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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The blog as a platform for conversation

There are three ways in which a person can speak in today's Internet into the public domain: to write on twitter (140 bytes), to write a comment on a blog (~ 1000 bytes) or to write a blog post (~ 5000 bytes). The appetite of each person varies, reflecting a combination of having something to say and having the discipline of carefully constructing sentences and paragraphs. Each of these three choices comes with a different set of human factors which shapes who participates and how much.

This blog started out in end-2005, and quickly built up thousands of readers. It branched out from a single-author blog to having many people writing. There is a certain kind of person who reads this blog, where 20% of the words have three or more syllables, and hence there is a natural opportunity for intra-group conversation between us. But for a long time, there was relatively little going on by way of discussion on the blog through comments.

At first, comments were unmoderated, which is nice in that writing a comment gives instant gratification to the author of the comment. Google Blogger does not block spam in blog comments on the scale that Gmail does, and I was forced to shifted to moderated comments. This introduced an inevitable delay between writing a comment and seeing it come up on the page. The threshold readership required for significant discussion was further pushed up once comments were moderated. So one had to sit back and wait for readership to further build up before interaction-through-the-blog took off.

On the other side, Blogger recently released a nice new feature: the ability to pointedly respond to a comment with a comment. I think this has helped increase the attraction of comments.

In recent days, I've seen a significant increase in comment traffic. Here are a few recent posts, with the number of comments in brackets: Diluting the role of the IIT JEE (17), Girish Sant (10), The first PISA results for India: The end of the beginning (16), Uncomfortable times in real estate in store? (16), The rupee: Frequently asked questions (21), Taxing investors to pay NGOs (12), Residential water heating and the rise of the gas-fired economy (15), Envisioning future scenarios for India and China (13), Can we get back to track on corruption now? (12). Prior to 2011, there was seldom a post with over 10 comments. So it looks like we have crossed some threshold on participation which is leading to liquidity in comments.

Some interactions have been particularly noteworthy. At Diluting the role of the IIT JEE, AVI said "please give some references to support your assertion". I replied about my (lack of) verifiable evidence, and then Murli responded with verifiable evidence. This was blog-based interaction at its best.

Similarly, it was a comment by Anonymous (on an unrelated post) which got me going on the recent OECD PISA results. This led to posts by Lant Pritchett, Jeff Hammer, and me (link, link). This was blog-based interaction at its best (though it did start with an awkwardness, a comment on an unrelated post).


  1. nice to know about the increase in interactivity level.. blogs like this should not die..

  2. Writing a blog is a great way to converse, indeed. I also follow you on Twitter - that way I do not miss your posts. I have your blog's RSS feed in my Google Reader, however, I am more likely to check Twitter, esp when I am on the move (using mobile). What do you think about Facebook 'Subscribe' (we follow you on facebook) option to increase the interactivity?

  3. After a gap of 6 months, i again found out your blog, i just forgot the name, but this is the miracle of internet you just find out blogs and i like to reads blogs so much, most of my time on internet is invested in blog reading, bcoz these provides us with concise information so that we can be updated.. thankss for your blog


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