Back in November, I posted an entry titled, “I Feel Bad About My Paycheck.” Truth be told, the best thing about that posting was its eye-roller of a headline, a rip-off of the Nora Ephron best-seller. The posting itself was a brief rant on some news that day about over-paid execs.
To date, the posting has been my No. 1 comment-getter.
I am still an addled newbie when it comes to the mechanics of blogging, but I do know that to keep a blog is to obsess over comments. (Just in case you’re even newer to this than I am–what up, Dad–”comments” are those messages at the bottom of a post, containing readers’ thoughts about the subject/posting/blogger.)
Comments matter. On blog postings or product reviews, they offer evidence of consumers so engaged they’ll bother to fire off a public opinion. It’s free and instant feedback from a vast and varied focus group.
And so I check a few times a day to see if someone, anyone, has posted something, anything. Given my subject matter, I’m not exactly deluged. At least, that’s what I tell myself; if I used this space to, say, hate on Ann Coulter or lay down odds on American Idol 2007, I bet I’d be buried in feedback. As it is, I have exactly two regular commenters: 1) my college pal Gerry, who I suspect is merely warming up his typing fingers for the imminent launch of his own far superior blog, and 2) a friendly guy named Sam who originally contacted me about my book and who happens to work in the HR field.
So when my comments box began to fill up a few weeks ago, I nearly gagged with excitement. Then I saw the comments.
“Buy Levitra online,” said one. Another advertised Internet casino gambling. A company called PayDayLoan is apparently an avid fan.
All pegged their comments to the aforementioned posting, “I Feel Bad About My Paycheck.” Which leads me to the conclusion–probably well known among bloggers–that spammers are exploiting a whole new frontier. There must be some diabolically designed bots out there that troll for certain key words in postings, then shoot off unsolicited ads, in the hopes that the blog is set up to automatically post all comments. Ta-da! Free ad space.
Which leads me to more questions: why this posting, and why these spammers? The word “paycheck” must be the trigger here. But why would a spammer presume someone writing about their pay would be tempted to buy drugs via Mexican pharmacies? Did they figure I feel so bad about my paycheck that I’d want to gamble away its sorry, post-FICA balance online? Or that my salary brought on pain so awful I’d want to sample Soma, an addictive muscle relaxer?
This is so wrong on so many levels. First off, these blog publishing platforms–mine is called Movable Type–ought to build better spam filters (yes, IT guys, I’ve hurled these spammers to the “banned commenter” dungeon). Second, how dare spammers prey on workers so bereft as to bare their poorly paid souls in their blogs with nefarious and even dangerous offers? Imagine if this happened in the real world–say, if OTB counters surrounded check-cashing storefronts. Okay, so there’s a precedent.
As a result of this devilish sandbagging, I’ve only been able to publish one comment to this posting–a really smart, well-written note on Supreme Court proceedings regarding pay. It’s written by a Peter Mullison, who is neither related to me or selling anything.
I cherish these comments. My friend Penelope Trunk, an established blogger, once told me she responds to every single commenter. I’m just starting to, although in general I don’t really know what to say, other than “thanks for reading” (which, come to think of it, is the highly imaginative message I scrawl when I sign my book). I can only dream of a day when I’m so besieged by reader comments that I can afford to bitch about it, as my colleague Joel Stein did recently. In his L.A. Times column, he wrote:
I don’t want to talk to you; I want to talk at you. A column is not my attempt to engage in a conversation with you. I have more than enough people to converse with. And I don’t listen to them either. That sound on the phone, Mom, is me typing.
A blog, however, is an attempt to engage in conversation. In my view, pretty much any product or service today invites conversation. This is in part what my editors meant when they named You the Person of the Year. We office workers often toil in anonymity, shielded (or buffered) from real feedback. Oh, we’re fed back, all right, by our supervisors, who love to tell us how much we suck at drawing PowerPoint pie charts. Today, though, the people who really count–our customers, our readers, You–can feed back too online. Just try Googling your company’s name sometime.
Comments do matter. If you read his column through, you’d see that even Joel winds up reading–and responding to–almost every message. But his commenters aren’t flogging erectile dysfunction drugs. Or maybe they are. My point is that I’ll take your comments, good and bad. Just stop trying to get my precious readers hooked on Internet poker.