Blog Comments

Longtime blogger (and, full disclosure, the designer and coder of the current OTB theme) Aaron Brazell is turning off his comments section.

The reality is most of my “conversation” happens elsewhere. Most of the time, reader engagement with my content comes in the form of retweets and not comments. And when I do get comments, they tend to be distracting. Who really needs that?

Joshua Foust, himself long established in the blogosphere commented earlier this morning that he was henceforth giving up commenting on Andrew Exum’s excellent national security blog, Abu Muqawama, because of the ratio of abusive and off topic to substantive.

As I’ve noted many times over the years, the comments section on a blog tends to go downhill as the site gains prominence and traffic.   With the exception of a handful of highly academic niche blogs, I can’t think of a single very-high-traffic blog whose comments section isn’t, as Chris Albon put it yesterday, “cesspools on the internet.”   (Indeed, doing a Twitter search for “cesspools” looking for that link, about a third of the uses were in reference to online discussion forums.)

OTB has always been something of an exception to the trend.   We’ve been around a long time now and while we don’t have stratospheric traffic, we have a very solid readership.   But the ratio of thoughtful commenters to trolls and yahoos remains quite good.    And I’ve only had to ban a handful of non-spam commenters over the years.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. The comments at Althouse have always been brilliant, and she’s a relatively high-traffic blogger. It makes a lot of sense to look at the people who leave comments at a blog as a reflection of the kind of people a writer tends to attract. Some bloggers are total queen bees who demand fealty, others spoil for a fight and write posts that encourage squabbling after it’s written.

    Althouse’s blog, a stark exception to the norm, somehow attracts deadpan humorists. It’s almost watching a book club session gone awry thanks to the presence of too much wine.

    I’ve basically taken the long way of saying that the comments section of a blog is a cross section of what the commenters think *is* the author’s id: a perception thrice (twice? can’t count) removed from the source.

  2. RobM1981 says:

    I don’t generally read blogs that don’t offer comments. In this day and age I simply can’t be bothered being “lectured to.” If you have an opinion, feel free to put it out there. If I’m interested and can agree/rebut, I’ll be there. To me it’s all about the discourse.

    I agree, there is a huge amount of ignorance, malice, etc. in the comments – but there are also typically some really good points being made.

    Without that, I’m simply not interested.

  3. Mike says:

    I agree with RobM1981; I very rarely read a blog without comments turned on as not being able to comment on something leaves me feeling like I’m just reading some opinion piece out in the ether, not a blog. To be a blog requires some sort of discourse. Even though I very rarely comment, not being able to do so (on the few occasions it happens) does turn me off from a blog.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Comments allow engagement and engagement leads to mutual respect. Readers want to be respected and will cease reading someone who disrespects the readers in general even if it’s not them in particular. OTB has generally shown respect to the readers and allowing comments reinforces that respect.

  5. Franklin says:

    There are fellow commenters whose opinions I have learned to respect. In some cases, they became bloggers themselves.

  6. just me says:

    OTBW is one of the few places I participate in comments. Mostly because comments sections do tend to turn into places that aren’t fun to read or participate. There are some websites I visit that have comments, but the comments section is so awful that I won’t read them.

    I think one reason comments sections seem to go downhill the more popular a blog becomes is because the blog comments become difficult to next to impossible to moderate, and I think some moderation is needed to keep comments on topic and the debate reasonable. I still enjoy reading some bloggers who have no comments, because I like their point of view. Turning off comments probably wouldn’t turn me away from a blog I enjoy reading.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    I think a blogger that subjects himself/herself to the abuse of commentors is of higher status than those who do not, and in many ways is the more sexually desirable blogger. The blogger who opens himself/herself up to such abuse is signaling integrity, vulnerability and the openness to new ideas that may never have occurred to him/her before, but might just feel quite right nonetheless.

  8. Brett says:

    I’ll third Rob and say that I tend to ignore blogs that don’t allow commenting. It strikes me as kind of cowardly, in a way – they obviously want readers, but either they have to be a certain type, or they’re not willing to deal with the feedback.

    Besides, Twitter is nice, but it has limitations that prevent some good responses.

    And I’ve only had to ban a handful of non-spam commenters over the years.

    That’s really the key – the blog author has to be willing to do some house-cleaning now and then to wipe out the trolls and spammers.

    It also helps to have a regular set of commentators who are willing to rip stupid trolls a new one when they show up.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    If you didn’t allow comments I wouldn’t be able to tell you that I am a Nigerian prince with a billion dollars and I have chosen you (because of your reputation) to help me move that money to America. In exchange for your help I will enlarge your penis.

  10. Michael Reynolds, and how is that different, vis-a-vis its absurdity, from your usual Rethuglican commentary?

    Sorry, let me climb out of the cesspool and try again.

    Michael Reynolds, oh, good one.

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    Well hey, at least I will admit that I’m an enlarged ****……….

  12. mannning says:

    I agree that blogs such as OTB that allow posting are much superior to the chicken-bloggers that hide. Commenters often take bloggers to task for defective opinion pieces, as well as reinforcing a blog opinion with added argumentation. My guess is that bloggers that decide to eliminate comments are on their way out of fashion, unless their opinions are hugely rewarding and well respected.

    Then, too, commenters can learn from rebuttals by others. The one class of comment that is useless is the personal dogfight that breaks out all too often. Those comments should be deleted forthwith.