Darren Waters has written a blog post on the BBC's interesting new technology blog dot.life (is that pronounced 'dot dot life'?), asking for names of important people in technology, for some kind of marketing event being run by Intel. When I read it, there was only one comment, and no mention of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web. So I left a one-line comment, suggesting his name be added. I'm not sure whether my comment made it through (I got an error when posting). When I look back at the post an hour later, however, there are 118 comments, of which 48 recommend Tim Berners-Lee. Nothing too unusual about this, he's an obvious choice, but I suspect most people took the time to suggest him because, at the time of writing, no-one else before them had.
This shows just how frustrating and damaging the time-delay of comment moderation can be. It's often quite natural for people to comment on other comments within blogs, but the delay in comments appearing can make these ad-hoc conversations hard to follow, and repetitive comments.
Whether blog comments are an appropriate forum for 'a conversation' is interesting a debate in itself. Jeremy Keith over on adactio has implemented a comment functionality where a blog post is open for comments for a set period of time, but the comments aren't actually published until that period is up, whereupon they all appear at once. He suggests this might help create a response more akin to 'the wisdom of crowds', encouraging more independence of thinking, and less of a conversation. It's an interesting model, but hasn't yet caught on much elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Mark Simpkins at the BBC has written 'Raising The Social Bar' over on his blog, arguing that the BBC should be encouraging people to respond to blog posts and web pages by writing on their own blog (or social networking space). It's by no means an original idea, but he's started to think through what it'd mean for the BBC, in particular suggesting that the BBC might have a role to play in guiding people how to set up a blog, etc, and in also making it easier for people to contact the relevant author/editorial team (recognising that many comments are just feedback that doesn't have to be public).
It's an interesting and worthwhile argument, but there are still plenty of unknowns. For example, even if I have a blog, I wouldn't want to turn every comment, be it a thought-out bit of feedback or a pithy one-line, into a post on my own blog. Posting to my blog or to someone else's blog feel like different spaces somehow, and what I'm reading about elsewhere isn't the same as what I'm writing about here.
I'm not sure where the solution is coming from, but somehow I don't feel that there's going to be one single solution. At times, it may be appropriate to collect comments directly on a webpage, at other times, it may be best to encourage people to write longer-form responses elsewhere. At yet other times, it may be better to encourage people to send feedback privately, and then collate the most interesting responses together editorially as a new page.
I hope more people pick up the questions raised by Mark. For the time being, though, I just hope the BBC can fix their blog infrastructure and speed up the comment moderation...