We’ve had draft chapters of the book available for almost six months now, and the other day, our editor asked if we were getting much value out of the comment system that we built.
I think that in terms of the ratio of work put in to benefit received, the comment system has been one of the best small hacks I’ve ever written. It took me about 20 hours to build, and another 4 to debug. So far, we’ve received about 3,600 comments. This number makes me positively giddy with delight.
As to the quality of the comments, our readers are incredibly generous with the time they put into closely reading our text, and just as thoughtful with what they have to say about it. Feedback runs the gamut from small stuff like typo corrections, though suggestions for rewording sections, to comments that some material is redundant, boring, or confusing.
In my case, for a handful sections where I rushed through my first drafts (probably late at night), some of the feedback has been pretty strident. I’ve been surprised to find that I don’t at all mind being told that something I wrote sucks: this just gives me, er, sufficient motivation to go back and turn it into something decent. (There’s no doubt, though, that opening up the early writing process to this kind of inspection requires a strong constitution.)
As for our response to comments, my own way of dealing with them has changed over time. Initially, I was overwhelmed by their sheer quantity. Although I read every comment, I rarely responded to any individually, because it seemed like such a huge mountain. After a while, though, my attitude changed: I concluded that if someone was going to take the trouble to tell me something they thought was important, the least I could do was acknowledge what they said and thank them. That’s now my usual default. (I can’t tell if readers like this, but hey, I’m doing it for me.)
Building an RSS feed has more than paid off: our readers use the comment system to engage in conversations with each other, going back and forth about who’s got a better idea for presenting a particular idea.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I think the comment system has been a smashing success so far. We listen very carefully to what you have to say. To all of you who have given us feedback so far: thanks!