Comments Versus ConversationThursday, August 23rd, 2012
I finally followed up on an idea I’ve been considering for some time now, and disabled comments on the blog.
It started as a temporary response to the typical spambot uprising that occasionally overwhelms spam filters and defeats CAPTCHAs. Then, after I had fixed the underlying problems, I chose to leave them off. Possibly for good.
I’m no trailblazer. Jeremy Keith’s Adactio has virtually never had comments enabled. Happy Cog’s Cognition blog’s comment system is a combination of Twitter and blog replies. There’s plenty of other examples out there.
There’s a place for blog commentary in 2012. But more increasingly, I feel like the level of social engagement we have on the Internet has reduced the need to rely on such a system for a conversation. Because that’s what comments are. Conversation.
I’m talking on Twitter every day, for example, where I see people constantly discussing blog posts that are relevant to their interests. In fact, that’s the main method by which I discover interesting blog posts to read. (All of which makes the recently-announced Twitter API changes a bit alarming for me.) Many of those blog posts that I end up reading are written in response to other blog posts, long-form, well considered replies to other people’s words on other sites.
It doesn’t help my opinion of blog comments systems that they seem to be home to a particularly vitriolic breed of Internet nastiness. Look at YouTube or any contentions tech blog post’s comments to see perfect examples of what I’m discussing. Even with some form of registration system, on-site comments provide a great deal of anonymity.
Anonymity + opinion = jerk.
And although I support anonymity in general, I really don’t care for it much when it’s used as a cover for juvenile hostility.
By forcing the conversation off the comments section and into people’s own social networks or blogs, you’re attaching an identity to the voice. And I’ve found, in general, when people are having to stand by their words then the quality of those words improve.
Finally, when it comes to my daily patterns, the fact is that I don’t spend a lot of time checking on my published posts to see if a comment has arrived. I do, however, check Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis. Even if I didn’t, my smartphone’s apps will dutifully push any mentions to my attention. As an online communicator I have specific channels that I favor over others, and as a result they see more of my focus and time than others. In this world of attention span issues it’s probably best to play to one’s strengths.
For now, and for the foreseeable future, the comments are going to stay off. I don’t think in 2012 that this is particularly shocking or contentious of a choice. But I have made sure to replace that communication channel with other ways to get into a conversation with me if you want to talk about anything I’ve said.
I’ve built a little form for sending me tweets related to the post you’re reading (when you click the button it will direct you to Twitter, where you can further modify the tweet or choose to send it through), as well as providing post-specific links for sending a post to the newly launched CSSquirrel Facebook page, and lastly I’ve provided a permalink to each post in case you want to write your own blog post for a long-form reply to what I’ve said.
There’s been a lot of good conversations on this blog in the comment section. Some, like this thread of comments in response to a comic where I criticized a tweet of Divya Manian’s, were highly critical of what I’d said, giving me some insight to consider whether I’d been right in the first place. (To be honest, I’m still mulling over what I said and if I made a major overstep when trying to make my point.) At other times, the site has played host to lively debates, such as this thread about [insert W3C-related hijink here].
Those were good discussions. And I want to be part of more. I just think that the time has come to change the space in which part of those conversations appear.
Speaking of which, do you have any thoughts about what I’ve discussed? Check out the response options I’ve got listed below, and get back to me. I’d love to hear about other ways people have replaced comments with different social mechanisms, and what those experiences have been like.