Saturday, May 10, 2008

Comments On? Comments Off?

Have you ever gone to a new blog, read a really interesting post, and wanted to comment only to find that comments were not allowed? Well the task for Day 9 in the 31 Day Comment Challenge is to consider whether we should be commenting on blogs.

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The Argument Against Comments

The first time I came across a blog that did not allow comments I was aghast! On my blog comments were my riason d'etre. What was wrong with this guy? If only I could give him a piece of my mind...

After cooling off a bit I noticed that the owner of this blog (Charles Nelson) had clearly articulated why he does not allow comments. The gist of his message, which you can read here, was that he, like most people, likes comments. The problem is when they simply agree with him he feels he is not really learning. And when people disagree, "they are likely to dash off their disagreement without chewing on it and thinking it through. So, I might learn a little, but not as much as I would from a thoughtful and measured response." So Mr. Nelson prefers to use trackbacks.

I've just given a brief summary of Mr. Nelson's reasons, and I really suggest you read the whole thing. He also has a whole series of posts on this topic.

The Argument For Comments

For me, the comment section of a blog is a place to meet people. It is like the staffroom of a collegial school where you can hammer out ideas, enjoy some laughs, and occasionally (depending on the blog and on the staffroom ;)) agree to disagree. Sometimes commenters head off in a different direction, and that's interesting too. Relaxing in the Staff Room

It is interesting how some posts really touch a nerve and generate a huge number of responses. This one by Will Richardson has garnered 68 blog reactions and 166 comments to date. What could someone possibly add to the conversation at comment 166? I don't know, but they must feel pretty stongly to add their 2 cents worth.

Where Do I Stand?

I understand Charles Nelson's points about not wanting to just have people agreeing with what you write and about wanting thoughtful responses. Even if a person were to take the time to write a thoughtful blog post, in lieu of a comment, how often do you check out the trackbacks? If the trackback is on one of my blog posts-of course I check it out. If I go to the comment section of someone else's blog it is rare that I click on the trackbacks. Now maybe that's just me and maybe I need to change this behaviour, I don't know. I also find that though a lot of times commenters agree with a post, they often bring a new perspective or can offer some information so that I am still learning from what they have to say.

Sameer Vasta, in pondering whether to enable comments on his blog writes, "So I think this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to enable comments on posts where I feel there can be some good discussion. On posts where I just want to have a bit of a personal soapbox, I’ll shut them down. That way, I get the best of both worlds." I'm not so sure that the 'personal soapbox' posts would benefit from a lack of comments. I'm sure there are certain times when disabling comments might come in handy.

To wrap up, I like commenting, I like reading comments. For me, comments are an integral part of a blog. They help me connect to others, and to learn from them.

Final Questions

When would you see the need to disable comments? Do you check out trackbacks on other people's posts? Why or why not?

Images: 31 Day Comment Challenge Logo, Relaxing in the Staffroom.


  1. I guess the only time I would see a need to disable comments was if I knew I wouldn't have the time to respond to them. Not just for a few days, like not for six months.

    I don't check out trackbacks on others posts unless the blogger points them out in a subsequent post. I'm even clicking on less and less links in a post unless the blogger gives me a sense of why I should. I've just gone down too many paths of check out this post only to find out it doesn't add a lot of value for me.

  2. The only thing is, as I am learning now, is that some comments can be destructive so I do understand why someone would disable comments.

  3. Christine, I know where you're coming from regarding not following links or trackbacks unless given a compelling reason. There just isn't enough time to travel down all those roads.

    Sarah, it is a shame that there are people who leave destructive comments.

  4. I have not disabled comments and can only think of one example when I ran across a blog post of a friend who had done so, and I believe (I did not ask) it was done because the post was very emotional, touching and did not require a comment. The blogger was sharing something special and did not need a reaction. It was understood that there would be a reaction.
    I did feel a bit odd, as I wanted to respond, but then I thought of this as a possible symbol of grieving for my friend, and so I let it be. I let it be.

    On the other hand, I suppose if a conversation gets out of control and divisive to the point of non-civil, the blogger has a responsibility to close it down. Where that line is, however, is a whole other question.

    Good reflections.


  5. Hi Kevin, that's an interesting example you gave of shutting comments off; when the post is very emotional. I've also seen bloggers shut off comments when the thread has gotten incredibly long (100 plus comments), presumably because they felt it was time to move on.

  6. Extremely well articulated Claire. You're right that personal soapbox style posts might be accentuated with comments as well, and I don't argue with that. That being said, sometimes there are times where I need to have a forum to express a personal voice without wanting or needing to hear from others -- while those instances are rare, those are the times I am closing down comments on my blog.

    Thanks for the great discussion (I found your post via a trackback) and one tiny thing: I'm a he, not a she. (Sameer's a male name that comes from Arabic.)

  7. Sameer, thank you so much for reading my post and adding to the conversation. It sounds like your readers will be thrilled that you'll be enabling comments for many of your posts.

    Thank you also for your polite correction (he not she); I have made the change to my post.

  8. No worries. It's not an everyday name if you're not familiar with Arabic (it is a very common Arabic name though, funnily enough) so it happens all the time. =) Keep up the good work on this blog!

  9. Claire, you are very, very smart. You must really have to 'dumb it down' at work with us! Love ya, K & J1.

  10. Kirsten, you have no idea ;-)

  11. Hi Claire,

    I was looking for the trackback mechanism but couldn't figure out where it was. I enjoyed reading your post and have responded on my blog, concluding with this paragraph:

    Although I lean against commenting, I do not see it as black and white. There's no research along these lines that I am aware of that can give definitive answers according to type of blog, context, and so on. But for those of us who are educators, I would say that we need to be careful about being sidetracked by the social contagion of commenting and instead keep the goal of learning in the foreground of our blogging and of our students' blogging.

  12. Hi Charles, thanks for reading my post and responding! I enjoyed reading your post and I have to admit that it was pretty cool that you took the time to write a blog post in response to what I wrote here.

    In your post you mentioned that "In the two years since I initially gave my rationale for no comments, not one reader has taken me up on my invitation to send me by email a thoughtful and measured response to anything I've written for posting on my blog." I'm surprised by that and I'm trying to grapple with what that means. Do people only want to interact with bloggers on the blog because it feels safer? or it's easier? or are we all just show offs who only want to say something if we can be guaranteed that our audience will be larger than just one person? or does the phrase "thoughtful and measured response" scare people off? It is curious.

    With regards to trackbacks, I didn't notice a way to see what the trackbacks were on your posts. I'm not sure if I'm missing something as I am relatively new to this. So if people did take the time to write blog post in response to something you wrote, others reading your initial post would not know about the dialogue that it provoked. You are benefiting from being notified of the response posts, but your readers are only seeing one side of the conversation (again, unless I'm missing something.) Thanks again for reading and responding to my post!

  13. Claire,

    Yes, why people don't email me is curious and would make a good study, too. My guess is it's a combination of ease, time, effort investment, and the lack of the "good" feeling that comes from interacting in a more social manner in comments. If you consider how many people lurk on email listservs as compared to contributing to them, and then make it a little harder to contribute, then it's likely that that number will decrease even more for trackbacks. And it may be also that many people (especially those who are new) just aren't that familiar with the trackback mechanism and aren't sure how to go about it, although I explain it as mentioned below.

    On trackbacks on my blog, at the bottom right side of my post is the word "Trackback," and if there's a number there, the number indicates the number of trackbacks. If you click on "Trackback," a window comes up showing the trackback address, plus the trackbacks. So, everyone can see a blurb about someone's post elsewhere. Using the trackback address, you then need a trackback mechanism to send your trackback post to my blog. If you notice in the sidebar under Colophon, I have "Subscription and Trackback information," explaining a little about RSS and trackback, plus providing a link to making a trackback if you don't have the mechanism. I believe, however, that Wordpress has that ability.

    One thing that I was thinking about adding to my post but didn't have the time (maybe a later addition) is that much learning comes from what's called "weak ties" in networks. The dense center of networks contributes to "confirmation bias," or "group think." Much learning comes from the outliers, those with whom people have few interactions and so think differently (along the lines of diversity). As you came across my blog and I came across yours, a parallel conversation via weak ties emerged from which learning is more likely than the conversations embedded in comments on individual blogs. The fact that parallel conversations across blogs, I believe, promote learning more than comment conversations within blogs, is another reason that I lead toward trackbacks as compared to comments.

    Take care, Charles

  14. Hi Claire,
    Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog and directing me to your thoughts on commenting.

    I think it is up to the blogger to decide whether or not to allow comments on the blog or on the individual blog posts. In my case, I like comments and I really enjoy seeing conversations develop on a blog post; however, I understand that Charles prefers to use track backs. After posting my reflections on blogging, a mentor and long-time blogger pointed out to me that blogs have not always had a comment function, and the introduction of comments changed the way her students interacted with each other on their blogs for her class. I have only been blogging for a few years, so comments have always been a part of blogging for me.

    By the way, similar to what Kevin mentioned, I have also seen a friend disable comments on a particular post because she just had to get something off her chest; she didn't want comments after that.

    Thanks again. I'll visit your blog again soon,


  15. @Charles, thanks for the info on the trackback mechanisms. I read the section on your blog regarding trackbacks and tried out Adam Kalsey's Simpletracks and have added it to my

    In your comment above you said,'One thing that I was thinking about adding to my post but didn’t have the time (maybe a later addition) is that much learning comes from what’s called “weak ties” in networks. The dense center of networks contributes to “confirmation bias,” or “group think.”' I'd really like to hear more about this, so I hope you do end up posting about it.

    @Mary, thanks for dropping by! Like you, I enjoy the commenting aspect of blogging. For me it is a way to connect with others, and it also makes me want to strengthen my writing because I know that someone is actually going to read what I write!

    I know that there are tools like Feed Burner or Google Analytics that let you see how many people are visiting your site, and which posts are getting the most traffic, but it is so much more satisfying reading people's reactions in the comments.


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