Why Have Blogs At All? – The Race To Kill Blogging

How would a human differentiate between the original source for a piece of content on the web, and a syndicated or splogged copy?

One of the most important factors would almost certainly be the comments.

What is one of the primary reasons people click through from an RSS feed to actually visit a blog?

Almost certainly it is either to read comments others have made, or to make one of their own. It is not to view advertising… at least for most.

How would a machine, such as Google differentiate between original source and whether a piece of content is valuable to include in its search index?

Factors could include:-

  • The content within comments – keywords, language structure, length etc
  • The number of comments
  • Update frequency of the page (gaining additional comments over time)

Sure there are other factors, such as links

People link to comments on blogs, typically using a #fragment – the link is going to the blog permalink page

How many times have you found the answer to a question by reading a blog comment?

For me it is actually quite frequently – comments quite often provide alternatives to the original content that offer improvements.

A large part of blogging is engaging your audience in conversation

Business blogging is about engaging your customers

It hasn’t happened yet, but soon a blog might become no more than an RSS feed that is read on another domain, and discussed in small communities of friends, sometimes private, sometimes public, but still fragmented conversation.

Sharing In Google Reader

I have probably been the most vocal in my dislike of Google Reader sharing.

Google reader is one of the most effective tools for creating splogs
RSS Readers should provide publishers with a choice as to whether their content can be easily shared further than the original subscriber.
Bloglines have discussed and implemented access control, and Facebook even uses it

Fragmented Comments

I totally understand Paul from Friendfeed in his analogy with films, that he wants to discuss a film with his friends, and that YouTube isn’t exactly the epitomy of stimulating conversation.

But the intent of a movie or YouTube isn’t to stimulate dialogue at the venue, otherwise they would improve the venues. In fact YouTube was purposely designed with viral intention, for the content to be syndicated and for conversations to happen elsewhere. With the YouTube API, Google wants to hand off being the publisher (and their legal problems) in return for advertising $.

Many bloggers on the other hand blog to stimulate conversation on their own blogs, to generate page views, and maybe make a little money from advertising or services.

Engtech @ Internet Duct Tape

As a content producer it’s really nice to see discussions happening around the content I’ve created.

But at least I know how people are reacting… with the explosion of social media / social networking I have no idea what people are saying unless I’m actively a member of those communities.

As a content consumer it’s much more convenient to respond to content on the community where I found it from.

The fragmentation of discussion might be bad for the content producer, but it makes things so much easier for the content consumer. I know which way this trend is heading…

(A smart person would build a social network scraper to reimport the comments from there into their blogging engine software — if you know of any plugins like that then leave a comment)

Nico in a recent comment on my post “How To Add FriendFeed to Technorati

Thanks for that information. I got everything running now.

I hope it gets me some fresh content in form of comments to my blog posts.

A very simple wish, but the chances of it happening are remote, especially for a foreign language blog unless FriendFeed becomes popular in Germany.

Warning Signals From September

Whilst the writing was on the wall before hand, especially in hindsight, when news leaked about a potential commenting system in Google Reader, there was a fair amount of controversy.

Whilst Google have since implemented the sharing of items with your gmail contacts automatically in Google Reader, nothing has appeared regarding activity streams and commenting.

Isn’t that odd?

The thing is, if Google implement this, there would be public outcry – it is not just bloggers publishing RSS feeds, but also major news corporations.

How convenient that Friendfeed was launched a few weeks later by a bunch of former Googlers

I don’t think there was any kind of conspiracy, as an example Paul Buchheit had been outside Google for over a year, and other founders were also working outside Google on new projects.

Previous relationships would however potentially make Friendfeed a very comfortable acquisition target after it had matured and the public opinion was appeased.

Add Comments to RSS or RSS to Comments?

First off, I expect someone to come out with some kind of Greasemonkey script very soon to work in Friendfeed, so that you can pull in items from the original site without leaving Friendfeed. I am amazed it hasn’t happened already, as there are already scripts for use with Google Reader.

Then think of Flickr – I have already seen this wish from Marshall Kirkpatrick on Twitter

wish FriendFeed added some AJAX, hover-over lightbox Flickr photo popu action

You could probably do that in Greasemonkey for the early adopters, but eventually add it to the main Friendfeed interface, and people would never have to visit Flickr to see full content pictures.

Alternatively it would also be easy to integrate Friendfeed comments into Google Reader

Disqus Too

FriendFeed are not the only possible solution in town – recently funded Disqus (and a number of others) for instance would make a great replacement for the ailing comment system on Blogger. Blogger commenting stinks.

At the same time why limit Disqus commenting to only blogs that have installed the javascript code? Wouldn’t it make sense to allow Disqus commenting for any blog or RSS content, whether they ran the code or not? People using Disqus would still see it, and possibly trackbacks could be sent to the blog that there is a dicussion just so the author is aware of it, and encouraged to join and maybe switch commenting.

RSS content could also be pulled into Disqus at a later date, it would enhance conversation to have it all tied together on one site… like it used to be, even if it is only as an iframe pulled from Google Reader (why show annoying advertising)

Smart Business… Maybe

Fred Wilson actually wrote a little about Friendfeed as well, I do agree with him on this specific statement

So now, in addition to this blog, my tumblog, and twitter, I have to pay attention to whats’ going on in FriendFeed. So it’s gone from being an aggregator of attention to a demander of attention. Good for them. That’s the way to play the game on the web.

Grabbing attention and content is smart business, but what happens when you have to monitor conversation on 20 or 30 different comment aggregating services, not all of which have an open API (of that I am confident at least some will provide)

Traffic, SEO and Accessibility

Disqus currently have some problems with this – it is javascript, a blog owner loses long tail traffic directly to their blog.
It also poses usability problems for people using non-javascript browsers. They don’t even get to even see that comments exist somewhere – that is likely a legal issue in lots of Europe.

There are benefits – serving comments is a database hit, and a comment being updated changes the cache or part of the cache serving the blog post – comments should really be served as an embed or in an Iframe, with javascript enhancing the content, not serving it.

In general, comment systems are fairly prehistoric, and could actually bring in more traffic. Rather than being extra content to an original article, they could each be treated like a twitter tweet, and then served on a page with its own title, that is also used as anchor text linking to the comment on a permalink page. That would turn a blog post with 50 comments into 51 pages of unique content – some would be a little weak on content, but others would be substantial.

This isn’t new, it would be just like old threaded forum scripts.

If data was stored with timestamps in XML, then it would be easy to integrate it and possibly cross-pollinate the conversation, but would commenters always want an author to know about their conversation?
Thus you would need various privacy settings and discussion groups.

The Race To Kill Blogging

I don’t think in this scenario blogging would really exist – you would have original content producers, but there wouldn’t really be a need for the blog platform. A blog post would purely be the starting point in a distributed conversation thread which would contain other blog posts, or just simple comments – it is just another node in the conversation.

Back to CompuServe, Prodigy, Usenet, FidoNet, CIX and AOL

Fragmented discussions are nothing new – once the fragments are joined back together, it is a bit like a timewarp or things going full circle 20 years.

Actually 20 years ago was so much easier. I was on CIX – you could use an offline reader and “blink” to download your threaded discussion messages – a much more efficient workflow and very little if any advertising or spam.

Sure you would present the data differently – in those days my Commodore Amiga with 4MB of memory was a beast, these days that could be taken up by a single webpage.

Do you really want to go “Back To The Future”?

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  1. says

    I setup my facebook account to pull in my blog posts as “notes” each time I posted. Then I found my friends commenting on my notes rather than on my blog.

    What I wanted was to create community on my blog, not on facebook.

    Got your post alert via twitter

    • says

      If you look at my page, you can only see the links I have made to places.

      If you could also see all the links pointing to this document and somehow make sense of it in a browsing experience, then what platform that interaction takes place on doesn’t really matter.

      There doesn’t have to be a difference in data format between a comment and a blog post, or any web document for that matter.

      Interface would be a problem, maybe some of the Digg mashups would prove an inspiration, or various movies from The Matrix to Minority Report.

  2. says

    One thing I like about Disqus: for some blogs it’s very convenient to be able to access them as if they were a discussion forum.

    But you’re dead on with the javascript issue. I saw the exact same thing happen with Haloscan + Blogspot. You really want to have your comments as part of the blog and getting them out of external sites is a pain in the ass.

    • says

      I think with Disqus they actually need both import… for people moving to the platform, and export for when people move on.

      Haloscan is a nightmare because so many bloggers use the automatic installation, and then can’t revert.

  3. says

    Ah….my 1MB Commodore Amiga. Sob….brings back so many great memories… although I think I spent most of the time playing Kick Off 2 and Sensible Soccer.

  4. says

    That is a great point. Blog owners should have the ability to choose whether programs such as Google Reader should be able to take content from their blogs.

    I would be very angry if I worked hard in creating high quality content and I found out that people aren’t even visiting my website to read the content, but they’re reading with programs like Google Reader…

    Yup, I would be angry.

    • says

      Hi Google Analytics Training,

      The last S in RSS stands for “Syndication”… if you do not want to syndicate your content then, whatever you do, do not put out an RSS feed!!

      It is not Google Reader you need to worry about… it is scraper sites with a higher ranking that your own site, which can get your content indexed (on their site), and get your own page dropped…

      Regards, Jez

      • says

        Jez I am more worried about people sharing what should be private data such as Facebook updates as per the post I linked.

        There is also the question of choice

        Scrapers are going to do what they want regardless, but GR doesn’t have to be a tool to help them – it is hard to block a scraper who feeds content through GR.

  5. says

    What do you think of the idea of FriendFeed generating a trackback to the referring blog post upon the first comment? It seems as if that ought to be doable as each FriendFeed item has its own permalink.

    I think this is a perfect area for an inline RDF standard. This would allow for threaded comment aggregators and RSS of comments across.

    I’d love to get your take on the SIOC project: http://sioc-project.org/

    Our inability to manage information like this is one of the things that will speed the trend towards more adoption of semantic web technologies.

    • says

      Mark I mentioned trackbacks in the discussion on Friendfeed to Paul’s post.

      It is a short term partial solution, as will be various APIs.

      I was thinking more the long term solution, and also as a better way for a comment system to be constructed to account for multiple input streams.

      I was also taking into account that a blog post in many ways a comment in itself.

      I must admit I am not up to speed on SIOC – the WP plugin looks old, does it work with more recent WP versions? They need to learn how to distribute plugins for the masses.

  6. says

    Hi Andy,

    Great post !!! (as usual ;-))
    I more than agree with you regarding the fragmentation of comments and I start to find annoying to have to follow conversations at multiple places. I also read comments in order to get a better picture and sometimes really valuable add on to the article.
    I also think that if the traffic start to get out of the blog, then we will soon have less and less blogs…… All publication/sharing services should always link back to the original site for reading and commenting.

    Regarding alternate commenting system: you can have a look at coComment outsourced conversations ;-) We provide import AND export. As well as a nice (I think) configuration/styling wizard.
    AND we do not allow commenting outside of the site where our simple JS code is inserted.

  7. says

    First of all, what is your definition of original content… or more to the point, what is Google’s?

    Now, in answer to your suggestions on using comments as a metric, here are some countermeasures:

    1) I rip an article and put it onto 10 splogs.
    2) I check the original article once per hour, rip any comments and add those to my splog posts accordingly.
    3) I Check all my splogs for additional comments they receive and syndicate those around the some of the other splogs.

    Now my splogs have more comments than the original, updated more frequently than the original…

  8. says

    Hello Again Google Analytics Training ;-)

    Sorry I see you were responding to Andy’s comments… I think my last comments were a little ill judged… no offense meant…

    I still don’t see what the issue is with Google reader though, it I don’t think it is responsible for spam. Also, I read more pages in my reader than I would without it, then I visit the best sites to comment…. if it were not for Google reader (which is what I use) then I would read less blogs.

    If it is spam you are worried about, then you would need access control on your RSS feed period… for all readers, no direct access via URL etc… and Really Simple Syndication isn’t so simple any more!!

    The best protection you have against spammers is a convoluted inconsistent badly designed web page, where they cannot easily get the content out of your tags, and there is no RSS feed… but who wants a site like that!!

  9. says

    I get a ton of scrapers off my feed. Quite annoying. Then I realized that Google would know the difference, and has noted it so far in search results. Nothing to worry about.

  10. says

    andy, thi smight be a little off-topic here,
    but your post title caught my attention.

    We all “know” that blogs are SEO magnets, and that
    they can pull traffic in form all corners of the web,
    but I was talking to a marketing buddy of mine and she says
    she’s had mor eluck with her SEO resulrs with static html and php sites thna she did with professionally designed SEO-ed to the max blogs.

    It shouldn’t be that way, but it turned out that, for her,
    she could say, “Why have blogs at all? indeed

    The thing is, if it wasn’t for RSS readers, I probably wouldn’t be getting your information delivered to my desktop.

    Blogs are here to stay, but aren’t easier to read than regular websites, according to my reader’s feedback



  11. says

    There are tons of small brick and mortar businesses that would do very well to have a blog instead of a website. I’ve worked with several local businesses to impliment a blog, and for most of the businesses, it’s resulted in a huge difference in the amount of potential customers visiting their site now vs when they had a static html page. (with frames)

  12. says


    You might want to check this site out:

    It’s essentially a new RSS reader except that it has the ability to read and write comments from within the reader itself. I haven’t used it yet because they haven’t let me into the beta testing but if this thing takes off it will definitely change the way people interact with blog content.

    If integrated comments become a standard practice, then it will certainly change the way people make money off of their blog. I assume people will just have to adapt to a different type of advertising.


  13. says

    Surely the point of a blog is to create loads of original content for the search engines and have a place that people can visit time and time again and feel a part of the shaping of the content. Kill off blogs and surely you’ll lose the human element of websites.

  14. says


    Do you think a blog that doesn’t allow comments can be a real blog? I’m concerned about this. I don’t allow comments on my blog – Money is the Way, but I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. The problem is, I don’t like spam, or bad spelling and grammar (I’m very neurotic about that), and I’m not even sure that comments would be suitable for my sort of blog. However, I only have a pagerank of 3 after 13 months – that’s not great, is it?


    Michael Fowke

  15. says

    Google has a huge responsibility to manage scraping, splogging and duplicate content issues, and it doesn’t always do so well, and, as you pointed out, sometimes encourages the problem.

    The future of the internet being a place of expression and creativity is dependant on these issues being solved. Who could be bothered blogging year in, year out, if all their words get ripped of on a regular basis?

    A simple solution to all these issues could be for Google to allow bloggers to “ping” them with a new post to their blog. It would timestamp the blog and thereafter visit and index it.

    This would be foolproof as no splogger could ever get a timestamp earlier than the original blog author. There would be no more ambiguity as to the original author.

    The author would of course have the responsibility to initiate the ping, but any blogger in his right mind would take this seriously and make this part of their routine, immediately after posting. If they neglect to do so, and someone steals their post, they would only have themselves to blame.

    Google could thus apply heavily it’s duplicate content filters, not only in the SERPs, but also to it’s RSS reader.

    Am I insane, or is this actually a simple solution to a complex issue?


  16. says

    Glad to see that I’m not the only one who’s concerned. If we’re not careful our last post could be our own blog epitaph. Good post Andy.

  17. Chan says

    I like to see the FriendFeed comments available as a separate feed, too. With high volume FriendFeeds (twitter, etc.), it can sometimes be really hard to find the comments amongst all of the content. Thanks for sharings.

  18. says

    Another factor that can help to identify if this is a blog or splog is trackbacks. When there are a lot of trackbacks from another blogs it could mean that this is a real blog.

  19. says

    I want to disagree on these points.

    * The content within comments – keywords, language structure, length etc
    * The number of comments
    * Update frequency of the page (gaining additional comments over time)

    One can create a blog that will generate comments in certain intervals of time. Or the script can just parse the comments from other blogs and insert them in the generated one. Google will not be able to understand that the comments are generated ones.