comment conclusions

The second incarnation of this blog was started on Blogger on April Fool's Day, 2008. It spent the first several days with all the privacy settings I could throw at it turned on, being vetted by (and only visible to) trusted in-real-life friends. They left enough encouraging comments that I threw the doors open to the general public by the end of the first month, but truthfully until I joined Friday Flash it was vanishingly rare for me to receive comments from anyone I hadn't met in person first.

I made a decision very early on that I wasn't going to write for the comments (ie: no clickbait), but at the same time, be grateful for everyone who did leave a comment (with obvious exceptions for trolls and spammers). Over the years, the general level of comments has built up, to the point that when I started considering getting a web domain name under, well, my name, I wasn't going to move the blogs unless I could take the historical comments and posts with me.

In April, Icy Sedgwick wrote a thoughtful post called "Should you close comments on your blog?", which considers comments on blogs and some alternatives, and ultimately comes out for keeping the comments option on. Earlier this month, David G. Schrock responded with the post "Comments Closed" on his blog. He followed up his conclusion that social media was a better forum by turning comments off on his own blog.

As both bloggers pointed out, one is never limited to discussing a blog post in the comments section of the post itself. Discussion of blog posts and other like articles can and does move to Twitter, Google+, and elsewhere.

Ultimately I agree with both Icy's and David's points, but come down on the side of leaving comments on. My reasoning goes like this:

  • Leaving social media open as the only discussion forum essentially forces people to comment without the option of doing so anonymously. I know a lot of people are against anonymous comments because it's believed to make trolling and spamming easier, but I have one (okay, more than one, but one who's vocal about it) real-life friend who will not comment unless she can use an anonymous option. She uses a nickname she's told me face-to-face so I know when it's her. The reason why she does this — and it's the same reason I actively avoided using my real name on my old Eyrea blog for years — is because she doesn't want to drop too many clues on the net about her physical whereabouts or ways she can be reached by third parties. People often fail to realise a space without privacy is an unsafe space for a lot of people, effectively silencing them, no matter how benign the topic at hand is. They try to minimise how "out" they are in the world for very good reasons, including their own safety and security.
  • E-mailing the blogger is another alternative, especially for when one doesn't want one's response to be visible at all on-line. Having comments open doesn't remove this option, though — the blogger just has to have an e-mail address to use listed on their web site.
  • I restarted my blog in 2008 as part of a decision to leave Facebook. I deleted my account in 2010. Devices getting onto the net through my home wifi can't even access Facebook, because I have its domain blocked at the router level. (By the bye, this is a simple way to make web pages load more quickly!) So if a forum only allows commenting on their Facebook page, or via Facebook login... I can't comment. If they direct all discussions to Facebook... I can't comment. The same is true for people not on Google+, or not on Twitter, or not on whatever. Along with the anonymous option, it's one reason why I make sure you don't need to be logged onto anything to post a comment on my blog. It's also why I hate comment systems like Disqus that never seem to remember my credentials right, and mix and match bits of the different social media accounts I've told it in moments of weakness. The main purpose is to comment, not increase the hits on some third-party social media web site I don't even have shares in.
  • Commenting on the blog keeps the comments with the source material at hand. Moving the comments elsewhere reminds me of when I went to hear Neil Gaiman read from The Ocean at the End of the Lane at The Danforth Music Hall. We went to a pub across the road from the hall afterwards for a drink, and a couple who were having a drink a few seats from us came over and asked if we would mind telling them what the event was. They'd seen the crowds leaving the hall, and they'd seen us cross the street and come into the pub, but from the bits they'd overheard of us talking, they knew it couldn't be a band we'd gone to hear. They couldn't figure out what the event was, though. As it turned out, they were very well-read people, and we wound up having a great conversation about books and authors. On the net, that would have been the difference between stumbling across some tweets and thinking, "okay, I'll click on the link" and stumbling across a Google+ post which made no sense unless you had already read the post. Context is important.

David made the good point in his post that not all comments are made with the sincere desire to add one's one thoughts to the source material. He gave the examples of people leaving comments for SEO linking, or back-slapping community support. I agree with him that people often do exactly this, but have a different conclusion about them. SEO linking, as selfish as it may be, can lead to community-building. As for any back-slapping... hey, I'll take it. Unlike some other writers, I don't have any family or spouse cheering me on with my writing. If an on-line acquaintance wants to say something nice, I'm very grateful for it. For my own part I try to leave comments which are on-point and (hopefully) thoughtful.

In the end, I think it's one of those cases where whatever you're doing is probably right, at least until you want to change it. If there were real consensus on comments versus no comments, blog editors would have stopped offering so many options to manage them long ago. On this blog I can turn comments on or off entirely for the whole blog, or for selected posts. I can keep comments on indefinitely, or disallow them after a certain date. That's a lot of functionality for something that could be considered a by-the-way feature.

What do you think? The comments are open.