Don't Allow Blog Comments? You're Giving Up More Than You Know…

by Frank on February 4, 2010

To comment or not to comment, that is the question… Or, more precisely, to allow comments or not is the question.

I recently convinced a relatively technophobic client that blogging was a great way to get his message out, as opposed to less effective means like email, which typically only “preaches to the converted,” and in any case is still somewhat private (insert gmail privacy debate here).  Once convinced, though, the client stood his ground on comments.  He didn’t want them.

This was puzzling to me, since the discussion is often the best part of a post, and in almost every case adds value.  But there are always a few guys with either no social skills who use the comments to spew insults and vitriol that they’d never say in person (maybe because they’d get their butt kicked).  My client’s blog will necessarily be provocative, so this is a valid concern.

Today there was a post on Mashable describing Engadget’s recent decision to disable comments for a similar reason.  Engadget explained the decision saying “the tone in comments has just really gotten out of hand.”

While I understand Engadget’s justification (and do sympathize with them), I’m not sure they’re not losing more than they think they are.  Mashable summarizes the argument against disabling comments well:

The counterargument is usually the notion that blogs, at their core, are about two-way communication; a blog is simply not a blog without comments. The folks at Engadget seem to discard that notion: “Luckily, our commenting community makes up only a small percentage of our readership (and the bad eggs an even smaller part of that number), so while they may be loud, they don’t speak for most people who come to Engadget looking for tech news.”

I read about two dozen blogs every day (or as often as there’s a new post), and rarely comment on any of them.  So – in Engadget’s view – it wouldn’t matter to me if any of those blogs disabled comments.  This view is shortsighted because it doesn’t recognize the value the comments bring.  It’s like an ecommerce store without customer reviews.  Sure, you can still sell your products, and yes, you’ll get some nasty and inappropriate reviews.  But the conversion increase for sites that include reviews is difficult to argue with.  I want to see what other people think of the product, what their experience has been.  In the same way, comments on a blog may be nothing more than the pooled ignorance of a very vocal minority, but I get a more complete feel for the issues being discussed than I would have otherwise.  Engadget’s content therefore becomes less valuable when it’s just them talking.

It’s also not impossible to manage comments so that the discussion genuinely adds value, while filtering out those who would derail or otherwise lower the quality of the discussion.  Case in point: the Internet Monk.  No sane person would argue that religious debates are tame (especially when you bash – as he regularly does – the “religious right”), yet – through Michael Spencer’s careful moderation of comments, often the best stuff comes from thoughtful commenters rather than Spencer’s posts themselves.

Bottom line: tread carefully if you’re thinking of blogging without allowing any discussion.  Civil debates can still be had online, and when they do, everyone wins.  The time it takes to moderate comments and weed out the socially-inept will pay off big-time, if you’ve got something thought-provoking to say.

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