Most of you don't leave comments on this blog. Today's post is about the 5% of you who sometimes do.
When you enter a comment on this blog there are four boxes. One is for the comment itself. One is for 'Name'. One is for 'Email'. And one is for 'URL'.
Most of you leave a name, of sorts. Some of you leave an email address. But not many of you write anything in the URL box. Today's post is about why the URL box is usually empty.
First off, I've tried to quantify how empty the URL box is. I've scanned back through all the comments made by readers in the first half of this month. Thanks for all roughly-400 of them. And then I've totted up how many of these comments include a web address in the URL field. It's about 5%. Only one commenter in every twenty leaves a URL.
Sarah's one of the handful of people who left a URL. She has an actual blog. So does Andrew, and so does DrD, and so does Margaret, and so does Richard, and so does rasbhre, and they still update them regularly. A couple of other October commenters have a blog but haven't posted lately. But that's it for bloggers leaving comments so far this month. A paltry eight.
A couple of people left a personal website address in the URL box - Adrian left his Twitter handle and Tetramesh left his Flickr ID. These are both good ways of dropping a hint about the person who's actually leaving a comment, something deeper than just a name. Nobody left a Facebook login or an Instagram feed in the URL box. Nineteen out of every twenty commenters left nothing at all.
I wondered if URL-less-ness had changed over time, so I went back five years and ten years and took a look. I checked for URLs in all the comments made by readers in the first half of October 2012, and then did the same for all the comments made by readers in the first half of October 2007. In each case there were about 300 comments to consider. Here's what I found.
» In October 2007, about 45% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
» In October 2012, about 20% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
» In October 2017, about 5% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
That's quite some decline. What is going on? Here are ten possibilities.
1) Far fewer people have blogs these days.
We know this one's true. Blogs have had their day and people don't start writing them any more. A few of us maintain them, keeping the faith and providing the web with longform content on a semi-regular basis. But most people don't blog, and most people who did have long given up. When there are so few blogs out there, the URL box is almost always going to be empty.
2) People now do their commenting elsewhere.
Commenting on blogs is old hat now that people have Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their every thought. Why leave a comment on a blog where almost nobody will see it when you can shout it to a far wider audience and get direct feedback. The conversation has moved, hence far fewer of my commenters now have a blog of their own.
3) People no longer have a single web identity.
People now have multiple identities across several platforms, rather than one go-to site of their own. And while some people still have a personal homepage which acts as a CV, privacy concerns mean few people want to leave a URL revealing their name and contact details in a blog's comment box.
4) People don't think Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook count.
There is a general feeling, I suspect, that what goes in the URL box ought to be a proper blog. A Twitter address doesn't come to mind, even though it could, and would provide a bit of background to what makes a commenter tick. Even an Instagram link, YouTube channel or Facebook connection would adds a bit more depth, rather than simply being a "Mark" or a "Chris" who could be anybody.
5) The people who leave comments on blogs have changed.
In the early 2000s most of the people who left comments on blogs were also bloggers, adding to the discussion. Today most of the people who leave comments on blogs have no focused online voice, they solely want to comment on what others have written. Social media is increasingly reactive these days, and a much smaller proportion of people now provide the original material everyone else comments on.
6) Regular commenters without blogs are skewing the figures.
Several of my most regular commenters don't have a platform of their own, which surprises me given how persistently opinionated they are, and how much they always seem to have to say. Get a platform, gents.
7) It's harder to enter an accurate URL on a mobile.
I wonder if this is a potentially important issue. On a laptop it's easy to cut and paste your own personal URL (or Twitter handle or whatever) from one browser tab to another. On a smartphone that's a hassle, perhaps a nightmare, so it's increasingly the case that people can't be bothered to go to the effort of typing from scratch or copying a URL across.
8) URLs have to begin with http://, not @
Web addresses aren't the same as social media IDs, so some people might not actually know what URL to put in the box. If you're @malcolm1952 on Twitter, for example, then what has to go in the box is https://twitter.com/malcolm1952 or https://www.instagram.com/malcolm1952 or whatever, and that's quite complicated. But remember to tick the box marked "Please store my details for next time" underneath the comments box and you'll only ever have to type it once.
9) People are lazier that they used to be.
The number of people who leave the "Name" box empty is also increasing, as certain commenters fire off accidentally anonymous comments, and others choose not to fill in a name because they know who they are. Without even a pseudonym to go on, all the rest of us see is an unattributed opinion, which I think devalues the content of the comment somewhat. And if people can't be bothered to leave a name, why would they leave a URL?
10) There are more trolls than there used to be.
A lot more commenters these days are on the snarky side, leaving pointed remarks to make a personal dig. These people don't want to be traceable, indeed the names they're using won't be their real names, so they don't have their own URL to add. As the internet gets nastier, so personal accountability is on the decline.
I'm getting more comments these days than I was five or ten years ago, thanks, so leaving comments hasn't yet fallen out of favour. But far fewer of those commenters are leaving a URL, which seems a shame. There are always reasons why some of you will never have, or want to share, an online identity. But if you do have one somewhere, perhaps you'll consider sharing it in the future, and the rest of us might even take more seriously what you have to say.