Reader Comments?

During our get-together this past weekend, several of my SciBlings asked me why you don’t comment very much, compared to the amount of content that I provide. I thought I was the only one who noticed that the ratio of readers’ comments to individual entries on this blog are dramatically lower than those found on other science blogs, but apparently, others have also noticed. Indeed, during our reader “meet and greet”, I met several readers who claimed they read my blog often, but never comment (the readers of mine who said they’d come out to meet all of us never showed up, so I didn’t meet any of my readers who are actually known to me).


Since I’ve had “my say” already, I view the comments section as your place to express your own ideas, so I try not to intrude there very often. But now I wonder if I should I be more responsive to you in the comments section? Reader comments are very satisfying to me as well as to my colleagues, although my colleagues went so far as to point out that reader comments somehow were good for their ego. I don’t view things in quite the same way, but I do see readers comments as little gifts that you guys leave for me to discover, sort of like Easter eggs or Christmas gifts ..
If you are a lurker, why don’t you comment? If you do comment, I’d be curious to know your hypothesis as to why you think others of my readers are so quiet? Is there something I should do to motivate you to comment? Should I write essays that are deliberately provocative? (I have often thought I should do so). Should I make comments into a game, like strip poker, where I remove an article of clothing for every 20 comments, and then post a photograph? None of my colleagues does such a thing, so I wonder why I, of all the scienceblog writers, should do so? Which leads me to ask you what I should do to encourage you, my readers, to comment?

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Reader Comments?

  1. Larry Ayers says:

    I’ve been blogging for 3-1/2 years and I’ve found that lurking readers continue to lurk if their comments aren’t acknowledged. That’s how they know for sure that you read comments!
    An occasional request to readers asking them to make themselves known, something like your post above, also helps. I’ve had commenters comment for the first time after over a year of faithful reading after such a request.
    Now that it occurs to me, I’m pretty sure that this is my first comment here!

  2. thanks larry, for your thoughts. i was worried that i was “overpowering” my readers by commenting very often, so i’ll try to be more responsive to my readers’ comments.

  3. Stephenk says:

    Still here!
    I never had the impression that you commented too much.
    Although I regularly read about ten of the Scienceblogs I rarely comment on any of them as I don’t often have anything new to add (especially those blogs that accumulate many comments). But I will comment if I feel I have something original to add, serious or silly.
    Having said that, what few comments I have made, would be biased toward your blog. I don’t know why.

  4. Greg Laden says:

    I’m pretty sure my ratio of comments to readers is at least as low as yours. Cleary, the better blogs simply have fewer comments per post.

  5. Scott Simmons says:

    Maybe you don’t post enough things that provoke people to want to argue with you.
    Hey, just a thought!

  6. kitty says:

    I don’t comment because I’m shy. I like your blog, though – I’m a long time fan of your birds in the news feature!

  7. Bob O'H says:

    You don’t stir things up as much as certain other bloggers around here, so you don’t provoke comments. I’m not sure this is a bad thing – most of the disputes on ScienceBlogs get pretty sterile (detailed observation suggests that this is because commenters are unable to post photos of furry animals).
    Have you thought about organising regular de-lurking? Force your readers out of their dark corners into the light!

  8. John says:

    Starting a fight will draw comments, but it may have its drawbacks.
    I only comment if I have something to say, which in my case means that I could go weeks between comments. I do find that, as a reader, I would rather comment on a low or medium comment blog like this one rather than a high comment blog like Pharyngula because at a high comment blog whatever I say will just get lost in the noise. As a blogger, I would prefer to get lots of comments.

  9. thanks everyone for your thoughts. i am going to start running an open reader thread where my readers can comment about whatever you wish to talk about .. what’s been happening in your lives, what you’ve been thinking about recently or what you think about some news event, tell us about a book you’ve read and enjoyed, or even suggest things for me to write about (yikes!).
    the first reader open thread will run a little later today (just to get things started) and i also plan to have one regularly on fridays. it’ll just be a time for us to chat about things, so i hope you are ready for that sort of thing! you know, even though i have written a blog for four years, i admit that i still sometimes feel a little .. self-conscious? shy? afraid? like you can all see me nekkid! yikes! when i post something to my blog, so i can understand why a reader would not be willing to post something publicly. in fact, several readers only correspond with me in email, and have done so for years, and never comment on my blog, so perhaps i’ve set a precedent?
    anyway, my goal is to get you to comment more often and even to interact with each other in comments — i admit to enjoying that a great deal. seeing you enjoy each other makes me feel like i’ve planned and hosted a party where people whom i like and enjoy discover each other and have fun with each other — is there a greater gift that one can give to their friends than the gift of more really great friends?
    well, enough philosophy for now. but more comments, please! and thank you to those of you who have commented already. really, i do love it when you speak to me!
    i also wanted to point out to one of my readers, who complained that “shrieking parrots” was offensive, please notice that i’ve changed that a couple days ago to something that you might find a little more agreeable. so i do respond to you, i am just a little quiet about doing so.

  10. Rob Miller says:

    As an only occasional commenter on your blog, I have a few observations on this topic.
    1) Be careful with statistics. No two blogs are the same and thus their comments cannot be compared. Some of the scienceblogs I read cover only peer reviewed papers. Your blog is much more diverse. In a diverse blog not every post is going to speak to every person, thus the comment percentage will likely be lower. The power of your blog is that I feel I know you to a much greater degree than those blogs with a science only focus.
    2) My comment philosophy is generally to comment on items that I feel I can add value. If I agree with your post and have nothing further to add, then I don’t comment. If I have read a blog for a while and have not found an opportunity to comment, then I might add a simple hello in the comment section as I did with your blog a year or two ago. For example, I read Birds in the News every week, but have only commented a couple times.
    3) I think acknowledging comments is a positive step. It is something I have started doing on my own blog. Hopefully, scienceblogs will soon have a “notify me of new comments on this thread” feature soon (blogger does). I submitted the request in their survey that you encouraged me to take!
    4) An occasional request for comments is probably a good thing. I usual respond like I am doing here. I have never actually done it for my blog though.
    Take Care and have a great trip overseas.

  11. thank you rob! and your idea regarding email notification for new comments is great. i’ll also mention it to the tech people, especially since i can do so in the behind-the-scenes forums where my colleagues can also add their voices to the request.

  12. arby says:

    Maybe if you killed a cracker from time to time. No, seriously, do what you do and don’t sweat it, it’s not a contest.
    For those who get you and other Scibloggers through a reader, and attend to it, there often aren’t any comments yet, it’s too fresh. Comments breed comments. I do often click through to read the whole post, but seldom come back to it later to see if there are comments. For instance, I completely missed the comments about “shrieking parrots”. “Parrot song” maybe? Boy, that’s a stretch. rb

  13. apikoros says:

    First, by way of introduction, I’m an aging computer geek (I can program in COBOL and FORTRAN!) with a broad laymans interest in science. I collect fossils, mostly paleozoic (Trilobites, brachiopods, cephalopods, and ferns). I’d love to find a good paleontology blog, but no luck so far. I’m probably lucky in not finding one, tho… as with all things geology-related, the posts on such a blog would come once a decade at most :-).
    I’ve been a reader for a couple of weeks, only commented once, the first time I appeared here. I do rarely comment on blogs, for a variety of reasons:
    1. Mostly because I hate “metoos.” If I can add something, I’m not shy but I won’t comment for the sake of commenting.
    2. In addition I’m not a scientist, just a computer geek, so y’all know a lot more than I do. I’m learning from you even if I’m silent.
    3. I’m reading along here, but other than the first post (on the Sputnick virophage) the post subjects have been the American Avocet (beautiful!), Harry Potter (err… not my cuppa), and the Lincoln Center subway art (interesting). After looking at the Avocet posts I was almost moved to comment by asking if the upturned beak is similar in function to the Flamingo’s (they turn their heads upside down to feed) or if it served some other function, but decided not to for no real reason at all.
    4. I did enjoy the Sputnick thread and do thank qetzal (in case (s)he is reading) for the conversation.

  14. Barn Owl says:

    Because of the birdcentric nature of this Science Blog, it’s definitely one of my favorites; I also like some of the diverse posts here (and diversity of post topics is why I like Greg’s blog as well). However, I often feel it would just be inane to comment, so I don’t. But if it would put more money in the bloggers’ pockets, I can certainly comment more often. 😉
    Sometimes I get the impression that commenting on other blogs here puts one on the receiving end of some weirdly judgmental attitudes and assumptions, and I dislike that. In fact, it’s reduced my comment frequency overall (maybe that’s a good thing, I dunno). I’ve never felt that way about commenting on any of the non-Borg science blogs or crafts blogs (or mixed topics blogs) that I read.

  15. Epicanis says:

    I tend to assume the comments are a form of conversation, so it is completely appropriate for the blog owner to reply to comments as much as she (or he) wants to.
    As far as commenting on other people’s blogs, I tend to be encouraged by feedback from other commenters (including the blog’s author), and discouraged by lack thereof (which makes me feel like some wierdo in the corner talking to himself while everyone else is talking to each other.) I’m even more encouraged when comments pop up on my own blog due to comments I’ve posted on another blog, but obviously this won’t apply for everyone.
    Also in addition to wanting to have something useful or at least allegedly amusing to say – your explicit request for comments which appears to apply to me fulfills this – I sometimes am discouraged if there is too much commentary already – I worry that whatever I’m saying is simply being buried by other comments and I’m back to talking to myself in a corner again. This last issue may be a personal quirk of my own rather than a common thing, though.

  16. llewelly says:

    I don’t have any opinions on Harry Potter posters. I think the bird photos are beautiful, but when I’d said that 10 or so times I thought that you had gotten the general idea, and I haven’t had anything new to say about them. I don’t feel inclined to comment on the research-related posts because almost all of them are well outside my areas knowledge.

    I think if you want a lot of comments you need to piss off another science blogger. Or at least make rude remarks about his bald head.

  17. Chris Rowan says:

    Hey, it could just be that all your thousands of readers just agree with absolutely everything you say, thus making commenting superfluous. That’s what I tell myself anyway 😉
    More seriously, as energetic as the hundred- and thousand-comment threads at places like Pharyngula are, there are certain advantages to getting only a few well-thought out comments on posts; for a start, the discussion stays relevent to the original topic!
    Also, as this post nicely demonstrates, if you specifically ask for readers’ opinions, you tend to get them…

  18. Kevin L. says:

    Lurker, here. Like some of the folks above me, I only ever click through to a thread to comment if I have something tremendous to say. Many times I have clicked to comment and then decided not to because, well, I didn’t see any real point.
    My proverbial silence also has a lot to do with the fact that I use Google Reader for almost everything I do or read on the Internet each day. Unless something really grabs my interest, I may not even bother reading the whole post – and that applies to every feed to which I subscribe.

  19. Chris' Wills says:

    I’m just shy and retiring :o)
    Though some of the fault may lie in the fact that I most often agree with what you write or, as on the science stuff, you normally explain it very clearly.
    I do like the bird photographs and I think the subway photographs are excellent.
    Have fun in Londinium.

  20. Selasphorus says:

    I’m a brand new reader, so I don’t know that I have much to add, but hi. 🙂
    Acknowledging comments definitely is a great way to encourage more comments, though… I say this from the experience of my personal blog.

  21. sara says:

    I imagine that there are many bird-watchers among your readership; bird-watchers know to comment only when necessary.
    And while, fixating on and baiting the obvious low-life in the world and especially nation (as some so-called Science Bloggers do) will earn you a lot of stupid comments, I do not think that it is particularly scientific or at all interesting at this point.

  22. the bird images are provided for free by a variety of people who love to photograph birds and other animals (and nature scenes, although i’ve been focusing on birds lately), nearly all of whom are amateurs, although a professional photographer or two will contribute some images from time to time. my goal for sharing their images is to give them a bigger audience than they might otherwise enjoy, and to help bring them to the attention of magazine editors who might be looking for a photographer. i know it is a thrill for many of them to hear from my readers about their images, especially those who photographers are just getting over their own shyness about their abilities.
    at the suggestion of several readers, i’ve tried to interview some of them, but they don’t respond to that sort of thing, at least they haven’t yet. however, if you have photography questions, feel free to post them to the image that inspired the questions, and hopefully the photographer will respond.
    the overall birdyness of this blog is my contention that nearly everything that we know about the biological sciences, animal behavior and economics is something we learned from birds; studying them, watching them, or living with them. so nearly any topic you can name has a bird angle to it. well, except horse racing.
    oooo, there are bald science bloggers? actually, the rumor i’ve heard about bald heads on men is that “grass doesn’t grow on a busy street” .. an aphorism that makes sense although i wouldn’t know if it’s true.
    i love neew readers, so hello back to you, selasphorus (are you a rufous or allen’s hummingbird?)
    i do have a book review i hope to finish before i go to londinium that should get a few comments (it’s a book about atheism).

  23. If google is to be trusted (I’m not really sure it is) then across this site I’ve posted seven times here, five times at Pharyngula, and once at Tet Zoo. So I guess I could afford to be a bit more chatty (although I’m certain google missed some results there).
    As for what you could do to promote more comment, I’m afraid I can’t think of a thing, you produce and absolutely fabulous and thoroughly readable blog. I guess you have to accept that there are a wide range of reasons why a particular person may choose to comment or not to comment on a particular post, and you shouldn’t fall in to the trap of assuming a lack of responses means a lack of interest.
    I’m sure there’s a sociology paper just waiting to be written on blog commenting habits and the factors affecting them.

  24. DeafScientist says:

    Not sure which of the threads to drop this in, but I thing measuring “success” by number of repeat visitors is more meaningful than number of comments. I’m a bit out of time to expand on this, but I’ll try post in the more recent thread on this issue later.
    But one more point while I’m writing: I like some of the quieter corners of the blogosphere. The more “heated” threads in Pharyngula’s and the like can wear thin after a bit if your real interest is science and conversation without some idiot twisting your words or attacking you or whatever.

  25. DeafScientist says:

    Whoops. I replied to a tab I left open without refreshing it… it had 2 replies when I posted and I see we’re now at 20-odd, so my post has crossed most of the thread… oh, well!
    Just a thought for posters/lurkers: if you like a “quiet” blog, pop up once in a while to let the blogger know. Unless they have statistics on the number of repeat visits, your comment may be the only way that they know people “hang out” rather that “shoot through while looking for something else”.
    One of my favourite science blogs is very quiet, but has great articles. Being noisy doesn’t mean its the best in my opinion.

  26. David Harmon says:

    I haven’t commented much lately, largely because of distractions — first from other blogs, later from RL, or at least non-Net life. I do still swing by to check it out, whereas I’ve pretty much given up on Pharyngula’s comment threads.

  27. Bob O'H says:

    One of my favourite science blogs is very quiet, but has great articles.

    Now, now. Don’t tease us like that – give us the link!

  28. Firebyrd says:

    I tend not to comment unless I have something to say in the first place, but I’ve also felt kind of discouraged from commenting. On the few occasions I’ve done so, there’s mostly been no response from anyone, so it feels like I’m just talking to a void and there’s no point. I think responding to comments would help a lot to build up a community of commenters.

  29. Bob O'H says:

    Psst – nobody respond to Firebyrd.
    🙂

  30. Firebyrd says:

    *listens to the crickets chirp* 🙂

  31. DeafScientist says:

    Bob, I wasn’t trying to tease anyone!
    There are several quiet sites I like actually, not just one, mostly because they have good articles (as opposed to commentary). I’ll name just two of them as I suspect the others are probably of even less interest to readers here–that’s the reason I didn’t offer up a link by the way: I didn’t think most of the readers here would share the same interests.
    The name Mystery Rays from Outer Space reads like old-time sci-fi, but its actually science-oriented in a fairly serious sort of way. Its mostly the articles about others’ work that interest me there (He also summarises his own work.) The articles are possibly a bit heavy going for non-scientists, but its nice to have a lighter take on some topics that are interesting but you haven’t got the time to dig out the gist of the thing from the original papers yourself (and haven’t the motivation either, with the excuse that its not related to your work!).
    Sandwalk has its better pieces covering a wider and more general topic range that Mystery Rays, so that might appeal more to people here–?

  32. DeafScientist says:

    Fyrebird,
    You often get no reply, but don’t worry too much about it. Its doesn’t mean no-one is reading your comment.
    In the more, ahem, “rigorous” blogs, almost the only time you get a reply is in the negative to at best nitpick something you wrote and at worse try clobber you! 🙂
    Which is why the quieter corners of the blogosphere can be a bit of a relief…

  33. ...tom... says:


    Hey, at least you got readers..!!
    I began years ago on usenet and the idea of commenting/responding to the thoughts of others has always been second nature to me.
    I participate heavily at a consumer review site that allows users to respond to the reviews of others. I have always been a strong proponent of doing just that at the site. I think I might be the only one..!!
    Anyway, I too love the bird pictures and often forward your post URLs to a bird-lover acquaintance.
    And ditto the idea for e-mail alerts of new comments to a specific post. It is absurd that scienceblogs does not make it easy for a comment thread to be ‘followed’..!!
    …tom…
    ‘ a faithful reader for the last six months or so, however long I have been reading here at scienceblogs… ‘
    .

  34. according to fyrebird, this is the quiet blog, unless chirping crickets are too noisy to qualify as quiet.
    sorry about falling off on replying to your comments. i have been suffering from what probably is a pinched nerve in my neck. it causes intense pain that no pain reliever affects, and it makes my right hand and arm go numb from time to time, so my ability to think clearly enough to write a reasoned response is quite limited. you might also recall that i am recovering from a broken left shoulder, so between these two injuries, it is safe to say that i am paralyzed from the neck up!

  35. Bob O'H says:

    Oh no, well you’d better get well soon – Prof. Steve will need someone to take his holiday snaps for him in London.

  36. I have to agree that your excellent but seldom controversial content must be a big factor in your relatively low comment-to-post ratio. I read you almost daily but don’t comment often mainly because a) I don’t often have anything valuable to add on the subject you’ve written about and b) I don’t want my comments to appear shamelessly self-promotional (though of course I do appreciate visits to my blog from folks who read yours, and if I could get over this ambivalence about self-promotion my finances might improve a bit).
    Just to add some content to this comment, I’ll be a tiresome trochilophile and point out that the species options for commenter Selasphorus include Broad-tailed, Volcano, Scintillant, and Glow-throated Hummingbird as well as Rufous and Allen’s.
    (And being called a shrieking parrot never bothered me in the least, even though I’ve got a real one shrieking away in the next room.)
    Keep up the good work, and take care of your neck.

  37. ellew says:

    Ah, well, you post about a dozen times a day… kind of hard to keep up! And the subway murals kind of freak me out, honestly. Love the bird pics, just not much to say about them. Generally I read the posts before much commenting has been done, otherwise I’d probably add more to existing comments than actually muse up something controversial. Generally just enjoy the diversity of captive vs. wild bird mix that few people ever lump (birders who keep birds are rare, it seems).

  38. Heather says:

    As for me, I often scroll through your blog in my reader, so unless I go below the jump, I rarely come to your actual blog page (hence my lurking). Like the others, I only add when I think I have something new and different to say.
    As a blogger who loves to get comments, I should probably consider making more myself, but sometimes when I’m a couple days behind on my blog reading (as I am today) I feel like the conversation is already over, so no one will actually see my comments.
    To de-lurk, I’ve been reading your blog for about a year since trying to get a better pulse on the scientific community for my job where I advocate for research funding at a non-profit near DC. I love the various pictures and comics you post, all Harry Potter commentary, and the general science community news.
    Thanks for all your posting!