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Summary:

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 […]

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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  1. We addressed this exact topic yesterday in a post on Fuel and gave it a purposely conflicting title that attempts to get at the heart of the matter: Conversation is Essential. Listening is Optional. I come from the perspective that allowing comments is akin to listening, but one commenter added that it’s a passive kind of listening and that perhaps you could eliminate comments and actually go seeking conversation about your content on various networks. Interesting topic either way you look at it.

  2. I’m sorry to learn that Engadget has turned off its comments, but I understand that there is a “cost” in keeping it open. But most systems allow for blog comments from invited commenters, so perhaps there is a middle ground that serves everyone’s needs.

    I love reading comments, sometimes learning a lot from them or being amused by them. However, I do get bothered by snarky comments, so if a site gets inundated with them perhaps turning off the feature is best or letting readers report the abuse with a click to help the site monitor junk comments.

    If Engadget wants to maintain a conversation with its visitors, perhaps they can find a middle ground.

  3. Engadget is one of my main ways I get tech news. I was sad to hear they disabled commenting. Comments on a blog are at least 50% of what makes for good content. I’m going to give them a few days and maybe check out Gizmodo if Engadget’s comments aren’t back up. I can imagine the cost of dealing with the spam they must be getting. I don’t know what the answer could be but maybe require registration to leave comments? In a post explaining their comment situation, Engadget stated that a very small amount of readers actually comment. The thing is, it’s impossible to measure the number of people who read comments but never post any. I have a feeling that is a very large percentage of readers and disabling comments would adversely affect them.

    Just checked the site, looks like they enables comments again.

  4. It’s funny really, I like having comments on my blog because I like talking to the people that read it. However.

    My market (ie, the people I’m really writing for) don’t actually leave comments – most of the comments are left by fellow bloggers. All in all, I still think it’s worth it, but you have to wonder really. I think that if Engadget can pull it off good for them, but for the majority of us comments are more than worthwhile.

    1. Heather, you nailed it right on the button.

  5. I love getting comments on my blog, it helps fuel discussion and allows readers to feel like they can become involved in the conversation (not to mention catch mistakes I may have made).

    However, many times in reading posts on huge blogs, a post may get 200+ comments, and reading through them, 90% of them are comments just to get their link added to the post, they don’t add anything to the conversation. Spam, no other way to put it. I woud imagine if I had to sift through stuff like that every day, I might consider closing comments too. Unfortunate to see, but I understand how someone could make that decision.

  6. As I understood Engadget’s move, it was always supposed to be a temporary measure only, and in fact, they just recently turned commenting back on.

    Anyone who pays attention to comments on blogs, let alone is responsible for moderating blog comments should have some small appreciation of how invasive and abusive some commenters can be. In addition to flat-out spam comments, high-volume sites like Engadget seem to draw out some really nasty people. I can completely appreciate Engadget’s position here – these trolls were adversely affecting the experience of a whole bunch of desirable users, and there was no better solution than to take a temporary break.

    I don’t believe that Engadget ever seriously thought about not having commenting at all for the positive reasons you indicated.

  7. Mark Cancellieri Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Leo Babauta of Zen Habits turned off his comments as well:
    http://zenhabits.net/2010/02/faq/

    I’m undecided, but I’m leaving the comments on for now.

  8. They’re useless unless you have an assistant to moderate and delete all the worthless crap that people post.

  9. Comments are a must for me. The only blog I read frequently without comments is Seth Godin’s one. And I would read it more if it had comments. To me, turning comments off is like saying that you are afraid to discuss about your content.

    However, there are two things about comments that I don’t like:

    -Lack of integration with RSS. I use GReader and only go to the website to check comments if I really like the article. I miss all the others.

    -If there are too much I won’t read them. Maybe there are some great ones, but it looks too time consuming. Stars and likes help with this, but still a problem.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham fgumo Thursday, February 4, 2010

      I agree that comment moderation could be a lot better in terms of promoting quality insights. I think I learn as much from our commenters at GigaOM as I do from my official sources.

    2. I don’t feel that comments are necesarily a must; for me, it totally depends on the content — some blogs don’t really need comments, while some others (Metafilter, for example) I really only read for the comments.

      WWD wouldn’t be the same without comments, but a comments moderation system that surfaces the better ones would be nice.

  10. We don’t really suffer from trolls, but a big part of the commenting problem is the semi-spam comments, which add nothing to the conversation in the hope of getting a link back (I end up deleting a lot of these from WWD). They tend to drown out the better comments and discourage people from posting them. I still think comments are useful (a really great comment can be insightful and spark further discussion), but if you don’t have the time to moderate them, you might be better off without.

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