I wrote to several city council members who blog, asking for tips and advice. I’ll be sharing some of that advice. Of all the contents in all the emails, the one paragraph that really turned my head was this one, from Councilwoman Angela Hunt of Dallas. She lives in a city where a council member could probably get a staff person to write the blog, but clearly she writes hers.
This was the advice that struck me:
Don’t allow comments. Blogs take a lot of time by themselves, and if you are having to constantly respond to comments, they will eat up all your time. Encourage constituents to email you their thoughts and reply directly to them.
This got me thinking, and I took a look. A lot of council member blogs, particularly those in big cities, don’t enable commentary. I’m still going to allow comments on my blog, but after her pithy advice, I won’t worry as much about the lack of comments. I do like people to ask questions, but I no longer cherish the illusion that my blog will somehow serve as a sort of town hall.
I’m not alone; most council member blogs don’t get a lot of comments. I used to get a fair number from anonymous folks who accused me of trying to destroy the city for whatever reason got them excited. For awhile, I thought that maybe this created some sort of constructive dialogue, but I ended up deciding it just took time. Ever since I required would-be commentators to sign up with their name, I’ve had hardly any comments. A somewhat sad truth I’ve noticed is that most of the people who comment to blogs are the people who are in opposition of whatever is stated, and, most important from how I use my time, don’t have any real interest in why I support what I support. And they like to be anonymous.
There is a famous, famous cartoon about anonymous blog posters that summarizes what I think of them. Let me tell you right now it is highly highly highly offensive so please do not click on this link if you are offended by obscenities. If you are offended by obscenities and click on this, don’t come crying to me. I only post it because it’s incredibly true: the Penny Arcade cartoon about anonymous blog posters.
So while I enable comments, I applaud the councilwoman’s approach: concentrate on providing information and commentary, and not on trying to hold a town hall on your site when conditions are not right for one.