Another short (well, it started short) comment on the Great Commenting Debate of 2011-2012 before I go off on this thing

For what it's worth, I read Ben's site. I don't read MG's, but it's nothing personal. Here's Ben, quoting MG, adding his comment after:

MG Siegler:

If you’re saying something that you think is great, why would you want to do it as a comment on another site anyway?

Great question.

brooksreview.net/2012/01/commenting-debate/

MG's original article: parislemon.com/post/15305835451/bile

Is this all some elaborate joke I'm not in on?

I can see why MG's thinking about comments is shaded from his time at TechCrunch. Actually, no I can't as MG appears to be someone with half a brain who has used the internet for more than the past few days and knows that "commenting" isn't limited to the nonsense found on sites that have horrible commenting traditions (Huffpo, Youtube, TechCrunch.) Ben, however, should definitely know better. It's not a "Great question." It's a question that should be obvious to anyone who's ever used the Internet and wanted to comment on something. And as a purveyor of a website which often comments on other things, you would think some "great answers" to that "great question" would emerge pretty quickly. That's why I feel like there's some joke here I'm not getting.

Here's some recent "decent answers" to that "great question." With a bit of search I'll be happy to look up some more great answers for anyone interested. I'll be writing some more here too very soon as well.

ronoffringa.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/comments/ - Even MG found this one. Apparently it didn't answer his rhetorical question.

gigaom.com/2012/01/04/yes-blog-comments-are-still-worth-the-effort/ - I particularly recommend this one. And it's particularly fascinating that comments on GigaOm, a TechCrunch competitor, seem like they're from another planet compared to the "bile" MG complains of.

The most compelling reason to have comments is that you actually care what other people think...

It’s true, as Siegler and others argue, that readers can find other ways to comment: they can post a remark on Twitter with a link, they can do the same on Facebook or Google+, they can send an e-mail, or they can write a response on their own blog. But doesn’t that make it even harder for a blogger to find and respond to all of the thoughtful comments, since they will have to check all of those other sources? I think in most cases, bloggers who shut down comments don’t do this — they simply don’t respond.

zerodistraction.com/blog/2012/1/5/weblogs-without-commenting-systems-are-closed-ecosystems.html - Alex doesn't have comments, but at least he's not stupid about it:

So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that most people will put two and two together and will find responses to your posts on other weblogs. It isn’t going to happen for most. Period.

mattgemmell.com/2011/11/29/comments-off/ - Read the included letter about comments there. Hell, I'll quote some of it here as well.

First from the letter:

On the other hand, one of the things you wrote in your post really struck me the wrong way. “I want to make it clear that this isn’t a means to discourage conversation; indeed, I hope the opposite it true.” No, turning off comments is unquestionably a means to discourage conversation...

The purpose of turning off comments is to discourage conversation. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that is what you want. But if you really want a conversation, don’t pretend that you are going to get one by turning off comments. You aren’t being honest with your readers or yourself.

And part of Matt's response, though I still recommend you read his whole post:

I think there’s a distinction between a goal (or purpose, as you say) and a consequence. Switching off comments will inevitably reduce the number of responses, but I think that it’ll increase the average value of the remaining responses; that was my point.

I can honestly say that, no, switching off comments wasn’t a means to discourage conversation. There are easier and less conspicuous ways to do that, which wouldn’t raise controversy (such as moving to an all-moderated policy for comments, for example, or insisting on an externally-authenticated login like a Facebook account, and so on).

Matt seems to think turning off comments is superior to moderating comments. I think moderating comments takes time people don't want to spend. Rian van der Merwe put it like this when he turned off comments, at least temporarily:

I’m not turning off comments to discourage engagement disagreement, I’m turning it off to help me sleep better and give me more time for writing...

www.elezea.com/2011/12/keep-writing/

Again, I think there's little doubt that turning off comments discourages engagement of all sorts. It's bad for lots of other reasons too, but I'll get to that in another post.

Email - Discussion and conversation over email is not in the public. The value any blog post has is that it is in the public. The same reason your public post has value is the same reason comments in public have value. People can see them, they can be linked to, etc. Is this hard to get?

Twitter - Too many issues with Twitter to mention. I'll just begin with the simple fact that like a blog post on "your own site," the commentary/discussion/conversation is divorced from the source/context/whatever. That's if it's even made public to begin with.

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1. There's a big difference between being honest and saying "I personally don't particularly care what you have to say" and saying something silly like "If you’re saying something that you think is great, why would you want to do it as a comment on another site anyway?"

2. Comments aren't for everyone or every site. But let's not pretend all commenting is the same. I'd say, just as freedom of speech has exceptions for assholes (yelling fire in a crowded theatre), bile commenting hubs like Huffpo, TechCrunch and Youtube are the exceptions, not the rule, and that they share a huge share of the responsibility for their current mess. (Anil Dash had a little bit to say about this recently: dashes.com/anil/2011/07/if-your-websites-full-of-assholes-its-your-fault.html ) Some people blame the dicks in the theater talking and taking phone calls. Some people blame the theater for not stopping that shit. The good theaters just make sure it doesn't happen. And they don't kick out all the people as a way to solve their problem.

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Oh, and because people always say you should propose solutions instead of just complaining and saying why you think you are right, here are some ideas:

Make your commenter approve their writing after a fixed amount of time to avoid things written in haste. It could be 5 minutes, 1 hour, or even one day. When they're asked to approve it before it's submitted to you they could be given a description of exactly what kind of comments are wanted. It could even be a checklist. If they still approve unsatisfactory things, you could block them.

You could have whitelist comment rolls. If someone has corresponded with you over email, or has submitted X number of decent comments, they can be approved for future comments.

You could limit comment length to something reasonable (and longer than Twitter length.)

You could have a moderator.

If you're someone like John Gruber who sells ad space for thousands of dollars a week you could even be a job creator and hire a moderator (or group of moderators)

You could make those commenting approve comments in the moderation queue before they are ever put up if they themselves want to make a comment. Maybe you wouldn't even have to force them. Your readers might just do it of their own volition if they want to have a discussion in the comments. You could even pair this with the whitelist idea mentioned above! If no one (or X number of people) approve the comment after a certain time (maybe 1 day) you'll be given the top one in the moderation queue. If that doesn't inspire others to want to go comment on that (and approve another comment at the same time) then maybe that entry shouldn't have comments.

The possibilities are endless!