Are Blog Comments Obsolete?

February 9th, 2010 26 Comments

Photo by jrthoms from Flickr used under Creative Commons

I’ve been thinking about comments lately, mostly because several interesting points have converged to draw my attention.

First, Cult of Mac pointed out that John Gruber’s Daring Fireball will now have comments, via another site, i.e. DaringFireballWithComments.net.

Next, Engadget turned off their comments because the had “really gotten out of hand”.

Then today I see TechCrunch responded to allegations that they were deleting comments on old posts, an interesting point someone noted in the comments here.

Obviously, these are all very large sites that attract (or would, in Daring Fireball’s case) a lot of spammy and otherwise unhelpful (“first!”) comments. Long ago, I stopped reading the comments on posts from large blogs and news sites specifically because there was so much cruft, making it difficult to find useful bits.

Before Twitter, comments often led to blog posts and link love, but lately, there seem to be more blogs that broadcast without any response to comments.

I understand why John Gruber doesn’t want comments, i.e. they detract from his content. Makes old school sense. He’s lecturing. That’s fine.

I also understand why popular sites have comments, even though the authors rarely respond to them.  Makes monetary sense. The volume would quickly overwhelm them; authors are paid for content not comments.

So that leaves all the other sites, like this one, where comments are enabled and welcomed.

I enjoy comments, and right or wrong, I internally measure the popularity of a post based on its comments (vs. pageviews). I blog to get information as much as to broadcast it, and the exchanges in the comments frequently add to the original post’s content.

What I don’t get is why some blogs enable comments and don’t respond. Even more confusing are blogs that require comment moderation, but don’t reply.

There’s really no point to enabling comments, and especially moderation, if you’re not going to reply. It creates work, if only to keep out the comment spam. Interestingly, today a report from the HoneyGrid estimated that 95% of user-generated content is malicious in nature or spam.

Malicious here means malware, spyware, etc. not some angry dude with a bone to pick. That stuff’s legit.

So why bother at all?

Seriously, any ideas?

I’ve come to believe that Twitter will eventually obsolete blog comments entirely. Someday soon, someone will write a plugin for WordPress that replaces comments with Twitter @ replies, giving the blogger a single view of all the Twitter activity for any given post.

We all publish to Twitter too, right?

Then someone will build in Facebook integration, and the blog commenting system will be obsolete, as will anonymous commentary.

Except, of course, if you want to own the comments and the SEO, etc. And Twitter certainly isn’t immune from spam.

Yeah, I know, kind of a big deal, but I’m sure the naysayers will be overwhelmed by the adopters.

So, do we need blog comments anymore? As a blogger, would you use a commenting system based on Twitter?

Maybe I have the commenting thing upside-down?

You guessed it: find the comments.


Possibly Related Posts

26 Responses to “Are Blog Comments Obsolete?”

  1. Paul Pedrazzi Says:

    Commenting/Sharing/Participation (wherever) is probably the biggest shift in the web since it's inception. So we need it. The real factor at play is the commenters themselves. For example, comments via Twitter will be good since the users are filtered. On this blog comments are good since the discussion is usually good (again, people commenting are respectful and smart).

    When the quality of the participants falls off, the value does as well, often exponentially. The same thing killed many a forum. The loudest bunch eventually forces the quiet intelligent crew to leave and find another place to have real discussions. Moderation is essential to fix this issue. Same thing with blog comments IMHO.

  2. jeff33221 Says:

    first ;)

  3. Jake Says:

    Pwnd!

  4. Jake Says:

    Classic moderation (i.e. power in the hands of few) does as much to poison comments as it does to help them. Maybe community moderation (self-policing) works better.

    To be clear, I'm not against comments. I <3 them. I'm just wondering why people who broadcast even use them and if they're even necessary anymore, i.e. blog comments as a feature vs. Twitter integration.

  5. Andy C Says:

    I think for smaller blogs, comments still have a place. Having said that, I don't religiously reply to each and every comment on my humble blog unless I am genuinely replying to the author with something worthwhile to contribute.

    I hate vacuous comments that merely say 'Hey – thanks for popping by'. But then again, I am a professional contrarian.

  6. Gary Myers Says:

    When an article has a handful of comments, offering corrections, references, de-bunking, then its working.
    When an article gets hundreds of comments, then I think the comments concept is broken. No-one is going to read them all, there will be lots of repetition.The twitter model works better. Someone tweets their reaction and can get into a conversation with their followers about the issue.
    Reactions and polls are also another mechanism to trim the noise.

  7. Jake Says:

    I try to stay away from vacuous, but I do feel oddly compelled to “religiously reply”. I can't help it. I feel like I'm the host or something. That's why it bugs me when I comment on small blogs and don't get a reply.

    Twitter, on the other hand, is much less reply-oriented for me.

    Oh, and thanks for popping by :)

  8. Jake Says:

    Totally. I was just chatting w/Rich on how to pull useful information out of Twitter to produce threads. We may work on this as a side project, since we'll be attending Chirp in April.

  9. joel garry Says:

    I would like to agree with you about classic moderation, but it is only half-right. It does poison the pool, but it can also attract people who are tired of community moderation, which can attract its own brownshirts. (I have in mind oracle-l v. cdos v. otn forums as I write this. In my opinion oracle-l is the best of those – but you may notice I don't post there at all, in favor of cdos. Obviously they are not blogs, but I consider them all at a more stable point in their evolution, having gone through these issues before – of course, otn is going through it again due to its retrograde adoption of jive). Maybe the real point is there should be a spread of fora.

    Large sites, you are spot-on – newspaper sites and dilbertblog, heck even /., comments are both boring and predictable, even though blog content is interesting. /. comes up a little with karma point system, but not much.

    Many of the oracle blogs also suffer from ignoring comments, at least that's how it looks to those whose comments don't get published. Maybe there's corporate paranoia at work.

    Twitter as a comment mechanism? I dunno, somehow that strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. Then again, I just don't get twitter. Then again, anything that requires configuration and plugins to look sensible is going to put me off every time I switch devices, which is multiple times a day. I sure don't get:

    jkuramot i'm so late to the party, but @posterous rocks, that is all 8 minutes ago reply

    JoeSchueller profile

    JoeSchueller Was so obvious why GMail was so much better than everything else. #Buzz, not so much. Is Google the next M$, or am I just missing it?

    I also don't get reactions and polls. The latter is probably because I took too much statistics in college, I just immediately see problems rather than solutions.

    Blogging is inherently asymmetrical between posting and comments. When if first started, my initial reaction was visualizing a bunch of people in a many-cornered room, all emitting air or other bodily expulsions into the corners. Communication requires some kind of back and forth – I disagree with Paul's first sentence, blogging was a big step backwards in that sense, all the comment stuff is a hack to replace the group/networking things that came before. Nowadays, sometimes even the best technical blogs seem to suffer from not knowing if they are making any difference. Like with talk radio, arrogance, the belief irregardless of the facts that people care what you are saying, rules over feedback, because popularity is the wrong metric, and even the feedback suffers from arrogance.

    Overriding all of that, how the economics of blogging and tweeting shake out will be the final determinant. Google's killer app is not a search engine, it is an advertising agency.

  10. Jake Says:

    Moderation is a tricky subject. I like to err on the community side, mainly b/c it's easier and less volatile. Forums are very different than blogs, and as you mention, will have different success stories. Classically, the main artifacts on blogs provide information, whereas on forums, they ask questions, which makes the comments of differing value. This creates different moderation requirements.

    My point about Twitter needs refinement and might not be possible. Because there is limited (if any) threading, you'd have to make some assumptions beyond the easy stuff, like tracking retweets and short links pointing to your post. Rich mentioned backlinks, which I need to read up on to understand.

    It's the @ replies that are to you, e.g. @theappslab, but have no solid reference to your post, that are difficult. We might work on it as a side project.

  11. jpiwowar Says:

    Here I am, being all obsolete and stuff!
    I think that for Twitter to eclipse blog comments, they'll need to lift that 140-character limit. Or maybe brevity's just a problem for *me*. ;-) I might augment my commenting system with twitter content, but there are already plugins for that, I thought.

    95% spam/malicious is a horrible S/N ratio; I had no idea it was that bad. Probably still a way better rate than email, not that comparing blog comments to email is very useful.

    The sweet spot for comments is for “niche”/small-audience blogs. If a blog gets too popular, or if the content appeals broadly enough, it becomes more difficult to have a coherent conversation, whether it's between author and commenters, or among the commenters themselves. That conversation is the value-add of blog comments: new insights, clarification, or just a feeling of mini-community (I've seen all three here, for example). High volume of comments tends to wash out all of that, and increases the cognitive load on the blog author.

  12. jpiwowar Says:

    I have the same “host” mentality, and am totally guilty of “Thanks for stopping by.” I'm also usually genuinely grateful, not to mention stunned, that someone would bother to comment. ;-) I usually try to lead with something else before “Thanks,” but sometimes, the comment to which I'm replying isn't content-rich. :-)

    FWIW, Jake, your compulsion to reply to each comment was clearly noticeable when I first started reading here; it made it feel more “open,” so well done.

  13. Jake Says:

    I guess I was assuming that Twitter would suffice, else for longer replies, you'd write your own post :) I haven't been terribly impressed with any of the integrations w/Twitter, Disqus and Techmeme can't seem to agree, and the indexing is slow. Maybe I'm expecting too much.

    Tend to agree about the value of comments, Gary mentioned that above; problem is it's tough to know what kind of blog you're commenting on when you get a random trackback. I seem to hit all the broadcast only ones ;)

    I guess it's not entirely fair to normalize all blog comments, but I'd prefer John Gruber's approach to the commenting abyss.

  14. oraclebase Says:

    My attitude to comments depends on the context…

    My blog is full of random rubbish, so comments are usually quite fun because they are equally random.

    My website: I get really frustrated when people start trying to use the article comments for technical questions. It's not the right place for it and there is a message in “MASSIVE” font saying use the forum. I often think about turning the comments off on my website.

    Forums (including my own): I go through periods of love and hate with forums. So often people write questions that God would struggle to understand, and other people pitch in with answers that are plain wrong or abusive.

    Twitter: Like Facebook, I rarely go near twitter these days. It just doesn't add value. It's like having email without a spam filter. I just read piles and piles of dirge for one nugget of interest. It's not worth the ROI.

    I find my reading list getting tighter and tighter so I don't have to waste time on crap.

    Cheers

    Tim…

  15. Jake Says:

    Thanks for stopping by, dude. I'm also compelled to avoid prepositions at the end of sentences. Hmm, it might be funny to end *every* sentence with a preposition on April Fool's.

    Glad you decided to stay and add to the party.

  16. Jake Says:

    Context is totally important, as also noted above by a couple people. My experience with blog comments is similar to yours, but it's also similar to Twitter, albeit in a more needle/haystack way.

    My main reason for noodling about replacing blog comments with Twitter is to broaden the commenting audience, but that might be impossible and undesirable :)

  17. John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises) Says:

    Re your statement

    “I guess I was assuming that Twitter would suffice, else for longer replies, you'd write your own post :)”

    This is probably a personal issue, but Twitter's length is just too much of a constraint for me. Take this tweet in response to another tweet – by the time that I added the person's name, and a parenthetical statement explaining what I was talking about (in case the tweet was seen in isolation), I didn't have a lot of characters left to make my actual comment.

    (Ironically, my tweet is going to result in a blog post.)

    While I could issue a blog post in response to every single thing I read, in my mind that would be overkill. I see some benefit in leaving a comment (such as this one) at the original post – kind of a halfway point between a short tweet and a full-fledged blog post.

  18. Jeff Waterman Says:

    Comments are only useful if the author engages the audience by responding to some of the posts. A blog where comments are left, without response…now you may as well shut off commenting.

  19. Jake Says:

    Dude, that's not irony, that's truth. qed baby :)

    You do create a lot of content around your responses to other people's posts, which I like. Comments tend to get lost and are largely ignored, so it makes a lot of sense to either go quick and dirty (w/Twitter) or go fully baked in long format w/a blog post and linklove.

    I'm on to something here, I know it.

  20. Jake Says:

    Thanks for stopping/popping by :) I can't resist doing that now, see the rest of the comments thread if you haven't already.

    I totally agree, natch.

  21. Gary Myers Says:

    Jeff Atwood has just had a post on this too, resulting from his experience when he was forced to disable comments. Pretty much echoes your thoughts
    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/02/welcom

  22. Jake Says:

    Very interesting. I can't recall why I don't have Coding Horror in my Reader anymore, must remedy that.

    I wonder if adding Stack Overflow-style goodness to a blog commenting system would work. Disqus tries to do some of this w/points and aggregation of comments, but it's not obvious or well-known enough to get much traction.

    Comments are definitely an area that needs reputation. That would really help.

    I also wonder about the how to find a medium between blog and forum where everyone's content is equally valued and indexed. We all seem to agree that comments often hold the good information, so how can we emphasize that?

  23. Michael Krupa Says:

    “Someday soon, someone will write a plugin for WordPress that replaces comments with Twitter @ replies, giving the blogger a single view of all the Twitter activity for any given post.” Check out: http://chatcatcher.com/

    Oh and I love blog comments. I'm not quite ready to switch over to twitter for comments.

  24. Jake Says:

    Very interesting. I'll have to check out Chat Catcher. Disqus does a decent job, but it never seems to agree w/TweetMeme on the number of tweets.

    Blog comments are fine, but I wish I could emphasize them more. Especially since we all seem to feel like the good stuff is in comments.

  25. Michael Krupa Says:

    “Someday soon, someone will write a plugin for WordPress that replaces comments with Twitter @ replies, giving the blogger a single view of all the Twitter activity for any given post.” Check out: http://chatcatcher.com/

    Oh and I love blog comments. I'm not quite ready to switch over to twitter for comments.

  26. Jake Says:

    Very interesting. I'll have to check out Chat Catcher. Disqus does a decent job, but it never seems to agree w/TweetMeme on the number of tweets.

    Blog comments are fine, but I wish I could emphasize them more. Especially since we all seem to feel like the good stuff is in comments.

Leave a Reply