I’ve revised this post because I’m open to having my mind changed.
Originally, I had titled this “Why you shouldn’t enable comments on your site anymore.”
Maybe that was too broad of a brush.
I’m still not a fan of comments on blogs. I post on a few myself, but more often than not, I skip them altogether.
I have a few reasons for that and I’ll get to those in a moment.
But first, a point about you.
As my reader, you value great content and creating a fantastic reading experience as much as I do.
I want your readership here to be a great experience every time. I’m always happy when my readers tell me what they have to say in response to my posts. Those comments are good. And the idea behind doing that is a good one.
That’s not why comments have fallen out of favour with me.
I just don’t think they are for everyone who has a blog. The default position should be don’t do it.
Before you enable comments, you should ask yourself why you’re doing this in the first place.
Does it add to your reader’s experience?
In its infancy, the web was small and operated like a community of communities. Comment-enabled blogs were very handy for people to share thoughtful ideas to help build on what you were saying. It also was a place where diverging opinions could hash things out. It also tended to be a key place for link exchanges.
There was, in many ways, self-enforced civility in what people had to say in their posts. Just like that old maxim: reputations are made and undone faster in a small town.
That’s often not the case anymore.
Have a look at the calibre of comments that populate the bulk of newspaper websites, for example.
Much of it borders on being unreadable.
If you’re in the business of finding ways to create the best possible reading experience for your reader, comments are the last place you are going to find inspiration.
It’s a telling point that Seth Godin and John Gruber–well-read people with no shortage of opinions–don’t have a comment-enabled section to accompany their posts.
Does it contribute value to your reader?
Sure, there are still websites and blogs out there today where built-in comments still add value to original content. But for every good example, it is no effort at all to find tens of thousands of bad ones.
You are in control of your content. But there are considerably more constraints on what you can do about who posts and what they have to say in the comments section of your site.
Look past the pointless arguments, the self-promotional replies and the “great-post-I-agree-completely” responses. Does any of what’s left in comments really help your reader? I’m less and less convinced.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great examples of comment-enabled content out there. I even comment on a few. But in each case, it is clear that a blog moderator has asked themselves the hard question about who is benefitting from having this feature in the first place.
Do you have the time for this?
Remember that in many countries, you can be held legally responsible for what gets posted in your comments section. Couple that with your wish to create great content, and you can quickly find yourself spending a large chunk of your time moderating discussions and writing reply posts. Is that really the best use of your time, both in terms of product and serving your audience?
Can you address authenticity issues?
Anonymous posts are troublesome. I struggle with this myself. Inauthentic content equals zero value.
And poor-calibre comments aren’t independent of your content. They become part of your product.
Is this something you’re doing because you can or because you should?
I’m always tempted to call this the JBYCDMYS principle. But that would look really awkward. Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should is a principle that ought to be exercized far more than it is these days.
Our world online is crammed with this kind of thinking: features and ornamentations that look nice at first glance or do things that initially seem like good ideas, but deliver questionable long-term value.
So what if your new content management system makes it easy to enable comments? So what if this is something that everybody else is doing? The only measure that really counts is whether it helps your reader solve a problem.
You can only determine so much of that with metrics. You can’t measure good taste.
Are there better alternatives?
There are many alternatives now to commenting (and the hassles of registering to do that). Tweet about it. Or write your own post. Or post something on Google+. You can even kick it old school and email somebody. There are plenty of great ways to engage people that do a better job of ensuring authenticity while delivering a better experience for readers.
Having asked all these questions…
There is one more question to ask and it’s a biggie.
What do your readers have to say?
Mine are telling me that comments matter to them. And a few were peeved that I shut off comments on this blog.
Well I’m all about doing right by my readers, so I’m ready to be proven wrong about this.
I’ve re-enabled comments on this site (and hopefully have addressed the spam-comment issue, too).
So how about it, reader? Are you still using comments on your site? If so, are you asking yourself the tough questions first about why you’re making this available?