The dilemma of comments

Once upon a long time (4.5 years) ago, when I started this blog, there was no way of posting comments. I had no publishing system. Everything was edited by hand and the entire site consisted of static html files. As a consequence of that, publishing was more or less stress-free.

After a while I decided to start using a CMS of some kind. Manually creating each page was getting a bit tedious. I looked around at the blogging tools that were available at the time and picked the one that looked best (Movable Type). With that came the possibility of enabling comments. I could now receive immediate feedback on everything I published. Fantastic!

Time went by. I wrote more articles. People liked them and linked to them, which meant a lot more people started dropping by to read what I had to say. And to comment. I still thought it was great to get feedback that way. If I had made a mistake or was wrong about something, someone would point it out and help me fix the mistake or learn something new.

That's the good part of allowing comments on your blog. The positive, helpful feedback that helps you improve.

But then there's the negative side to comments. The spam. The trolling. The abusive comments. The personal attacks. I realised that as I was writing I had started to subconsciously think about what kind of comments a post would trigger. I found it harder and harder to write freely, and to express myself the way I really want to.

The abuse has made me seriously consider – several times – disabling comments. I'm ambivalent about it. On the one hand it would make writing and publishing much easier. Write something, proofread it, publish. Done. As opposed to write, proofread, publish, respond to comments, edit the post to clarify things people who don't actually read what you write misunderstand, wait for more people to post comments without reading, respond to the new comments, delete spam, delete comments that are out-of-line or off-topic, repeat. Managing comments eats up a lot of time that I would rather spend researching and writing new articles.

On the other hand, most comments are appreciative, constructive, and helpful. They catch any mistakes or errors I make, which means I learn from them. I don't want to lose that. Absolutely not.

What I'm getting at is that I fully understand people who do not allow comments on their blogs. People like Jeremy Keith, John Gruber, Andy Rutledge, and Joel Spolsky have all explained why they prefer to keep comments off. I agree with many of their reasons, but not all of them. And to me, being able to have a dialog with my readers is very important.

So for now, comments are still open here. But I don't know if they will be forever.

Posted on September 20, 2007 in Writing, Life