Yes, Comments Can Get Noisy, But We Like Them Anyway

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.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Kjunstrom

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