Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Delicate Art of Blogging Etiquette

When I first set up my blog and published my first post, I only really thought about the possibility of people reading it in quite specific, personal terms. As in: am I sure I can live with the fall-out if for some reason Naked Boss discovers it and recognises himself, which of course is never going to happen because no-one who knows me knows I'm writing it and I never use anybodies real name so stop being so paranoid and just write the flipping thing will you.... It didn't occur to me in any sort of concrete way that real people who didn't know me might end up reading it on a regular basis. Of course I realise now how naive that was, but in my defence at the time I had only just got connected to the internet and I didn't have any understanding at all of how the blogosphere worked. In fact I posted for a good month or so just happily oblivious in my own little bloggy bubble, assuming that I was just writing for myself and that because nobody had left a comment, nobody was reading it. I had not yet become acquainted with anything like Stat-counter or Twitter and my blog just felt like my own little private domain. My secret. A clandestine and solitary pursuit, that no-one else was in on.

My first comments came via Noble Savage. She discovered my blog - in particular a post that I had written about the sugar coating of motherhood - liked what she saw and not only left a comment herself, but also put out a link to the post on Twitter, which then had the effect of attracting many more comments and also my first readers. I was terribly excited. Blogging had now been instantly transformed into something else entirely - a mode of communication - rather than simply of self-expression.

I sent NS an e-mail to thank her. I seem to remember gushing all over the place - which no doubt embarrassed her somewhat - before explaining that I was new and wasn't really sure what I was doing and did she have any tips? She sent back a very kind reply explaining (amongst other things) that it was generally considered good form to go and check out the blogs of those people that had left a comment on yours and perhaps also to leave a comment yourself if you felt so inclined.

Almost five months later - although no less of a technical dunderhead - I do have a slightly better idea of how things work. But I still find the whole area around blogging etiquette a complete mine-field. I have, in the main, stuck to NS's advice in the sense that I will always have a look at someones blog if they have bothered to comment on mine. I feel it is only courteous and besides it's a good way to discover interesting new things to read. I am already finding however that when one is time poor it can be a difficult policy to keep up with. For bloggers who receive many comments per post I can imagine that it becomes almost impossible. I find myself worrying at times that I may have unintentionally snubbed someone, only to then feel frustrated because blogging for me is supposed to be about writing. It's supposed to be fun and cathartic, not an exercise in social climbing.

The blogosphere is in some ways a social space though, and it's here that it can become tricky to navigate. Because ultimately - and here's the rub - I am not prepared to read and comment on blogs that I'm not interested in or that I don't think are good, just to be polite. It's a waste of time. There, I've said it.

Now... I know that my feelings and opinions are not objective facts. I only get to say what is good and what is not from my own point of view. Different strokes for different folks and all that. I think Catherine Cooksons books are crap for example, but she was an extremely successful author whose works sold more than 100 million copies. And everybody in the whole world seems to love the film The Shawshank Redemption, but I think it's mawkish and trite. There we are - I'm happy to accept that it's just me. By the same token I'm more than happy to accept that not everybody is going to think my blog is good. I can be quite opinionated, perhaps I can take myself a little seriously at times, and my posts tend to be far too long - all things that I know can put readers off. I certainly don't expect anyone to read and comment on my blog simply because I read and comment on theirs. In fact I'm mortified by the idea that someone might comment on my space simply to be polite - I'd much rather they didn't to be honest.

One of my favourite bloggers of all is Black Hockey Jesus (or BHJ.) He's a talented, funny, brutally honest and clever man who is also capable of writing that is so delicate, subtle and beautiful, it can take your breath away. I was re-reading this post of his last night (which by the way is neither delicate, subtle nor beautiful) and the comments that followed it, and really thinking about the questions it posed - one of which was this, which actually began life as a question on formspring:

“Would you concede that you ‘used’ certain bloggers you don’t respect and never did in order to get more attention early on?”

Now I'm proud to say that I haven't ever done that. I have courted some bloggers unashamedly, leaving them lots of comments and hoping that they would notice, read my blog, and like my stuff too. BUT the crucial difference is that I have only done this with bloggers that I genuinely really admire. I have left them lots of comments because their writing has inspired me to do so. I have wanted to make a connection with them because I have found them interesting and truly liked what they have to say and the way they say it.

Ultimately I think that being authentic is more important than being scrupulously polite. There is nothing appealing in falsity. I like to think that I'm courteous and friendly, but I'm not going to comment unless I mean it. On the other side of the coin you can know that if I do sometimes comment on your posts then that is because I have felt honestly inspired to do so and because I truly rate your writing.

I am interested to know what other bloggers feel about this. Do you ever feel under pressure when it comes to reading and commenting?


  1. I'm with you on this one - generally speaking I don't commenton peoples' blogs just to be polite. But I do check back now and then on people who comment on mine, because I may have caught them on a bad day the day I checked it out - Lord knows I've had enough of those myself - and so I stop by more than once.

    If I like a post I always comment, though. See? I liked your post! I'm commenting!

    And then the flip side to this coin is there are several blogs I adore and I don't have time to check back as often as I'd like. I swear, I could lose a whole day just reading blogs.

    And I love me some BHJ. The man is brilliant. I have a crush on his brain.


  2. Me too Ellie, me too. I have the biggest crush on his brain!

  3. Wow, Gappy, I needed to read this. I don't want to comment all over the place, just because. I especially don't want to force comments on blogs I don't even find particularly interesting. And I need to remember that I don't want to do this as an exercise in social climbing.

    The thing is, I find commenting EXTREMELY time consuming, because I spend so much time putting together my comment and then rereading it a hundred times (because I'm like that). So I don't even want to just do it for the sake of it, even for posts that I like, unless I really want to say something or engage in that particular discussion. But, of course, I love GETTING comments, so there is that reciprocity thing.

    I do try to comment as often as I am inspired to on the blogs that I love (and that I would love to notice me, as well), but sometimes feel pressured to find something smart or funny or interesting to contribute, when really I would rather just nod my head in agreement or say 'I like this.'

    Anyways, I am all over the place, but feeling all inspired by you to just be sincere and not stress the comment thing. Thanks!

  4. After more than 2 years and lots of going back and forth about this topic, I still try to reciprocate when someone leaves a comment on my blog (I'm doing it now).

    However, if I find that their blog is boring, I won't leave a comment becuase this is the type of relationship that I'd rather not encourage.

    Yes, blogging IS social which complicates things - but you do have the option of removing comments from your blog and just focusing on writing. Most bloggers choose not to do that.

  5. "I am not prepared to read and comment on blogs that I'm not interested in or that I don't think are good" - I think that's fair enough and to tell the truth what everybody does or should do. I certainly wouldn't want someone reading my blog cynically as part of a personal marketing campaign. We are all time short. We have to be choosy. Therefore those we do choose can feel honoured that time has been spent on them because the reader liked to do so.

  6. Gosh, did I say that? I don't remember! I suppose that's because I don't follow that particular 'rule' very well myself. I think I told you because that seems to be the official 'etiquette' and I figured I'd let you decide whether you wanted to follow it or not.

    I do try to visit the blogs of people who leave comments on my site, not because I feel it's polite or an obligation but because I find some really interesting blogs that way! I'm not very good at having time to leave comments, even when I want to, but I try as much as I can. If I don't connect with someone's blog though, I don't feel bad for not subscribing or commenting. There's only so much I can read in a given day/week and so I have to be choosy. We all do.

  7. I only read blog posts that appear to be of interest in the two or three lines that appear in my reader on the dashboard.

    I only comment on blog posts where I feel I have something to add, however that said, I can be in a mood to comment a lot on lots of blogs, or not at all on anything I read.

    I never comment for the sake of being reciprocal though.

  8. I'm rubbish at blog etiquette. I never comment on enough blogs, never get time to reply to people who comment on mine. It's a wonder anyone speaks to me at all.

    I used to feel guilty but you know what? I have a life. Sometimes I just want to blog and not worry about the obligation of remembering everyone else. Sometimes I just want to write and run. And that's ok. When I have the time, I engage, I comment. That's going to have to be enough :)

  9. There is undoubtedly an etiquette of sorts, but no expectation (in my mind anyway). If I leave a comment, it's because the subject matter has moved me or inspired me in some way and I wanted to say so - simples. I don't EXPECT everyone whose blog I read to return the favour, nor am I always able to do it when people comment on mine.

    I do try and visit the blogs of those who are kind enough to visit me but it's not always possible - real life does get in the way. I also read a lot of blogs on my phone and always mean to go back and comment, but in reality probably only make it 20% of the time.

    I absolutely agree that authenticity is the key. It's easy to get wrapped up in the whole thing, so finding a balance is equally as important. The last thing (because I'm rambling) is replying to comments - I try and keep up with this, even if it means returning weeks later to a post. It means a lot to me if someone else responds to my comment so it's something that's important to me in maintaining my own blog. Thought-inspiring post xx

  10. That Black Hockey Jesus -I've seen him mentioned so much by my Canadian/American blogging friends so I went to his site but it was blocked and I haven't got round to sending him a request yet. Sounds like I should.

    I think there are a few distinct camps. There are people who write and have an audience and have so many followers that they couldn't possibly reply to everyone if they wanted to,(I'm thinking Dooce, Her Bad Mother, Heather from The Spohrs are Multiplying) and then other people who reply on their blog to every single comment.I don't do that very often because I would just find it too time consuming - unless there's some sort of dialogue/debate going on in the comments - but I sometimes see other people saying that not to reply is rude and stand offish.

    I like finding new blogs through my comments and will often reciprocate, seek out their blog and comment if I have something genuinely to say but try not to get too hung up on it. There have been nights when I've lain awake wondering if I've offended anyone and then I thought life's too short. I tend to stay loyal to a few people rather than comment everywhere although I read more than I comment on.

  11. I am with you on this one. There is a number of blogs that I read regardless, I read them because I enjoy them, there are others that I read for the thoughts they inspire in my. I only ever comment if I have something to say or add. I never expect resiprical comments, but then I am not cool, I wasnt at school and I arnt now and it doesnt do it for me!

  12. Macondo Mama, It is time consuming isn't it? Like you I love getting comments - really love it - because comments are what make blogging the interactive medium it is. I also think that I am a fairly generous commenter. It's just that I'm not prepared to (like you say) force it, especially when I don't happen to think the blog is particularly great.

    Vered, Thank you for stopping by. It's interesting what you say about some bloggers choosing to switch off their comments. Personally I would never want to do that because like I said to Macondo Mama, I think comments are what make blogging the unique interactive medium it is. I want to interact - both on my own blog and on other peoples - but I reserve the right to be choosy that's all.

    Steve, What can I say except that you are one of the bloggers whom I have courted unashamedly. It was for all the right reasons though :-)

    NS, It is a great way to find new blogs. I think you have the right attitude aswell in that you don't seem to bother with feeling guilty about having neither the time nor the desire to comment on everything. I'm going to work on that!

    VBIC, What you say is really interesting, because I do that too. Just goes to show how important the title of your post can be if you want people to read it, although there are a few bloggers whom I like so much that I just read everything they write.

    Josie, I actually thought of you when I wrote that it would be impossible for some bloggers to keep up with everyone who commented on their posts. I think your attitude is a good one. Your own life and balance has to come first. And for me aswell, the writing has to take priority over the commenting. I only have a finite amount of free time....

    Peabee, I wish I was better about replying to my own comments.... I'm actually planning a move to my own site soon, and when I do I'm going to have a comment system similar to your own which will hopefully make it easier for me to reply to people. At the moment it's fairly erratic....

    Deer Baby, I don't remember needing to send a request to read BHJ's blog, but I did subscribe a while ago so maybe I've just forgotten. Do send a request - he's brilliant - you won't regret it.

    I also read much more than I comment on - I think we all probably do. Like you say, life's too short to worry about these things. x

  13. The Mad House, I have different categories of blogs too. There are personal blogs that I love so much I will read virtually every post they write. There are lots of blogs that I really like and so will read a lot (especially if the title of the post catches my eye in my reader) and there are some political/feminist blogs that I read to feel inspired and perhaps get ideas for my own posts. I keep meaning to try to find some different sorts of blogs - perhaps some ones that are interested in discussing literature for example - but I never seem to quite get round to it...

  14. The day I allow blogging to cause me stress or pressure whether to comment or to write my own post, I will shut down my blog. I will not allow the online enjoyment change into something negative. I have had enough of that in my real life. I like what you say about just being honest. I would much rather have an honest comment and have a real comment that pertains to what I wrote in my post. Like you, I don't feel obligated to comment on something I am not interested in, nor do I comment just to be part of something. Or one of the gang. You know what I mean. I would not put my blog for instance in the category of your blog. I consider your blog writing style more intellectual and usually more serious subjects in your posts. For me, my posts are either air head fun, or they are disguised in third person writing and they are very painful to me. But writing has helped me so much in my recovery and in my growing up. I am at an age that I should have already been grown up. But no, not so. I am just now past teen age in emotional and psychological age. Of course this is always just my opinion. I do like reading your post. No BS in that statement at all. Just honesty.

  15. Technobabe, Isn't it funny how the impressions other people develop of us through our blogs can be so different to how we see ourselves? I really don't consider myself to be very intellectual - in fact I am often rendered inarticulate and intimidated by those I do consider to be intellectual types. On the other hand I have come to view you as being rather wise - certainly not emotionally and psychologically immature - and a very brave writer also. I see a lot in your posts (whether I am correct in what I see I can't know) and consider myself to be a loyal reader. No BS from me either. Just honesty, like you say.

  16. Personally for me I do of course have favourite blogs I read, such as yourself but I will only comment on them if I find them interesting. There are some people in this blogging world that I simply dont enjoy their style and content and so dont read. But I think for some people there is a pressure and an attempt to succeed!

  17. You have said exactly what i've been thinking!
    I so want to be polite and get on in the blogosphere, but i would rather people commented n my blog when they really were inspired, rather than just felt they had to out of politeness. I think you can usually tell the difference in any case.
    I also have my thoughts about blogging which you can read here http://marketingtomilk.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/are-all-bloggers-egotists/

    Great post. (flatter flatter - now u better check out my blog or i'll get the digi heavies on you!)

  18. It takes a while, but pretty soon you find the peeps you click with.

    What's really hard is when someone is following you, and you are so far from what they're like. THen they start to email, "hey, why don't you follow me? I followed you.." or they say, "I comment on your posts, I expect the same back."

    That is creepy. I had one person email and say, "I'm not going to follow you anymore b/c you never mention me in your posts. "


  19. Gappy. Blogging is crazy. My ideas about it change all the time. As I approach 2 years of doing it, though, I know this: I only comment when I feel like it and when my kids aren't asking me how to spell something.

    The person above is referring to my old blog that I had to shut down. It says you need a password but it's not doing anything but sitting there. All the old stuff is behind a tab on my new blog called "WIND".

    It's a pleasure to be one of your favorites. In fact, when I stop to think about it, it feels really cool. Thanks.

  20. Hayley, Yes I suppose there are some to whom success is more important than others. Personally I am not going to pretend that I just write for myself, because if that was the case I could write in a private diary couldn't I? I think the fact that we all self-publish our writing on the internet means that to some extent we would like people to read and connect with what we write. I know I do. But I also know that I would prefer to have a small group of readers whom I felt really engaged with than a huge group who weren't that bothered. Does that make sense?

    Hpretty, Hello. Will definitely pop over and have a look at the link. I'm intrigued by the title... it's a fair question I think.

    The Empress, Woah that is creepy. Did this person think that you owed them something just because they chose to read your blog? Poor you - not a nice e-mail to receive. I suspect you survived o.k. without their follow though huh ;-)

    BHJ, Hello. I had wondered in an idle, I'll click on it later sort of way what that wind tab meant. Now that I know I might go and have a read. Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad that you're glad that you're one of my favourites.

  21. Once you start doing something just because you think it is the right thing to do, or is expected of you, suddenly it is not fun anymore. Be nice, but do what you like.

  22. Being honest about it I think sometimes I comment when I feel that I am needed to comment. I also comment because I want to, because the writing moves me in some way to connect. I always feel priviledged that people drop by aqnd bother to conenct with me - it makes my day but I don't expect everyone to, every time I post. I am far to random for that. Thought provoking post.

  23. A Modern Mother, "Be nice, but do what you like " - exactly.

    Tattie Weasle, You are one of my new discoveries. Am very much enjoying reading your stuff. x

  24. I couldn't agree with this more. I know I didn't strategically comment, not even early on. I do try to give feedback, but only where I feel it's due. Another blogger told me last night she suspects some people just skim read her blog and then comment for the sake of it, or the links. I think that's rank. And a little bit sad. There are so many blogs out there surely you can concentrate on the blogs you relate to?

  25. Vegemitevix, Exactly. Who can be bothered to read stuff they don't like? I know I can't.

  26. I'm about to type "I'm so behind with my reading...." but that says everything in itself doesn't it? Maybe? I agree with so much of what you and the above commentators say. Its admirable to comment when moved, reply to your own comments and check out their blogs but really, its a struggle for me. I know lurking isn't great but I do it at times. I want to read & enjoy with a cuppa and generally, run out the door for the school run.

    The blogs I connect with the most (ta-dahhhhh) I tend to comment on regularly but if I've no time I won't beat myself up about it.

    I think new bloggers like you and I are still figuring out what works for us. Like all things in life, what works for one will not work for another. The important thing is balance. A life of non-stop Twittering, Blogging and Commenting is not for me but for others it is. Its all in the balance that suits the individual.

    Great post Gappy

    MD xx

  27. Modern Dilemma, It's certainly right that I'm still figuring out what works for my blogging life, and I think you're right also when you say that balance is key. At the end of the day I've got a home to run and three children to care for. I've other committments too - friendships to maintain and whatnot. If I commented on absolutely everything, these things would inevitably suffer. I love blogging and so it's important that I can fit it into my life in such a way that it doesn't become all encompassing. x

  28. Hi, Gappy, I found you via Paris-Ankara Express via The Bloggess - I'm also so new to the blogosphere that I'm still tickled pink by the wonderful places I can end up by just going on field trips to visit the commenters and the commenters of commenters on blogs I love reading. The problem, of course is that one of my sons now claims "you love the computer more than you love me" Not true! I will however, admit to finding swimming through the splendid writing of my virtual bloggy community endlessly more fascinating than listening to my son drone on endlessly about his Pokemon battles. I love my son to death. Pokemon, not so much so. Please come visit me when you get a chance at my blog, The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation. Cheers!

  29. Hi Varda, Thanks for stopping by. I certainly will come and visit you at The Squashed Bologna - how could I resist!

  30. There is also an ebb and flow to blogging. Some blogs I follow and comment on for a while, but then drift away. I may go back months later, but I may not. You have to do that, otherwise you'd have no capacity for picking up new ones.

    Real-life friendships can be like that too.