XML-RPC for Blog Comments

    February 20, 2007

Fairly regularly in the blogosphere you hear people complaining about how few people reading their blog go the next step and leave a comment.

I recall that last year, Darren Rowse posted his "10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog", linking to a Jakob Nielsen study that found that

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

My own work in social media bears this out. I have built or worked with some of the largest Social Networks in Australia, and I am well aware of the fact that these sorts of sites rely on about 1% of their user-base to generate 99% of their user-contributed content, be that forum posts, image uploads, private messages, or whatever else.

So it follows that the technology around blogging much have as one of its key objectives the simplification of interaction and community-building.

But, strangely, this is not the case. It’s 2007 and yet there is no such thing (that I am aware of) as a newsreader with in-built commenting. Now, I know some of the reasons why, but I refuse to accept any of these excuses. In the New Media world of Web 2.0, nothing should stand in the way of the goal of the fluid and unhindered flow of communication between participants in online conversation.

And yet if you look at the software and technology that we’re all playing with, it’s pathetic!

Bear with my as I unpack my favourite example

Those of us who’ve ever peered "under the hood" of the blogosphere are well aware of the important part that RSS (Really Simple Syndication) plays in growing one’s blog readership. The plethora of choices we have for newsreader software is testimony to how effective and powerful RSS has been in giving us a way to manage and read through the ever growing list of blogs you and I want to keep up with on a regular basis.

So yay for RSS but there’s one problem with it: our RSS readership is one BIG step further removed from participation on our blog than are those readers who visit the webpage. See, someone who visits your blog in person and is in the least motivated to go beyond reading to leaving a comment is right where they need to be to do that. The comment box is (or should be!) right there at the bottom of the page. And assuming you’re not stupid enough to demand they login before they can comment, you stand a good chance of getting a comment out of that 1% of readers we described earlier.

But the same motivated reader accessing your content via RSS is a BIG step removed from that simplicity. They have to click on the post title in their newsreader software, then scroll to the bottom of that page in the web browser that just fired up (assuming they’re not using an online newsreader).

I don’t have the data and I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who does have it: what is the average difference in the volume of commenters, between RSS readers and on-page readers? And if the former is WAY lower (which I suspect it is), what are we going to do about it?

(If the blogosphere is really about "social media" then if goes without saying that we DO need to do something about it. If you disagree, leave my blog now. Nothing I write is going to be of interest to you. Sorry.)

My Suggestion: XML-RPC for Blog Commenting

My solution is not rocket science, but will require reworking ALL the blogging platforms out there a task I am convinced is worth it.

I propose that we extend/hack the XML-RPC protocol and attendant software technologies so that newsreaders at one end, and blog platforms at the other, can handle the remote authoring and submission of comments.

It would work like this:

1. While browsing through blogs in your newsreader (i.e. NetNewsWire or Google Reader or whatever) you find a great blog post. Its full text is syndicated, so you read it to the bottom.

2. Still in your newsreader, you click to read all contributed comments, and these are displayed (in some way or other – I don’t care at this stage!).

3. You have something to say, so you scroll to the bottom of these comments and use the (usual) input fields to add your own comment. And yes, you’re still in the newsreader application.

Now, I know enough about blogging platforms to know what nightmares are hiding away behind that simple 3-point illustration. But we need to go there. We need to treat commenting with the respect it deserves, as a key "social" feature of blogging.

So here’s my appeal to Mr Mullenweg, the Trotts, our friends over at Blogger, Chris Davis (presently working on the first Habari beta) and all the other lesser demi-gods of blogging technology please do with XML-RPC for commenting what you have so well done with blog posting!

In the name of the social web!


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