A Case Against Comments

As an educator, I truly love assessment. There is no greater joy than seeing tangible improvement in your students’ skills as they learn throughout the course of your class. While educators measure the growth of their pupils via grades, standardized test courses, and practical application, assessing the growth of your blog is a slightly different matter. There are numerous methods with which one can assess a blog’s growth, including raw blog visitors, unique page views, blog follower count, and comments((Among many others.)).

For the purposes of this discussion, I want to take a look at the final item on that list — comments — and discuss their impact on blogging. I personally love nothing more than when someone, be they a blog regular or a random passerby, comments on the blog posts I’ve written. Once upon a time, I had a lengthy run of blog posts((25 in a row to be exact.)) where the posts all got at least one comment within a week of being posted. It was a great sign that I’m producing quality content. Likewise, I love the banter that goes back and forth in the comments section of blog posts, particularly when the comments are thought-provoking and well-reasoned.

So why would anyone want to get rid of comments? According to Popular Science Magazine, even one bad apple in your comments section can spoil the party — and your article — for a large portion of your readership base.

Raspberries are bad apples…because they’re fucking raspberries, not apples. (Photo credit: onehundreddollarsamonth.com)

The logic behind their theory is simple. If the comments on your piece are uncivil, not only is that commenter warping your readers’ point of view on their statements, you’re warping their opinion of the piece you’ve written as well as the subject you’re writing about. Allow me to illustrate this with an example. The following is an entire blog post I’ve written.

I like ducks.

Simple enough. Here are civil commenters who agree with my blog post commenting.

Commenter A: I agree. Ducks are cute.
Commenter B: And how!

Civil, straight-forward, and ultimately shaping my readers’ point of view to enjoy ducks more. Let’s replace those comments with uncivil comments.

Commenter A: I agree. Ducks are cute.
Commenter B: Ducks killed my family.
Commenter C: You hear that? Ducks are trying to end our American way of life! Thanks Obama!
Commenter D: Fuck you and your duck.

In three comments, we’ve managed to descend the slippery slope from rational, oppositional commenting to having the potential for an avian genocide. This is exactly what Popular Science is trying to prevent. So what if the number of bad eggs is relatively small in comparison to the good eggs? One bad commenter is enough to sway public opinion in the same way that one squirrel could shut down the NASDAQ stock exchange. I mean, it technically IS possible and may have happened on once…or twice…before. But that doesn’t mean every blog should shut down their comments section just because Derp McGerp may say something that causes people to believe that guns are safe and everyone should have one…does it?

Oh…On second thought, perhaps silence would helpful.

Popular Science isn’t the only once to make an effort to improve the commenting experience. Google has decided to change the way it allows YouTube comments in hopes of improving the quality of comments they receive. Some blogging platforms like Svbtle take pride in the fact that they don’t allow comments at all. Even one of my favorite sites online, XKCD, doesn’t allow comments directly on its posts. Are we really losing anything by taking away the power of the people to speak their minds?

Personally, I see no reason to take away commenting from readers. The best bloggers, in my opinion, are those who can write a quality piece and know how to interact with their readership base. If you can write well, but can’t interact with readers, you’re merely a journalist. If you can interact well, but can’t write well, you’re merely a publicist. But to be able to do both (and to do both well) is something special.