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Question to those reading this blog on an RSS reader (such as Google Reader)

Berk Ozler's picture

Hi everyone,

A quick weekend question: A while back, in fact soon after this blog got going in April, we changed the settings so that you can read the posts without ever coming to the blog website. This was based upon requests from the readers, one of whom said (I am paraphrasing): "You're not selling anything on your website, so why are you forcing me to your site to read the posts?" It was argued that when you have many tabs open, the marginal cost of opening another one is high, so you'd rather read the posts in your Reader. We were more than happy to oblige and today we have more than 900 subscribers on Google Reader (and another 500+ email subscribers).

However, reading some of the posts I missed while I was on vacation today on Google Reader, I realized that I don't see the comments on the post in the reader, only the post itself. This is likely not an issue if you're one of those people who read the posts as soon as they're out (there will likely be no comments), but if you accumulate posts there and visit regularly but somewhat infrequently, you may miss some comments, some of which might be even more interesting than the post itself. Am I right on this?

So, while it is true that we're not selling anything, we ARE trying to generate discussion of topics of interest to the readers. And whether you comment or not must, at least partially, depend on whether there were other comments that peaked your interest or prompted you to reply, etc. While the average post gets 3 comments, the variation is sizeable.

So, readers who read exclusively on Google Reader: how do you see this? This is definitely not cause for us trying to force you back onto the site (rest assured), but perhaps there is a technological solution? Please let us know what you think, which, I believe, requires you to come to the site...

Comments

Submitted by Dave on
To be honest, I find the marginal return to reading blog comments to be almost 0 on most blogs. Some exceptions to this are Marginal Revolution, Ta-nehisi Coates, Fangraphs, and Ezra Klein's Google+). As far as I can tell, these blogs have made it a strategic priority to cultivate a high quality community of readers that comment regularly; this sort of community has the virtue of policing bad commenters and trolls, and keeping the discussion at a relatively high level. With that said, I mostly read your blog to learn - I don't work in development and it's generally outside my area of comfortableness to comment here (way past my Modern Jackass level, for those who listen to This American Life). So yeah, I'm basically just a development fanboy/lurker.

I read posts in Google Reader (that is, unless Google kills it in the next week, which seems likely) and don't mind missing comments at all. If I'm interested enough in a subject to want to read the comments and possibly join in, it's not a big deal to click through. If you really want to spark discussion the thing to change is your commenting interface -- it's horrendous. The captcha's are really hard (I often have to do several) and then it takes a while for the comment to show up. Several times I've started commenting only to give up or have my comment get eaten by the system, which discourages me from commenting again. Other major economics blogs (think Marginal Revolution, Blattman, et al) have instant commenting and it works fine. I think if you made it easier to comment you get about 10x the comment volume (seriously).

Submitted by Anonymous on
I use google reader. The *number* of comments will appear in the reader and if commenting is warranted I can click through...

Submitted by Berk Ozler on
Thanks for these comments. Dave: Got it - thanks. There will always be some who have zero interest in commenting for a variety of reasons and that's fine. And, I agree with you that on many blogs, the comments are not interesting or useful. But, I do think they are pretty substantive here. Brett: I hear you. However, this is one things where we are not able to diverge from the rest of the Bank, which uses this system. I will bring it up again with colleagues, but I am not hopeful. Thanks again. Berk.

Submitted by Marc Levy on
I use an RSS reader to read almost all the blogs I follow. I find it vastly easier and quicker than going to different Web sites. I do not see the comments, but I don't feel any sense of loss. The most helpful blogs lift the most useful comments into their own posts. If I really want to read comments for some reason I just go the Web site -- no big deal there. I do find it extremely annoying when blogs block full content through RSS, though I realize that it is a necessity for some people.

Submitted by Berk Ozler on
Thanks -- this is very helpful. We have no intention of blocking full content, so no worries there. I just checked to see if there was an easy option to also feed the comments but I have not seen one. I will still check with our coleagues though.

Submitted by Eli on
Even if I'm on the site, I only read or make comments if I found the article interesting enough, and if I find it interesting, I can easily click over to the site from Reader. This only happens for about 10% of blog posts I read (more often on this blog, mind you), so it's still better to use Reader. I wouldn't say I'm missing any comments that I would have read otherwise.

Submitted by Chris on
I subscribe through Reader but read through a client that syncs with Reader (specifically, I use the Reeder software for Mac and iOS). Some blogs have implemented a system that shows, at the bottom of the post, the number of comments at the time of the last sync. I tend to read quickly after the post but, if the post is interesting and I see that some comments have already been made, I am more likely to click through and read those comments. I am not sure if your blogging software supports showing the number of comments at the end of full-text RSS items.

Submitted by Wayan on
So if you had ads and therefore wanted people to see them, you should have a teaser RSS, but since you are selling ideas, you want readers to consume your full thought - be it via RSS reader, emailed RSS, or even another site that republishes your feed in full. RSS is mandatory for high-volume readers, who are usually thought leaders. So your feed should be thought of as important as your website itself. Your goal is to disseminate your idea far and wide. In that, yes, you could hope for more comments, which is a proxy for attention and thought on your original idea. Still, I would judge your impact on the distance your ideas travel and tracking memes (unique keywords, phrases, hashtags, etc) is often more indicative of impact than comments. On a personal level, I only read sites via RSS, and if the topic interests me (like this on did) I will click through to read the comments. Usually if I do that, I will also comment on the post too. Though, like others have said, your commenting system is a real hindrance, and OIS even more so.

Submitted by Margaret on
I read through Google Reader, and while it is true that I never click through to the article to read the comments, I don't think I would read them much if I was accessing the blog from the site either. I think it is a reasonable compromise: if I want to read more or add something, it is only a click away. I certainly wouldn't want the blog post refreshed itself in my Reader feed following each new comment. The current system works for me!

Submitted by Katherine on
I read blogs in Reader as well, and really appreciate it when I can read a whole article there instead of clicking on to the website. In fact, I'm more likely to read the full article if it all appears in Reader than if a teaser appears. I will click through--and read the comments--for two reasons: 1) if there's a link to another article or paper I'd like to read as well or 2) if the article/topic is right up my alley, and I want to hear what everyone has to say about it. If comments were to appear within Reader, unless I'm really interested I would probably skip them--just as I do now. Thanks for a great blog and I hope these thoughts are helpful.

Submitted by Tom on
I think the concern is not the medium of reading the post. Rather it is the drive to comment. I do my blog reading through Google Reader, but will open the post if I feel compelled to read or take part in the comments. My suggestion is to make comments more inviting. This post is an example of an instance where you have opened up the discussion asking for inputs. I have found that an ask at the end of a post can be an effective way to encourage discussions. As an example, you could invite people to jump into the MVP debate by discussing trial design ideas that could help address some of the critical concerns as well as those by Sachs and company.

I wouldn't change anything. When I want to comment, I come to the site. For the most part though, this is one of the blogs that has the highest quality comment above the line (i.e. from the authors), and so generally I don't feel the need to comment unless I really feel something has been left out.

Submitted by Andrea Ruiz on
The purpose of my post is to share my opinion and my personal preferences when it comes to participating in the blogging community. The opportunity cost of looking at the web page is too high for me. I am so inundated by email that I have become efficient at screening it. This efficiency lets me to read the posts that I find most interesting and relevant delivered in a convenient, hassle free way. If I feel the blog post has moved me to comment or raised questions that I want to discuss it is likely that I will make an effort to click on the link and take part in the discussion. The reader who is interested will participate, Even if the delivery method included commentary the reader who is not interested in this commentary is probably going to ignore it and move on to the next article or item on their to-do list. The bottom line is, the reader chooses their participation level based on interest. Being unable to read the comments through certain delivery methods i.e. email, will not deprive any content from the reader who was not interested in it the first place. Blog commenters are a self selected group, a natural regulation of comments. We know that whoever is reading cares enough to find out and whoever comments cares enough to say something. A perfect match! -Andrea Ruiz

Submitted by Andrea Ruiz on
The purpose of my post is to share my opinion and my personal preferences when it comes to participating in the blogging community. The opportunity cost of looking at the web page is too high for me. I am so inundated by email that I have become efficient at screening it. This efficiency lets me to read the posts that I find most interesting and relevant delivered in a convenient, hassle free way. If I feel the blog post has moved me to comment or raised questions that I want to discuss it is likely that I will make an effort to click on the link and take part in the discussion. The reader who is interested will participate, Even if the delivery method included commentary the reader who is not interested in this commentary is probably going to ignore it and move on to the next article or item on their to-do list. The bottom line is, the reader chooses their participation level based on interest. Being unable to read the comments through certain delivery methods i.e. email, will not deprive any content from the reader who was not interested in it the first place. Blog commenters are a self selected group, a natural regulation of comments. We know that whoever is reading cares enough to find out and whoever comments cares enough to say something. A perfect match! -Andrea Ruiz

Submitted by Antro on
Hey, I read the blog through Google Reader, and only click thru if I'm really interested to find out more or read comments. But I mainly just read the content, as that is what interests me. And I'm much more likely to read each entry this way, than if I had to visit the website. A bigger concern to me is the articles behind journal paysites, which I can't access. Rgds, Antro.

Submitted by Joshua Muskin on
berk, first, thanks to you and your colleagues for the great blog. i am not much of a blog follower, but this one i find well worth the effort. one possible solution could be sending out a notice of when someone has commented on a particular blog, with a link back to the comment. or, just offer an option of being sent all the comments for every blog as well as the original comment, to which folks could subscribe. or, and i’ve never seen this before, might there be an option for each individual blog submission to click something at the end to request either notification of any comments on the particular blog or to receive the comments just for that blog? in the same vein, maybe it would be good to have a “comment” button at the end that would send you directly to the blog site rather than just the “to view the full story” click. keep up the great work. thank you, joshua

I found that most blogs under Wordpress.com have the option to subscribe via RSS to their comments section. Fot instance, I have one blog for my Anthropology course, and pasting in G.Reader http://antrosocial.wordpress.com/comments/feed/ I am receiving every comment directly in the Reader. It shouldn´t be difficult to have something similar here... PD: the CAPTCHA system is terrible here!!

Submitted by Jim on
First, please accept my appreciation for the care and respect you give to your website, which manifests in every post. You are a light. As to comments, I do not believe that feed readers have thwarted my comment participation. I long ago ported my Google reader subscriptions to FeedDemon. Now I don't know how I lived without its interface in this information age, and I see that recent Reader developments will soon nudge more folks to find alternatives. FeedDemon also shows me comments if I subscribe to the comment feed. I often click through to comment sections of interesting articles, and sometimes comment. Which brings me to my final observation regarding your comment section; one of the advantages of third party comment systems like Disqus is that they inspire discussion by emailing participants as new comments arise. Besides nurturing participation and increasing traffic, it also allows readers ready access to past articles which are sometimes difficult to find. Thank you again for your wonderful website; your logic and style is refreshing in a world of pablum.

Submitted by Berk Ozler on
Hi Jim, These comments are great -- very useful for me -- so, a heartfelt "thanks." Thanks also for the kind words -- I learned a new word today: pablum...

Submitted by priya on
First of all, thanks for the effort of relaying this high quality food for thought and exposing ideas bolstered by data and research to all of us, potential readers. It would be easy for me to jump into what I think I should do or I would like to do, but I will focus on what I actually do to extract some meaning that can be hopefully useful. Normally I read the post and even if I feel the urge to comment, unless it is just the right time, I wont do it. Other competing interests take all the available time and, somehow, I feel I have got enough by reading your post. However, in one particular occasion that I commented something I saw my opinion reflected in a following post. It was interesting to experience that my comment was read and appreciated. It immediately made me feel part of a community (?). You can consider to go back to some of the posts that have had valuable comments and somehow wrap them up and reflect them into a follow-up post. I think it will enrich and foster the discussion, massage our egos enough to promote more active participation, and definitely help create a feeling of discussion group (as opposed to a more detached separate roles of giver and receiver). It can also provide you with a more immediate sense of how your post is perceived and understood and which topics/suggestions generate more active interest. Thanks also for this initiative of reaching out to your audience, priya

I think the concern is not the medium of reading the post. Rather it is the drive to comment. I do my blog reading through Google Reader, but will open the post if I feel compelled to read or take part in the comments. My suggestion is to make comments more inviting. This post is an example of an instance where you have opened up the discussion asking for inputs. I have found that an ask at the end of a post can be an effective way to encourage discussions. As an example, you could invite people to jump into the MVP debate by discussing trial design ideas that could help address some of the critical concerns as well as those by Sachs and company.

Submitted by Janice on
Hello, I use google reader too. And just wondering, when I subscribe to feeds (e.g. blogs), will the blog owner know that I'm subscribing to them? Or is my subscription 'hidden' ?

As far as I know blog owners can see the total number of people subscribing in Google Reader, but not who they are.