Comments on Blogs

Michele has announced the end of comments at Command Post, at least for now:

Alan and I have made the decision to turn off commenting at Command Post until we can install Type Key. I have a feeling that even Type Key will not dispell the acrimonious air that pervades the comments over there at times. There are certain commenters (some left, some right and some moderate) who have set the tone and ruined what used to be a pretty good open forum on the day’s news. Warnings, deleted comments, a new comment policy and bannings did nothing to stop the hate and ugliness that pervaded the comment section at TCP. I know the comments are what a lot of people came to TCP for. Not many news sites have such a place for open exchange of ideas and civil discourse. Of course, the discourse became rather uncivil and we will sacrifice our hit counter (which directly affects our adversting and credibility, especially in terms of getting press credentials) in order to clean out the house.

Like Alan says, it’s just getting to be a pain in the ass to read the comments in order to police them, rather than reading them to enjoy them. It’s time consuming, especially when most posts garner over 100 comments.

It’s eventually going to happen here as well; I’ll either start with comment registration or Type Key or move to no comments and a bulletin board type place instead, where I will take no responsibility for the comments within. As it is, ASV is my home and if you do not wipe your feet before you come in here (that goes for righties as well as lefties, no free passes), I’m going to end up shutting the door to everyone.

As I note in Michele’s comments, CP is a news wire, not an opinion blog. There’s not much value to comments, really, especially when there are so many contributors who can post alternate stories or corrections.

An opinion blog, like ASV or OTB, is somewhat different. Certainly, there’s value in interaction with readers. Unfortunately, there seems to be a strange variation on the Gas Law with regard to blog comments: As blog readership expands, the quality of comments declines geometrically. When OTB had 500 readers a day, the vast majority of the comments–whether from people who agreed or disagreed with me–were quite good. With readership in the 5000-10,000 range, most comments are crap. Reading–let alone policing–the comments gets to be more trouble than it’s worth.

I’m in the process of converting to WordPress (Movable Type is a huge resource hog and, with over 5000 posts, the need to constantly rebuild is getting unmanageable). I’m considering some sort of comment moderation or other policy to give me more control over the commenting. I’m not quite ready to turn them off altogether, although the thought has occured to me, given the ability of people to write responses on their own blogs and send trackbacks if they wish to continue the discussion.

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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. Eddie Thomas says:

    I hadn’t noticed your comment section as being particularly acrimonious.

  2. Chris Short says:

    I’m also considering turning comments on and off depending on the topic of the blog entry.

    The responses I’m getting are simply ridiculous at times and I’m tired of the threats, bad grammar, and overall low quality of content other peoples’ comments reduce my blog to.

    Some comments have led me to notify law enforcement organizations across the globe and has gotten a class B range owned by a Canadian ISP banned from coming to my site unless they remove the offender of their TOS from their network (the ISP responded this morning saying that the user is gone).

    It sucks but it’s the way things go. People are rude and often stupid. They say things before they think of what they’re doing. It’s even worse because some people TYPE things before they think about what they’re doing.

    I’ll probably be writing an article about this subject sometime this week.

  3. Meezer says:

    “I’m not quite ready to turn them off altogether, although the thought has occured to me, given the ability of people to write responses on their own blogs and send trackbacks if they wish to continue the discussion.”

    Do most readers have their own blogs? I don’t and I visit OTB nearly every day. I have sometimes thought that blogs are a club for members only (with OTB and a few others as an exception). Which is absolutely fine, I firmly believe in any community making its own rules, except that most seem to invite “the non-blogging public” to participate. This sends a mixed message if the bloggers really prefer we read only and otherwise keep quiet.

  4. Chris Short says:

    Maybe blogs and forums should go hand-in-hand.

    Bloggers could set up forums as a “we don’t manage the comments here” and thoroughly notify its visitors that this is a “freedom of speech and stupidity” zone.

    Set up some of your best readers/commenters as moderators (or have no moderators at all) and let it rip.

    I have a friend who is implementing an MT to phpBB plugin that makes all comments to blog entries get placed in a new thread in a forum category.

    Perhaps this is a solution to be considered.

  5. Nathan Hamm says:

    While I usually feel that, if I really want to respond, I’ll do it on my blog, I still highly value comments. One problem with that for my blog in particular is that I try to maintain a focus on Central Asia and the Caucasus.

    I’ve had some issues with commenters on TCP from making insulting remarks to me for what I choose to post to displaying the worst that partisanship has to offer. They have however, been a great way for readers to forward me stories I otherwise would have missed. Not that comments are necessarily needed to do that, but it’s still been valuable.

    As part of the larger comments vs. “blog it” debate, there are some commenters out there who show no interest in blogging (including one who comments on my site, Tacitus, Obsidian Wings, and Winds of Change quite often who stopped blogging and now only comments). They may or may not be the argument for keeping comments, but they’re a valuable consideration for me.

  6. jen says:

    Of course, it’s entirely your perogative to remove the comments feature from your blog, but I hope you won’t for the reasons stated already. Also because I’m one blogger who’s not inclined to post about all things political on my blog, but I enjoy reading them at other blogs and occasionally engaging in conversation where my interest is piqued.

    Plus, it’s too confusing to try to hope from blog to blog to have the same conversation when comments are available.

  7. Alan says:

    Re: the forum concept: I was thinking that last night … we have plenty of SQL databases in our account, and I may set one up as a “zero moderation” zone. I still like the idea of interacting with media, though, so I have to reconcile the idea of comments on specific news posts … that’s part of the coolness of the concept I don’t want to lose.

  8. Patrick says:

    Trackbacks may indeed be the solution as you filter out the non-bloggers. Additionally, bloggers might be somewhat more thoughtful in making comments on an article at their own blog. I don’t agree with the “bad grammar” motive of Chris Short : quite some bloggers are non-native English-speaking so does he want to communicate exclusively with the Anglo-centric blog community ?
    Nathan Hamm does make a point though in having doubts about trackbacking : if your blog isn’t particularly on topic you end up having content inconsistencies at your own site indeed.
    And of course you exclude those non-bloggers who could have exquisitely perfect and pristine comments 🙂

    So, at second thoughts, a forum-like solution might be the better choice…

  9. Attila Girl says:

    I comment on a lot of posts at other people’s sites. In order to link their post on my own blog I have to take several steps, and there’s no way I’d do it nearly, nearly as much.

    And, of course, I’ll bet the read-only people are a significant percentage of the most thoughtful commenters.

    Also, I would have to be motivated to follow trackbacks, even on posts I like; it’s just more trouble.

    Up to a certain size of blog, the policy of having readers just “report” out-of-line comments could help. Probably not for something the size of Command Post, though. Nor OTB, for that matter.

  10. Ramon says:

    Promoting some readers to “bouncer” status sounds like a good idea. Collaborative filtering.

  11. So long as my comments fall squarely in the “crap” category, then I’m content.