After experimenting with having blog comments turned off for a couple weeks now, I’ve decided to keep it this way. I thought it would be a tough decision, but after having tested it for a while, it actually wasn’t a tough decision at all. While comments provide a wonderful degree of interactivity with many obvious benefits, I found them not to be worth the effort, especially as traffic grew. Many of those benefits can be gotten in other ways. First, I already get plenty of feedback via email, so the feedback channel is still there, and anything critical always comes to me redundantly via email anyway. Secondly, I can always re-enable comments for individual posts where the purpose is to invite feedback and/or discussion. Thirdly, I’ve kept trackbacks enabled (at least for new posts), so the mechanism for continuing discussions on other blogs is still there.
The main factor in making this decision was the time and energy freed up by not having to deal with comments. No blog comments means no administration of comments, handling comment spam, legal liability for what people post in comments, having to decide whether to respond to questions or ignore them, people posting false information, commenters flaming other commenters, marketing abuses, tech support for comments (Can you fix my typo? Can you delete my double post?). These are minor problems if you only get a few comments a week, but with more than 10 a day — every day — it quickly adds up.
Such a large volume of feedback gets overwhelming at times, and it has a tendency to exaggerate the importance of certain issues in my mind. Well below 1% of visitors ever post a comment, yet this is the voice that seems the loudest, even though it may be unrepresentative of the whole.
Some people suggested that negative comments were a factor in this decision. No, I can’t say that was a factor for me, at least not directly. I knew before I started this site that there would always be plenty of criticism, and I never view criticism of my writing as a personal attack, especially from people I’ve never even met. I had to deal with plenty of that while running my games business too. When an audience reaches a certain size, negative feedback is inevitable. My main concern with respect to criticism isn’t whether or not I can handle it, but whether or not it’s worthwhile to host it publicly. Does it do myself or anyone else much good? I can think of many instances where I felt criticism was helpful (either to myself or to others), but most of the time it has to do more with what the other person is experiencing in their life than in what I’m actually writing about. A good portion of criticism is simply the other person projecting my writing onto their own context and then responding negatively to that projection. But this doesn’t just apply to criticism — it also applies to positive or neutral feedback. Many times I get positive feedback about a post that suggested the person misunderstood it entirely yet still got something worthwhile from their own errant projection. But given that these comments don’t alter my course of action, there isn’t much point in maintaining them. So there’s nothing specific about negative comments that aren’t also an issue for positive comments.
The opportunity cost is a key factor as well. Even when you take the benefits of hosting blog comments by themselves (such as the interactivity and the community-building elements), you still have to ask if it’s the best use of time and energy. While it might be a good use, for me it’s clearly not the best. In addition to the low percentage of visitors who actually post comments, less than 10% of visitors actually read them. So the effort of comments serves to support only a tiny slice of the total community, although it’s obviously an important and vocal slice. Also, whenever there’s a surge in traffic from certain sites that have little or nothing to do with personal development, there’s invariably an explosion of juvenile comments that have little or nothing to do with the original post. As this is intended to be a site “for smart people” who take personal development seriously, I think having too many comments like those weakens the site overall.
I also realized that if the community-building aspects were what I wanted, then I should put up a full-blown message board. Blog comments are sort of a limbo in that respect, particularly for a site that gets enough traffic to easily maintain a popular online forum. But having run a forum for a while on another site, I decided that wasn’t something I wanted to do here, at least not at the present time.
After having tried life without comments for a while, I’m confident this is the best decision overall. I’ve been feeling a lot more focused lately, better able to keep a perspective on what’s most important. And I can write with deeper concentration, not being concerned about all the comments that may misinterpret some idea or take one sentence out of context.
Blog Comments R.I.P.
Oct 1, 2004 – Sep 28, 2005