Comments can add colour to post but may overpower it; ads provide potential revenue but can suffocate it; product endorsements can provide value but are sometimes misleading. This post tackles the presence or absence of each of these from this site.
My original plan for this blog was to add a comment section for each post using a third party such as Disqus. Having the comments held and managed elsewhere keeps the maintenance down and allows me to get feedback quickly and easily. It’s possible that I will go down this route in the future but the time is not right for me to do this yet.
My experience of comments on other news or blog sites is that they fall into three broad categories: valuable, self promotional or useless. Unfortunately the valuable comments are the least common. This is a strong opinion to which you may want to object. But how can you since I don’t allow comments? The answer lies below.
Valuable comments sometimes point out another opinion that the author had not considered, or provide another reference which helps to increase the knowledge. They can help to correct mistakes in the original posting and act to generally improve the article on which they are posted; the author will often incorporate suggestions into future edits.
Self promotional comments are easy to spot - they barely comment on the subject at hand and simply try to draw other readers to their own site. This can seem like a valid pattern to grow a blog or new website, but unless you actually help the discussion they can raise irritation with other readers and be more of a hindrance than a help.
Useless comments therefore is a broad category and probably too harsh a term on my part. By useless I do not mean that they serve no purpose, rather that they do nothing to improve the article itself. Let’s set aside genuinely useless comments such as the Facebook like or people trying to start a fight and look at a case that I have in mind.
For example, when a conversation starts between two readers who take opposing sides to the topic presented, each side coming up with fresh arguments, showing their passion for the topic, and genuinely trying to convince the other side, or reach a consensus. Am I saying that’s useless?
Yes. At least in terms of the original article. I agree that a post that starts a conversation is generally a good thing, I simply don’t feel it makes sense to continue the conversation in the comments section of the original post, like a footnote. There are many pages where the comments section is far longer than the original article.
Alternate Approaches to Comments
The approach I'd advocate is to encourage people that have a strong opinion about one of the posts on this or any other page to write a post themselves about the topic on their own site, referencing back to these pages, and providing either a counter argument or more analysis to take the ideas further.
Send me the link to the article, including the original post that it relates to with a short sentence asking me to add it to that post. As soon as I verify that the topic is indeed related, I will update the post. Use [email protected] to get in touch with me.
Adding full posts as further reading material is preferable to piecemeal comments. Both sites will benefit from the cross-pollination by adding value to each other and avoiding the obvious self promotion with no value. Also people with little to add will not go any distance to create a post so their otherwise “useless” comments can be avoided.
Don’t have a blog? Why not start one? Check out this post which has some resources on how to do so. Sometimes it can be difficult to get started; transfer that feeling of wanting to post a comment to being brave enough to start your own blog.
Another option that can be used, especially for those times when a more conversational approach is required, is to find an on-line forum in which the post can be discussed. It feels like a dedicated forum is the best place to have a mature discussion of a topic. Again, you can send me the link with details of the original post and I will add it to the article as long as it checks out.
What to Buy
Some part of me wants to add an advertising banner to these pages to help to generate some income. It does not feel right to do so at this point in the blog’s development. This is partly down to a personal dislike for ads, which crowd out nearly every newspaper site and many blogs. The concept that less ads may lead to more click throughs does not appear to be catching on. I don’t want to get caught up in the advertising arms race.
Yes, it’s possible that a gentle revenue stream might become possible, enough to keep the costs down. At some point in the future, assuming some spike in growth of traffic to this site, I may need to spend more on monthly hosting costs; advertisment banners might be the only way to keep the website up.
I have a particular dislike to ads that creep into pages and pretend to be news articles. We are subject to careful marketing on advertisers parts, showing different ads to different users to hone which playful story attracts more clicks. The product of this surreptitious market research is that it can be difficult not to click those enticing links even thought we know what they are.
This site, at least for now, is going to remain free from advertisements, if only just to avoid taxing readers. In an effort to be computationally kind, as it’s put in Algorithms to Live By, this site won’t make users guess what links are advertisments - it’s simple there are none.
The link to the review I wrote in the last paragraph includes a link to amazon.co.uk and will generate revenue for this site if people choose to follow the link and buy the book. How is this different from advertising?
A product endorsement with an associated review in theory provides an unbiased, third party opinion on a book or product, and provides a reader with information they can use to decide whether or not to purchase the item. This adds value to the user’s experience, becoming part of the site rather than stamped on the banner of each page.
There will be less product endorsements than ads - it takes time to review and write a recommendation. This means that there will be less income generated by the site. That’s not a problem during the growth phase of a sight where building a following is more important than building revenue.
All product endoresements will be clearly labeled, allowing users to make their own mind up whether they want to click the link. Commission is generally only earned upon a purchase being made of the product. Enough details will be provided to allow searching for and finding the item elsewhere on the internet and therefore avoiding the commission altogether.
Over time I hope to have written regular book reviews which will form a core to the site, along with recommendations for other products and services that may generate some income. Whether they can generate enough income to maintain the site is a question that I can postpone asking for some time.
My aim throughout will be to endorse books that I found entertaining or useful or both and products that I use and find work well to solve the particular problem to which they apply.