melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2018-12-05 01:03 am
Entry tags:

How To Make Discussion Happen On DW

Okay, so this is a post I've had in my WIPs for over four years (under the title "how ot get comment", if you want a glimpse of my working methods...), and I think I have finally figured out how I want to say what I want to say in it, and this seems like a good time to get it out there. But of course I gave myself a deadline to get it posted and now it's after 2 AM so it's probably not as polished as that four years of drafts deserves!

Also, I remember the last time december meme happened, my reading page suddenly got so busy I could barely keep up, but now we've got that and tumblr returnees at the same time, and I am actually behind on my DW reading page! This hasn't happened in probably half a decade! It's great, but also AUGH, I am behind on my DW reading page and I've also got so much stuff to do.

So, this is basically fifteen years' of trial-and-error learning on how to make dreamwidth posts that will produce good comment discussions involving lots of people. After fifteen years, I am at the point where if I'm sitting at home feeling depressed and in need of human conversation, I can make a DW post and have enough comment notifications to keep me in ego boost for several days. And a lot of what makes this work is just fairly simple strategies that I wish more people knew.

There's two basic principles to bear in mind going in. The first is that leaving a comment requires both effort and risk on the part of the person commenting, and your goal is to lower that threshhold of both risk and effort as far as possible. Anything that makes it easier, or makes it feel safer, for someone to take part in the discussion is good. Anything that takes work, risk, or cognitive load away from them and shiftse it to you is good (for the comment count, at least.) If you're coming from sites where there are like/reblog/bookmark sorts of options, it's important to note that on Dreamwidth, the simplest possible interaction with someone else's post is still considerably more effort than that, and you will get a whole lot less comments than like, universally : but a lot of people find this style is worth it anyway, including me.

The second thing is that when you make a post with the specific goal of generating lots of discussion, you are essentially inviting people to a gathering in your space. This was a metaphor that came up a lot in the good old days of the "is metafandom killing fandom?" discourse, and tbh it wasn't super useful for that, but if my specific goal is to host a discussion, I find it very useful to think of myself as a host. And as a host, I have duties - I have to make the space welcoming; I have to make sure people know that they're invited; I have to give people a reason to want to come; I have to remember that I'm in a position of responsibility for the guests who are in my space; I have to be ready to unobtrusively deal with messes; etc.

This is, again, different from something like a tumblr reblog chain where things move around between blogs and it's easy for everything to feel a little bit impersonal; on a DW post, everybody is coming to your personal space that you control and everybody's very aware of that. This is even more a factor in Dreamwidth than back in the LJ days, because Dreamwidth is still small enough that it feels even more personal; everybody who shows up is probably at least a friend of a friend, not a comfortably faceless stranger.

And hosting is work. Hosting is voluntarily taking on that extra responsibility to keep your guests comfortable and entertained. I, obviously, find it rewarding or I wouldn't have spent fifteen years trying to get better at it (unlike hosting RL events, which I just find exhausting and anxiety-inducing.) I find a tumblr post with thirty good comments from people I respect about equally satisfying with that one tumblr shitpost I made that has over 100000 reblogs; but ymmv. You might decide you love it like I do and try to host a few a month; you may hate it and flee DW for Mastodon; you may only want to do one once in a while when you feel like you have something very important to say or you really need the distraction of having people talk to you. It's all good.

So, hopefully I haven't scared you away!

Here's some specific concrete things I try do to in any individual post that I'm hoping will get good discussion going:

1. Only one topic per post.

It's tempting to make posts that cover a bunch of different things that are happening in your life, but it makes it awkward to comment. Very few people will be equally interested in all the things you mentioned, and even the ones who are, won't necessarily want to go to the effort of talking about all of them at once. But it can feel weird and offputting to leave a comment that only engages with one of the things you said in the post and ignores the rest of them.

It's also likely, especially as a compilation post gets longer, that people will start to skim-read and are likely to miss the thing you are talking about that they would have commented on if they'd actually noticed it.

That doesn't mean every post has to have a laser focus - "all the books I've read lately" or "five interesting facts I learned" or something like that is usually focused enough to catch the right attention, and as long as the post feels like it has a coherent connecting thread people will feel okay picking up part of the thread without feeling like they're ignoring everything else. It doesn't even have to be that coherent as long as you put in some kind of framing that makes it feel like it's all on a theme.

That's not to say you have to make every post about only one thing, but if there's something you'd particularly like to have a good discussion about, you should save it for its own post. And it's okay for DW posts to be short and sweet and simple! Mine usually aren't because that's just not how I write these days, but you won't be run off DW for making a bunch of short one-topic posts in a row.

2. Everybody likes to be asked.

End your post by directly asking your readers to talk to you, and make that final question something that most of them will find it very easy to comment on.

"People like to be asked" is a piece of old political advice that has never served me wrong in life, and it applies here just the same. The difference in number of comments between a long, well written-essay and the identical essay that has "So what do you think about X?" as the last line is significant. Even if people know that in theory you always want discussion, being explicitly asked really truly makes a difference in whether they do or not.

But not just any question will work. If you ask a question that most people can't answer, or that will take a lot of work to answer, then they'll wander away, and it'll actually reduce your comment count. "Does anyone have any good citations for academic papers about fungal disease in prehistoric lycopodia?" as your final discussion starter is unlikely to produce a lot of participation. So, what do you want to ask?

-You are not asking this question because it's a specific thing you need an answer to; you're asking because you want to know what your friends have to say about the broader idea. Pick a question based on what you think will get engagement, not what you want answered; the discussion will drift in other directions once it hits its stride anyway.

-It needs to be specific enough that your commenters don't have to put any thought in figuring out what to talk about. "What did you think of that movie" is harder because the commenter's having to do all the work of deciding what, specifically, to talk about; "what did you think of this outfit the main character wore" is easier because once you see the outfit you know exactly what your answer is.

-It can't be too specific, or people will feel like they don't have anything to say about it. "What did you think of this outfit the character wore" is good, "What do you think about this outfit in the context of the sociopolitical influences on early-20th-century French couture houses" may be what you are interested in, but not many other people are going to feel like they have enough expertise to say anything useful on that one, and "does anybody know the exact pattern # they used as a model for that costume" is definitely too specific for a discussion starter.

-It can't feel too risky. This'll depend on your specific audience, but if people feel like answering honestly is going to get their heads bit off, they'll stay away. "Do you think it was a bad idea to directly reference Nazism in that costume" is an excellent question to explore, but a little scary as a discussion starter to expect people to jump right in on.

Also, Polls are great. They ask a direct question that's easy to answer, they lower the interaction threshhold to almost less than even a like, and the multiple-choice answers will always be inadequate and thus drive people who would otherwise leave it alone to comment to point out exactly why they are inadequate. If you want to host discussions on the regular, it's worth a paid account just to be able to post polls.

3. Make your post broadly accessible, and require minimum context to contribute.

Here's the thing. It feels really nice to be able to post a dumb, obscure fandom in-joke and have fifty other fans join in, but that's just not how DW works these days. There aren't enough active people around to get the minimum people for that to work, and tbh I don't see us getting back to that any time soon. You have to assume and accept that most of the people reading your post don't share your current obsession, and often don't have any context for what you're talking about other than what's in the post itself.

This is obviously going to depend on your particular audience - like, I assume that people reading my DW are aware of media/genre fandom in general, are at least vaguely aware of the history of online transformative fandom over the past ten years (and the jargon that comes with it), and are aware of and broadly speaking supportive of current social justice thinking, including in particular disability, gender/sexuality, and US/British non-reality-averse politics.

Nearly anything else, I assume I have to provide my own context for if I want to get a large discussion going. Even if it's something I post about on the regular; people read a lot of social media, they won't necessarily remember that I posted about it in detail last week. I posted about sedoretu yesterday in a way that assumed that anyone reading it already knew about sedoretu AU and knew at least what Icelandic Sagas ap., and figured I would get maybe five or six comments, at least one of which was from [personal profile] ellen_fremedon and one of which was from [personal profile] lannamichaels, and that was about right. If I'd covered the same ground but written it for people who didn't understand or care about sedoretu or icelandic history, it would have been a lot harder to write but probably gotten four or five times the comments.

And providing helpful links or using specific terms that people can easily google doesn't work. People, in the aggregate, don't follow links and don't use Google. They just don't. Sorry. If people need to know something in order to understand what you're talking about, you need to write it into the post, and you also need to structure your post to make it clear that people don't need any other special knowledge in order to contribute to the discussion.

Also, most of the people reading my journal don't actually care about the Sagas of the Icelanders. Writing a post that assumes other people care about some niche interest is not going to get lots of comments. No, not even if you fill your post with enthusiasm and explanations about why it's so great; at most the response you'll get to that is a few "oh, that sounds great, I should look it up," which does not lead to record-breaking comment threads.

But! People do care about you. They will give you a certain amount of leeway because they care that you care. And they do care about their own current obsessions. And that's key: not only can you bring in factual context, you can bring in emotional context. People won't have the same feelings as you do about what you're posting, but you can unpack your own feelings - explain exactly why you care about this - and also invite them to relate it to their own similar feelings about similar things. And then you can start discussion about how great it is to feel passionate about things. And then suck them into your niche obsession sideways. :D

This is where the ending discussion starter can be very useful: I could write 1,000 words about the plot of an obscure '70s YA book I just read and get a couple of comments from people who like me as a person, because nobody knows or cares about that book. I can write 1,000 words about that same book, but focus on my relationship with it, use that to invite people to talk about obscure books they read in their own childhoods and still care about the same way, and suddenly everyone wants to join in, because the specific book isn't something anyone but me has context for, but the emotional context I have for it is something everyone feels like they can relate to, and then we can get a discussion going. Or I can post about my current obscure fandom that nobody but me cares about and then end with "and how does this compare to X in your current obscure fandom?" and that's enough to switch it from a no-comments post to a collapsed-comments post.

You also just want to make the post as accessible - disibility, content, layout, language whatever - as broadly as possible.

4. Use cut tags wisely.

First off, you don't always need to cut.

I need to cut because I am write very long posts, and it's polite not to wall-of-text people. But if a post's shorter than five or six average-sized paragraphs, you can probably get away with not cutting. And you can make a very good discussion starter post that's one line long if you pick the right line.

If you do cut, you need to put the cut in the right place. Clicking on a cut is effort on the part of the reader; you need to have enough text outside the cut to motivate them to click on it. I usually try to have an intro that's enough to give people a pretty good idea of what's under it, and then most of the blather under a cut, and then the discussion starter ending outside it too, because that'll make people go "ooh, I want to answer this question, so I guess I'd better read the whole post." You can also use custom cut text as a specific teaser for what's under the cut.

Also, never imply you're putting the cut in because what's under the cut isn't worth reading. People will believe you.

Also also, remember that while people who see the post on a reading page will see the cuts, if they follow a link they won't, so the post needs to make sense even if you can't see the cuts.


I am not great at this! And it takes time, so I try to make sure I don't make a discussion post unless I know I'll have time to hover over the comments.

Promptly doesn't mean immediately - I feel okay if I manage twelve hours, these days - but you want to answer at least the first few ASAP, because comments breed comments. If people click on your post and see discussion already happening, and in particular they see evidence that you the OP are reading and engaging with the commenters, they are much more likely to feel like it's worth leaving their own comment.

Also, you don't have to reply to every single comment - people going on their own tangent threads that you aren't even part of is GREAT, and you don't have to always get the last word - but make an effort to reply to every single commenter at least once. Nothing feels as cold and unwelcoming as when the host has spoken to everybody except you.

6. Be ready and able to deal with bad comments.

In theory there are no bad comments, just like there are no bad questions, because even the worst ones encourage other people to speak up in their turn.

In practice you will get a fair sprinkling of bad comments, including:
--comments that make it clear they lack reading comprehension, up to and including saying the specific thing you asked people not to say
--comments that are so wrong they aren't even something you can engage with
--comments where you can't actually figure out what they were trying to say, if anything
--comments that are super annoying in tone or content
--comments where people are being mean to each other because they got emotional
--worst case scenario - although fingers crossed, this is a lot less prevalent on DW than other platforms - bullying and concern trolls.

If you get bullying or trolling or stalking or other comments that are clearly left in bad faith, or people who keep being unwontedly mean to other commenters after it's been pointed out to them that they should step away and cool it, you need to be ready to delete, screen, block, report as justified. I have very, very rarely had to deal with this, and not really at all in the last five years, but if it happens, you need to know what to do, because it's your space and you're responsible for keeping everyone else feeling safe and welcome to your own standards. It helps to work out for yourself in advance what your exact line is here, and if it's different on discussion posts vs. other kinds of posts.

For all the other kinds of bad comments - all the bad comments that are being left in good faith by people who just want to engage with you - you have to be willing to reply cheerfully, politely, and in good faith in return. No matter how annoying they are. No matter how cranky they made you. No matter how PERFECTLY JUSTIFIED you would be in pointing out that they made a bad comment. Because every other person who clicks on your post will see your reply, and you want them to think "Oh, my comment will be valued here!" not "oh dear, if I don't make exactly the right comment, the host will hate me forever." And most of the people who'd be scared away would probably have left perfectly lovely comments.

You can certainly try to gently and politely nudge the bad commenters into understanding why their comment was not a good comment, but you need to focus on keeping them feeling welcome while you do it, because making all commenters, even the ones who leave bad comments, feel welcome, is your main job, right after making sure people are safe. And you need to be willing to assume, in the absence of other evidence, that any given person is commenting in good faith.

If you don't think you can do that for a particular topic, maybe that's a topic you should post about with a locked group of people you know really well, not post a public discussion post on. Because all it really takes is a few times when people get the impression that they'll get snapped at if they comment on your posts, and it chills everything. It's not easy! Being a good host is work.

7. Timing

I have found on DW, at least in my group, that early weekday mornings are the best times to post something that will get lots of comments. Weekend evenings are the worst. I assume I must not be the only person who uses DW to waste time at work while looking like I'm busily writing important work-related things, so I want to get the post at the top of people's thoughts as they get online in the morning. Often with a post timed that way, there will be a few comments in the morning, and then more in the afternoon/evening as people get home and catch up - but I will still get more evening comments on a morning post than an evening. Presumably people read their feeds in the morning, and then come back later to comment after thinking about it all day.

This is just what I've observed for DW; it might be different elsewhere (it's Sunday mornings on AO3); but pay attention and see what works for you.

Beyond what you do in an individual post, the single most important factor in getting lots of comments is that you've collected a readership who feel comfortable commenting on your discussions, and that happens over time, as part of things you do in a ongoing basis.

I have basically set up my DW presence around wanting to host discussions, and think of it more like an old-fashioned blog that's about publishing articles to the 'net in general, because comment notifications feed a hungry part of my soul. You don't have to do that. There are other ways to journal. I sometimes regret that I am not the sort of person who can post detailed daily life entries that get almost no comments every single day, or use my journal as a raw emotional outlet (because I find the journals I read that do that universally fascinating and valuable - but still rarely feel comfortable commenting on them.)

Also, you can probably use some of this advice to get more comments on those kinds of posts too, I just haven't the experience to speak to that very well.

If you want a journal that isn't mostly aimed at discussion-y posts, but still host discussions sometimes, it can help to a) use locked posts creatively; b) clearly mark posts that you intend to be discussion posts with you as host, as distinct from personal posts where you are just being you in your space; c) use communities - even if all you do is make the discussion post in a community and then link to it on your personal journal, the fact that it's in a community can make it feel more outward facing and welcoming for casual commenters. If you're lucky enough, you can join in an active community where other people have already done some of the work of building a welcoming climate and a talkative readership, although in DW as it's been lately, active communities are sometimes tough going.

But here's some specific things that are important:

8.) Make friends. Talk to people.

People are way more likely to comment if they've interacted with you before. First, it gives them some idea of how the interaction will go; second, it makes them feel like you value their voice specifically.

And I can't tell you how many times I've noticed that someone silently subscribed to me awhile ago, subscribed to them back because they have interesting posts, commented on a couple of their interesting posts as they went by, and as suddenly as that they've gone from lurker to one of my steadiest commenters. It's the same way in reverse with me - I add someone who is really cool and clearly not interested in me, but then they leave a couple comments on my journal and suddenly I get the courage to start commenting on theirs too. It really does matter if you make the effort to the be the first one to reach out.

In terms of finding people to reach out to, the absolute best way I know is to find someone you like who has a DW journal (even if they aren't active on DW), and then go to their reading page, and read it, and add anyone on that reading page whose posts look like something you want to read. And then comment on a couple of their posts. That will net you currently-active people who you have at least a little bit of a community connection with already.

If you have a paid account, you can use your network page as a shortcut for this. (If your network page is flooded with feeds/communities right now, you can add ?show=p to the end of the URL to make it show only personal journals.)

I have never had much luck using interests or things like that to meet people (and a lot of people have super outdated interests anyway; I haven't fully overhauled mine since I came to DW), friending memes and comms only net you the sort of people who take part in friending memes (which isn't bad! But it'll be mostly people in the same place you are, i.e., actively searching for more friends, so it's not always the best way to connect with established circles of active people), and DW is slow enough, and full enough of fandom butterflies, that choosing your friends based on their current interests usually isn't a great strategy anyway. If you're coming from a different style of site where you're used to only adding people who ship not only your pairing but a particular version of your pairing, it can be a big change to mostly interacting with people who are just sort of fans of fandom in the same way you are. But most of us here love hanging with our sort of people that way.

9. Be consistent.

The more reliable you give the impression you are, the safer people will feel commenting. You don't have to be reliably reliable - I get a lot of mileage out of reliably flaky sometimes - but people need to feel like they know what to expect when you're hosting, and that needs to be what they get.

Also, people don't deal with tone whiplash very well. This can suck, because sometimes life has tone whiplash, and sometimes what you need after something horrible is a good, silly fannish discussion post, and sometimes life is just so long-term crappy that mixing in non-depressing content always feels like a tone shift regardless. But it makes commenters uncomfortable if you're switching emotional registers too often, and they don't know how to relax. If you do that, clearly delineate some borders - 'so awful thing was a thing that definitely happened, but I just want to talk about something cheerful now' or something like that, so people know we're definitely doing cheerful now. (There will be people who ignore that and comment on awful thing in cheerful post - see point 6 above - but the point is not to stop that from happening, the point is to let the good commenters know what they should do.) And stick with the same emotional register in the same post and all of its comments.

Also, put out a consistent stream of unlocked content. I have been trying - and mostly succeeding - to post an average of once a week pretty much since I came to DW, and that's a pretty good posting rate for me. (posting daily is going to knock me out this month if I actually make it through.) Some people post daily, and that works pretty well for them. Every three months, probably too little, people won't really know you well enough to be comfortable in your space. Fifteen times a day is fine, but in that case you want to definitely mark off when you're doing a more substantial discussion type of post.

11. Be persistent

Look, it took me more than ten years to get from an LJ that only my RL friends and [personal profile] monksandbones were reading to being able to collapse comments threads whenever I get bored. You should be able to do it faster than that - I was a horrible lurker for a very long time, and also it's actually in some ways easier to build audience now on Dreamwidth because it's harder to get lost in the crowd. But it does take time; it takes getting a feel for what kinds of discussion posts work for you, it takes time to make friends and learn what kinds of things work for them, it takes time to get trust built up that commenting on your posts always ends well. But if you like this style of social media it's worth it!

And if you want an example - when I was doing my FMK poll posts, before I got way too behind on the reading portion, I was pretty much just going down every item in this list in an incredibly blatant way.

1. Every post was about a set of books, usually on a specific theme
2. There was a poll in every post, and the post was a specific question.
3. The lists were long enough, and had enough well-known things on them, that most people saw at least one author, title, or genre that had some familiarity with - I chose my sets that way on purpose - and I also specifically stated that you didn't have to know the books well to participate. Also, I knew that DW in general had a lot of readers interested in the same genres I was, so I had a head start. And I gave the short explanation of what was going in every post, knowing most people wouldn't follow a link or read the long version if I reposted it.
4. I put the long polls behind a cut tag, but I listed every author in the poll in the cut tag, to tempt people with specific reasons to click.
5. I did my best to answer all top-level comments quickly.
6. Luckily I didn't get many bad comments; but I was also posting on a topic I had very few personal feelings about, so I felt ready to deal with them if I had to.
7. I posted on Tuesday mornings(-ish)
8. I already had a pretty good number of followers, and I made a special effort to keep up with following back regular FMK commenters.
9. I was extremely consistent! At least until I got way behind and started skipping weeks. Also, FMK was keeping me busy enough that I rarely posted about other things in that period.
10. The longer I kept it going, the more comments I got on every post.

And those posts always got a lot of very good discussion on them.
Meanwhile, the follow-up review posts often ignored almost all of these and got very little engagement, even though they were to the same audience, and theoretically about exactly the same thing.
ambyr: a dark-winged man standing in a doorway over water; his reflection has white wings (watercolor by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law) (Default)

[personal profile] ambyr 2018-12-05 07:43 am (UTC)(link)
I am taken aback--happily so! but still surprised!--by the number of people who have clicked my little one-question poll in the last ten hours. I know all the excitement on DW this week is probably skewing the numbers, but still. I had no idea that many of the people who follow me were reading DW daily. It is kind of reassuring to know people are listening even if not all of them are interested in talking in return. I am willing to pretend that, as they say, The Lurkers Support Me In E-mail.
harpers_child: melaka fray reading from "Tales of the Slayers". (Default)

[personal profile] harpers_child 2018-12-05 08:01 am (UTC)(link)
This is all very good stuff I should look at again tomorrow after I've had sleep.
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[personal profile] china_shop 2018-12-05 08:31 am (UTC)(link)
This is so cool. Thanks for laying it out so clearly! :-)

I'm particularly interested in the times of day and week to improve the chances of getting attention. Back in the mists of time (pre-smartphones), I read someone recommending posting fic early in the week, when people were at school/work but not super busy yet (because a lot of people only had internet access at school/work then). I've been wondering how that has changed over the years.

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[personal profile] extrapenguin 2018-12-05 11:23 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for sharing this! This week's excitement is probably a new thing – from the Tumblr exodus and the friending meme picking up steam – but let's hope it continues over December. I have a bit more time this month, so I'll see if I can put all this into practice.
jjhunter: Watercolor sketch of arranged diatoms as seen under microscope (diatomaceous tessellation)

[personal profile] jjhunter 2018-12-05 12:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I’ll add to this that in my experience, periodic or repeating $type posts can be a great way to both build a regular group of participants and ease the load on you as a host - once you’ve found a simple structure that works, reusing it on a weekly or monthly, annuallly or whimsically basis can sometimes work really well.

For example, when I’ve got low spoons and don’t necessarily have much oomph in me for thinking up a topic for discussion and writing up enough of a post to get that discussion started, sometimes all I really want is a break from my own problems and a chance to check in with how other people in my circle are doing.

Flat out asking ‘how are you?’ in a post didn’t give quite enough structure to get many responders (and sometimes people were more focused on me than on sharing how they were, which is very kind but not what I was hoping for). However, giving it a little structural twist that encourages both brevity - lowering the perceived barrier to participation -and creativity - making it more fun to comment! - does wonders; I generally host a ‘How Are You? (in Haiku)’ event about 1-3 times a month, and I’ve been hosting it long enough that even though these days I often don’t get to replying to every individual participant with a responding haiku or additional haikai stanzas the way I did when I first start hosting, people willl often reply along those lines to each other anyway, which makes me so, so happy. (Community ftw!).

(You know you’ve stumbled on a really good repeating event post format when it lends itself to spinoffs. I’ve got at least one regular participant who revisits all the iterations she participated in and then posts a compilation of all her haiku in her own space as a kind of end-of-year ‘here’s how I was doing over time’ thing, which Inthink is really neat.)
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[personal profile] jjhunter 2018-12-05 12:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I’ll add to this that it’s important to be realistic about how much regular discussion you actually have time and energy to host. Someimes planning on regularly hosting just one larger discussion or public event post a month can be both very satisfying and not an insignificant time commitment. (I’d recommend picking an Nth $day a month and using a distinctive, consistent tag so people can choose to follow an RSS or Atom feed for that tag even if they’re not one of your regular subscribers.)

Most of my posts aren’t necessarily designed to encourage lots of comments, but it still means a great deal to me if I get even one comment vs no comments. I try to keep this in mind when I’m reading other peoples’ posts on my reading pages - comments have a way of begetting comments, and if I’m in the habit of commenting more casually / regularly on other people's posts, that helps build the kinds of conversations and communities on DW that I value most.

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[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2018-12-05 01:46 pm (UTC)(link)
This is great; thank you.

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[personal profile] author_by_night 2018-12-05 01:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I sometimes find getting comments is surprisingly difficult, so I thank you for this! I found a lot of it very helpful, and will take all of this into consideration.

On the topic of responding to comments... I'd say to make your point clear. Sometimes people don't, and then when you miss the point, they take it personally. Don't vaguebook. In addition, realize people are going to have their own thoughts, and it may divert a little bit from what your point was - no matter how clear you were.

ETA: Another tip! Try not to start a topic using a specific example if that's not your point. I can almost guarantee you that people will latch onto that specific example, and anything else you say will wander deep into the forest, never to be seen again. This is true of RL as well, if I've learned anything from staff meetings. ;)

On the other hand, again... if you're only talking about that example, be prepared that some people might still use other examples. Maybe they're being willfully ignorant, but maybe they're trying to add to the conversation, and just didn't realize you weren't going for one, or misunderstood the discussion you were trying to have. Sometimes people are just being intentionally contrary, or even dismissive of you, but... don't assume that they are.
Edited 2018-12-05 14:00 (UTC)
duskpeterson: The lowercased letters D and P, joined together (Default)

[personal profile] duskpeterson 2018-12-05 02:15 pm (UTC)(link)
This was really nice to read, not only for the specific tips, but because I've been spending time recently trying to figure out ways to improve my social interactions (especially on DW). So it's a relief to be reminded that this isn't information that's imprinted on brains at birth, but instead takes thinking and hard work.

Two additional thoughts I had:

1) The line about "1,000 words about the plot of an obscure '70s YA book" made me laugh, because that's pretty much the definition of what type of DW post I'm most likely to comment on. But seriously, I don't think we should underestimate the possibility of folks specifically seeking out posts that will provide them with new interests, whether it's books to read or fandoms to join or (judging from some of my DW followers' interests) obscure animals to get excited about. I can't say how it is for other people, but I don't actually need to know someone's relationship with a book in order to enjoy reading a book review. You may be right, of course, that talking about the relationship starts more discussions. :)

Also, Icelandic Sagas! So cool!

2) I've found that a good way to meet new people at DW is simply to read other people's comments in threads I'm taking part in.
author_by_night: (Default)

[personal profile] author_by_night 2018-12-05 05:57 pm (UTC)(link)
But seriously, I don't think we should underestimate the possibility of folks specifically seeking out posts that will provide them with new interests, whether it's books to read or fandoms to join or (judging from some of my DW followers' interests) obscure animals to get excited about. I can't say how it is for other people, but I don't actually need to know someone's relationship with a book in order to enjoy reading a book review. You may be right, of course, that talking about the relationship starts more discussions. :)

I think it's how its done. I know with me, if I talk about something I don't think a lot of people will be familiar with, I try to make it accessible TO them. This way even if they haven't read the book, or seen the show/movie, they can (a) perhaps have their interest piqued, and (b) still have something else to add, if they so desire. Whereas if the post is specific to the interest to the point where you can't really follow, it's less likely that you're going to comment. (Which isn't to say people still shouldn't post those. I post detail-heavy/spoilery posts all the time knowing I have a limited audience.)

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[personal profile] tekuates 2018-12-05 04:20 pm (UTC)(link)
i'm a longstanding lurker and this is really helpful, thank you!
glinda: Teal'c *indeed* (indeed)

[personal profile] glinda 2018-12-05 05:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Huh, this is really interesting, seeing it all laid out like this.

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anehan: Elizabeth Bennet with the text "sparkling". (Default)

[personal profile] anehan 2018-12-05 06:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Here from [personal profile] sylvaine's link.

Thanks for writing this post! It's definitely useful, even for someone like me, who has been hanging around online journal spaces for quite a while now (fifteen years, give or take).

I think what you said about ending the post on a question is really interesting. Back when I sometimes followed more traditional blogs, I used to see posts ending in a question really often. I disliked those questions. I never really figured out why, but your post has clarified that to me. More often than not, the type of questions I saw might have been able to elicit answers (though often those answers seemed rather forced, maybe) but they were really bad at fostering conversation. They were too generic while at the same time being too much of yes/no type of questions.
kore: (Ripley - Alien)

[personal profile] kore 2018-12-05 07:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, and the kind of bland "What do YOU think of X?" post-enders are sometimes obviously just meant as comment hooks, and they not-paradoxically tend to draw fewer comments. It can be tricky to come up with something genuine that doesn't sound like fishing or pandering.

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espresso_addict: Two cups of espresso with star effect on coffee pot (coffee cups)

[personal profile] espresso_addict 2018-12-05 07:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Interesting points. I strongly agree on one topic per post; I've often written a paragraph of comment about something in the journal of someone I don't know well, and then backed out because it entirely ignored the main point of the post, about which I either had no opinion or was unsure of how well my worldview aligned with the poster's. Particularly, never mix general discussion with personal tragedy; 'my [relative/cat/..] [died/is gravely ill/has been evicted/..], and here's this interesting unrelated discussion...' is only going to get comments from existing friends.

Cut tags entirely depend on your audience. (I have one friend who begs for no cut tags because of disability and another who begs for everything above a paragraph to be cut because of lack of bandwidth.)

An aside re the sedoretu post, I read and was interested, but failed to comment because I couldn't recall what moiety meant, and your post didn't explain, and I didn't have the brain/time available to search, and was too embarrassed to ask. I did try clicking on the post's tag but found no other discussions, even though I recall you've posted on sedoretu before. I suppose the take home is that if you discuss a topic frequently, tag it to provide an easy way in?

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kore: (Ripley - Alien)

[personal profile] kore 2018-12-05 07:28 pm (UTC)(link)
Aww, I remember "how to write an LJ post that gets comments" type guides back in the day! (I started to try to figure out how long ago exactly, then....stopped.) This is far more organized and realistic than most of them were, though. I think [personal profile] rachelmanija is another regular poster who's very good at asking "What do you think?" type questions that aren't generic but also aren't too specifically targeted. And sometimes the request can be blatant for a themed post, like "Tell me about your own worst theatre experience, onstage or off, in comments." That's good for drawing out a bunch of stories on different levels.

"People like to be asked" is a piece of old political advice that has never served me wrong in life, and it applies here just the same. The difference in number of comments between a long, well written-essay and the identical essay that has "So what do you think about X?" as the last line is significant. Even if people know that in theory you always want discussion, being explicitly asked really truly makes a difference in whether they do or not.

That's a GREAT insight, not just for politics or blogging but in general. Love it.

Although sometimes you get comments that....can often be just flat out contradictions of what you're talking about, which can be frustrating. Not just corrections of mistakes either. That's intensely frustrating to me, although I understand the urge all too well ("NO you are WRONG about the ending of Jane Eyre, SORRY"). I think this happens a little less on DW than it did on LJ, though, maybe because as you say, DW is often seen as more personal.

And I can't tell you how many times I've noticed that someone silently subscribed to me awhile ago, subscribed to them back because they have interesting posts, commented on a couple of their interesting posts as they went by, and as suddenly as that they've gone from lurker to one of my steadiest commenters. It's the same way in reverse with me - I add someone who is really cool and clearly not interested in me, but then they leave a couple comments on my journal and suddenly I get the courage to start commenting on theirs too. It really does matter if you make the effort to the be the first one to reach out.

In terms of finding people to reach out to, the absolute best way I know is to find someone you like who has a DW journal (even if they aren't active on DW), and then go to their reading page, and read it, and add anyone on that reading page whose posts look like something you want to read. And then comment on a couple of their posts. That will net you currently-active people who you have at least a little bit of a community connection with already.

If you have a paid account, you can use your network page as a shortcut for this. (If your network page is flooded with feeds/communities right now, you can add ?show=p to the end of the URL to make it show only personal journals.)

I've seen a lot of people wondering how to make contact on DW, and yeah, this is exactly how I did it (although more by instinct) on LJ way back in the day, and how I still tend to do it now -- communities on DW do tend to be dormant, but I've made some good friends the past few years through even small ones. It really does depend on that "Want to play?" invitation, though, and I know a lot of lurkers are uncomfortable or anxious about that. But even just in posts like this, if I see someone making a neat comment, I can go "Neat comment!" and often I'll get a comment in my DW that says "I've seen you around, you seem cool, want to add?" The process of finding like-minded people who will connect with you like that can seem slow and subterranean, but I do think it's a process that can be nursed along.

(And OMG, the DW split between "I read your stuff regularly" and "here are access to my deep personal thoughts" with access/reading list cuts off SO MUCH drama.)

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brighght: The words "we're glad you're queer!" on a rainbow pride flag (jon kent)

[personal profile] brighght 2018-12-05 10:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for the advice! I've definitely noticed points 5 & 8 to be true in AO3 commenting, so it makes sense that the same theory would apply here as well. I also like how you frame this as hosting; that kind of role reminds me of moderating Discord servers, which is a helpful reference to have :)
jjhunter: silhouetted woman by winding black road; blank ink tinted with green-blue background (silhouetted JJ by winding road)

[personal profile] jjhunter 2018-12-05 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
More thoughts! Or rather, an example. :D

I strongly agree with you on the point re: that people like to be asked, even if I sometimes feel very awkward and worried I’m verging in patronizing when I deliberately make an effort to close a post with one or more questions. Still, it does work, and when I’m excited about something and really hope to start a conversation about it it’s worth sitting on my self-conscious and just asking. A recent example of this that I think I did well:

[personal profile] jjhunter @ [community profile] poetry: "The Odyssey" book 1, lines 1-12, trans. by Emily Wilson from Homer
Tell me about a complicated man.
(Usually I feel like I’m very lucky if I get more than one comment on a [community profile] poetry post.)

And to close this comment with a question see what I did there? :D :D :D - are all or any closing questions equally good at inviting discussion? If not, what kinds of questions do you find more effective or more interesting to respond to?
pauraque: bird flying (Default)

[personal profile] pauraque 2018-12-05 11:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Hey, I've seen you around and I like this post, so I hope you don't mind I've added you. :)

Many of the things you brought up here are things I learned (often the hard way) when I was posting very actively on LJ in the 2000s. I had an intuitive knack for posting things that generated discussion, but I didn't always know what to do after all the people showed up. There were a lot of situations that would have gone better for everyone if I'd known then what I know now about being a good discussion host and handling bad comments. It would have also helped if I had understood how much work it takes to do those things, and that while I can choose to do that work, nobody is actually entitled to me doing it.
Edited 2018-12-05 23:20 (UTC)

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sewn: [Twin Peaks] Lucy sticking her tongue out (Default)

[personal profile] sewn 2018-12-06 12:45 am (UTC)(link)
As someone who's spent most of their fannish life lurking and commenting on other people's posts, I found this super helpful. Kudos for breaking down all the points in detail -- IME, general blogging advice tends to be ephemeral and ultimately useless ("Write for yourself first"). But I suppose that's the difference between fandom journal culture and corporate communication!

Btw, I subscribed & granted you access* -- found here via [personal profile] snickfic's post. :)

* Can I just say "added" or "friended" like the good old days :D Feelin' old

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skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)

[personal profile] skygiants 2018-12-06 02:44 am (UTC)(link)
This is great advice! 'one topic per post, or two topics AT MOST' has been my biggest rule of thumb for many years now -- I stumbled on it by accident mostly just because I honestly wanted to try and replicate book-club-style discussion in a journal, but discovered immediately that 'I'm gonna make five individual posts about five books' gets way more engagement overall than 'I'm gonna make a post about five books' even if the actual content is almost exactly the same. It generally seems like people like to have space to talk about a specific thing and know exactly what the boundaries of the discussion are.
rachelmanija: (Default)

[personal profile] rachelmanija 2018-12-06 04:28 am (UTC)(link)
Agreed. Nothing stops discussion like posting on 20 books at once. Unless you do a poll and ask "Which of these have you read/which should I read?" But multiple reviews in one post is guaranteed to get no comments.
umadoshi: (riceball love (snowgarden))

[personal profile] umadoshi 2018-12-06 04:11 am (UTC)(link)
I think my brain just melted from the awesomeness of this post.
xenakis: (Default)

[personal profile] xenakis 2018-12-06 04:34 am (UTC)(link)
Hi Melannen,
I started reading this post and it sounded super interesting but then you mentionned writing a whole post about sedoretus so I’m gonna have to stop reading this and start reading *that* and comment *there* because I have my priorities in order and not a lot of things top discussing the OT4 combination of my heart <333
siderea: (Default)

[personal profile] siderea 2018-12-06 04:58 am (UTC)(link)
Hey, this is fabulous! I do strongly disagree with one part though. And I would like to validate, for anybody who makes it this far: also, it is a-okay if you don't want to cultivate commenting in your journal. It is okay to use one's journal for one's self, say as a diary, or in some other format which is not about hosting discussions.

But if you do want discussion in your journal, this is a very practical way to do this!

The part I disagree with is about handling bad comments. My experience inclines me to the belief that there is, alas, One Right Answer for handling bad comments on DW (and LJ); I've been doing this since 2003, am a social sciences hacker, and really only one thing has the results I think we mostly all want.

That One Right Answer, Alas, is not always responding graciously. Unfortunately, the responding graciously approach has two bad side effects. The first is that it reinforces the bad behavior by rewarding it with attention (comment); it tends to make more of it. People who make bad comments – and I'm particularly thinking of the in-good-faith bad comments – think they're socializing correctly and not antagonizing others, relax, and sometimes become even less circumspect/considerate/attentive to others/etc. The second is that when the bad comment is in some sense disrespectful – of the host, of others – the other commenters become that little bit more acculturated to behaving that way and considering it normal. In this way, I have repeatedly seen one slightly rude/presumptuous commentor metastasize into a whole "friends list" of commentors who are rude/presumptuous to the journal owner.

Other things that don't work: gentle explanations in public; gentle explanations in private (DMs); not-so gentle explanations; outright flaming; vague-blogging; carefully articulated commenting rules; open-ended, non-specific commenting guidelines. All these things tend to both fail to change people's behavior for the better and result in strife, confrontation, and general indignant butthurtness, sometimes with a side of vengeance. And they absorb spoons on the OP's part; to do them the OP engages in all this emotional labor which, really, who has the time? I once proposed that Tumblr was so successful because it didn't have comments, and the stress and exhaustion of playing host/moderating comments is what drove most people from running their own blogs.

So what do you do? As best I can tell, the One Right Answer is: screen it. No explanation, no apology. Somebody makes a comment that is a deleterious contribution to the discussion? Just screen it and drop it off the face of the universe, ideally before anybody else gets to comment on it so the author doesn't get the positive reinforcement of attention.

I would recommend not fearing driving away commentors. People like to talk. Shy people are more likely to contribute if the comments are placid, low-strife, and don't have obvious rudeness in them. There really is a forced choice between people who are thoughtlessly rude, and people who are not comfortable around the obviously rude. So the question is: whom do you want? If it's the non-rude, the gracious, the bashful, the non-contentious, then don't be shy about suppressing comments that are rude, inept, thoughtless, presumptuous, etc.

DW gives us the tool to do that.

(ETA: I should mention: my journal is not an example of anything pertinent here, as I am doing something very different with commenting there. In many ways I am discouraging commenting and discussion. But that is also how I can assure you that you can screen problematic comments and not kill discussion, because I am pretty much discussion-discouraging and screen with abandon and still get comments.)
Edited 2018-12-06 05:03 (UTC)
jjhunter: Small dragon on top of bookshelf is posed reading a book (library dragon)

[personal profile] jjhunter 2018-12-06 10:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Re: comment screening as a moderation tool: DW does allow you, the journal owner, to reply to screened comments with your reply also being in the same screened mode as what you are replying to.

More info about screening here:

There are definitely scenarios where a quick screen of a bad faith or over the line comment squelches the issue and provides a firm, non-escalating boundary enforcement, and I’d agree that responding even in a screened private comment thread would reopen the can of worms. But when I have some existing relationship or other context to indicate the comment was more tone-deaf than deliberately inconsiderate, a private followup of this kind can be helpful.
Edited 2018-12-06 22:54 (UTC)
sazerac: (Default)

[personal profile] sazerac 2018-12-06 06:05 pm (UTC)(link)
I really enjoyed this post, thank you!

Back in the LJ years, I was not particularly skilled at soliciting discussion and probably over-relied on my journal as am an emotional pressure release valve.

After the transition to Tumblr (Has it really been 9 years of tumble?!) minimized what little pseudonymous conversation I had, I'm eager to repopulate my Dreamwidth with a little more care and attention.

Taking some of these under advisement, particularly the broad sense of journal-as-house and adhering to my own version of proper guest-host relations.
monksandbones: A detail of a medieval manuscript illustration featuring a singing monk in a green cowl (inappropriate monk love)

[personal profile] monksandbones 2018-12-07 03:31 am (UTC)(link)
*Waves from deep in your discussion threads* iirc you were also one of my first non-rl livejournal friends, in the deeps of time back in... *pulls the increasingly-necessary bifocals of a Fannish Old out of vest pocket, puts on bifocals, reads* ... 2003, wow!

As one of the people who posts exhaustive daily life updates, mostly, and gets few comments, mostly, it's about creating the record of my life, not the comments. Having people read and sometimes stick in their oar is the sweet sweet inducement to keep me posting and therefore creating the record, only 36 years to go before I catch up to the series of journal my grandpa has been keeping since 1966, long may the gap continue not to close as he continues to also journal! But I digress. What I meant to say is that it's impressive that you're still reading!

But I definitely take your point about entries with a single topic being more inviting of discussion than more diffuse ones, and I'll keep it in mind for the times when I post something that I actually intend to generate comments/discussion!
softedisworl: Art of Vimes looking forward with a neutral expression. (Default)

[personal profile] softedisworl 2018-12-07 04:32 am (UTC)(link)
I can't say I'll be attempting something like this soon, but this was, nevertheless, an enlightening read.
swingandswirl: text 'tammy' in white on a blue background.  (Default)

[personal profile] swingandswirl 2018-12-07 02:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh wow, this is fascinating. /adds to Memories/ Thank you for posting this! I don't think of my blog as a discussion blog, but even so there's some stuff here I can put to good use.

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