36 Comments

Summary:

Blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball says that he doesn’t believe that comments on most blogs add any value, and that they are often just “cacaphonous shouting matches,” which is why he doesn’t allow them. But despite the noise, we believe comments are worth having.

Updated: Blogger Joe Wilcox stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest recently when he accused John Gruber of avoiding debate by not having comments on his Daring Fireball blog. Gruber responded by saying he doesn’t have comments because they make a blog “noisy,” and that he believes his site is conversational in other ways — by linking to posts on other people’s blogs, for example. Comments, he said, “aren’t conversations [but] cacophonous shouting matches,” whereas Daring Fireball is a “curated conversation.”

Comments on blogs have been a contentious topic almost since blogging was first invented. And Gruber isn’t the only prominent blogger who doesn’t have comments — marketer Seth Godin doesn’t have them either (although some have argued that since he promotes the idea of marketing as a conversation, he probably should), and Jason Calacanis gave them up and now runs an e-mail list instead. Pioneering blogger and RSS developer Dave Winer wrote in 2007 about why he didn’t think comments were necessary on a blog, an argument very similar to Gruber’s — and one that was echoed by software developer Joel Spolsky, among others — but he later added them anyway.

Gruber can do whatever he wants with his blog, of course. It’s his soapbox, as he points out, which he has built up over the years into one of the leading voices in the technosphere — and we are fans of his writing, comments or no comments. As he notes in his post, others can write their own blog posts if they disagree with him, just as Wilcox did. And it’s true that while comments were seen by many as a crucial part of blogging in the early days of social media, there are more ways for readers to respond now, thanks to Twitter and Facebook and other social tools and networks.

That said, however, not everyone has a blog, and not everyone is on Twitter or Facebook. One of the benefits of having comments is that they are open to everyone — although that is obviously part of what can make them so noisy as well. The barriers to entry are low, and so there are plenty of “drive by” comments and trolling. Having people respond on their own blogs or on Twitter and Facebook can also fragment the conversation on a topic, making it difficult to follow and causing potentially valuable responses to be lost or not recognized properly.

The bottom line is this: We have comments at GigaOM because we believe that many of our readers know as much or more about the topics we’re covering as we do, as social media pioneers like Jay Rosen, Dan Gillmor and Jeff Jarvis repeatedly point out. Yes, comments can be filled with vitriol and ad hominem attacks — which we remove whenever they appear — but they can also be a source of important and valuable information, including pointing out when we make a mistake (which does happen from time to time, unfortunately). And more than that, comments are a key part of how we forge a relationship with our readers that goes beyond just “read what we wrote and then be on your way.” Do they take work to moderate? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely.

Joe Wilcox, meanwhile, now says that he’s going to try doing without them on his blog as well, and will apologize to Gruber if he turns out to be right. And Derek Powazek has also added his voice in support of the Daring Fireball blogger’s viewpoint on comments.

Update: Gruber has added some more thoughts on comments, in which he says that “it’s not that I haven’t included comments on DF because I dislike the concept of comments; it’s that comments would not fit with what I have in mind for DF as an experience. Same goes for frequent use of images. I certainly don’t think images are “bad”. They just don’t fit with what I have in mind for DF.”

What do you think? Are comments valuable or are they just noise? You can take our poll, or you can respond (as always) with a comment.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Kjunstrom

  1. Gruber doesn’t have comments because then people would call him out on some of the rubbish he prints and his value as a PR outlet would be diminished.

    He’s a good boy. He knows the rules.

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    1. Glenn Fleishman Wednesday, June 16, 2010

      I always find it odd to hear John called a PR outlet (or more likely a “PR shill”) because of the massive and detailed criticism he has engaged in across years of writing Daring Fireball about Apple’s poor decisions. Anyone who has read his blog, and not just sentences excerpted and quoted on other blogs, would see that he’s reliably skeptical about claims made by Apple as well as Apple competitors.

      Anyone can have a blog. Or Tweet. Or whatever. I would love comments on Daring Fireball because there’s a community of readers with whom it would be fun to interact. But I often comment on DF stories at TidBITS (a new site), via my Twitter account, or on my own blog.

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    2. Thank you Mark, for being a shining example of how comments are just noise. Instead of discussing the topic, you make ad hominem attacks against John. You are exactly the reason why DF readers don’t want comments. If we wanted to read useless and completely baseless Apple hating drivel, we would read the comment sections on the gadget sites. DF is for intelligent, and informed people, who want to read insightful analysis. Your type of comments do not belong in that set.

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      1. @James

        Hey, it’s OK. You can live in your ideological paradise with no dissenting voices if you like. They’re obviously a bit much for your delicate nerves anyway.

        DF for informed people? Please. You already know the answers you want to hear. Gruber just gives them to you.

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  2. The “they can do both” option in the poll is definitely the truth!

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  3. Comments are only valuable when you build a community around a blog and establish some societal norms around it. I’m thinking mostly of Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic or Every Day Should Be Saturday, the premier college football blog on earth.

    By and large, though, comments are worthless. Look at any major newspaper site – the comment sections on most articles would be a disgrace to feces-throwing monkeys at the zoo. Similarly, the comments on any blogpost that deals with Apple or Android or Linux (or any other topic with a dedicated base of fans and/or haters) almost immediately trend toward 4chan levels of utter worthlessness.

    Ultimately, the only way to do large-scale comments and maintain a proper signal-to-noise ratio is to do what Slashdot does with modpoints, and then keep the threshold high.

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    1. I completely agree, Jon. Slashdot has a great system, and it really helps to keep the noise down — and you are right that comments only become valuable when a blog invests the time and energy to try and develop a community.

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  4. Somebody tell Gruber that the shorturls in his tweets do not work when read with at least two popular twitter clients on Android. He hasn’t responded to me, and after multiple days, its still broken.

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    1. Glenn Fleishman Wednesday, June 16, 2010

      That’s been true since he started using the Unicode star symbol. It’s supposed to be supported by anything that reads a URL: the Unicode value is converted into something called punycode which back-ports non-Roman characters into domain names. He likes the way it looks, even though it breaks in Firefox, too.

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  5. Comments are part of building a community, even if that community revolves around a single post instead of the entire site. I’ve learned things I wouldn’t otherwise know by reading comments on my site, and on others.

    It’s actually pretty easy to dismiss the vitriol, but it’s hard to accept an author that has no interest in engaging with his readers. It makes them seem as if they have a disdain for the very folks who consume what the author produces. If that’s so, why even bother writing in the first place?

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    1. Great point, William — thanks for the comment.

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    2. If Gruber’s readers felt he had “disdain” for them, they would stop reading him. I’m guessing based on his popularity that his readers don’t feel that way. And I don’t know about others, but I have had several email conversations with him about his posts-he seems quite accessible and engaging to me.

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  6. The comments cut both ways: some are trash and some are very truthful.

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  7. I love(d) Daring Fireball, but i was upset not to be able to read/leave comments. So i decided to stop reading it. i explain here why http://ouriel.typepad.com/myblog/2010/06/why-i-stopped-reading-daring-fireball.html

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    1. Thanks for the link, Ouriel. You are right about the comments on Fred Wilson’s blog as well — a great example of someone who really knows how to engage with their community, and consequently gets consistently great comments.

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  8. thanks for asking :)

    I think the new use of Poll Daddy (or plug-ins like it are helpful). I would say that everyone should give comments a try.. see if you get a meaningful response, if you get garbage then turn the commenting function off but don’t simply state that the function of commenting on blogs is useless and merely noise, not true.

    The problem that I think most blogs with comments are in for though is that none of us really have the time anymore since we are fighting the firehose of the web. The socialweb has added the immediate now layer to what was already instant access to information.

    IMO keep em on.

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    1. Thanks, Mike — you are right that comments take time, though, and there are so many other competing demands for peoples’ time now, with Twitter and so many other social tools and networks. I still think they are valuable.

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  9. If done well comments can add richness to the conversation — check out avc.com for some great conversations in the comment threads.

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  10. It must be a slow news day or something. What’s with the blatant navel-gazing?

    Gruber can do whatever he likes with his blog. No amount of pressure will change his mind about allowing comments. The amount of time it takes to monitor the comments quickly affects his ability to provide the high-quality insights he offers on a regular basis.

    Why spend so much time on the trolls and spammers? It’s just too much for a one-man show.

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