Blog comments - a pause for thought

 by Martin Belam, 6 January 2012

Mathew Ingram wrote yet another great post on GigaOm the other day entitled “Yes, blog comments are still worth the effort

He was responding to what is beginning to seem like a trend for bloggers deciding not to have comments on their site.

I’m one of them, and that places me in an awkward professional position. By day I’m a champion of web community, social media, organisations entering into conversations with their readers, and I actually design the interfaces that allow that interaction. By night, I’m the owner of a unidirectional broadcast platform that calls itself a “blog” but that currently allows no response from the reader.

I wrote back in December about “Why I’ve closed comments on my blog.” It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. In fact, around this time last year I’d written “Why comment spam still exists - and why I’ll stay ‘dofollow’” pledging to keep comments open.

But I found that of something like the last 1,000 comments submitted, I published three. And those 1,000 were just the ones that managed to get through the spam filter.

Because of the value that Google places on a link from this website to another one, for a long time I’ve faced a barrage of comments that are written by humans, but add nothing to the conversation. They are intended solely to gain “Google juice”, and make enough reference to the post to evade spam filters and technically be “on topic” without saying much more than “I like what you wrote here. I’ve used the Guardian Facebook app. Nice work.” Pure noise and no signal at all.

The comments on Mathew’s post are mostly scathing about blogs without comments:

“Comments are free-learning for blog writers. Those who feel they have no more to learn will turn them off first.” - rohit sharma
“When there are so many different ways of commenting on a blog post – through twitter, facebook, ones own blog, why would you turn off discussion on your own platform? Better to have a discussion in your own house than someone elses, IMO.” - Brian
“Anyone not willing to entertain comments has to be a Luddite. Posting to other social networks is like a ‘Flat Earther’ admitting the world is round but still maintaining that their ship will fall of the edge of the world. Audience participation and reader based content is the here and now. To take any other approach to content via the web is the old Print model at best.” - Ron Kost

I’ve blogged for nine years, and published over 5,000 comments underneath my blog posts in that time. I miss having conversation enabled underneath things that I write. “How a press release trumped the Lawrence murder verdict - a new low for the Express” generated a massive spike of traffic this week via @glinner tweeting it, to the extent that it knocked my server over. Yet there was no opportunity for anybody who managed to reach the page to leave a response here.

I hate that.

But then I read something like this under Mathew’s post...

“Blogs without comments are like a dictator’s speech which does not entertain any discussion or views around it.” - Santanu Das

That just isn’t true.

Link to it. Write your own blog. Tweet it. Argue about it in a LinkedIn group. Share it on Facebook and call the person who wrote it whatever you like amongst your friends. But don’t say that people who choose the functionality available on their own websites are acting like dictators. Dictators shut down the internet and control who can publish on it. Dictators monitor the web for dissent in order to crush it in the offline world. Deciding what can be done on your own website is an act of exercising personal choice, not an act of dictatorship.

I’m 99.9% sure that at some point I’ll turn comments back on here, but I needed a break.

A pause for thought.

A rest from the relentless tide of people trying to make the content on my site worse, so that the search rankings for their site might get better.


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