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.