Are Blog Comments Worth It?

A few days ago, Engadget turned off comments on its posts — a move which, ironically, reignited discussion about the value of blog comments in a world pulsing with social media.

Some sites I’ve worked on have inspired commenting that I could only describe as pitiable drivel; others, like WWD, seem to inspire respectful, well-thought out opinions from informed readers. I used to think this was a matter of where the site pitched within the market, and who used it. The Engadget story convinces me that content topic also influences the tone, quality, and usefulness of comment contributions. But I’m sure there are other factors as well: the kinds of content you’re presenting, the degree of opinion included in that content, and so on.

Thus, for those working online, with a plethora of social media to manage, countless personal and direct messages to respond to, and, hey, a bit of work to do as well, the question arises: are blog comments worth it?

Comment Pros and Cons

When I first read about Engadget’s move, I thought “this looks like a step back to the traditional publication model, where the publisher controlled what was said. It negates the notion of free speech — of free broadcast — that the web was lauded for putting in everyone’s hands.”

The no-comment approach seems to say, “Yes, everyone can have a web site and publish their own content, but some of them aren’t prepared to talk about it, or support others in talking about it.” After all, one of the benefits of blog comments is that your users don’t need their own site, social network account, email address, or even greater awareness of the market space in order to connect with you. In an era that’s all about dialog, denying on-site dialog seems counterproductive and unsupportive.

The case against comments is usually that comment moderation is too time consuming to be sustainable. If, as Engadget argues, the commenting populace is only a small portion of the overall audience, those comments are unlikely to lead to significantly higher traffic levels or ad revenues. As has been pointed out by many of the people who’ve commented (via Twitter and other avenues) on this move, removing comments means less garbage, faster page load times, and a better user experience.

With the growing wealth of social media at our fingertips, site owners could find that avoiding a single channel that’s not proving advantageous is of benefit, clearing the decks and making it easier to focus on the kinds of communications they do best — and where. And if, like Engadget, the brand is big enough, and its following loyal enough, people will talk about, recommend, and consume the site’s offering regardless.

What About Your Blog?

In my view, there’s an interesting cultural difference between a blog that allows comments and one that does not. A blog that doesn’t allow comments seems to me to be saying “this is the final word on this topic.” To me it seems there’s something formal about such publications — they distance themselves from users; they hold themselves up as a paragon rather than engaging “on the level” with users.

In many cases, this could be ideal. Engadget, for example, isn’t like WWD. Here, we ask for comments, we want to engage, and we aim to build a creative dialog that enriches the initially published content. Engadget provides straight-up news and reviews of technology. So perhaps that site is less about community than about providing information. Perhaps facilitating on-site dialog isn’t central to the site’s strategy. Perhaps cementing the brand’s position as The Last Word on a given topic by relieving the site of comment facilities does, in fact, support that strategy.

What about your blog, though? Do you think you could successfully pull off removing comments? Would it upset your readership? Would it undermine your relationship with them? In short: how important are blog comments to your own engagement with your audience?

Photo by flickr user Desirée Delgado, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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