Why Comments Matter

This is something I’ve considered writing at least five times now, but each time I just say “screw it” and go back to ogling Gong-Li’s titties and reading up on vampire peacocks. But this post by Shawn Blanc is going too far, and the pants are coming off1: not having comments on your blog is a bad thing!

Look, if you have a blog but don’t have comments enabled you’re a douchebag. I’m sorry, but that’s what you are. Shawn Blanc seems like a nice dude, but he’s a douchebag because he doesn’t have comments enabled. John Gruber? Smart guy, good writer, excellent t-shirt maker, but also a pudgy douchebag. Paul Thurrott? Mac hating (to the point of hilarity) douchebag.

Bilateral communication is a design feature inherent to the Internet. It was designed so people could communicate with each other. Blog comments allow for that communication to take place. Comments allow for conversations. That is what the Internet was built for. By choosing not to have comments enabled on your site you are not only closing off a line of communication between yourself and your readers, but you’re also ignoring a fundamental quality of the Internet. It would be like operating a Macintosh without a mouse. Why?

Oh, Shawn Blanc tells us why:

More Time - One thing I love about having comments disabled on shawnblanc.net is how much time, energy and thought it frees up for me. I don’t have to check akismet. I don’t have to moderated, edit, or anything. Once I hit publish I’m done.

The whole point of Akismet, the comment spam blocking system that the makers of WordPress designed and allow you to use for free, is that it’s automatic. I think most people would tell you that the time you’re trying to save is negligible, at most. I’ve only ever had to moderate one set of comments which I thought were inappropriate, and I’m a complete dick who’s just asking for ridicule with every post. Also, I’m incredibly well groomed, so it sort of balances itself out.

He continues:

A Gift to the Readers - If you’re a regular reader of a weblog there is this unspoken pressure that you ought to say something. (Did someone say national de-lurker week?

This is what drove me over the edge, and why I’m writing this idiotic post. This is the most asinine thing I’ve read all week (and I do read my own blog). There is no unspoken pressure to leave comments on blogs. There is sometimes spoken pressure, when I go to my friends and scream, “Why haven’t you posted a comment on my blog!” But I stopped doing that after I realized that no one loves me. At the time of this writing none of the last 13 posts that I’ve written has had comments, and yet I’m fairly certain a fair number of people have read those posts. Clearly, the pressure to comment is not so overwhelming that my audience feel inclined to comment for no reason.

Which brings me to his last point:

More Personal Communication - By not having comments it encoureges more genuine communication from the reader to the author via email or instant messenger.

I’m calling bullshit on this. Not having comments requires email or IM, because you have erected a wall up preventing the far more readily available form of communication — comments. To you an email or IM may be a more “genuine” form of communication, but I greatly disagree, and I’ll add that it’s an incredibly elitist notion to throw around at that. Also, it’s stupid.

People post comments when they have a reason to. They’re not being forced to by some mystical comment-fairy sitting on their monitor whispering to them to think of something witty to say or else she’ll rape them. They’re adding to the conversation. Whether it’s to tell their own story or to fill you in when you’re dumb, comments add value to your posts. Sometimes the most interesting tidbits are found in comments (John Gruber has on more than one occasion that I can recall specifically called out comments to posts as points of interest)2.

Shawn mentioned the number of emails he’s received about whatever, and as one of the people who’s sent him an email I can say that it was actually a pain in the ass. It took a while to get a response, and the response I got was kind of an impersonal stock reply, which quite frankly I thought was a “fuck you”. It turned out that it wasn’t (though I probably deserved it if it was) but it was a total waste of everyone’s time (including his). Had comments been enabled on his site I could have just commented with a correction, it would have been public, and he wouldn’t have had to do anything if he didn’t want to. My comment would have added to his post and that would be that. In fact, if he had comments enabled on his site, I wouldn’t have to sit here like a doofus writing this post. I would have just said something to this effect, but more succinctly and with less collateral damage, in his comments and it would be part of the public discourse.3

What does not having comments say to your readers? To me it says you are uninterested in hearing what anyone other than you has to say; that you want a soapbox from which to speak at the world. If that’s the case, then more power to you, but don’t tell me you’re doing me a favor by not having comments. You’re not. You’re not doing yourself any favors either. You’re not using the Internet to it’s potential, and denying yourself what can be a very substantive form of communication. At the very least, comments make error correction easier, and accuracy can be a good thing.

Let me just conclude this ridiculous rant by saying that even traditional print media (newspapers and magazines) now on the Net have all adopted comment systems, as have social networking sites, and of course blogs. So choosing to make commandments instead of conversations puts you in a very small minority. A minority which counts Paul Thurrott in it’s number. Just think about if that’s where you want to be…

  1. As you can imagine, they weren’t on in the first place, so this should be taken as simply a figure of speech. A sexy figure of speech.
  2. Along those lines, I think my crowing achievement on the Internet has been (inadvertently) starting a fight between Robert Scoble and Mike Davidson via comments. Nice!
  3. I ran into this recently with John Gruber, regarding issues surrounding several statement he had made about Courier VS Courier New. I just ended up emailing him, which has now become our little secret since neither of us actually posted about it. His having comments would have solved that.

About Nima

Hi, my name is Nima Yousefi and this is my frickin’ sweet website. I’m not an expert in any particular field, however I do own a computer and an Internet connection, and therefore naturally assume that my random thoughts and opinions are important and that the lives of everyone on Earth would be improved dramatically by reading those random thoughts and opinions.
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4 Responses to Why Comments Matter

  1. Shawn Blanc says:

    NIma -

    Regarding that email.

    Your tip on the grammar and the quotes was super informative. I am sorry that my reply came across impersonal and like an insult to you. I thought “Thank You” would be enough because I meant it, and I didn’t really have much else to say.

    You said it took a while to get a response, but according to my Mail.app I wrote you back 20 minutes after receiving your email.

  2. Nima says:

    I sent the email to you on August 5th and got the reply on August 8th. There must have a giraffe stuck in one of the Internet tubes in one of those directions.

    But you see how comments allow you to explain your side of the story? I win by default! BY DEFAULT!

  3. Justin says:

    Nima: 1

    Other Guy: 0

    The whole point of comments is for stuff such as this!!

  4. Marmar Wibbe says:

    Zub! Zub!

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