*** MOVED ***

NOTE: I have merged the contents of this blog with my web-site. I will not be updating this blog any more.


Blog Comments

Joel Spolsky links to a post by Dave Winer on blog comments as well as providing his own views on the subject.

Dave opines:
If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think -- then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it's not.
Well actually, my opinion is different from many, but it still is my opinion that it does not follow that a blog must have comments, in fact, to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog.

while Joel adds:
When a blog allows comments right below the writer's post, what you get is a bunch of interesting ideas, carefully constructed, followed by a long spew of noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish that nobody ... nobody ... would say out loud if they had to take ownership of their words.
Dave is absolutely right. The way to give people freedom of expression is to give them a quiet place to post their ideas. If other people disagree, they're welcome to do so... on their own blogs, where they have to take ownership of their words.

The timing of Joel's post couldn't have been better as I was recently wondering about the same issues myself. I was seriously considering disallowing comments on my blog posts. Some of the main reasons were:

  • Impurity - it no longer remains purely my own ramblings (Dave makes the same point). My utterly inane ramblings get combined with the inane ramblings of other, mostly anonymous, folks. It starts to look like a mailing list where I start a thread and others join in.

  • Overhead - I have had to review and moderate every comment since the time spammers discovered this blog and started abusing the comments facility to post links to their sites in order to boost their ranks with search engines (CAPTCHAs don't seem to deter them). I would like to avoid this unnecessary overhead.

  • Liability - I seem to unnecessarily become liable for the contents of the comments since they are available from my blog. I moderate comments simply to weed out spamming efforts, not to censor or alter them. Reasonable folks would agree that the respective posters of the comments should be liable for their content, but as we all know, reasonable folks are a sad minority in this world.

  • Noise - while I try to put some thought and effort into the material posted here, it gets diluted by the utterly trite comments that sometimes follow it, especially when people post under the cover of anonymity (Joel makes the same point). Insightful or interesting comments are a sad rarity on my blog.

  • Lock-in - the ability to collect and collate comments is one of the major reasons I am forced to be with Blogger or similar blogging platforms. I would ideally like to be able to merge this blog with my web-site and only upload static pages to my web-site. I would then not depend on anything other than the very basic hosting facilities and this would let me easily switch hosting providers.

However, comments are not all bad, of course. Some of the main reasons I continue to allow comments on this blog include:

  • Feedback - at worst, it tells you that at least some people took the trouble of navigating to your blog and reading your blog post. At best, a "Thank you!" warms your day up and a "This sucked!" goads you into writing better. In any case, you get to know that your efforts have not entirely been wasteful.

  • Ease - comments allow a reader of your blog to quickly and easily leave feedback for you. Emails are a little burdensome for this purpose, not to mention a bit formal. Making everyone respond to your blog post via their own blog posts (as Joel seems to suggest) looks too awkward to me - you would have a very hard time keeping up with the responses and most readers would just give up trying to leave feedback for you (perhaps that is indeed the effect Joel intends).

  • Scale - as Clay notes, if you are a small-time blogger (like yours truly), the signal-to-noise ratio in your comments is very likely to be much better than that on more popular blogs and web-sites that allow comments. For the same reason, the volume of comments is also likely to remain manageable enough for you to be able to moderate them.

  • Anonymity - some people are just not comfortable with revealing their identities to you, but would still like to leave a comment for you - perhaps anonymity provides them the security needed to provide frank opinions, perhaps they are shy, perhaps they don't want to sign up with Google just to be able to leave a comment for you, perhaps they just don't want to be seen as a person caught reading blogs in general or your blog in particular, etc.

  • Enhancement - some of the best comments are those that expand on the blog post by providing further information, clarifications, alternative ideas, etc. This enhances the value of your blog and makes it more appealing to your readers.

On the whole, blog comments appear quite useful to me despite their obvious warts. I will continue to allow comments on this blog, even those posted anonymously, as long as it remains manageable. I hope I continue to remain small enough to escape the attention of the trolls.


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