Commenting Quality on Blogs

Thomas Barnett has experimented with having his columns posted on group blogs and has been disappointed in the quality of commentary he gets there compared to those at his own site. He proposes that “the tighter the focus and personnel in the blog/site, the better and more focused the commentary.”

My experience from having run blog comments sections for more than four years and having read comments on a variety of sites is that he’s right. I would add that comment quality tends to decline geometrically as site traffic goes up.

This stands to reason, actually. Blogs that focus on a particular niche are naturally going to draw a more focused, informed readership than those which are scattershot. The more narrow and technical that niche, the more likely they are be read almost exclusively by people with a substantial interest in the topic. My guess is that most of Barnett’s commenters have read The Pentagon’s New Map if not Blueprint For Action; almost all have read at least articles on those books.

Sites with a broader focus have an easier time attracting readers, since the chances that some of the material will interest a given reader are greatly increased. The larger the site’s readership, though, the less likely it is to be universally informed. That’s true even on popular sites with relatively analytical, non-inflammatory content like Kevin Drum’s Political Animal.

OTB has managed to keep a relatively civil comments section as its traffic has increased, although we get fewer comments than most blogs our size. Still, we have far more trolls than in the early days and months of the site’s existence. I’ve outlined site policies and have banned three or four people for repeated violation and occasionally delete inappropriate comments; those steps have helped. Even with a very focused site, Barnett still allows comments to appear only after they have been approved by Sean Meade.

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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. Lib says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Oh, the irony.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ve found your commentariat to be among the best, James. Cleverer and better informed. Winds of Change is good, too, but IMO has been flagging a bit lately.

    I read lots of blogs, left, center, and right. There are roughly 300 blogs in my “Favorites” list at this point. I tend not to comment on most of them because the commenters are so darned rude. Life is just too short.

    My own personal experience is that center-right (where I’d put OTB) to center blogs tend to be the most civil.

  3. A little decorum goes a long way. No reason topics cannot be discussed as passionately without the rabid commentary. That is one reason I return to OTB regularly.
    This post is another example of information I find worthwhile and of value.

  4. Tony says:

    I agree with Dave 100%. I am center left and if I comment on a far left or far right blog….actually let me rephrase that, if my comment doesn’t agree with the “regulars” of the blog, I will then get bashed. And I am not one to throw stones. I am open minded and objective. I “respect” everyone’s views and opinions, but that and a Metro Card will get me on the subway.

    I tend to only comment on a few blogs, even though I have many in my bookmarks.


  5. another matt says:

    I keep coming back to OTB because for the most part the posts and subsequent comments I read are civil and provide a fair amount of information on both sides of an issue. I have almost completely given up on mainstream news as any meaningful source of information. Go OTB!