Talking Back: Disabling Comments

What a brave new world it will be? A world nurtured by the free exchange of ideas. Elevated discourse on important topics. The world of the Internet!

Well, not so much. Jeff Jarvis on the podcast, “This Week in Google,” had this to say about comments on blogs and web sites, “Whenever the recipient loses control, it becomes noise.”

Recently several popular bloggers have turned off comments. As anyone who peruses comments on popular blogs or web sites can verify, in addition to a few thoughtful tentative considerations of a topic, you find mostly:

  • Political talking points rehashed without originality or personalized context
  • Hate and vitriol aimed at the author, public figures, or other commenters
  • Broad general statements without good confirming evidence or openness to conflicting ideas

In other words, Internet comments are turning out to be something similar to many discussions in real life, and not the intellectual interchange we were hoping for. Matt Gemmell’s blog entry, “Comments Off,” lists several reasons for his decision to disable comments:

  • Very few people make comments, so the whole process benefits a tiny minority of the blog’s readers.
  • Comments don’t provide much in the way of intelligent discussion. He believes that few commenters even read the other comments.
  • Comments are often carelessly posted without attention to meaning or common courtesy.
  • Anonymous comments encourage unhealthy behavior.
  • Moderating comments places a huge burden on an author, often taking more time than the actual writing!

Gemmell, who says he generally enjoys getting feedback even though he has decided to disable them, offers some suggestions to people that want to respond to his blog:

  • Respond on a blog of your own.
  • Use Twitter or another social media site to engage in conversation.
  • Send an email (but be prepared not to get a response).

So, the answer is that if you just want people to think about your ideas and respond in their own way, turning comments off is an option. If your goal is to encourage constructive conversation among readers, you need to be prepared to put a great deal of effort into moderating the comments.

More to Read about Comments

In December 2015, Peggy Grant joined our extended network of alumni.