Joe Wilcox challenged John Gruber to allow comments on Daring Fireball. Gruber explained why comments aren’t enabled. Wilcox responded by turning off comments on his site for two weeks (an experiment).
I recently disabled comments on this site. It’s not widely read, and what readers I have don’t often comment. The level of attempted spam finally decided it. Readers can still remark using my contact form. The ones who know me personally know how to find me using Twitter, Facebook, or email.
But the truth is that spam isn’t the only reason I turned off comments; that was just the catalyst.
Of the many blogs I read, two do not have commenting systems: Daring Fireball and Marco Arment’s blog. I have a certain sense of relief when I read those sites, and it feels like a different level of quality. Is it entirely due to the content, or is part of it that the cacophony of the unwashed masses isn’t waiting below to spoil the experience?
These two blogs are not like most blogs I read. They are platforms, or to borrow Gruber’s term, soapboxes. Somehow it feels better to read them.
My theory is that when you write for a site with a commenting system, everything you write is tainted by the expectation that there will be a response, and that the response will be attached. Like letting random strangers add footnotes to your thoughts. As I write these words, I feel a certain level of freedom, not caring what anybody might say or think about it. Sure, people can email me. There’s a slight possibility that someone will write a response on another site. But what I write here will stand as published, its message not driven in other directions by outside forces.
Blogs are often hailed as a participatory medium, where readers and authors can engage in a conversation. On a carefully managed site, I suppose that might be possible. But anyone who has managed a blog in recent history can tell you that a non-curated site will quickly become a link farm, peppered with flamewars. On popular sites, especially those with a technical or political bent, comment threads devolve rapidly.
Don’t even get me started on the “First!” idiots.
What is a comment, really? In rare cases, perhaps a thoughtful contribution to the initial statement or question. More commonly, it’s ego-stroking; people pick up their megaphone and shout into the darkness, simply because they can.
Sorry, but I’ll skip it. When I wear my writer’s hat, I’ll say what I want to say, and none of you out there get to slap a post-it note on the side with your brilliant observations. If you want a voice, get your own soapbox.