Should We Turn Off Comments By Default?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of a number of different publishing platforms.

What once originated with Xanga and LiveJournal gave way to Blogger (or The Artist Formerly Known as BlogSpot), WordPress, and which has now opened the doors for platforms such as Medium, Svbtle, Ghost, and so on.

To say that we – as a culture – are exploring the various forms of digital publishing in as understatement. But one thing that I’ve begun to notice about some of the newer platforms is the way that they handle comments.

On top of that, I’ve also begun to notice that people appear to be commenting less on blogs – at least in longer forms – and taking the discussions more to places such as Twitter, Google+, or even just into email.

Some of this I’m speaking based on observation, some of it I’m speaking based on experience. But I do think it raises the question as to if we should consider how we handle comments on our blog.

On Software, Comments, and Social Networks

To be clear, I love that we have choices for the platforms with which we can publish our online content. As much as I love and support WordPress and have my reasons as to why I think people should use it, I also know that it’s not the best application for everyone.

Case in point: When a friend or family member tells me they are considering starting a blog, but aren’t sure which application to use, and then ask my thoughts on it, I usually follow it up with questions such what type of content to they want to write.

This way, I can provide a recommendation based on their needs. Not my preferences.

In doing that, I’ve noticed several things:

  • Svbtle allows for kudos, similar to Facebook and Instagram’s ‘Like’ button. Either vote it up, or move along.
  • Medium allows comments per paragraph, but only up to a certain number of characters.
  • Blogger offers comments like WordPress
  • If you cross-post your content to Google+, then people often +1 the content, but don’t always comment on it
  • If you cross-post your content to Twitter, people will retweet or follow up with a conversation on Twitter
  • If you cross-post your content to Facebook, people appear to respond to the content 99% of the time on Facebook

Yes, people still leave comments on blogs, but the point that I’m getting at is that I believe that landscape is changing based on how and where discussions are help regarding a person’s published content.

Turn Off Comments By Default

To that end, I’ve been giving some serious thought as to how I want to handle comments on this blog.

Turn off Comments By Default

First, there appears to be next to no correlation between the number of comments a blog post receives versus the number of page views I’ll receive in a day. Yes, there are exceptions, but that usually has to do with the topic at hand (such as a giveaway, or questions about a project that’s been released).

Secondly, comments will sometimes come in the form of tweets, +1’s, and emails. This is perfectly fine with me as I’m primarily concerned about simply sharing my thoughts here, and talking about them later.

Third, people don’t always read other people’s comments. This is evident based on the content of the comment that they leave. For example, they’ll either repeat something that someone has said not as a reply to a comment, but as their own new comment, or they’ll often neglect all the other comments to leave to their own which generally forgoes contributing to any kind of conversation and simply speaking one-on-one with the post author (which might as well be done by email).

Ultimately, this brings me to the consideration of turning comments off by default, and turning them only for certain posts. Or, perhaps, just turning them off for posts older than a given date. Or both.

Regardless, I believe that there’s a shift in the way that people are using comments and that, at times, it can be more tedious than necessary to keep up with as an author.

On top of that, I think that blogs are that are successful through a variety of metrics (you know, the usual: bounce rate, unique page views, subscribers, etc.) but may have only a few comments, give the impression that the blog isn’t actually as lively is the statistics and analytics display.

So, with that said, I’m wondering if it’s not time for a shift to turn off comments by default, and then turn them on for certain posts.

18 Replies to “Should We Turn Off Comments By Default?”

  1. I think the problem with turning comments on occasionally is that you don’t know necessarily what people will want to comment on.

    If your point is to specifically have comment posts where you ask questions and people respond, that might work. But commenting allows pushback or questions on things that you might have not thought were controversial or that you thought were clear but are not.

    I tend to like to read comments on blogs that have longer form comments. But short ‘Great job’ or ‘I hate this’ comments are pretty worthless.

    1. I think the problem with turning comments on occasionally is that you don’t know necessarily what people will want to comment on.

      And the same is with what they won’t comment on, you know? That’s the funny part.

      I think a lot of variables contribute to it, as well – the topic at hand, the time of day, where they are reading it, how which device are they reading, and so on.

      But commenting allows pushback or questions on things that you might have not thought were controversial or that you thought were clear but are not.

      And this is something that I enjoy, so it’s probably one of the biggest reasons for leaving it on.

      But short ‘Great job’ or ‘I hate this’ comments are pretty worthless.

      #LOL, for real.

      Great job.

      … ;)

  2. I have the ‘close comments after X days’ option turned on, if for no other reason than to reduce spam attempts and stop questions on outdated items. beyond that, I leave them on. I don’t write often enough to really care one way or the other, and most of what I write doesn’t induce troll-type comments, so it’s a wash. for sites that write on things that can induce flame wars and other bullshit, I see the value in turning them off.

    1. I have the ‘close comments after X days’ option turned on, if for no other reason than to reduce spam attempts and stop questions on outdated items.

      If for nothing else, I will probably implement this simply because I still get messages on older posts where code is outdated on projects that I no longer maintain.

      for sites that write on things that can induce flame wars and other bullshit, I see the value in turning them off.

      I never intend to start these at all, but sometimes it breeds it. Then I just get annoyed. Perhaps there should be a killswitch for posts like this :).

    1. It comes down to, do you want to deal with the comments?

      Or where do you want to deal with the comments ;).

      And right now, I don’t really mind dealing with them all over the place – it just takes some time during the day to catch up on ’em.

  3. Personally, I think turning off comments at any time would be a terrible idea. If you did go that route the article should contain links to everywhere you’ve posted it on Twitter, Facebook, etc, so people could still follow the discussion without having to dig through your social feeds. Seeing the author interact directly on the site builds a sense of friendliness and encourages new visitors (who found your site through Google) to seek you out on Twitter and other networks. Without comments, you’d be needlessly cutting off one of the channels that helps build your brand. Also, commenting on places like Twitter where there is a character limit is really annoying. And I would cast my vote for having comments on all the time rather than just for certain posts.

    1. Personally, I think turning off comments at any time would be a terrible idea. If you did go that route the article should contain links to everywhere you’ve posted it on Twitter, Facebook, etc, so people could still follow the discussion without having to dig through your social feeds.

      This is a really good point. I personally don’t use Facebook anymore (ditched it not too long ago), but conversations do often rabbit trail on Twitter.

      I wrote a plugin to trail to tie this back into WordPress, but it still requires that you provide a link to the initial tweet that started the conversation.

      And I would cast my vote for having comments on all the time rather than just for certain posts.

      Love it. Thanks for the input, Richard!

    2. Much agreed with leaving comments turned on for the reasons you mentioned. However, I think comments add little value as the vast majority of my engagement is through twitter and Facebook. Comments are intended to build community around a brand, but our brand’s community is so diffuse across lots of other platforms that so much of the conversation is fractured. I think that is what leads people to have the discussion with only the author rather than joining in on the conversation. I have no idea the numbers, but I would guess that the discrepancy between readers of an article and those who comment is huge.

      Also, if turning comments off meant that there would be an increase in social shares then perhaps it would be worth it as this would drive more traffic. Though I would assume people who comment would also share.

      Lastly, comments show readers that you are actively involved with the articles you write and with your website. They give people an easy way to make a more personal connection. I’d say leave them on as comments are one more tool for connecting with your readers.

  4. I agree with all the points you make but most alternate forms of feedback, particularly on social media disperse the feedback where only certain audiences see certain comments. Richard gets at this in his comment too.

    I could theoretically imagine times where this is a good thing, but they all involve a crazy number of comments that only the smallest sliver of blog posts ever get.

    Until there’s a good way to aggregate feedback on a post from all relevant social media sites (there must be people trying to do this), it feels like comments play an important in transparent conversation.

    1. Until there’s a good way to aggregate feedback on a post from all relevant social media sites (there must be people trying to do this), it feels like comments play an important in transparent conversation.

      Based on the feedback from others, this this is the crux of it.

  5. I think turning off comments by default is not the way to go. Many blogs live from their comments, no matter how few they may be or how seldom relevant comments appear. Social Media is an enhancement, a means of sharing to a wider readership, but rarely brings anything new with it other than the occasional click to see what all the fuss is about. Having no comments allowed, or even turning them off after a certain period of time, pushes interesting discussion away, and lessens the experience for the blog creator more than anything else.

    1. Social Media is an enhancement, a means of sharing to a wider readership, but rarely brings anything new with it other than the occasional click to see what all the fuss is about.

      Another good point – especially about the social networks being an enhancement.

  6. Some great thoughts in the post and in the comments.

    I agree, commenting on blogs are changing. And yes, social media is playing a huge part in this. But with that said, myself, I would never turn them off. I like to provide the opportunity for conversations and/or questions come with blogging. Even my old posts, I keep them open for continued conversation. And yes, often people don’t read the other comments and will repeat the question. Or even worse, skim the post and leave a question or comment that the post already addressed or answered. I take that all in stride.

    I don’t know if there is a straight out “yes or no” answer. I think it all depends on your blog, your expectations and your goals. If someone chooses to close comments on their blog, I respect that. But it may also seem one-sided and tend to give me second thoughts on coming back.

    1. I don’t know if there is a straight out “yes or no” answer. I think it all depends on your blog, your expectations and your goals. If someone chooses to close comments on their blog, I respect that. But it may also seem one-sided and tend to give me second thoughts on coming back.

      This is another good thought as I’d not considered how it’d appear in terms of wanting to continue reading an author’s blog.

      Thanks for that, Bob.

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