert Scoble expects them to do in the coming years or even months.
The Recovery line would be the new species of commenting that will evolve over time. Extinction is possible, of course, but not inevitable. There are tons of businesses on the web which have yet to adopt blogging. And when they do, blog comments won’t necessarily be their primary purpose of the blog. Rather original content would be.
I believe that these bottlenecks will not extinct comments per se, but they will help to evolve new forms. In fact, that’s just what population bottlenecks can do: they help spur novel changes that lead to new ways of doing things.
SURVIVAL OF THE REMARKABLIST
Remarking will become an almost standard feature of future web-based socializing (personal and professional). Those vectors of remarking which are easiest to use and to help spread messages, will be the ones increasingly adopted.
Right now FriendFeed, Twitter, Disqus, ping.fm, etc. don’t hold a substantial share of the interwebs. But eventually, such services will go mainstream. When that critical mass hits, traditional commenting will likely reach its bottleneck.
THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF COMMENTING
So I don’t think this a time to mourn the death of comments. Rather there’s a rebirth of the original spirit of blogging which is now taking place. That spirit was in part was to establish a place on the web to have a *conversation*.
Blogging also evolved into a sort of financial instrument. That also will see change. Comment fragmentation will have positive and negative financial impacts on many blogs.
Yes, as services like FriendFeed and its ilk evolve and grow in web presence, the traditional dynamic of leaving comments on a blog’s post will likely erode. Bloggers will still be a vast source of content, but the comment-genie is now out of the blog.
Even with WordPress plugins and other tools to loop web-wide comments back into posts comments are now going to be everywhere.
Commenting is an important link between people online. There’s tons of revenue in comments. Tons. You can strip-mine them of course and hope that you have control over the selective pressures of the web. Or you can accept the fact that our world is now getting asymptotically closer to a perfect word-of-mouth paradigm of information flow.
If the brains over at FriendFeed are smart (and I think they are), they will launch an algorithmic revenue-sensing model that will tap into the commenting–not exactly in the way AdSense works, but by exploiting all of the social data being generated between and among people.
COMMENTING IS DEAD. LONG LIVE COMMENTING!
If you’re worried about the evaporation of comments on your blog, remember: your commentary is now being published without much effort on your part. If you play it right and get involved in the new ways of communicating then you just might figure out a way to make good returns from those small efforts.
So keep talking. Keep blogging. Keep commenting. Commenting is content and content is still king. It always will be.
Commenting is dead. Long live commenting!
Image source: Wikipedia, markup via Skitch