Why do you comment?
I recently asked Why do you blog?, inquiring about why people create content using the various tools available to them. The comments I received were pretty much what I expected, but that's largely because the commenters were mostly people I knew. If you haven't yet answered that question, do please leave a comment on that post: I am genuinely interested in learning why people use the various tools they use.
For example, I recently met someone who uses Twitter exclusively. She has no blog of her own, and isn't overly interested in obtaining one. The conversational nature of micro-blogging services like Twitter fit her style much more comfortably. She also observed that the immediacy of Twitter was a much bigger draw than the comparatively sluggish cycle associated with blogging.
Creating new, (ostensibly) original content on your website, or Facebook, or wherever, is one thing, and it takes a level of intentionality that I think many die-hard bloggers have begun to take for granted. But there's another kind of content one can create, and that's a comment on someone else's blog.
I try to regularly comment on my friends' blogs. I do this mostly because I want to maintain that connection of friendship, but also because I want to encourage them to reciprocate by commenting on my blog. Obviously I know the people writing these blogs -- they're my friends! -- so I have a level of familiarity and insight into the author the colors the way I read their posts, which in turn affects the kind of comment I might leave. Interestingly, I comment more often on the blogs of those friends who I do not see in person regularly.
Beyond my friends, though, I don't think I've left a comment on a website in a long time. Which is odd, really, because I've been wondering why I get so few new comments here on my own blog!
Rarely a day goes by when I don't find some useful piece of information on someone's blog. Usually I'm trying to solve a problem, and find the solution posted to someone's blog by way of a Google search. But sometimes I'm sent a link to review, or just stumble upon something funny/insightful/thought provoking. I never comment on these posts, because I've always felt that a comment saying "Thanks, this was exactly what I needed!" wasn't a particularly useful comment to leave. Upon deeper reflection, though, I wonder how true that opinion is. As a content producer, I genuinely appreciate it when someone posts to my site saying "Thanks", so what prevents me from reciprocating?
I grew up online with Slashdot, which is nigh legendary for the comments it collects. There are deeply thoughtful, intelligent discussions in the Slashdot comments, but there's also an absurd number of offensive comments with no merit whatsoever. I'm seeing much the same now, writing for CrunchGear: the motivations for commenting are far more perplexing than I could ever have imagined. I like to joke that the CrunchGear readers are thoughtful, rational adults, but the CrunchGear commenters are a bunch of jerks. (This is, of course, a stereotype: there are a lot of insightful comments on CrunchGear, and I've enjoyed learning from our more mature commenters.)
For example, the comment thread on a simple product announcement post got totally derailed, almost completely drowning out the legitimate discussion that might otherwise have taken place. I've been insulted for my posts, and my favorite: accused of being on cocaine.
On a big site like CrunchGear, or Slashdot, the John Gabriel Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory comes into play. The relative size of the audience coupled with the safety of anonymity makes it easy to be childish, rude, and reactionary. There are various technical solutions that aim to curb the damage that can be done by malicious commenters, but it's really hard to solve social problems via technology.
So I'm curious: why do you comment? If you don't frequently comment, why not? If you're a content producer, do you want people to leave a simple "Thank you!", or would you prefer a more robust comment?