Seth Godin likes the megaphone better

by Mathew on June 3, 2006 · 26 comments

Seth Godin is a smart guy, and a marketing whiz who regularly gets asked to talk about how to communicate better, and who has written a bunch of books about how to market yourself or your company, including the “purple cow” one that many people are familiar with. So why has he decided not to have comments on his blog? Apparently, Seth would much rather stand at a lectern and show a bunch of PowerPoint (or, more likely, Keynote) slides, and then get his fee and move on.

Web 2.0 — or whatever we’re calling it nowadays — is supposed to be about the conversation, isn’t it? It’s not much of a conversation if you’re the only one talking, a point I have tried to make several times in the past, including here and here . In fact, a blog with no comments is more like a traditional media vehicle, in the sense that it’s a monologue, one that sends a subtle message that the writer has all the answers, and you the reader are simply a receptacle, a passive audience with nothing to contribute.

We added comments on every story at the newspaper I work for, the Globe and Mail, because we would like to hear from readers — some of whom, it must be said, seem to like shouting or criticizing just for the sake of criticizing, but many of whom have intelligent and thoughtful things to say. The BBC has its “Have Your Say” feature for the same reason. In many ways, it’s the evolution of the letters section, or a more civilized version of call-in radio shows. We benefit from it, and so do our readers, and I would argue blogs do the same.

Seth says that it takes too much of his time to think about or weed out comments on his blog, and that he finds himself changing the way he writes because of what people say. This, apparently, is a bad thing. And yet, in a previous post — one which did have comments, for some unknown reason — Seth talks about how to have a successful blog, and number 27 is “Include comments so your blog becomes a virtual water cooler that feeds itself.” Good advice. But not for Seth Godin, it seems.

I think the “no comments” idea is related to the “no links” idea, which my M-list buddy Kent Newsome had a bit of rant about awhile back, and with good reason. As he points out, not linking — which Steve Gillmor and others seem to be promoting — is all about arrogance and vanity. And so, I would argue, is not having comments. It says that the writer believes no one has anything useful to contribute but them. And I think it makes Seth’s blog inherently less appealing, to me at least. Scott Karp seems to agree with me, but (not surprisingly) Dave Winer doesn’t. And Anne Zelenka has a great post about it here — always happy to see you in the quiet hallways of the weekend Internet, Anne. Kent says that non-linking and non-commenting bloggers suffer from faux agoraphobia.

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  • http://www.column2.com Sandy Kemsley

    Hear, hear — I though much the same when I read Godin’s post about no comments. For a guy who puts forward that “markets are conversations”, it seems like he doesn’t want to be part of the conversation.

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  • http://www.ethmar.com Ethan

    Sandy, you’re thinking of Doc Searls, I think. Unless Seth got on board with the Cluetrain rhetoric, in which case, “nevermind”. (Disclaimer: I don’t read Seth’s blog regularly so my frame of reference is quite rusty.)

    As to the “arrogance of not linking” argument above, that’s rather broad. Some new bloggers (gasp!) don’t know how to link (gasp!). I view links as a form of context, and depending on the material that same context may be provided without links.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Ethan, I think you might be right, but Seth has definitely pushed the “conversation” meme in the past as well — and more than one person has mentioned the disconnect between what he pitches and his own blog. As for not linking, it may be that describing it as arrogance is overly broad, but it’s certainly accurate when describing someone like Steve Gillmor or even Seth for that matter. And I find it hard to believe that someone with a blog wouldn’t know how to create a link, although I suppose anything is possible.

    Thanks for the comment.

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  • http://www.column2.com Sandy Kemsley

    Ethan, you’re very right, my mistake. However, if you look back to Godin’s own blog in the past (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2004/11/a_little_like_f.html), he says: “But the reality is that many many brands are actually monologues, not dialogues. That doesn’t mean a conversation won’t create a better, more robust, more useful brand. But, alas, most organizations can’t handle that truth. So they do their best to do it the old way.” Strange words from someone who eschews the conversation.

  • Mathew Ingram

    I totally agree, Sandy. That’s a great quote.

  • http://www.fridgebuzz.com Vanessa Williams

    It’s always saddened me that Tim Bray is another one who doesn’t allow comments on his blog (tbray.org/ongoing). I think at one point he claimed it was because he didn’t have the courage, but if you’re going to have one of the most popular blogs on the planet maybe you should just pluck it up, eh?

  • http://cosg.blogspot.com/ Mike

    someone has created a blog to discuss seth…

    http://cosg.blogspot.com/

  • Mathew Ingram

    That’s a great idea, Mike.

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  • Al

    This whole discussion brings up some interesting questions that remind me of the type of conversations I used to get engaged back in art school. Many hours were spent by the most earnest students discussing whether art was (or should be) the search for original thinking, or technical mastery, or essentially decorative in nature, or a political statement, or an attempt to link into the mystical realm, or a responsibility of those born with talent, etc,

    In this discussion makes me wonder, Is a blog first and foremost a conversation? Or is it a podium for expressing YOUR ideas? Do you have a responsibility to the blogging ecosystem to include their views, or is it just polite to do so? If you engage in blogging are you honor bound to use ALL of the available tools (Linking, comments, RSS, etc.) or just lame if you do not? If someone doesn’t conform to common usage, is it the responsibility of the mob to try to use ridicule to “force” them to do so?

    Does the whole flap over Godin’s decision smell like a traditional MSM game of “gotcha” to anyone? “Hey Godin isn’t acting the way the rest of us think he should! Get ‘em fellas!” How many of those who are raking Godin over the coals are secretly delighting in the opportunity to take a blogger with much more fame down a peg?

    About 90% of the Blogosphere’s stock-in-trade is composed of people linking/commenting on either a MSM news item or on some discovered original thought. There are relatively few who confine themselved to just worrying about having those original thoughts in the first place. If Seth, who knows how much time and energy he has to devote to his blog better than I do, wants to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of another, I’d rather have him confine himself to the new ideas thing. Judging by the number of links from the blogging community to Seth’s posts in the past, it would be best served if he did as well.

  • mathew ingram

    That’s a fair point, Al. I agree that some creative types might see it as their place to create and not converse. And if Seth hadn’t made being part of the conversation a key theme in his work, I would probably be inclined to give him a pass on the comments thing.

  • http://www.beingthebest.ca/ Lynda Morris

    Just as an update, Alan Weiss has taken this whole theme even further. For those who don't know, Alan Weiss is the genius behind such books as “Million Dollar Consulting.” Alan now Tweets and it is a one-way street, he won't follow any of his audience. This is like giving a lecture in 140 characters, very annoying and very unsatisfying.

  • http://www.beingthebest.ca/ Lynda Morris

    Just as an update, Alan Weiss has taken this whole theme even further. For those who don't know, Alan Weiss is the genius behind such books as “Million Dollar Consulting.” Alan now Tweets and it is a one-way street, he won't follow any of his audience. This is like giving a lecture in 140 characters, very annoying and very unsatisfying.

  • http://www.beingthebest.ca/ Lynda Morris

    Just as an update, Alan Weiss has taken this whole theme even further. For those who don't know, Alan Weiss is the genius behind such books as “Million Dollar Consulting.” Alan now Tweets and it is a one-way street, he won't follow any of his audience. This is like giving a lecture in 140 characters, very annoying and very unsatisfying.

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