I’ve been thinking a lot about comments lately. I recently wrote a post about how to get access to people at conferences and how to connect with people on social networks. These posts encouraged groups of people to provide their thoughts on these topics. As usual we began a dialog with lots of people sharing their points of view.
Arnold Waldstein, who stops by periodically on my blog and always leaves relevant comments, made the observation that, “if I want to connect with you, I’ll engage with you on this blog …from there, a follow on Twitter, a link on LinkedIn are closing the loop of connection rather that opening a cold door.” This is so true.
I got to thinking more broadly about social networks and the real-time web. Many people who want to get to know me send me a LinkedIn invite, connect on Facebook or more recently follow me on Twitter. On LinkedIn we rarely communicate with each other. So being Linked seems nothing more than a status symbol. Occasionally I’ll get an LinkedIn email from somebody saying, “I see you know such-and-such, would you mind connecting me?” In a way, LinkedIn has become mostly a chore for me – a place to provide intros for two people that I know.
Facebook has much more value to me as a networking tool. When I sent out 300 invites in early 2006 people thought I was crazy. Given that I’m 41 most of the people I invited were 35-45 and hadn’t done much social networking other than LinkedIn. At the time I proclaimed Facebook the new LinkedIn because you could do so much more and people were actually communicating rather than just having static links. The power to me was that I had already been blogging about my personal life and my children as well as separately about my startup. But I constantly had to remind people every time I updated my blog (very few non-technical people were using RSS readers and nobody had even heard of Twitter) and I thought Facebook provided a way for me to publish pictures, blogs or random thoughts into a community rather than the community having to remember to find me. Powerful stuff.
And Facebook continued to innovate while all this time I have continued to wonder WTF LinkedIn was up to. Facebook added obvious features like IM. The smartest of networkers have realized that IM through Facebook, if used appropriately, is the best way to get through to people. Send me an email and it goes to the bottom of a very big stack of inbound communications for which I’m already weeks behind. Send me a sychronous IM when you already know that I’m online by my presence (side note: Facebook seems to often say I’m there when I’m not) and you have a greater chance of engaging me.
This is exactly how Rajat Suri uses Facebook as he outlined in his comment here on my blog. Rajat and I have become friends this way and have now switched over to occasional phone calls. It’s also how Jason Nazar and I started communicating. He noticed that I’m often on my computer at midnight and he would shoot my little one liners about the great progress that DocStoc was making.
But you can’t really IM somebody you have zero connection with. At least in my age & demagraphic it’s considered too forward – kind of like calling on me on my mobile phone unsolicited. You have to establish a pretty good connection with somebody before you IM them.
And then there’s Twitter. I’ve already spoke about one of the things I love the most about Twitter is that it is asymmetrical and doesn’t require a two-way follow to connect. Using the @ command anybody who follows me (or even if they don’t) can send a little message that will go into my @ mailbox on Twitter. I read almost all of these. For any clever comment from somebody who I don’t know I will often click through to their bio. If there’s a link I’ll often look at their blog or LinkedIn profile (depending on where the link sends me) and I’ll look at their Twitter stream to see if they’ve said anything interesting.
This phenomenon led Jan Schultink to comment that we increasingly size people up online in a Malcom Gladwell “Blink” sort of way and establish a sense of trust based on what we read about the individual, the type of comments they make and what they write about in their blogs. This is how I met Tristan Walker. He left me a comment on Twitter. I clicked through to his blog from his Twitter profile and in a Blink evaluation decided to follow him back on Twitter and comment back to him.
One day I was in Palo Alto with an hour to kill. I Tweeted that I’d like to meet somebody for coffee and had 6 responses in 60 seconds. One was from Tristan. We’d never met IRL but I felt that I knew he was a good guy from my Blink impression online. We spent an hour together and then started doing occasional phone calls. I love his initiative and now consider him a friend. Strange – we’ve only met in person once.
So how does this all tie back into comments? As Fred Wilson pointed out, there is a community that forms on blogs. Many of the same people turn up and they comment on my posts. Sometimes they offer words of encouragement, sometimes they disagree with me and sometimes they form conversations with other people that regularly turn up.
It is far easier to build a relationship with me on my blog by commenting then it is to connect on a social network. I see Arnold here all the time – more than I ever would on Facebook where I don’t spend as much time. I see David Smuts, David Semeria, Eric Jackson and the many, many more people that stop by to leave their views. I have now met many of these people IRL.
Comments are a gateway. They enable you to more easily connect to people in more personal ways like Facebook. They give you more permission to IM somebody through that channel. They allow you to get to know how somebody thinks and draw you into wanting to know them better. They are more than Blink – they are deep dive, continual and built over time. Comments are the coffee shop banter that we miss being in this busy and digital world.
Disqus has enabled all this. In a way, I think that the information that you can find in the “stream” of Disqus comments is far more valuable than that which you will find in Twitter. It is a real conversation. It is threaded. It is already organized around vertical niches and topics. And because Disqus has been built in a clever way it is portable, searchable and ready to be broadcast out via Twitter or other social networks.
Yeah, once we’re friends on Disqus through comments you can connect with me more easily on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. But I think we’ll always know each other better here in my comments section. Or yours. Comments are the new black.