I’ve gone on the record and said that the internet is a terrible place to discuss political issues. Here’s the meat of what I had to say about a year ago:
“[M]ost political posts are over-simplified pieces of garbage. And that’s why the comments associated with them get crazy too. And why smarmy or condescending Twitter and Facebook status updates are even worse than an over-simplified blog post.”
Then my buddy Chris Ferdinandi asks me every week if he should just turn off comments on his blog because comments on the internet about anything interesting or substantial are dumb the same way political comments are. I usually tell him to do whatever he feels like because I’m an enabler of bad decisions.
But really, what I tell him is no, you shouldn’t turn off comments. If you have a blog, you should have comments, too.
Why? Because I told you so. Also…
1. Comments ground you as a writer
Writing terrible ideas and allowing people to call you on those ideas are the best way to grow as a writer. The best way to be called out is in public. It doesn’t take cajones to write every post but it does take it to write some. You have to be willing to take heat in exchange for your post. I think it is part of an informal social contract that writers and readers should have. What used to be taken care of by community editors and ombudsmen now happen in real-time. It’s lovely.
2. Comments aren’t that awful
Yes, there is spam but it can be controlled quite easily. Yes, there are abusive comments but again, it can be controlled fairly easily. The comments I get, both on posts here and posts on SourceCon, ERE and TLNT, are typically very good and, at their best, helpful. Even ERE, which doesn’t have threaded comments or any way to vote up helpful comments, is generally very good and hosts robust discussions. People can be awful or ignorant very easily in comments but they can also be smart and savvy.
3. The actual post is the best place for comments about the post
There is a whole movement out there that believes comment sections are an imperfect mechanism for capturing discussion. In fact, they believe it is so imperfect, they ban them altogether in lieu of truly awful replacements (private e-mail conversations, Twitter conversations and dueling blog posts are really that much better?). The natural place to comment about a post is on the same page, right under the content. This isn’t even a new concept–Usenet and newsgroups that have been around for longer than I have been alive used this way of discussion online. There have been improvements but the root of the concept hasn’t changed.
4. It makes blogs much better
I know Ferdinandi drinks the Kool-Aid of these guys who think comments are so 2005 but I think they are full of shit, they ride on high horses and their blogs are boring. Having an interesting comment section saves many of the worst Deadspin posts. Some Techcrunch posts make me skip straight to the comments. I don’t read too much content where I can’t explore the comment section. And look, I’m mostly a lurker on sites with comments but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t improve my experience When I can and do comment, you can bet that it makes my experience much better.
5. You can focus just fine with comments
I don’t remember where I saw it but some guy was complaining that a comment section made him lose focus on his writing. He felt like the maintenance cost associated with having comments on the site and perhaps even the cognitive burden was too much. So he turned it off and felt better.
Don’t reward people who can’t write because they can’t accept feedback or can’t manage the dumb simple technical details of running a blog. There are plenty of people who deal with comments in stride and if you don’t like running the technical details of the blog, just go to WordPress.com and pony up a couple Andrew Jackson’s for a domain name and professional level hosting for a year.
You don’t want to include comments? Fine
That’s the beauty of blogging: it is yours. Nobody is forcing you to do anything. That’s what I say to everyone. But, if you have a blog, you should have comments. The last thing we need is more smug assholes in this world who made it big due to the support of their often commenting readers only to turn off the one authentic voice that kept their crap in check: comments.