How to foster discussion

This site is at its most interesting when there are active discussions ongoing involving multiple participants. Unfortunately, such occurrences are not as frequent as might be desired. The overall number of people visiting the site is generally pretty constant: around 100 to 120 a day. The level of discussion during any particular period, however, is intensely variable.

Are there mechanisms people can suggest to encourage more discussion and debate? Are there aspects of the blog as it stands that put people off commenting?

Suggestions are always much appreciated.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

12 thoughts on “How to foster discussion”

  1. One potentially useful tool for people trying to keep track of discussions here are the comment RSS feeds provided. includes comments added to all posts

    A more nicely formatted version is available through Feedburner

    Each individual post also has a feed. For instance, the one for this post is:

    To find the one for any particular post, look in the grey box below it, where the text begins: “This entry was posted on…” The link at the end of the phrase “You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed” provides a comment feed for that particular post.

    For information on using RSS, see this site.

  2. I think taking a page out of T’s book probably would inflame discussion.


    1. Ask a leading question, or make a controversial statement.
    2. Fly wildly into a flurry of accusations, and draw conclusions about their stance on morality.
    3. Criticize moral stance, and accuse your readers of being nihilists.


    Or, just ensure that there is at least one glaringly debatable point included in your post. Play with your audience.

  3. While they would be useful for someone doing research, all the links to related articles in discussion threads can be distracting and bulky.

  4. Tom,

    I try to make things as accessible as possible. I spell out acronyms and explain terms, very often providing links to Wikipedia articles for more background. What else could usefully be done to reduce the problem of obscurity?


    The traffic is pretty steady; it’s the level of commenting that really varies.


    Making more effort to actively foster debate is a good idea.

  5. Tom,

    Links to related materials are intended to enhance the database quality of the blog. I find it helpful to be able to search for a term like “solar power” and quickly find many related items.

  6. The posts and links are good.

    I realize how fussy this sounds but a few times I’ve wanted to forward a post without having to compose an email. I haven’t found an email function if there is one.

  7. Milan:

    Actually, I find the discussions on your blog quite cozy. I normally don’t read more than 15 comments in a thread on your blog, because readers here often have more thought-provoking points than on other blogs, which require more time and thoughtfulness to read.

  8. AT,

    I am looking into adding such a capability. Watch this space.


    I am glad you find discussions here engaging. Thanks for contributing to them.

  9. AT,

    Your request has not been forgotten, but I have not yet found a plugin to my liking for adding email functionality.

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