In the early days of blogging, the ability to comment set the technology apart. In those days the web wasn’t very interactive. Blog comments were media’s first step to becoming social media. A blogger would share their thoughts in a post, but then anyone in the world could respond in the comments. It created a dialogue that truly gave voice to the people, and introduced a measure of accountability that had long been absent in mass media.
But are blog comments still as important today?
The wider world quickly picked up on the power of comments and added a comment field to every bit of content. Now newspapers and YouTube are infamous for regularly featuring the depths of human depravity in their comments.
Does Your Blog Need Comments?
Comments have been an assumed part of blogging since the beginning. That inherent nature of comments means that shutting them off is a bold step.
And so people have been debating since the beginning whether or not blog comments are required. The debate has existed for years, but it’s flared up again lately.
The No Blog Comments Camp
Recently marketing guru Chris Brogan turned off blog comments. He complained that comments are inundated with spam and self-promotion, but also pointed out that commenting is happening everywhere:
“Comments have scattered to the winds.”
You have to turn to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to see what people think about your blog post. But people also have their own platforms to respond with:
“Many people’s comments have become blog posts or social network posts in their own right.”
Copyblogger likewise shut down comments earlier this year, pointing to social media and other blog posts as a better venue for conversation. They also emphasize the value of creating your own content:
“I want to challenge you to take that great thinking and writing and use it to build your audience rather than ours.”
It’s an old debate.
Back in 2006 Seth Godin defended his lack of blog comments: They’re a distraction. He felt they were too time consuming and ultimately would change how he wrote. Godin later justified turning off comments by saying:
“You don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.”
In 2010 John Gruber explained his decision not to have comments on Daring Fireball by emphasizing his desire to avoid extra noise:
“My goal is for not a single wasted word to appear anywhere on any page of the site.”
And if you want even more anti-comments opinion, Matt Gemmell offered his reasons for shutting them off, then offered a follow-up a month later and then created a collection of comments commentary. Whew.
The Pro Blog Comments Crowd
But let’s not pretend everybody is anti-comment.
WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg is decidedly pro comment. In 2008 he said this when Automattic acquired Intense Debate:
“Long-term, I think that comments are the most crucial interaction point for blogs, and an area that deserves a lot of investment and innovation. Comments really haven’t changed in a decade, and it’s time to spice things up a little.”
Then again, blog comments haven’t changed much in the six years since Mullenweg made that comment.
More recently Mullenweg said comments were his favorite part of blogging:
“My favorite thing about blogging is the comments or even people responding on Facebook or Twitter. The interaction sometimes corrects me if I’m wrong and it’s a nice way to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
Chris Lema weighed in with a simple explanation based on a visit to Amazon:
“I found that the comments were more useful and valuable to me than the page content itself.”
And if you haven’t noticed, we’ve still got blog comments here at iThemes. Our theme for 2014 is “Go Far Together,” and for us comments are an important part of ‘together.’
Comment Pros & Cons
So now what? You can side with Chris Brogan and Seth Godin and go no comments. Or join Matt Mullenweg and Chris Lema and keep the comments coming. But really, it’s your site. You need to make your own decision.
Here are some simple blog comment pros and cons:
Pro Blog Comments:
- Welcome interaction. Part of what made blogs popular was that they allowed for conversation. Yes, conversation has moved to social media, but by having comments on your site you’re encouraging that conversation. That comment field is a welcome mat: C’mon in!
- Gut check. Comments can often serve as a double check of what you’re saying. By keeping that comment field open, you give people a chance to call out your B.S., correct your wayward facts or confirm what you thought. Making that public and putting it directly below your post, that keeps you honest.
- Add value. Part of that gut check is added value. Commenters can correct any errors or point to helpful resources. They might add an additional thought or a recommendation you never would have thought of. And now your post is better because of it.
- Community is fun. Let’s face it—it feels great to see someone post a comment on your blog. You feel validated. Your site is clearly being read by other people. It develops a sense of community among your readers, and that’s cool. People like to be where the action is.
No Blog Comments:
- Better methods. The conversation has moved because there are better ways to have that conversation. So move with it. Instead of engaging on your blog, engage in social media.
- Get some confidence. Relying on comments as a fact-check or to validate what you’re saying is a crutch. Check your own facts and stop relying on the ego boost of strangers. And it’s OK to go back and update a post.
- Lost in the weeds. Sometimes comments add value, yes. But only if people can find them. Wading through the weeds of self-promotional comments, spam, and useless platitudes is a lot of work. Is it worth putting your readers through all that?
- Community is overrated. People can be jerks. And online, they will be. The trolls come out, the filters disappear and people say some horrible things. Who has time to moderate all of that and keep it civil?
Blog Comments Are Your Choice
You can turn the comments off. As Chris Brogan says, “We will all be OK.” Or keep them going. It’s up to you.
And really that’s how you should decide. What fits for your site? If you’re all about community engagement and interaction, blog comments are probably a no-brainer. But if you’re a slick, straight-to-business site, you probably don’t have time for the distraction of comments.
Is it important to build community and engagement on your site? Can you handle the unruly trolls, the spam, the transparency? Or would another medium be a better fit for interaction? These are the questions you need to answer when you’re considering comments for your blog.