The conversation I had with the boys at Doe Eyed last week really got into my head and I’ve been really mulling over their thoughts on closed comments on their blogs. When I first started blogging, several years ago on my personal blog, I ingested all kinds of information about how blogs “should” be run. There’s a lot of legacy content out there about what makes a good blog. Sometimes that information was contradictory from site to site. Other subjects were unwritten rules you broke at your own peril. One of these edicts was that you should always allow commenting and encourage interaction on your posts. The first blog I saw to break this rule was Dooce.com, but with very valid reasons.
Heather Armstrong had become a beacon of hope to many, and a heretic to a few. Many of her detractors would voice their opinions quite harshly in her blog comments, making some very radical statements that normal people just don’t say to each other. The comments on Dooce are on, but she will close them at the drop of a hat if she feels the vibe isn’t conducive toward a healthy debate. .
Jump ahead a few years where I came across Bobby Solomon’s The Fox is Black (formerly Kitsune Noir). I’m not sure if he ever allowed comments on his blog, but they were shut down by the time I got there. Curious, I asked him via Twitter about the lack of interaction. Paraphrasing his reply, he said they share all posts to Facebook and Twitter and engage their readers in those forums. It was a kurt reply, but got the point across in 140 characters or less. It left me a bit uneasy, but I didn’t dwell on it too much.
Another blog I read on occassion is Pugly Pixel, where Katrina Tan talks about design for bloggers. She removed her comments sometime last year, mostly because the blog was ultimately about her voice and being able to write whatever she wanted. With the comments active, she felt pressured to keep her posts within the scope of what her commenting readers suggested, but had a tough time gauging interest for all the people who didn’t comment. Ultimately, she chose to make herself happy first and hopefully her readers would come along, but we’ll come back to Pugly Pixel in a moment.
Recently, a buddy of mine and I had a conversation about the blogs in general. I didn’t agree with everything he said (“Nobody subscribes to blogs anymore”), but he did bring up a very valid point about blog comments. He said that many site were probably moving away from comments on the blog for the same reason Dooce did, to weed out the trolls, or to eliminate SPAM. Instead, they use Twitter and Facebook for interaction because you can’t be as anonymous and get away with it. If someone makes crazy comments you don’t like on Twitter, or they’re spamming, you can block them. On Facebook, the level of openness makes it difficult for people to be anonymous, keeping most from trolling. Each user must also have some form of identity (email), so spamming is at a minimum. Of course it happens on occasion, but it’s not nearly as likely to happen as it would on the blog itself.
I emailed Katrina to ask her a few questions now that some time had passed since she remove comments. I wondered if she had any regrets about the decision, and I asked what happened with her readership once she made the change. She told me she had no regrets about the decision and she’s not big on checking stats, but checked her subscribers for my sake. Turns out her readership doubled over the past year. There’s no telling what the comments had to do with that factoid, but it’s an impressive statistic regardless. I guess the real lesson here is to make yourself happy first and the rest will follow.
I probably spend way too much time tracking stats and gauging interest via social interactions. I don’t anticipate closing comments anytime soon, but it could happen eventually. I definitely will put much less emphasis on both comments and my RSS feed, though. I will always respond to comments and interact whenever possible. I’m just not going to spend my time worrying about them, but rather, focus on providing quality content.
On a somewhat related note, I was searching for images that embodied “interaction” and this awesome piece on Etsy by The Gryllus came up. There’s some powerful art up in their shop, so get on over there.