High Variance

Comments on Blogs

It’s become very trendy on tech blogs to not allow comments on articles. And at least a couple of folks (Matt Gemmell and Ben Brooks have been actively trying to convince other bloggers to turn off their comments too. I agree that if you’ve got a popular blog (and maybe a thin skin), turning off comments can make your life easier. I would even agree that on popular blogs (and websites more generally) many (most?) comments don’t really further the discussion. In fact, I read most of my blogs (including Matt’s and Ben’s) inside an RSS reader and so I don’t even see any of the comments that might or might not be there unless I click through to the site itself.

But I have three objections to their position on comments. First, when you don’t get much traffic (I’m looking at you High Variance) and you know most of the people reading your blog, it’s really nice to get as much feedback as possible and I think comments are the best way to do that. If someone reading my article has something interesting to say about it, the comment gives them an audience. They can always email if they want to say something privately,

Second, I often like to read what other people have to say about an article (whether I’ve written it or not), even when I have to wade through some less than insightful stuff. Again, the signal-to-noise ratio is particularly high in the early days of a blog when it’s mostly friends reading, but even on a big messy site like espn.com I think it’s fun to see the popular reaction to a story. And yes, I get it that the sample is not even representative of the readership let alone the general population. I think Slashdot is a terrific example of how constructive (and entertaining) discussion of an issue can happen on the web through comments.

Third, there’s this high horse attitude that if people have something to say about an article, they should just write it up as an article on their own blog. And if the original author reads it and wants to comment back, they will write another article on their blog. I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t happen. I mean, I’ve seen blogs comment on other blogs, but in almost every case the debate stops there. And it’s impossible for someone visiting the original site to see the conversation at all. And, believe it or not, there are people with intelligent things to say that don’t have a blog.

Maybe I’ll change my tune in the future when I’m drowning in haters and forum-spam, but I have a feeling that’s going to be a while. Until then, comments will stay turned on.