Liz Strauss at WordCamp Dallas Transcript

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript I put together covering Liz Strauss’s appearance at WordCamp Dallas. I tried to keep the conversational tone intact. I did my best to capture everything, but some parts were just too difficult to make out. You’re welcome to make your own version of this transcript, but I’d appreciate link attribution. If you can help identify some of the people who asked the questions, I’d also appreciate some help in that regard. There is a downloadable PDF available as well.

[Full video presentation above]

Charles Stricklin (host): To talk about building community, I give you Liz Strauss.

[applause]

Liz Strauss: This is so incredibly cool. Yay! Can you hear me? Alright, fine.

Liz Strauss and a Good Hair Day
Figure 1: Liz Strauss and a Good Hair Day

So, I’m going to hit this button and show you that’s what I look like when I’m having a good hair day.

Okay, and this ain’t one of ‘em.

And I’m going to tell you a story and it’s a story about a friend of mine who lives in California. And this picture is about how I always call my friend Eddie on the phone.

Eddie, How am I?
Figure 2: Eddie, How am I?

And when I call him up, I say, “Eddie, how am I?”

And he says, “You’re just fine. How am I?”

And I say, “You’re just fine too.”

And he says, “Enough of it. Let’s talk about you. How do you like my sweater?”

[laughter]

And I like that story a lot and we talk about that a lot because Eddie and I were in publishing together. And publishers, we have this problem. We’re a little obsessed with ourselves. You know?

And by the way, how do you like my outfit?

Liz Strauss Showing her Outfit
Figure 3: Liz Strauss Showing her Outfit [1:10]

[positive crowd response and mixed applause]

You know, and the truth is we really can’t talk without talking about ourselves whether we’re talking about how we like this vase, or how we like Lorelle, or how we like WordPress. We’re talking about ourselves.

Whenever we say we’re talking about ourselves, we’re revealing something about ourselves. But it’s how we reveal it.

But when we ask our readers, “How’d you like this blog post we just did?” “How’d you like what I just did?” “How did you like what I just wrote?” We think we’re asking them about them. But we’re really asking them about ourselves.

And we need to be really careful that we know the difference.

And so I’m going to take one more second to tell you one more thing about myself so that you know why I’m here. And it’s just one little number.

60317.

I just checked it. It’s the number of comments that I have on my blog.

60,317 [comments] as of today.

And that’s because I did a few things I think sorta right. And the first thing I did… [pointing to the screen] That’s me when I was three. …I’ve always been really curious.

I had to find out how things worked. And so particularly when I got my first WordPress blog, I was like incredibly intimidated.

But, I wanted to read the whole Codex. I wasn’t quite as ridiculous as my husband who wanted to print the whole thing out.

[laughter]

And I go, “Honey, I don’t think you can do that.”

But I’ve been there for a while. But I did try to read the whole thing for at least three or four hours before I figured out you couldn’t do that. And finally I decided that all I can do is just dive in, get working and get in there and figure out how things worked. And figure out how they work for me.

And I got in there and I started writing and I wrote my first blog post. On a little blog called Successful Blog that I was just working for.

Liz - Third Grade
Figure 4: Liz in Third Grade

And I started paying attention to the numbers. And I was tardy one time. That was me in third grade.

But I was paying attention to the numbers. Not because the numbers meant anything,[but] because every little number represented a person.

Get to Know the Numbers
Figure 5: Get to Know the Numbers [3:38]

Someone had came to my blog. And it’s the people behind the numbers that really count.

Because the people who come and leave within the first five seconds — and you know if you look at your stats, that’s a big portion of that pie graph — the people who come and leave within five seconds aren’t reading your blog. And they’re not going to build your community, and they’re not going to be the ones who leave you the comments.

The people who come and stay are the ones who are going to be part of your community. And they’re the good ones who are going to become your raving fans and go out and tell other people to come and visit your blog.

And when I ask people how they got to my blog, most of them say either one of two things: somebody brought me here, or I can’t remember.

And I tell them, I can’t remember either. So, we’re in the same place.

So, that’s how we move along.

Changing Places [4:23]

One of the most important things in changing places as I was moving along in my WordPress journey was when Darren Rowse at one point asked us do one of his writing projects. And I’m just too busy to do those things.

Except five minutes before I need to write a blog post and I have nothing else to write and there’s writing projects sitting out there. And I went, “Oooh, I better.”

I decided to take him up on his offer to write my blogging goal, and that was probably the most turning point on my blog was to write my blogging goal and to have a vision.

Because in the course of writing this story about why I was blogging, I figured out that I needed to be in there with both feet. And be present, and be ready, and be showing up. Because if I wasn’t there, why would anybody else want to be there?

And my blogging goal sits on my blog now in my sidebar right under my About page for people to read when they come there.

And from that moment, the community on my blog started to build. Because I knew why I was there. Up until then, I was sort of all over the place. And my blog had an identity based on my blogging goal.

[referencing presentation]

Picture of Liz's Father's Saloon
Figure 6: Picture of Liz’s Father’s Saloon [5:45]

By the way, that’s a picture of my father’s saloon, which is what my blogging goal was built on. And the tagline, “You’re only a stranger but once” is also the tagline to my blog.

Difference between web and print
Figure 7: Difference between web and print [6:04]

One of the most important things you need to know though when you blog is the difference between writing for print and writing for the Internet. And writing to have a community. And it’s something I got all wrong because I came from the world of publishing. So of course I knew everything.

[laughter]

I was so smart that I got it all backwards. And when you write for print, you’re having a conversation. But the problem is, the conversation goes only one way.

You write it, and you have this conversation with the reader in your head. And you put it all down on paper and you get it all perfect. And the reader gets your message just the way you want it.

And then whenever the reader picks it up, he has a conversation with you all on their own. And they take whatever they take from it.

But, when you hit that word “Publish” on a blog post, that’s when everything starts. It’s totally different.

Publishing on the Internet is totally upside down because when you hit that word “Publish” on a WordPress blog, that’s when the conversation begins.

So you have to take a whole new look on how you’re publishing. Because, you’re not writing to have something that’s finished.

When you have a conversation…

[talking to audience member in front row]

Liz Talking to Audience Member
Figure 8: Liz Talking to Audience Member [7:18]

“Excuse me, why don’t I introduce myself. John, I’m Liz.”

When you talk to someone John, you never quite get to finish what you’re saying, because they get to have their turn, don’t they? And it’s a two way sort of thing. So you never quite get to get your whole conversation out there and finished. And that’s sort of how writing a blog post works.

You don’t get to give a presentation when you write a blog post if you want to have a conversation. It’s a presentation, or a conversation.

Conversational Blogging
Figure 9: Conversational Blogging [8:10]

That’s the difference. And blogging, if you want to have a community, is about conversation. So you have to be interested and be interesting.

And I’m going to tell you how to do that.

Who Are Those Guys?
Figure 10: Who Are Those Guys? [8:18]

First of all, you got to have a relationship with the people who are on the other side of the screen. Which means, that you have to be on the other side of the screen.

I tell people that I live inside your computer.

[laughter]

They write to me and they say, “Liz, you’re always online. Whenever I e-mail you or whenever I comment, you always comment back.” And I just write, “Yeah, that’s because I live inside your computer.”

“I’m right here, I live inside your computer.”

And people wonder, and they say to me, beginners and experts, “Who do I write for? There’s all these people out there and I don’t know how to write.”

You write for somebody who looks exactly like you.

You know why?

Because you’re writing for the people who are going to love what you write. And we always think that people who look just like us and who think just like us are really, really smart.

[laughter]

So who’s going to love you? People who think just like you do.

So you write for someone who’s just like you, only who doesn’t know what you know.

You don’t have to worry about them being dumber, smarter, less experienced, more experienced…

[They're] Just like you are, but they just don’t know what you know.

Easy as pie?

They come for YOU!
Figure 11: They come for YOU! [9:57]

Another thing that makes blogging a whole lot easier is that unless you are a news reporter, don’t try to always blog the facts.

And I’m going to use your favorite movie critic. Think of your favorite movie critic. Whether it’s your best friend or someone on t.v.

They might not like the same movies you like.

My husband watches a particular movie critic on t.v. and he hates the guy. But he watches him religiously because he knows if the guy gives the movie four stars, he’ll hate it. If the guy gives the movie three stars, he might like it. If the guy gives the movie two stars, he knows it’s a winner!

[laughter]

Now this movie critic doesn’t give just the facts. He gives his opinion. He [tells] his experience. He tells what he likes about the movie. He brings himself to the movie. And he brings it out there.

If he only gave the facts… You can find the facts anywhere on the Internet. People come to your blog to find you.

You are the one unique value on your blog.

The information is everywhere. But you are the one who molds it, shapes it, and brings your experience to it.

So if you go to a website, or you’ve got a product, bring your experience to it.

I want to know how you felt using it. I may not feel the same way, but if I’ve been reading you, I can extrapolate from your experience whether I like it or not.

If you’re a friend of mine, I can extrapolate from your taste in music whether I like it or not.

So blog your experience. It makes you more real.

[talking to audience member 11:46]

And who was it? Jason, where are you? You were talking about… Where are you, Jason? Are you here?

Jason was talking about going to California and meeting up with a car guy. He’d never met him before, but after reading his blog, “I know you.”

“I know you.”

That’s really important. People read your blog because you’re there.

Now there’s the next most important thing. What’s compelling about your blog? What brings people back?

They come for you.

Why do they come for you?

Oh my God, the other big mistake. Not only was I in publishing bad enough, but I was in educational publishing.

[laughter]

I was not only in educational publishing, but I was writing books for teaching the teachers who taught you. So I was teaching teachers how to teach you.

So I wasn’t just on the podium. I was on the podium above the podium.

So I was sitting up on the lectern telling the people on the lectern how to tell you what to do.

We all love to learn, but none of us like to be taught. So it was the hardest thing for me to learn how to come down off the stage.

In fact, when I found out there was going to be a podium here, I was like, I can’t talk behind a podium. It’s like I got this thing like, “No podium please, thank you very much.”

[laughter]

Come down off the stage. You don’t have to instruct anybody on anything. Learn with them.

If you don’t know, say so.

“I’m trying to figure out this.”

“I’m thinking about this.”

“I’m learning this.”

One of the best examples of someone who does that really well is Mr. Mullenweg himself.

And it’s very compelling to sit alongside someone who’s intelligent and a good thinker, while they’re sharing their thoughts about what’s going on.

Because information — straight, clear information — is all over the Internet. But you aren’t.

[indecipherable]

Be Complete, but Not Thorough
Figure 12: Be Complete, but Not Thorough [14:16]

This is my favorite one: Be Complete, but Not Thorough. Your 8th grade teacher won’t care. And by the way, I don’t believe your 8th grade teacher reads your blog anyway.

[laughter]

How many people have labored over making a top-ten list complete? I used to do that. Gotta get 10 things in that top-ten list! Gotta think through to get every single detail there.

You know what happens when you do that? You don’t leave any room for me to add anything.

So now when I write a list, if I only think of seven things, I make it a top-seven list. And I stop. I quit trying. And then I put at the bottom, “I bet you can think of more things to add.”

And you know what? The people who read my blog come back and they add things. Because I left room for them to add something.

Because it’s a conversation. You leave room for people to talk.

These are seven ways — one of my top-seven lists.

Show up and be whole and human.

Use your real voice. This is my real voice, right in the middle of a smack-dab cold from Southwest SARS with a little bit of my old Austin accent left.

Tell your own truth.

Don’t try and write someone else’s blog post.

Don't write someone else's blog post
Figure 13: Don’t write someone else’s blog post [15:50]

I’m going to tell you a quick story about when I was that person who taught the teachers who taught you who wrote your schoolbooks.

A woman came in and she wrote a lesson for me. And her name was Joel. And she is fabulous. And what’s why I hired her.

And she wrote this lesson that was not fabulous. It was boring.

And I don’t like boring much. I just don’t like boring much.

So I called her in, “Joel, Joel… Do you like this lesson?”

And she said, “Well, it’s got this, this, and this.”

And I said, “Great! Do you like it?”

And she said, “Well, it’s got that, that, and that.”

And I said, “Fabulous. This is not a test. I want to know if you were in second grade teaching this class, would you teach this lesson?”

And she said, “Well, not really.”

And I said, “Great. Why do you think I would? Why do you think anybody would? You know, it’s got this, this, and this, and that, that, and that. Great. Fine. Don’t try to write my lesson.”

Don’t try to write my blog post.

Lorelle, you’re shaking your head and smiling. What are you thinking there?

Lorelle VanFossen [17:09]: I’ve been there.

Liz Strauss: I’ve been there. I tried to write somebody else’s blog post too.

I can only be me. You can only be you. I can’t write your blog post either. I’d write a really bad facsimile of your blog post.

Lorelle VanFossen: Yes, all the time people copy. They all want to be like somebody else. So if you want to be like Digg, or you want a Digg post, or something like that, you write to get the Digg attention.

You write in the format to get that. And that’s writing like somebody else. Because you’re trying to copy the styles. It’s okay for a while. It’s not good for long-term. You still have to put you back into the message.

Liz Strauss: That’s it exactly.

And I want to leave a lot of room so that you can ask questions about all of those comments in a minute.

Now I’ll put forth one of the most visited blog posts on my blog and go over it.

Ten reasons readers don’t leave comments on your blog [18:22].

[The screen Liz references displays the following eleven points]

  1. It’s so complete. I can’t add anything.
  2. I need to think about it before I even have a question.
  3. You only respond to a few friends mostly with inside jokes.
  4. The folks who comment on your posts like to argue. I don’t.
  5. You rarely respond. So, there’s no point in writing one.
  6. Your blog has a geeky attitude and I’m not geeky.
  7. I’m too tired, busy, or a number of things that you can’t control.
  8. You end your posts with a giant question like, “What do you think of the Big Bang Theory?”
  9. You put up a fence by making me login to comment.
  10. I couldn’t find YOU inside anything you wrote.
  11. Plus One: Your post was negative. Negative is scary.

Number one: It’s so complete that I can’t add anything. You wrote it so beautifully and you tied it up with such a beautiful bow. And I used to do this.

I wrote it for my 8th grade teacher and it had all the parts and all the pieces together… and all you could write was, “Great job!”

[Number two:] It’s so strong. And the questions you asked are so hard that I have to think about it before I can even ask a question.

You gave me too much to think about. That’s a good thing. And sometimes people come back three days later if you let them.

[Number three:] Not so good. You only respond to the comments that your friends leave. And then the comments you leave sound like inside jokes and I don’t feel really welcome.

[Number four:] The folks who comment on your blog, they like to argue. And I don’t. And that makes me feel uncomfortable. So I’m going to go somewhere else.

[Number five:] If a blog is a conversation, you need to respond. I respond to every comment on my blog. And believe me, it is labor intensive. Of those sixty-thousand comments, at least 25,000 of them are mine. That was a lot of hours.

But if you’re not going to respond to my comment…

A really good friend of mine who writes a great business blog was on a blog of a very famous author who asked a question. And she found the question so compelling, she went over to another blog and got a friend of hers to come back to this first blog and answer it. And the author did not answer the comment.

And so my friend went back over six months of the original best-selling author’s blog and found that at the end of every blog post, he asked a question.

But he had never answered a comment. And she ended up writing a blog post about it saying, “I don’t feel like I’ve been invited to be a part of the conversation and I don’t think I’m going back there.”

Readers pay attention to those kinds of things. If you rarely respond, then I don’t feel welcome.

[Number six:] Your blog has geeky attitude and I’m not sure I can keep up. I’m just not that geeky.

There’s also your blog is too Kumbaya, and I’m not sure I can keep up with that either.

[laughter]

There’s all sorts of versions of that one, so I just happened to pick geeky. So don’t take it personally. I’m the touchy-feely old lady over there.

[Number seven:] I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I’m too… a number of things that you can’t control. There’s lots of reasons why I might not leave a comment on your blog that have nothing to do with you, so don’t angst over me because I’m not worth it.

[Number eight:] You end your blog posts with a giant question.

Ending questions are really important.

“What do you think?” will not elicit a response because it’s way too open.

I spend more time on my ending question than almost any other part of my blog post. And the time I spend is like writing the question and going, “Ok, how would I answer it?”

And there’s one particular series that I do that I actually always write the first comment myself. Where it says, “And I’ll tell you what. I’ll answer it first.”

Because some questions, actually people feel like they need to know, “What kind of answer do you want?”

So why not show ‘em? Just jump right out of the blog post and go in the comment box and answer it. Here’s my answer. Here’s the way I would answer this. This is what I would say.

Sometimes I just put up a picture and ask a question and go ahead and answer it. And that’s my blog post.

It’s about the conversation.

[Number nine:] And then my favorite, and Lorelle’s favorite too, you put up a fence by asking me to login before I comment.

To me, that’s like putting a sign on the mailbox that says, “Excuse me, please. If you want to deliver mail to me, come up, knock on my door, ring my doorbell, and then wait for me to answer. And maybe I will.”

[Number ten:] But the most important part is, I couldn’t find you inside anything that you wrote. And so, I moved on to read a blog that had a real person behind it.

The biggest difference between a blog and a website is that you feel like there’s a person behind it. Or people behind it. There’s a feeling of actual humanness going on there. Not static — what is it that they say in Cluetrain? I think it’s around number forty-five: that the static website, the corporate website will begin to sound like the archaic words of the French Court.

Blogs are about communication. And okay, “C’mon, Let’s Talk!”

What do you want to know about getting more comments?

[audience question]

Yes sir.

Audience Member 1 [24:37]: One of the most important things about blogging is getting your voice out there. What do I tell my editors on how to make our voice seem like we’re along the same lines? Instead of one being so ghetto, one being so calm…

Liz Strauss: Is there a reason you want them to be all on the same line?

Coach your Editors?
Figure 14: Coach your Editors? [25:08]

Audience Member 1: It’s like having a corporate coacher, where you follow one belief. And that’s the way I want them to think, but I don’t want to force them to. I personally love some of their sarcastic comments, or, when you’re reporting something ABC did, that they didn’t like… Is there something I can do to tell them not to go beyond this line? Or something that will offend my readers?

Liz Strauss: Ah, okay. Ground rules. Yeah.

We have one rule on my blog: be nice.

Seriously. That’s the only rule, be nice. But it has to do with respect. It’s about showing respect for whoever comes to the blog and how you talk on the blog.

I highly encourage you to let every one of your bloggers show their own identity because I actually think that each one of them will attract a different audience. And get you a far wider readership if you do.

But to get them to agree on, “We’re going to respect the people we write about in the following manner as if they’re in our house. And so, therefore, we’ll always give them… Will not swear at them, will not send them away hungry, will not allow other people to talk to them with disrespect…”

I’m a firm believer in the more rules you put on a blog, the more loopholes people will find to break them.

So, does that help? We can talk more later too if you want.

Jonathan?

Jonathan Bailey: Hey, Jonathan Bailey, I’m not going into that again.

If you haven’t figured out where I’m from by now [Plagiarism Today]…

But anyways, I use… I’m like you, I like to respond to all my comments, but what do you think about plugins which distinguish the administrator or someone who’s an official from the blog… the comments from the officials, from the people who are just visitors? To someone indicate that this is from the post author, perhaps.

Jonathan Bailey
Figure 15: Jonathan Bailey [27:12]

Liz Strauss: I think that’s great in the respect that sometimes when I’m on another blog that I’m not terribly familiar with, sometimes I’m looking to see what the blogger’s comments are.

And it’s easier for me to sort when I’m trying to see my way through. Especially if that blogger has a wide-ranging community. I want to see the blogger’s voice coming through the comment thread on its own.

So I think it’s a positive thing for the blogger to do that.

Ronald Huereca: Liz, this is Ronald Huereca from RA Project, the Reader Appreciation Project

Liz Strauss: Great project.

Ronald Huereca: Kind of a subject I’m a little familiar with. Maybe I can answer Jonathan’s question.

I asked the readers the same thing, about whether they’d want the author’s comments to be different than the regular readers’, and the answer was yes. They want them to be different simply because it’s a sign that the author is taking the time to respond to readers, and it stands out a whole lot more.

Ronald Huereca
Figure 16: Ronald Huereca [28:12]

And also, you can tell that the author of the post is responding and has an active presence on the blog.

One of the things I had a question about as far as comments go, is the environment. Like the type of blog. Say for example, a “Make Money Online” blog. Where you write a comment, and a comment just gets lost in a bunch of spam, or maybe a blog with a hundred comments, two hundred comments, where it’s very difficult for an individual reader to stand out. And also, for a very popular blogger to respond to each one of those comments.

I guess my question would be, how would a… what type of environment should the blogger set? And can you monetize and have that kind of interaction with your readers?

Liz Strauss: Ah, that’s a great question.

I did some specific things when I designed my blog. This is my own personal opinion. No-one has ever said this to me. In my own personal opinion, my blog design is a little bit hoaky.

Okay? Purposefully so. I was looking to make a blog design that made it feel like you were coming inside, away from the Internet. So that people would feel comfortable.

When I switched my blog design, from a basic WordPress theme to a custom design, I looked around and went to… You know, I thought I wanted one of those all white, transparent themes. And I went to comment on one and I actually think it was the Celsius Real Estate Blog and I got in the comment box and my experience was, I felt like I was in a truck stop at 4 a.m.

Because it was so white and so bright, that when I went to comment, and I just went, well this probably works really well for their community. But it won’t work for mine because people in my community want to feel like they’re sitting in my living room talking to me. One on one.

There goes what I want as far as all white, all bright. I’m going to have to close it in more and make it work in a different way.

Can you monetize it? I’m trying desperately to, but I’m having a little… It’s more of a negotiation with the people who are doing the work. Is it possible to do? Yeah. It’s going to break out and have a third column and be fully monetized. I have some serious interest from some small business advertisers.

[Speaking to audience]

Yes?

Turn off Comments?
Figure 17: Turn off Comments? [31:23]

Audience Member 2: Liz, I’m curious about what you think about bloggers that close off their comment sections. I can’t believe the number of blogs where I have discovered a blog post by stumbling, and have read the entire thing and thought, “This is an awesome post.” And I just want to leave a comment about it. And the darn thing is turned off.

Charles Stricklin: Are you talking about that it’s after a period of time that they’ve closed off the comments, or…?

Audience Member 2: No.

Charles Stricklin: You’re talking about people like Seth Godin, or somebody like that, who doesn’t allow comments?

Audience Member 2: Well, I think that’s pretty ridiculous myself. Let me give you an example.

I’ve got blog posts that were done a year and a half ago. And to this day, I continue to get comments and questions from people on those posts. Why would I want to close that off?

Liz Strauss: My personal opinion is, that if I read a really great article and I come to the end and I can’t leave a comment… These days, my response is sort of like, “They don’t want to talk to me, I don’t want to talk to them.”

Thank you very much, I’m sorry they feel that way. And I think they’re losing far more than I am. But, I’m not going to convert the Internet. The Internet doesn’t need me to convert them.

Alex Frison [from Not a Niche] [32:46] : When you mentioned to be nice on your blog and sometimes you have the problem that the commenter is not nice. I try to follow the model, “Make it difficult to be difficult.” So, even though they are not polite or something, you still have your… Say it nicely, “Hey, that’s not really nice what you said” or “It’s maybe your opinion.”

So, many bloggers say they also get emotional, and that’s also a problem sometimes.

Liz Strauss: Some if it I’m sure has to deal with the content. I think it would be really hard to just have a real “be nice” on a political blog.

Although, we’ve had a couple of political discussions on my blog and my community is mature enough and understands my point of view well enough that they won’t let anybody not be nice. So that works.

What works for me, and I can only say what works for me, is I get really confused by people who aren’t nice. And I’ll just say, I’m sorry, I don’t understand why you’re taking a point of view that seems to be so judgmental. We tend to be more open minded around here.

And sort of steer it in the way of, “C’mon back to open-minded thinking.”

And what usually happens on a regular basis is that they go off to their own blog and talk about things I never said. About how close-minded a thinker I am. So they take their whatever-thinking to another blog, and I take my comment on their thinking over to their blog. Which is fine. “I’m sorry, I didn’t say that to you at all.”

And it gets closed and handled over there. And my blog stays a nice community.

Ronald Huereca [34:37] : Do you ever e-mail them?

Liz Strauss: There have been a couple of times. I have a four-hour long open comment night. I think of it as the grandfather to Twitter because it was there first.

A couple of times certain people I know have shown up in states where they weren’t themselves. How’s that? Gosh, that’s more tactful than my husband would ever believe.

[laughter]

And I’ve kinda gone offline and said something like, “C’mon, you’re better than this. Go home and behave yourself. Don’t use words like that on my blog ever again.”

And, they behave.

Matt Mullenweg
Figure 18: Matt Mullenweg [35:28]

Matt Mullenweg: So, how do you deal with scaling or success. So when you have a lot of comments, one of the things I usually see is that once you get in the 50, 100, 200 comments… the 200th commenter often appears to not read the comments before them. And as a reader, if I see something with a ton of comments, it’s very unlikely I’m going to read every single one of them. So how do you deal with a ton of comments? Or, a ton of people who want to interact with you?

Liz Strauss: Great question. First of all, I’m the same way.

As a reader, I don’t read all of them either. Because we don’t have time.

On the other hand, I feel like if somebody took the time to comment, there’s a reciprocity there that I feel is important. That I should at least acknowledge the fact that they showed up on my blog.

I often look at what they wrote — take a minute to look at what they wrote. And it also depends on timing. If it’s a blog post that’s going on for three days straight, I’ll often let the conversation interact between each other so that I don’t have to respond to every single comment along the way.

But if it’s on a particular blog post, like right there [referencing her reasons readers don't comment post] which is still getting comments in the 200′s, but now it’s one every two or three weeks, I’ll probably respond to it if I get a comment. Because it’s one comment right now. Only because someone took the time to comment. I believe it’s a sign of respect to comment back.

And if I don’t have time to do that, then maybe I oughta rethink what I’m doing.

Jeffro2pt0 [37:32]: What do you believe as far as Trackbacks are concerned? Do you believe Trackbacks actually add on to a conversation, or do you think it breaks up the conversation on a blog and just creates an organizational mess?

[Jeff is from Jeffro2pt0.com]

Liz Strauss: Thank you for asking that question. I think Trackbacks are a fabulous way to establish relationships.

Lorelle VanFossen: Same here. Amen!

Liz Strauss: I once wrote a post for Darren about that.

Trackbacks are a great way to get attention. I’ll give you a specific situation where someone wrote a comment on my blog and about three comments later, a Trackback came up under that same person’s name.

And, of course, the key phrase that said, “And Liz Strauss said…”

Of course I’m going to follow it to see what I said. What did I say? This could be interesting!

[laughter]

Half the time I don’t know what I said. I don’t read my blog! So I went over to his blog to find out what I said. And, sure enough, I said something.

[laughter]

So one comment and one Trackback got me over to his blog. And reading his whole blog post, and his whole point of view, which was quite interesting… And we had a relationship that one comment wouldn’t have made happen.

So a well-worded Trackback is a very valuable thing. And sometimes much more useful than a not-well-thought comment.

Audience Member 4 [39:20]: At one point does a lot of going back and forth in comments turn into a forum? And do you ever just turn it into a forum because it’s just so long for you to continue to respond back?

Liz Strauss: It hasn’t happened yet. I’m just such a blogger. A forum has certain kinds of walls involved.

I love the integration and the relationships that can happen in the comment box. And the ease of visibility that can happen there.

Actually, in one conversation in my comment box, one of my comments started commenting to one of my commenters in the silliest way.

I didn’t answer a comment quick enough, and the comment went, “I’m feeling lonely, Liz didn’t answer me yet.” And someone else went, “Oh, that’s okay. She doesn’t like you” or something. And a whole ‘nother conversation started.

And I don’t suppose that really would have happened in a forum where the box is… it’s all about how it feels. It’s a personal thing I think.

Mark Hopkins from Mashable
Figure 19: Mark Hopkins from Mashable [41:07]

Mark Hopkins: Actually, I had a comment on the closing out comments thing and then I was going to continue on the Trackback idea.

The thing about comments, and we see this on Mashable a lot on some of our really long list posts… About six months out we’ll start attracting comments that are nothing but spam or self-promotion. We don’t close out the comments, but I imagine if we did, those would be the types of things we would close out.

But in terms of conversational ones, we never really go, “Oops, we see something that Pete did back in ’04 that still gets some conversation.”

But in terms of the Trackback item, I’m interested in your opinion on whether or not think that, in terms of adding value to the conversation, would you prefer seeing more Trackbacks from other blog posts? Or does it matter?

Liz Strauss: Well, everyone loves the link-love. There’s no question about that.

You remind me of one thing. We did an interesting experiment on Dawud Miracle. We actually did a blog-to-blog conversation where I would ask a question on my blog of him, and he would answer it on his blog, and then at the end of his blog post, he would ask a question of me, and I would answer it on my blog.

And we carried that on for a couple of months. And we actually got comments on both blogs, which was another interesting way to have a conversation. So we’ve been having all kinds of different kinds of conversations.

And I like them all.

I just like to talk.

Charles Stricklin: Okay, Ronald gets the last question.

Ronald Huereca
Figure 20: Ronald Huereca [43:02]

Ronald Huereca: I’m going to follow-up on Jeff’s question on Trackbacks.

The response you gave seems to benefit the blogger more than it did the reader. And I was just curious how do Trackbacks benefit the reader and whether bloggers should separate Trackbacks from the comments or leave them as-is?

Charles Stricklin: I guess the question is, do Trackbacks benefit the blogger more than the commenter?

Liz Strauss: I’m wondering who you’re calling the reader?

Charles Stricklin: Should they be separated I guess is his question.

Segmented somehow.

Liz Strauss: At the end of the blog post, pull the Trackbacks out from the comment thread? Is that what you’re talking about?

I don’t really have a strong opinion on either one. I don’t really know.

Charles Stricklin: Whatever melts your butter.

Ronald Huereca: As a reader, sometimes I’ll go to a post, maybe two or three months old, and maybe it’s a tech-related post, and I’ll try to read some of the technical comments and then I’ll see nothing but Trackbacks and that lost comment between all the Trackbacks. And then there’s more Trackbacks, and it seems like the regular comments get lost among the regular Trackbacks.

Charles Stricklin: I guess it’s your choice, isn’t it?

Liz Strauss: I’d love to have that problem.

[laughter]

[undecipherable conversation]

Audience Member 5: TechCrunch does that. It’s a custom theme. You can separate the Trackbacks from the comments.

Liz Strauss: Right.

Charles Stricklin: A very smart woman, Liz Strauss everyone!

[applause]

Liz Strauss at WordCamp Dallas Transcript (PDF)

About William

William lives in Oakley, California and is an avid tech enthusiast. When he's not writing about online social networking and businesses, he is busy reviewing how social media affects us all.

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