filed in Essays on Aug.22, 2010
Comments have long been the monkey’s paw of blogs. Comment threads can foster a sense of community, and they add value for both blogger and readers. Comments are also breeding grounds for flame wars and spam. Moderating comments on popular blogs can take an enormous amount of time, leading many sites to eventually disable comments altogether.
Dave Winer’s latest idea to solve this problem would force comments to be short, direct responses to the blog post. He’d eliminate discussions in his comments by having a 24-hour blackout period during which all comments are hidden. After that time, approved comments are shown, and new comments are forbidden. He would also enforce a character limit to make sure that comments are short.1
The character limit sounds like a good idea. I think he’s right that long comments should be separate articles rather than an overwrought argument dangling off someone else’s work. But I don’t think I can follow him on condemning discussion threads.
It’s easy to say that most blogs shouldn’t have open comments. They certainly encourage spam bots and flame wars. There are some sites, like Slashdot, where the comment threads are more interesting than the articles, but those are an exception. Sites that give how tos or advice often collect additions and errata in the comments, but the Stack Overflow paradigm works better for sites like that.
I like open comments for a more visceral reason. Active commenters make the blog lush and vibrant, and they grow into little communities. Commenters reach out in different directions, they intertwine and compete for space. It’s something spontaneous and intimate, and it would be totally lost if people took it to their own blogs or always kept on-topic.
Comments on a blog following Dave Winer’s prescription will be dull and sterile. The whole blog will affect an exaggerated narcissism, where only talk about the blogger is welcome. Maybe that’s Dave Winer’s vision of blogs, but it isn’t mine.
He’s long held that most commenters should be posting on their own blogs instead of commenting. Trackbacks were supposed to be a way to bridge the gap, but they were mostly used for spam. ↩