killing blog comments/the eradication of interaction

I blogged about the illusive social facade of web 2.0 before, things seem to be getting worse still. In a long awaited sign of life update, Roger Johansson (456bereastreet.com) proclaims he will be closing the comment sections on his articles, referring to the following article on blog comments. Not a good thing. At all.

lonely on the web

While web 2.0 still claims to be a social endeavor, places where people can interact keep disappearing. The social nature becomes more and more focused on statistics (last.fm, digg, del.icio.us) and actions (facebook and the like), less so on people conversing and interacting about certain topics. Even though several sites do boast options to discuss (last.fm again - you can leave a comment on every artist page), discussion is so widespread and impossible to keep track of that people often don't reach beyond praise/flame posts.

Blogs have always formed a welcome exception to this trend. Each article typically boast a comment form where people can react on the article and discuss the finer points. Blog posts are quite limited so discussion remains centralized, even then there are systems that can warn you when people reply to your comments.

Before we take a closer look at the argumentation given in the linked article, I must stress that Mr Johansson states a lack of time as his primary reason to close the comment sections. A decision I can only respect, especially considering the work it must be to moderate a blog like his. On the other hand, I wished he'd just left it at that. What follows is a small analysis of some quotes pulled from the article on adactio.com.

abusing blogs for commenting

That's what's important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment.

Dave Winer

Starting a discussion about the difference between a blog post and a simple comment sounds futile, but apparently it is necessary. Comments are short, concise and to the point. They are messages left behind by people commenting on a certain subject. While a blog post can do the same thing, a blog post is usually a lot longer and elaborates on the subject.

If blogs are abused for commenting, readers of the original article will need to scatter over the web trying to gather all the comments on the original article. Not only that, they will need to wade through long and elaborate texts before they reach the point a commenter is trying to make. Of course, using your blog to comment on another blog post isn't actually wrong, but should be done only when the original article is considered worthy enough to spend an entire blog post on.

my freedom above others

You don't have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else's thoughts. That's not freedom of expression, that's an infringement on their freedom of expression.

Joel Spolsky

So basically, you can't reply to anything people are saying, because that is infringement on their freedom of expression? Sigh.

Wat happened to freedom of challenging the ideas of others? Blogs are a public platform to vent one's opinions. If you wish to use a public platform you can expect public reaction. Of course freedom also means people have the freedom to disable comments, but doing it for this reason only is pretty cowardly. I'd hoped the days of magazine articles and selected feedback were over, sadly some still crave that protected shell.

abusing email

Anyone who feels the need to comment on what I write may send an email to me just as easily as writing a comment in some form on my site.

So first we were told to abuse our own blogs for commenting, now we should be abusing email?

Remember your teacher, back in the day, asking his class if there were any questions left? Know why they did that? Because some people didn't understand too well what had been said, or thought they'd understood but hadn't. Others were actually too afraid to ask. So addressing these questions in public meant that everyone listening could learn something from them.

Email isn't like that. Of course it's safer, as people can call on your faults without the world noticing, but what good is that? Use email for personal communication, not for public commenting. Should be obvious. That's why besides comment forms, you have a contact form on your blog, no?

me, myself and I

I wanted to write a site for someone it's meant for. That reader I write for is a second version of me. I'm writing for him. He's interested in the exact same things I'm interested in; he reads the exact same websites I read. If I turn comments on, that goes away.

John Gruber

Again, if you want to write for yourself, maybe it's better to start yourself a diary. No matter how you look at it, the web is a public forum where anyone and everyone can read what you publish. If you don't want people with different views and/or ideas to read it, put your articles behind an account and have people pass a list of questions before they can register.

comments, why they are needed

Blog posts (especially in our line of work) are often about putting forward ideas. People will not always agree with these ideas. The comments on your article will tell you why. Only by challenging your own ideas will they prove their worth. Other people will offer you different views on the subject you are talking about. Even when these views are factually wrong, you can tell those people why and help others who had the same doubts. Which is good, as this only serves to enhance your original post.

People seem to be afraid of negative comments, but those are the ones that actually matter. Someone telling you you wrote a great article is nice, but in the end meaningless. Someone challenging your ideas might be tough, but is ultimately meaningful.

It's sad that comment forms are abused for spam or are often seen as community glue. Still, look past that and you'll see the true value of comments. They take time to manage, especially on huge blogs, but if you have that time, they are an important asset both for the writer and all the others reading your articles. So don't listen to these people above, keep your comment forms open and embrace people actively trying to improve what you have written. And safeguard one of the few pure social corners of our new web.