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March 24, 2010


These posts, in which you wonder why you get so few comments and what that might mean, always make me anxious.

There's some fundamental, unspoken assumptions behind these posts, and I find myself reacting against those assumptions, even though they're unspoken and I'm probably even wrong about them. For example, I've subscribed to podcasts you've reviewed on Podthoughts, although I've never commented. As you know, I'm not shy about commenting, but on the other hand, why bother?

I post essays and what amount to blog posts on my Facebook page. Zero comments. But these are my friends, people I see frequently, and it inevitably turns out that everyone has read what I've written closely, has strong opinions about it, and they eventually will bring up some long-forgotten piece in conversation apropos of something related. And, of course, I post this crap because I want them to know me and what I'm thinking. Commenting amounts to another art form -- I'm a poet, I'm a musician, I comment on people's blog posts.

If your goal -- and you know, Colin, how cagey you are about discussing your "goals" -- is to generate comments, I'd be inclined to ask commenters why they comment, rather than asking people who don't comment what might motivate them to comment. Also, since I'm convinced that the number of comments is driven solely by the number of page views, I'd research high-comment blogs to look at that ratio. Casnocha must have an order of magnitude more page-views than you, but his comment count is, shall we say, modest at best.

But, on a deeper level, if creating art in a vacuum is a problem for you, hoping for comments in a world of people who don't comment strikes me as an ineffective strategy. Hoping as a strategy: what are you, Cinderella? What's the problem here? Is there even a problem? This posts concludes, like most if not all of the others you do on this topic, with the artist's battle cry: I think I'll keep doing what I'm doing and see what happens.

I was in a Starbucks a few weeks ago and listened to a woman patiently breaking up with her boyfriend. It took a Frappucino and forty minutes. I suspect that management at the Bucks hates the seating area: why put tables and chairs there when they could fill it with t-shirt racks and greeting cards with YouTube screen caps of kittens? The only people I know who don't want their neighborhood Starbucks to be different than it is are the homeless people who sit in the arm chairs and repack their shopping bags.

No more Moby quotes. I'm tired of hearing multi-millionaires opining that money, adulation, and a huge audience are over-rated. He is a beauty queen telling Oprah that true beauty is on the inside. When these humble superstars take a vow of poverty, I will begin to take something other than their art seriously.

By the way, your work in Podthoughts functions as a filter for me: I like much of what you like, so I pay attention to what you recommend. But your reviews are highly abstract, caught between recommendations and essays. I skim them, trying to get a sense of the actual content of the podcast. It's hard. It's not David Denby reviewing a movie, but that's what I'm hoping for, I think -- but that may only be that that's what I like, or learned to like, or like out of habit, or because something better hasn't come along, or .... You see the problem? In your general blog writing you are good at opening up a theme with your patient, inexorable on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand approach. There's some incongruence in the overlay of that style with the subject of podcasts.

I agree with Dan regarding your feedback anxiety. There are several mundane reasons I can think of for why you haven't gotten much of a response to Podthoughts:

-No Obvious Venue: Comment on your MaxFun blog post? The blog has a no-comment culture: there's like 6 comments a month on all the posts combined. Email you? I've emailed strangers feedback on their work roughly twice in my life. The MaxFun forum? Where's the thread for it? Post at PodthoughtsReview.com? Hmmm, that has promise...

-No Obvious Pressure: Up until your forum thread, I wasn't even aware that you were looking for feedback.

-No Obvious Reason: I've never once thought of getting in touch with, say, Anthony Lane about one of his reviews... even though I've had several conversations with my friends about them. Maybe I'm misconstruing the reviewer/reader relationship, but I rarely view it as a dialogue I get to participate in.

So I think a lack of feedback isn't good evidence that you're doing something wrong.

I think you have a style and tone that appeals to a very specific audience and the "Podthoughts" article concept also draws a niche audience. When you combine the two, that is not a recipe for huge numbers.

If you want to appeal to more people, you might want to change your style and/or tone. Some of the suggestions in the MaxFun forums would work.

On the other hand, you said you don't want to compromise using big words and overly complex sentences, and other things that will make some readers shy away, but allow you to scratch your own itch to write something you like yourself. I get that, I really do. I happen to enjoy the column, but like others have said, commenting seemed unnecessary.

Another way to think about driving comments is to try to elicit feedback in the post. Somehow encourage a discussion, such as:

"In the episode of Night Waves I listened to, they were discussing New Atheism vs. Religion. Do you think that new atheists have an agenda, or that some of them just feel more comfortable speaking in public?"

This is a somewhat controversial topic and you are explicitly asking people to comment. Opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one and they love showing it off (I'm pretty sure that's not a real saying).

Anyways, your articles are good, but have a niche audience. You can be more populist and get more readers, but then you compromise. Such is the life of an artist.

There's some fundamental, unspoken assumptions behind these posts, and I find myself reacting against those assumptions, even though they're unspoken and I'm probably your own itch to write something you like yourself. I get that, I really do. I happen to enjoy the column, but like others have said, commenting seemed unnecessary.

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