How do you feel about blogs without comments? It seems that lately it is fashionable to say that “comments don’t scale“. I guess Joel Spolsky is probably the most quoted individual who argued against having open comments on your blog. His position is a bit extreme:
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.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read a brilliant article someone wrote on a blog. By the end of the article, I’m excited, I’m impressed, it was a great article. And then you get the dribble of morbid, meaningless, thoughtless comments.
This is little harsh. I do not think this applies to this blog at all. Most of the comments I get here are insightful, funny and worth reading. Many of them actually complement the post, adding new content that I simply missed. I would argue that comments here generally add value to the post. But then again, my average traffic load here is relatively low and signal to noise ratio is very good.
I totally agree with Jeff Artwood when he says:
I firmly maintain that a blog without comments enabled is not a blog. It’s more like a church pulpit. You preach the word, and the audience passively receives your evangelical message. Straight from God’s lips to their ears. When the sermon is over, the audience shuffles out of the church, inspired for another week. And there’s definitely no question and answer period afterward.
I don’t want to be preaching to my readers. I want a conversation. I want to get to know my readers, and find out what they think on a given subject. We all blog for different reasons, but ultimately we all want people to read our stuff. So having a mechanism that lets your readers give you feedback is really important.
I view comments as a community building tool. Right now I have small group of regulars around here who frequently read and comment on posts, an comment on each others comments. And I think it’s great. I love that we have our small community growing here. And as such we still need to work on some inside jokes, and memes btw. ;)
I do not believe that you can have an insightful conversation using the “everyone posts on their own blog and links to eachother” methodology. What you get then is bunch of people preaching from their respective soap-boxes and cherry-picking arguments they want to discuss. Furthermore these commentaries are now spread over many websites, with no organized way of jumping from one to the other. If you disabled comments then you probably also do not allow tracebacks. So the only way I can know that someone commented on your article, is to randomly visit their blog. Does that facilitate good discussion? No.
With comments on the other hand, you get chronologically sorted, organized conversation right below the original post. In such setup it is easy to have actual debates with arguments, counter arguments, ripostes and etc. So while comments can be a mindless random drivel, they can also be an insightful discussion.
Not to mention that comments provide me with instant gratification/validation mechanism. When I get 0 comments on a post, I kinda know that no one was particularly interested in that one. And even if they were, they just didn’t have much to say about it. But when a topic sparks a conversation I instantly get that “Oh, people are actually reading this stuff!” feeling. And no amount of looking at the server logs, or website stats can compare with actually reading what people thought about your post.
Of course if you get few hundred comments per post, the nice benefits I outlined above are greatly diminished. It’s easy for discussions to turn into bickering and flame wars, and with high volume of posters it is usually difficult for the blog author to effectively moderate.
Still, we are not without tools to combat crappy comments. Take Slashdot for example – if you brows it with a filter that only shows you the posts moderated above certain threshold you can cut out most of that “noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish” that Spolsky seems to despise so much. Same goes for Digg for example – crappy and unpopular comments get buried and hidden increasing readability of the thread.
Community moderation combined with regular ant-spam measures does work – and it works well enough. All you need to do is to slap something like the Digg inspired Comment Karma plugin onto your blog, and the signal to noise ratio increases instantly.
A blog without comments is like a public panel without a Q/A session. I personally find that comments add value to the original content more often than not. What do you think?
What would you rather have – a high traffic blog with comments, even if they tend to be a bit chaotic, or pristine church pulpit blog that allows no comments? Given a choice, I’ll always pick the former over the latter.
[tags]blogging, blog comments, comments, feedback, user feedback, joel spolsky, jeff artwood[/tags]