Recently on Twitter, I got in an argument with a couple of well-established anti-comment types. Their argument was that comments on blog posts and the like didn’t matter – they support disabling/disallowing comments on an individual site or article.
My argument is that comments are just as valuable as the original article, post, thought, rant that inspired them. Comments matter immensely, and there are several reasons why.
Publishing an article in a newspaper or on a blog is the start of a conversation between many individuals. I post my thoughts, you post your reaction to those thoughts, someone else reacts to your statement further, and so on.
It’s a multi-party dialog that, without a commenting system in place, boils down to an individual stating their opinion and refusing to accept feedback or input.
— Carl Hancock (@carlhancock) June 24, 2014
Imagine a conversation taking place outside a website. I walk into a room and make a statement. It could be controversial, it might not be. Then, without having time for any feedback from the audience to whom I’ve made the statement, I walk abruptly out of the room and ignore anything anyone else has said.
Would you consider me inspirational or arrogant?
Publishing a blog is much like making a statement in a public square. Sure, I own the blog, but the fact that my statements are published for all the world to see make it a public arena. Rather than standing in the square and shouting, it would be like me inviting a bunch of friends (and friends’ friends) to my home, then making statements in my living room.
Yes, I own the space, but I’m still communicating with others in a semi-open-to-the-public venue. If I say something inflammatory or otherwise controversial, everyone listening has the right to complain, protest, or otherwise argue with me. My refusal to allow anyone to do so within my home is my right, but subjecting them to my opinions without any recourse to respond makes me a dick.
Subjecting readers to your published work without any recourse to respond makes you one, too.
One argument is that commenting is still allowed even on closed sites, but through avenues like Twitter. I do value the conversations that occur on Twitter, but they lack sufficient context to continue into the future.
— John O'Nolan (@JohnONolan) June 24, 2014
— John Gruber (@gruber) June 24, 2014
When you publish an article, your (likely) goal is that the article will be around and relevant for a very long time. Twitter, and other social media for that matter, is very time-sensitive. Comments made on your article 10 minutes after its publications are essentially lost to the aether a few hours later. Readers coming to your article tomorrow, next week, next month, next year … they will have no sense of the ongoing conversation surrounding your content.
Likewise, forcing any feedback about your statements to others’ blogs or media sites fragments the conversation and removes necessary context. Yes, anyone is free to make comments about your opinions on their own site, but then readers of their site will only see that opinion and have to look elsewhere for the content that originally inspired it.
In a community that seeks to optimize user experience, how is this helpful?
I am among the first to admit that the current state of commenting on the web is broken. Comments in WordPress, my publishing platform of choice, absolutely suck. Hosted replacements like Livefyre and Disqus aren’t much better.
Rather than close comments on posts, though, I’ll live with the current landscape, blog about how it can be improved, and continue to do what I can to help progress the web itself. It won’t change overnight, but it’s a start.
I have never closed comments on my site. Even when I disagree with what you have to say, I invite you to say it regardless so we can have an open, honest, contextual conversation about the ideas I’ve proposed.
You’re welcome to disagree with me, in the comments section below this post.