May 19, 2014

Pen and Paper

The Internet is a wonderful place: the most advanced medium for communication of ideas and knowledge that mankind has ever created. But you wouldn’t know it if you looked at the comments section of many blogs and sites, which are full of rancorous trolling and partisan sniping. Not all of them of course, some sites manage to cultivate high-value comment sections with judicious moderation and excellent content that attracts smart and reasonable people.

For some, comments are essential part of the Internet experience, and they look askance at any blog that doesn’t have them. For others they’re zones of futile feuding that offer no value at all. Many bloggers turn off comments altogether, frequently because they don’t have the time to properly moderate them, but sometimes for principled reasons.

The arguments of the no-comment crowd goes something like this: I have created this space on the Internet to voice my thoughts and opinions, others can do the same; moderating comments is unpleasant and takes time that I could use more fruitfully; there are dozens of alternative venues for people to express their opinions, including social media, so why should I let them comment on my site.

The pro-commenters may retort: the Internet is a place for dialogue; by refusing to give others a voice beneath your content, you are denying yourself the benefit of other’s opinions; it creates the impression that you are scared to interact with people who may disagree with you; how can you ever learn without hearing alternative opinions?

Bloggers such as Marco Arment and Seth Godin are firmly in the no-comment camp. The large majority, however, are pro-comment, especially those that blog to promote themselves, their services, or products. Nevertheless, the no-commenters are growing in number — even large sites like Popular Science have come to the conclusion that comments are more trouble than they’re worth.

Many comment sections offer valuable content in their own right, but frequently they degenerate into targets of spammers, vehicles for self-promotion, and echo chambers full of people agreeing with each other or taunting the occasional out-group member foolish enough to express an opinion.

With the prevalence of social media, it could be said the blog comment has become obsolete. While there are solutions, including Google+ comments that tie together off-site social and on-site comments, many of the most useful conversations can be just as well had on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m unsure where I stand on the issue of blog comments. I’ve learned a lot from insightful comments, but as often as not, comments are valueless and create a significant management headache. What do you think? Do you turn off comments on your WordPress blog? If so, what made you take that step?

Image Credit: Scott Akerman


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