Oct 052008

or, Mystery Science Comments 3000

Help me out with this week’s experiment, folks.

RE: Ability to make comments.

I have received e-mail and twitters from friends and family pointing out and/or lamenting that comments are not enabled here. Well I say they are enabled, because those e-mails and tweets are comments and anyone can use those methods to convey them.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be snarky. Please don’t go! Actually my site was all set up for comments. It’s even set up to use OpenID, so you can log in using your livejournal (or any other OpenID site’s) credentials. I just haven’t enabled comments on any posts yet. Instead I’m messing with creating a comment form that just sends me an e-mail as opposed to adding comments to the bottom of the article. Why? Because I have an ongoing inner conflict regarding blog commenting. Perhaps you can help me.

This is probably anti-community and everything, but I don’t see the point of a little enclave of people posting to each other about each other’s writing. And I believe a small group of the same people responding to each other’s journal actually discourages strangers (and even people who know me but aren’t part of the online clique) from joining in on the conversation.

LJ has hundreds of thousands – probably millions of users, is reachable by the whole world, and after a year there I had five or six commenters (all delightful folks – you know who you are) all of whom came to me through one friend, commenting on my site. So beyond sharing an online conversation with friends, what exactly is the point? I guess it’s nice that LJ doesn’t seem to have spammers and rude people and trolls, and I have to deal with that issue myself now if I allow comments on my own site. Managing users and moderating comments is not something I’m particularly interested in. That’s one big strike against comments.

Another thing I don’t like about open comments is the occurrence of obviously personal responses placed on an open page. Pillowtalk in public. I don’t have a problem wearing my heart on my sleeve – I’ve got a couple of public posts that are pretty personal – but the conversation about that I don’t feel comfortable making out in the open. I *want* to share in a conversation with my friends about it (in addition to complete strangers), otherwise I would not have written it to begin with. But I think I get better, more complete and more open feedback if that conversation happens privately. That’s another strike against comments.

But there is an even bigger one, in my view.

Please understand that like anybody else I do genuinely crave and appreciate feedback on what I write. But as soon as one is writing feedback to a potential audience, the conversation changes. Maybe that is just what keeps it civilized. But I worry more that what it does is make the conversation a writing contest. When people want to write their thoughts on a post, they first have to read all the previous comments and decide whether they have anything meaningful to add, and if not they may try to make up something meaningful just so they can add it and not look redundant. I don’t want that to happen to anybody.

This is key: I don’t want the content of the comments to affect someone’s response to the original article. I don’t mind getting multiple comments with the same sentiment, in fact I would hate it if I was unable to judge how many people felt the same way on an issue simply because they didn’t add their thoughts because they didn’t feel they were ‘original’ enough. And I feel that a one-on-one e-mail discussion with anyone who cares to comment is the way to get that, to really connect with someone who has something to say about what I wrote.

Honestly, haven’t you ever held yourself back or toned down the emotion in a comment out of knowledge it was out in the open? Haven’t you decided not to post a comment at all because someone else already said it ‘better’ than you?

Right now I believe the right solution for this site is an e-mail form at the bottom of every article, not a list of comments and a place to add ones own.

What do you think, sirs?

11/2008 Update: Comments now disabled due to getting comment-bombed with pron spam. There is a message form here.