More on Blog Comments

October 15th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Here’s some additional info to clarify why I chose to turn off blog comments:

For me the decision to turn off comments wasn’t so much about the spam. Spam was only a minor factor because decent filters can take care of blog spam well enough.

The main issue was the opportunity cost — the amount of time and energy it takes to handle comments and what other choices I have for investing that time and energy. Once comments passed 10/day several months ago, I started thinking about the long-term time investment more and more, and when they hit 100+ comments on some days, I realized I needed to make some decisions in this area. If there were only 10-20 comments/day forever, I could handle that just fine, and that level of interactivity would be sustainable. But as traffic has been continuing to increase rapidly, I didn’t want to postpone this decision to the point where my back was against the wall.

I don’t want too much drag working against me as I continue to grow traffic — the more traffic the blog gets, the more time and energy spent managing comments. Even if I could handle the current load of comments, my approach doesn’t scale well with traffic growth. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes too much to reasonably handle. So I opted to make the decision now and clear the path ahead rather than invest more time and energy in something that I don’t feel will be sustainable in the long run.

Partly this is because I want to maintain certain standards of quality for the blog. If I’m going to support interactivity, then I want to do it right, which means doing more than just approving every comment and then ignoring it. Because of the topics discussed, a lot of comments are questions. Should I simply ignore those questions? That’s something I’ve already had to do on many occasions even though I felt the questions were intelligent and deserved an answer. I feel that if I’m going to support comments, then I should participate in that interactivity rather than simply ignore it. So this included taking the time to respond to commenters’ questions and ensuring comments stayed on topic. I thought some basic moderation was a better choice than watching comments drift in a manner which would hinder intelligent discussion of serious topics.

So ultimately I could either turn comments off, or I could simply spend less and less time managing them. I’ve seen what happens on forums when moderation lightens up as volume increases — the quality of the forum as a whole tends to drop over time. This is especially true when discussing high-level topics like personal development. So I opted to turn comments off and redirect that energy into other areas where I feel the overall benefit to the audience will be greater.

As you can imagine, the theme of this blog (personal development) includes many topics that people find polarizing, such as spirituality. So it attracts a load of comments from people who want to nitpick, argue, and debate. While some comments are obvious bait which I’d simply ignore, others are more inviting of intelligent debate. And intelligent debate is something I’m definitely open to, but I think blog comments are entirely the wrong forum for it. If I’m going to do a debate on a serious topic, then I’d rather do it in a big fashion where people will see it and such that there’s accountability instead of anonymity. Earlier this year you may recall I did a cross-blog debate on hard work vs. laziness. While that took a lot of time and energy, I felt it was a reasonable investment. It helped clarify many issues for readers who followed the debate, whether they agreed with one side or the other or somewhere in between. But to get involved in a debate in blog comments which only a small percentage of readers will ever see and which tends to degrade with a lack of accountability… I think it’s a waste of time and energy. Better to invest the same time writing for an audience that’s 10-100x bigger and keep that accountability.

As for the interactive nature of this blog, I think it’s simply going to evolve to the next level. Trackbacks are still enabled, and I’ve already had an interesting offer for a cross-blog discussion on an interesting topic, which is something I’d like to pursue next month. I think this type of discussion promotes more high-level thinking and intelligent debate, and it will certainly reach a lot more people than blog comments. So I may be doing more of this in the future. For example, what if we got a few high-traffic blogs together and spend a week discussing and debating all sorts of ways to overcome addictions?

I’m grateful for all the comments people have posted on this blog over the past year. I agree that your comments added tremendously to the quality of the blog. If I could install a comment co-processor in my brain, I’d certainly continue them. But for now I have to make due with my humanity, and this sometimes requires sacrificing what’s good or even great for what’s best.



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