Comments on Blogs: Left vs. Right
Although the timing is perhaps a bit unfortunate, given the overnight onslaught of comment spam that hit many blogs, Duncan “Atrios” Black and Kevin Drum make a very interesting observation: Many bloggers who laud the “self-corrective” nature of the blogosphere lack comments sections.
Kevin goes further, though, and spots an ideological correlation: “the
longtime aversion of conservative bloggers to comment hosting, which is the only genuine self-correction mechanism in the blogosphere.” Amusingly, I recall a discussion around the right blogosphere some time back making the opposite charge–that most of the popular liberal sites were comment free. But Kevin points out that,
But take a look at the Ecosystem. As I write this, the top ten conservative blogs are Instapundit, Powerline, LGF, Malkin, Captain’s Quarters, Sullivan, Hewitt, Volokh, Wizbang, and The Corner. Of those, only three have comments, and the LGF folks do everything in their power to keep anyone outside their own sycophantic fan base from contributing. There aren’t enough liberals in the top 30 to even make a top ten , but the top six are Kos, Marshall, Atrios, Washington Monthly, Crooked Timber, and Yglesias. All but one host comments Ã¢€” and if we could just get Josh off his butt we could make it a clean sweep.
After noting that Hugh Hewitt, who has published books on the power of blogs, also doesn’t allow comments, Kevin concludes,
Tight message control has always been a key characteristic of conservative politics. It’s emerged as a key characteristic of the conservative blogosphere too.
I think a simpler answer, though, is that we’re comparing apples and oranges. Most of the blogs at the top of the Ecosystem, including Kevin’s, have radically more traffic than those just a few rungs down. The difference between an InstaPundit or DailyKos (#1 and 2) and A Small Victory or OTB (#29 and 30) is tremendous:
|Site||Rank||Inbound Links||Daily Visits|
As sites get more popular, comments sections get harder to maintain. Not only do they almost invariably devolve, as Kevin concedes his own has, into screamfests “full of trolls and their vitriol,” but they suck up enough bandwidth to actually make maintaining them ridiculously expensive. For example, until he got started getting serious outside money, Kos was really struggling to maintain his site because of these charges, paying well over $1000 a month. Atrios is on blogspot and not paying for his bandwidth. Kevin is hosted by a magazine, although he had comments when he was paying out of pocket. CT and Yglesias are both excellent sites that I read often, but their linkage far exceeds their relative traffic; they’re running in OTB circles, not with InstaPundit or DailyKos.
A much larger sample is needed to make the comparison and it’s more work than it’s worth right now for me to do it. (Not to mention that I’m not familiar enough with all the sites to make a reasonable left-right coding decision.) Anecdotally, though, I’ve not noticed any grand trends in blog comments among the dozens of sites that I frequent. And, as Ogged notes, there are reasons other than bandwidth costs for sites to eschew unmoderated comments sections.
On a related matter, I disagree that comments sections on-site are the only feedback mechanism in the blogosphere. Most of the substantive discussion of blog posts I’ve seen comes from cross-discussion on other sites. Indeed–again, ironic given this morning’s episode–I’m more annoyed with sites that lack TrackBack than with those without comments sections.