The great comment debacle.
I had received another erroneous piece of hate mail, and I was done. Between rereading Everett Bogue’s article and talking to Tammy Strobel over coffee about the issue, it became clear to me I had to cut them off before I was in the same position.
Then, it became less clear. Tammy managed to spawn the best string of comments I’ve seen in ages by asking whether or not to turn off comments. Obviously, the people who want comments to stick around are going to be the ones posting, because they are the ones who give a damn. However, other bloggers started pitching in, too. They all deal with the same issues, and it made me decide to collect opinions in one cohesive post.
That way, we don’t all look like arrogant pricks for not wanting to talk to you.
Here are what the web’s influentials think.
The Four Word Comment Policy
1. Identify yourself.
2. Contribute mindfully.
This may not cover every eventuality, but I believe it is the heart of what a community needs to grow: awareness of self, awareness of others. – Gwen Bell
Comments are great for building community, giving readers a voice in your work, and also there can be much to learn from readers’ insights. On the other hand, many blogs with huge audiences have a hard time keeping up with modding comments, and it can become a real strain on the author. People have talked about how turning off comments can be a really great strategy for reducing your work, encouraging others to respond on their own blogs, and thus building links. Personally, I wouldn’t turn off comments for the sole purpose of building links. It’s like writing for SEO. I still prefer to be human, and I know many others appreciate that as well.
I do appreciate Everett’s post on how to use your time other than on comments. After reading that, I stopped commenting so much, trying to figure out exactly why I felt compelled to comment, and whether I really could use that time better. Ultimately, I think comments form the most basic part of building a relationship with your community of readers. Not everyone is on Twitter, nor will they have the time or energy to seek out you and your post to tell you what they think. At least, I know I would have a tough time doing that unless I was supremely transformed by the article. In my personal view, Twitter is mainly for connecting with other bloggers and the Twitterverse [which is not all of your readers, and there's a certain amount of distance between strangers on Twitter, unlike the more welcoming comments section right after a post].
On trolls – I think if there are trolls who have nothing meaningful to contribute and are just tearing you down, feel free to delete them. On the other hand, some people will disagree for very insightful, rational reasons. They might even be confused but well-intentioned. These comments should ideally be included, if comments are on.
One solution I can think of, that would suit my personal preferences of maintaining community, and the interest of readers, while not putting too great of strain on myself, is to outsource comment modding to someone else.
I’m not into censorship. After working with many children who are rarely heard, after traveling to many countries, and after studying social sciences, I’m a firm believer in hearing what people have to say, and giving them a platform to do so. People need a voice, no matter whether they’re disgruntled, or privileged, or conceited, or brilliant. Support them all. Let them comment. – Lise Fine
The truth about comments is they’re holding us back as writers. It’s our responsibility to ride the edge between what we know and what we can know. Being responsible for random idiots on the web doesn’t contribute any value to that picture. The more we trust ourselves and our truth the more we’ll save the world. So, let’s get to it. – Everett Bogue, Far Beyond the Stars
Censorship has become an interesting topic since the advent and commonality of blogs. Like the Internet in general a great number of blog commenters think they can speak carte blanche on any platform they choose. That isn’t even touching on the notion of anonymity which unfortunately runs rampant in the blogosphere. I personally censor very little on my personal blog and find myself really only throwing the penalty flag when it is an issue of moral censorship. I have no tolerance for issues that are morally and even ethically insensitive. And because it is my blog I feel I have the right to revoke those commenting privileges. So, in that case it is absolutely appropriate. However, I have an open policy in regards to political, social, religious, etc. matters. I don’t censor and I don’t think it should be an accepted form of censorship. – Andrew Odom, Tiny Revolution
For bloggers, the fine line is drawn at comments on, comments off. One naturally assumes that having comments on invokes a dialogue between reader and blogger, therefore, embodying a more community-style approach to interaction. Fact is, the dialogue can exist with and without comments. The comments platform is merely one vehicle to deliver what we all really want amongst the human dynamic: connection. – Nina Yau, Castles in the Air
Your blog is a country and you are the dictator. You can do whatever the hell you like and no one can do a thing about it, and that’s part of why it’s so great to have one.
On the other hand, unlike a country with a dictator, you don’t have the means to keep people from fleeing your rule should they never want to come back. If you make a decision that your readers don’t like, they might not be your readers anymore. That’s the risk you take every time you make a change (or write a post, really), so if you want to censor yourself in any way, it’s best to weigh the benefits versus the potential fallout.
The real tragedy would be to run a blog that you don’t believe in anymore, so if you want to censor in order to get it in line with your morality, do so. If you want to start up the Wikileaks of the blogging world because that’s what you’re all about, do it. Do it better than anyone else. – Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle
First of all, everybody can decide for themselves what they want to do with their blog, after all, it’s their blog. Personally, I like discussion. Having people disagree with me helps me figure out why I say & do the things I do. Being validated by people who agree with you is nice for your ego, but being challenged by those who don’t helps you grow your understanding and deepen your conviction for what you do. If you’re doing something meaningful, you should expect some push back, it’s part of the deal. You should expect to be called out when you’re wrong, and you need to stand up when you’re right. I think an uncensored discussion is the best way to do that. – Joel Runyon
Comments are the best way to engage your readers. Start a conversation and connect. Comments take extra time as your readership grows, but if you want to grow a community and learn from your readers, comments matter. – Courtney Carver, Be More With Less
In general, with comments on I either feel like I’m getting high five’s from folks, constructive feedback or really mean comments (which are not posted). And frankly, dealing with trolls / mean people is a huge energy suck for me. I just have to remember these folks are a small percentage of readers.
In some ways I do think blogging has been co-opted and it seems that many folks are outgrowing the medium. Then again, I can’t see myself not posting content online. I really love sharing and teaching others. The Internet is an amazing tool to do so. Yet, I wonder if that’s still going to be possible in the upcoming years? – Tammy Strobel, Rowdy Kittens
I believe you should turn off your comments. I have had an inner-battle with this from my days running TMP and now LifeExcursion. When Leo Babauta turned off comments, I was frustrated that I couldn’t share my thoughts directly there. But, Everett brought a great point to light last week
“When you turn off blog comments, your blog will begin to grow exponentially in power because the now everyone who wants to write something about what you’re saying has to do it on their own blogs — thus hyperlinking to you.” – Everett
I now feel the same as Everett.
I turned off comments at LifeExcursion, and I feel amazing for doing so. In the last few days, I have come to realize that I concentrate more on my voice rather than ‘wanting’ comments. Plus, I love it when others are so connected that they include my thoughts in things like Weekly Updates (wink wink). – David Damron, Life Excursion
I think censorship is completely up to the blog author and will differ for each and every blog out there. Some bloggers want brutal honesty with opinions, regardless of their accuracy, at the expense of a few hurt feelings.
Others feel it’s more necessary to protect their readers. If someone chooses to share something about their personal life they shouldn’t be cut down by a random commenter who doesn’t know a thing about them.
I think that censorship is appropriate when the blog’s author feels that it any comment would be a detriment to someone else. For instance if I’ve worked up all the nerve in the world to quit my job, and a commenter comes in and berates me for it – censorship may be necessary to keep me from giving in to negativity of others.
So I suppose it depends on the situation. I have yet to ever censor a comment, and I hope I never have to, as a blog is a community for everyone – not just the one writing it. – Sean Ogle, Location 180
I think comments form the basis of community, and I can’t imagine turning them off. Most of the stronger connections I’ve made in the two months since I launched my blog have come from leaving and receiving comments. Comments let me know that people are actually sticking around to read my posts. And I comment to let other people know I’m sticking around to read their posts. Sure, you can have 80,000 subscribers to your RSS, but you can’t know how many of those people are actually taking the time to read your post out of all the others coming to their inbox. One good, specific comment is better than a hundred nameless subscriptions in my mind any day.
Retweeting and hyperlinking are extremely important ways to show your support of a blogger you admire, but let’s be honest: those are both forms of advertising. When a blogger say those links and tweets are more important to him/her then receiving comments, it makes me a little suspicious that the blogger is more concerned with self-promotion than engaging in conversation. Time consumption and hate mail seem to be the two biggest reasons bloggers turn comments off, but I think that all comes with the territory. If people make time to read your words, then you make time to read their responses. Simple as that! And if a few people are haters, then set your comments for moderation and delete the really bad apples. (Not people who disagree with you. People who are crude and insulting.) Taking comments away from everyone just because a few people want to spam you is like making everyone go through a body scan at the airport just because a few people want to blow planes up! Some people just want to fly to France for vacation, and some people just want to say “Great job! I really like what you said about [fill in blank with genius insight from blogger].” - Chase Night, Unbridled Existence