Why I haven’t replied to your comment

You arrive at Times and Seasons, and you think “I’m home.” You read posts by Russell and Rosalynde and occasionally even Nate, and you agree with them. You feel that this is your community, and that you belong. And then one day you decide to do more than just lurk — you decide to comment. And so you spend a half an hour carefully composing a comment designed to elucidate and amuse. You imagine the smile on Kristine’s face as she catches your allusion to her post from three weeks prior. You ignore the butterflies in your stomach, and you click “Post Comment.” And then you wait for the replies.

You hit “refresh” every hour to see if anyone has replied to your comment. The hours go by, and no one responds. People are busily discussing same-sex marriage in the prior thread, and talking about some philosopher you’ve never heard of in the next thread over, but that one thread with your comment in it, your baby, your contribution to the bloggernacle — it remains silent as a tomb. And you start to feel resentful, disappointed, cynical. Why is no one replying to your comment?

Late the next day, the silence is broken. The Recent Comments bar shows that “Mike” has posted something. Surely it’s a well-thought reply to your contribution. You quickly click over to Mike’s comment, and you read: “Come play poker at www.online-poker.com.” Dang. It’s just a spam that slipped by the filter. And twenty minutes later, the admins notice “Mike,” and even that is gone. It’s official. Your comment will never get a reply. The blog is placid, its surface like glass; the stone that you cast in has not left a single ripple.

Why did nobody respond to your comment? Why did we, who seem to be nice people, choose not to validate your participation in the blog?

It could be a lot of things.

(1) Most likely, it’s the tripple-whammy combination: limited time, information overload, and divergent interests. Let’s talk about all three of these briefly, because they combine to form a potent combination.

(a) The first element of the triple whammy is limited time. There are days when I can more or less blog all day (not in a single block, but where I check in regularly). And there are days when work heats up, when I’m traveling or in a deposition or something, and I’m essentially cut off from blogging for stretches. There are times when I have family needs that keep me off of the blog. Because Real Life(tm) tends to intervene, it’s quite normal for me to be more or less blog-inactive for days on end; less often, for weeks or more.

(b) This combines with the second element, information overload. We get upwards of 100 comments each day. On a busy day, we’ll go over 200; on a very busy day, we’ll pass 300. That’s a lot of comments to keep track of. Yours can quickly disappear below the line.

(c ) Finally, the third whammy is the divergent interests and skills of the different bloggers. Perhaps your comment was a pithy note about how Nietzsche relates to the D & C. Perhaps it’s eactly the sort of thing that Jim or Russell would enjoy very much, and that would probably elicit a response from either of them. But Jim is out of town that day, and Russell is tied up at work, and the only permabloggers who read your comment are Kaimi, Gordon, and Julie, all of whom (for purposes of this example) think that Nietzsche is a boring hack not worth discussing. And so your comment is ignored, not because it’s something that no one at T & S thinks is exciting, but because of unfortunate bad timing. You’ve become a victim of the triple whammy.

In my opinion, the tripple whammy has to be the single most likely reason why any particular comment is ignored. And the tripple whammy is not your fault. You can do everything right and lose comments. It’s the sad reality of a blog as busy and divergent as this one.

But let’s be thorough — what else might it be?

(2) I’ll try to say this as politely as possible: Perhaps you have inadvertently missed one or more of the elements that would make your comment a likely candidate for replies.

Let’s go over a few possibilities — not meant as criticism, but as a kind of generally directed attempt at constructive feedback.

(a) Perhaps your comment is either too long or too short to make for good blog conversation. For example, Jim posts about a scripture, and your comment is “I really like that scripture too.” Now there’s nothing wrong with that comment. But it’s unlikely to elicit further replies. On the flip side, if you post a 2500-word rebuttal comment, many readers will simply skip over it as their eyes glaze over.

(b) Perhaps your comment is too eclectic for others to understand. You may realize that you’ve structured your comment as a chiasm and worked in references to Shakespeare’s problem plays in every other line, but the rest of us are unlikely to grasp that on first reading. And let’s face it, with 200 comments a day, a first reading is all that you’re likely to get. So don’t make the comment unnecesarily complicated. Similarly, don’t forget to fill in the blanks — if’ you’re replying to a prior comment, note that “Ben writes __” to start your comment rather than just saying “I agree” or “that’s wrong”; it may be unclear who you’re agreeing with, especially if other comments are active in that thread.

(c ) Perhaps everyone is sick of the topic. In particular, threads on a topic like abortion or same-sex marriage often start out hot, with dozens of comments in the first hours as everyone stakes out a position and angrily denounces their opponents. After a certain point, however, that gets old. And when that happens, those threads can die suddenly. (One sign that your thread many be dying is “chupacabra!” comments from danithew or Steve, who perform a valuable function as thread killers.)

(d) If you’re relatively new to the blog, perhaps it’s that others aren’t sure who you are or where you stand, and are hesitant to reply to you. There is a natural shyness among blog readers, which may take a little bit of time to relax. This isn’t anything against you. (More on this below).

(e) And an important possibility that is quite positive: Perhaps your comment was just so good that it needs no follow-up. If you’ve summed up the issues in a cogent way and shown decisively that a particular argument fails or succeeds, perhaps there is nothing more to say.

So, what should you do if you didn’t get the replies you wanted, and you feel that your comment is ignored?

Well, I can start out with a few suggestions of what not to do. First, please don’t take it personally and think that T & S hates you. If we hated our readers, after all, we probably wouldn’t be blogging. Second, please don’t post a follow-up saying “why did no one respond to my comment?” As well-intentioned as those may be, they invariably tend to come across as whiny.

What you might consider doing is posting a substantive self-reply. Such as

“Well, in my last comment I wondered what it meant that Mary saw the resurrected Christ first. I guess no one wants to take me up on it. But in any case, I’ve been thinking about the issue more, and I thought of a few possibilities that I didn’t mention in my earlier comment. For example . . .”

That gives the bloggers and readers a new reason to notice your comment. If done well, it’s quite possible that such a follow-up will spark the conversation you had originally sought.

A second possibility is e-mailing one of the permabloggers. We generally try to be responsive to e-mails. On the other hand, this carries some risk — if the reason why Jim didn’t respond on the blog is that he’s out of town at a conference, he’s also unlikely to get to your e-mail until days later, and he may be so flooded by post-travel e-mail catching-up that your e-mail also gets ignored.

A third possibility is to e-mail another reader. We have a great community of readers. Without wanting to put words in anyone’s mouth, I suspect that if you e-mailed any of the regular commenters — Steve, Clark, danithew, Bryce, Kevin, D., William Morris, Geoff, or Dave, for example, just to name a few possibilities — and said “I just commented yesterday on the T & S thread about ___. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that area” that you might get some responses. (E-mail addresses aren’t visible for commenters on T & S, but many of our commenters have their own blogs or have their address available online. In addition, the old “drop me a line” comment works well: “Steve, I’d like to discuss this with you, please e-mail me at . . .”).

If you’re new, you may want to try posting a few more comments. As your name crops up more often, it may start to become familiar, and readers may start to get a feel for what you think, and feel more comfortable addressing you and replying to you. If you have a common name like David or John, or a duplicate name of a common blogger like Nate or Clark, try to use a distinctive handle. We’ve come to know “a random John” and “John H.” and they’re very different people. In the absence of a unique posting name, we might have a hard time getting to know one John from the other.

One hint which may or may not help is that comment posting has its own unique dynamics. Most people read comments from the front page or from the Recent Comments list on the sidebar. Because those are the main paths to comments, the risk of your comment going unnoticed will be higher if you comment on an inactive thread during the time that another thread is particularly active. So for example, let’s say that Frank’s Economics of Mormonism thread is very active, drawing 20 comments an hour, and you comment on an old thread of Nate’s. The problem is that your comment will be pushed off of the main sidebar (which lists the 20 most recent comments) within an hour of posting. And it’s on an older post which is no longer on the front page. And so you have less than an hour for someone to notice your comment, and reply to it, to perhaps reactivate that old thread. Otherwise, with your comment off of the sidebar and in an inactive thread, it is unlikely to be looked at again for days. The take-home point is that if you have a thought to add to an older thread, and you really want to increase the chance that someone will reply, the strategic approach is to post your comment at a less-busy time (such as an evening or during the week-end) when it’s not going to be bumped from the sidebar so quickly.

Finally, please member that your comment may well have been appreciated by readers, even if it did not receive a reply. I can’t emphasize this enough. Hundreds of people have read your comment and enjoyed it. But just like you before, they are lurking and perhaps commenting about it at home. So imagine all those hundreds talking about your input!

Anyway, those are some thoughts. I do feel bad that we don’t respond to every comment. I fondly remember the early days of T & S, when we got 20 comments a day, and I read all of them, and responded to many of them. And had I but world enough, and time, I would continue to read all of the comments and reply to many of them. But I often don’t have the time anymore, and neither do my co-bloggers.

And that, constant reader — some combination of the above factors — is probably the reason why we haven’t replied to your comment. Please accept our apologies.

58 comments for “Why I haven’t replied to your comment

  1. This happened once before,
    When I came to your door, no reply.
    They said it wasn’t you,
    But I saw you peep through your window,
    I saw the light, I saw the light,
    I know that you saw me,
    ‘Cos I looked up to see your face.

    lyrics from the Beatles song “No Reply”

  2. Steve,

    No problem, I figured you need all the comments you can get over at BCC. ;)

    You know, our Battlestar Galactica troll showed up recently. (He’s like a bloggernacle Haley’s comet – he shows up once every six months to drops a ton of incomprehensible comments about how the Sci-Fi channel is evil; and/or related screeds about how the bloggernacle must have been bought out by Vivendi and/or NBC since we’re always deleting his comments).

    I’ll make sure to e-mail him the URL of BCC.

  3. Kaimi, I didn’t read your post. It was too long, and my eyes glazed over.

    P.S. Drop me a line!

  4. “(e) And an important possibility that is quite positive: Perhaps your comment was just so good that it needs no follow-up. If you’ve summed up the issues in a cogent way and shown decisively that a particular argument fails or succeeds, perhaps there is nothing more to say.”

    This is what I tell myself. Also, I am quite attractive and independently wealthy. And Batman!

  5. wait a minute… there is a whole line of Battlestar Galactica comments that are filtered from us plebes?

    Battlestar Galactica ROCKS!!!… and, so does Batman.

  6. A 29-paragraph post is an excellent way to remind people that comments can get too long for the average reader. I’m sure you made other points, but my eyes started glazing over at about paragraph 8.

  7. I’ve amended my name as suggested. I wonder if there’s many others out there like me who enjoy ‘trying’ to follow the blogs but feel we don’t know enought long, clever words to express our thoughts. Hopefully the comments of the less-academically gifted are welcome?

  8. My posts were replied to four times (my name actually mentioned!!) on the “Becoming a Productive Adult” thread. Now, truly, I am a grown-up in the blogging world. *Cue reflective theme music, fade to a landscape featuring a dead tree*

  9. UKAnne: Of course non-academic posters are welcome. I think you’ll find that not that many of our threads depend on academic prowess. Of course there are a number that do because all of the permanent bloggers here are, in one way or another, interested in academic matters. But there are a lot of posts here, probably more than not, which have little to do with academic matters or require an academic vocabulary. And your comments are welcome on any of the threads.

  10. I deal with insecurites about the profundity of my comments by convincing myself that everyone is awestruck into silence by them. I imagine that Nate is brought to tears by my inspiring prose, that Adam and Russell have a crisis of political ideology everytime I make a off-hand libertarian remark, and that Jim F. adds every single one of my comments to the syllabus of his philosophy courses.

    Please don’t tell me otherwise, folks, cause I won’t believe you.

    Aaron B

  11. Rights-consciousness has reached yet another stratospheric milestone: I expect someone to comment on everything I have to say.

  12. Alma 30:29
    Now when the high priest and the chief judge saw the hardness of his heart, yea, when they saw that he would revile even against God, they would not make any reply to his words; but they caused that he should be bound; and they delivered him up into the hands of the officers, and sent him to the land of Zarahemla, that he might be brought before Alma, and the chief judge who was governor over all the land.

  13. I knew the Book of Mormon would teach us how to deal properly with evil commenters and spammers!

  14. Given the argumentative nature of so many, not all, the bloggers, I can only assume when someone finds fault with me do they comment. Therefore the silence is said to consent, I must be right!

    : )

  15. Let me take this opportunity to say that maybe part of why a comment does get a response is the fact that the T&S backend is lacking.

    As usual I will point to Slashdot and the features of Slashcode as an example of how to do this right.

    T&S lists all the comments with no structure. Just a big list of comments, one after the other, in the order they were submitted. This does not represent the structure of the conversations. Someone might reply to you in the next post or they might reply 100 posts later. You have no idea.

    Slashcode not only allows readers to select how they wish to view comments with a flat listing for the luddites and nested comments for those who think that conversations have structure, but it also will notify you when someone has responded to your comment. If T&S had this feature I wouldn’t have to go hunting through the same posts day after day to see if Adam Greenwood has cared to respond to one of my inquiries.

    You have a computer people. Use it! It can do all sorts of nifty things automagically.

    T&S is getting to the tipping point. Will it break down or will it make changes that allow it to grow? There are a lot of people here now. Many potentially interesting conversations are cut off because the format doesn’t lend itself to those converstaions. Also, there are a growing number of simply bad posts. Moderation would be helpful.

    Personally, I have been reading here less often because I find the format plus the number of people to be cumbersome.

  16. After blathering on for 3749 words about why nobody responded, I wonder if Kaimi could add another 1000 on how to find what blog I made that great comment on but can’t find now.

  17. When we started M*, one of the things we decided was that we wanted to emphasize the important role that our readers and commenters play in creating community. To this end, we implemented our “Featured comment,” in which we highlight a comment made by one of our readers in the sidebar. Check it out!

    Since at this point in my comment I’m clearly violating the T&S comment policy, I’ll attempt to redeem this comment by giving some on-topic advice. To get replies to your comment, try the golden rule — respond to someone else’s comment in your own, or at least reference another comment, preferably using the commenters name. Doing so acts as an invitation to a specific commenter to respond to you. Also, if you see a comment you like, but don’t have anything to add to it, it’s perfectly fine to add a comment saying, “I liked your comment.” You may not get any response, but you will have given another commenter a chance to say “They like me! They really like me!”

  18. Wow. Due to the ‘largess’ of that response I’ll count it as a response to all my non-responsive comments. Actually I never gave it much thought until Kaimi brought it up. Hmmm. Maybe I should start worrying about my place in the bloggernaccle. Nah. The real world works just fine for me.

  19. As a beloved & admired member of the T&S community, I want to say thank you to all my fans & supporters & give a shout out to Kristine & Danithew especially. I thank Jesus, God, & my mother for their constant care & attention, & President Bush for loving freedom & killing all those who hate it. I want to say, in closing, that accepting the historicity of the Book of Mormon is the key to faith & that The Return of the Jedi was an unmitigated disaster.

  20. Random John: “Also, there are a growing number of simply bad posts.”

    This comment may keep a lot of people from commenting in the future (because they will be worried that you mean them), and this will cut down on the number of posts.

  21. Kingsley, just one correction to your comment. I think you meant to say “& my mother Mary” …

  22. Yes! A response! & a Catholic one, too! You see how easy it is to bypass Kaimi’s triple whammy.

  23. Minerva,

    Is it better to state my opinion on comment quality now when the problem is relatively small or to wait until this place is overrun?

  24. btw, some of the bad comments are mine! It hasn’t stopped me and it shouldn’t stop you.

  25. Random, perhaps you could give some examples (starting with mine, e.g.) of bad comments, & some practical suggestions on how to shore up the border. We illegals are a tricky, tenacious lot, vulgar & unlettered & likely to overrun the world if not checked violently & soon.

  26. UKAnn (#12), I like to read comments with short, clear, easy words. Please write again!

  27. Kaimi, I’m so impressed that someone so entrenched in the inner circle of the biggest bloggernacle blog, such as yourself, managed to articulate so well the feelings of the outer fringe.

    I appreciated your suggestions, but would I think it’s worse when it wasn’t the last comment (although that is a little unnerving wondering if you single-handedly killed the thread). I think it’s even more deflating when it’s a happenin’ rip-roarin’ discussion and comments are flying and so with great trepidation one enters the fray and 100 comments later no one ever noticed.

  28. Only you guys coming to my house and sitting on me will stop my posting.

    also, my husband disconnecting the internet.

    Good explanation, Kaimi.

  29. I’ve always wondered if it’s tacky to edit ones comment after one makes it? For example, in #34, I wrote, “…but would I think it’s worse when…:” and what I meant was, “…but I think it’s worse when…”

  30. Hey folks, we’re playing into Kaimi’s hands! He wrote this post because he was disappointed that his 3/13/05 priesthood lesson post had elicited a mere 8 comments in 24 hours. Now he quickly pecks on his keyboard (and posts it) a hurried draft of a thesis or dissertation for an advanced degree in blogging (I’m sure that some internet site will provide him the sheepskin to prove it). And the result? … we sent him 38 concise comments in the first 4-1/2 hours alone!

    Nice work, Kaimi. (Okay, Steve E., I’ll resist putting a smiley face or wink here.)

  31. Excuse me, but why have none of you responded to my last comment, or at least acknowledged its brillance? I know Steve E. has already printed it out and put it in a museum-quality frame, but what about the rest of you?

    Aaron B

  32. I’m sorry Aaron. If you’re not sharing a funny missionary story/experience I just tend to ignore it. ;)

  33. Nobody has yet proposed marriage to me. I must be a failure as a blogger. (As opposed to a bloggee.)

    (P.S. already married. Sorry.)

  34. Re Sheri Lynn’s comment, #41,

    YES! You certainly are. Don’t forget that, please, dear? /commenting, back to lurking…

  35. I always assume that my comments are so terrible they’ve sent everyone away from the bloggernacle and back to the real world for a while. Ergo, I’m performing a public service. ^_^ Give in to your boredom, and let it flow through you. Good! Gooood!

    Which reminds me, I completely disagree with you, Kinsley. ROTJ is the second best Star Wars movie ever.

    (If one cannot in good conscience compliment someone, can one instead insult them and thereby, hopefully, begin an off-topic flamewar? Is that not too a successful commenting strategy? I mean, if we’re going to compare T&S to Slashdot…)

    I was so happy when someone finally responded to one of my comments the other day. Yet, ironically, the fact that no one comments on my actual blog matters so little to me I haven’t even looked to see if there are any new comments in about two months.

  36. Re: random John’s post #21 — having seen a lot of Slashdot articles and their comments, I’ll agree that it would be cool to have the “thread tree” structure, as long as it doesn’t entail Slashdot commenters’ mouths . . .

    I do rather like the single-thread style, though, since I don’t have to open 46 new windows to follow all the discussions.

  37. Also, people read and post and comment on Mondays and Tuesdays, during the day, more than any other time. If you miss the posting window, you miss the attention span people have to offer.

  38. My opinion as to whether my posts get a response are similar to annegb–I don’t really post to be answered, I post because the thread has triggered my thought process. And, because that happens so rarely any more, by posting that thought, no matter how profound (or not), I can prove that I at least had one.

  39. Bryce I,

    If you think about it, a system such as Slashcode encourages people to do exactly what you suggest. Again, these conversations have structure and the single thread style is purposely obscuring that structure. Bryce, since I am replying to you, why do I have to type your name at the top of this post in an effort to get your attention? What an ugly hack that is. Couldn’t the system allow me to reply directly to your post, and also alert you (if wanted) to the response? Again, this thing is run by a computer! Let the computer do what it does best.

    Alonzo Gaskill was always saying that studying religion was like studying a hole in the ground. He claimed that Catholicism was a hole of fixed width and depth. Eventually you could explore all the dogma and such and be done. Mormonism on the other hand appears to be a small simple hole on the surface, but as you dig it just gets wider and deeper. There is always more to learn.

    In the context of this discussion I take that to mean that conversations about Mormonism can potentially have a huge branching factor. T&S artificially prunes the conversations through its own limited structure. I believe this makes it harder for newbies to be active paticipants than any of the reasons listed above, though they are contributing factors.


    Your comments are only bad if I’m not in the mood for a laugh, which is rare. Or if I shoot Cherry Coke through my nose while reading them and ruin a keyboard.

  40. One item that Kaimi forgot to mention: if your comment seems to have been ignored, do not worry that is has been ignored because it was stupid or idiotic. If you say something stupid or idiotic here, people will generally jump all over it. Take the silence as a backhanded compliment.

  41. a random John, changing T&S now would be a pretty major change likely to confuse and alienate many of its readers. I used to long for threaded discussions here, but I think that now I would resist. I’ve gotten used to the structure of this place. The enforced linearity creates a certain type of conversation.

    One positive is that all comments get read, more or less, by everyone. Threaded discussions allow side conversations to be ignored or lost to those who aren’t involved in it. While this can be a good thing in some circumstances (we’ve talked about implementing threading at M*), I’ve grown to like the way that I have to at least skim all of the comments on a thread here. I catch things I might otherwise miss.

    I’ve left boards that had software I found hard to navigate before, so I understand your frustrations. I don’t think T&S has any major problems yet, though.

  42. Bryce I,

    I don’t think that the software here is especially hard to navigate, I just think that it is holding the place back from its potential.

    When you say, ” I don’t think T&S has any major problems yet, though.” do you mean that when it does have major problems it should change? When is the right time to tackle a scalability problem? When a few people have to get used to a slightly different interface or when lots of people have to? I guess the answer depends on how big of a problem you perceive it to be.

    Even if they want to keep the limiting single thread structure, you could still have notifications of replies. Is it good to force everyone to watch the “most recent comments” bar like a hawk to see if there has been any reply in a thread that you posted to and then hope that it is a reply to your query? I think this is a problem and it is getting bigger as the comment volume grows. It used to be that the recent comments list covered the past day, now it might cover the past 20 minutes.

    One final example of interface silliness, if I am reading a comment, is it helpful to wait till the end of the comment to know who is speaking? Isn’t that a strange way to have a conversation?

  43. I was thinking about Kaimi’s comment “I’m home.” Boy, that’s how I felt. And I had no clue what a blog was when I wandered in here. I was just looking for visiting teaching ideas.

    There are a few people in my ward that I can talk to about deep subjects or even just speculate on the nature of God, they are “way-more-educated-than-me” and tolerant and patient with me.

    But I find that the majority of the members of my ward are too busy surviving to have any curiosity or desire to explore feelings and issues. That is a lonely feeling at times. And yeah, Sunday School can be an ordeal of trying to keep my mouth shut in order not to offend the spirit or the other people in the room. Actually, I think me and Kristine in the same room would be too much for my ward. I take reading material and chew gum and try to be silent.

  44. UKAnn (#12),
    Truly intelligent people can clearly communicate ideas to others. Don’t be intimidated by people who use five dollar words to try and make a point. People often use five dollar words because five dollar words are inherently unclear, and thus people use the lack of clarity to hide the uncertainty of their ideas–at least that’s what they taught in one of my writing classes.

  45. Steve E. re: emoticons
    I think they are a necessary evil. They tend to dumb down the text, but they help to let people know you’re not in ernst, so they don’t get offended by one’s sarcasm or arid humor. (that sentence wasn’t funny, hence no emoticon.)

    Random J.,
    As a relative newbie to the bloggernacle, and not having excessive computer chops, I’d probably not have gotten as involved if I had several strands to follow from a single thread, considering I also usually have multiple threads and multiple blogs (not all LDS-related). It’s a pain to scroll down a long list of comments though, so if there’s a way to increase navigability without option-overload, then us non-power-users would take to it.

    Please do not respond to this comment. There is nothing worth responding to here. Please move along.

  46. Thanks for re-activating this thread Ryan! I hadn’t seen it before. Great post Kaimi. You have saved my sense of self-worth. :-) :-) :-) (How’s that for overkill–whomever up there said they dislike emoticons? You probably dislike exclamation points, too!)

  47. Lisa,

    I’m glad ya liked it. (And I hope you didn’t sweat it out too much waiting for me to repond to your comment. I was out of town at a wedding. :) ).

    (Of course, you probably have no need for this post, since it’s hard to imagine any of your comments being ignored. Some love you and some hate you, but no one ignores you! ;) ).

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