Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Should Blogs Turn Off Comments?

The popular website that reviews tech products, Engadget, made the controversial decision yesterday to turn off comments. No longer, at least temporarily, will readers be able to add their own two cents on the content being posted.

The presumptive wisdom has long held that blogs were a phenomenon largely because, unlike traditional media publications, they fostered two-way dialogue. An interaction. Does Engadget's decision, then, signal a larger shift in this thinking?

Hey guys, we know you like to have your fun, voice your opinions, and argue over your favorite gear, but over the past few days the tone in comments has really gotten out of hand. What is normally a charged -- but fun -- environment for our users and editors has become mean, ugly, pointless, and frankly threatening in some situations... and that's just not acceptable. Some of you out there in the world of anonymous grandstanding have gotten the impression that you run the place, but that's simply not the case.

Luckily, our commenting community makes up only a small percentage of our readership (and the bad eggs an even smaller part of that number), so while they may be loud, they don't speak for most people who come to Engadget looking for tech news. Regardless, we're going to crank things down for a little bit to let everyone just cool off, and we'll switch them back on when we feel like we've shaken some of the trolls and spammers loose from the branches (AKA swing the banhammer in our downtime). See you on the other side!

On the surface of this statement, it appears that Engadget believes its passive readership to be more valuable than its commenting readership. In other words, the blog perceives its own message to be more important, by far, than the two-way interaction.

This is not unperecedented. One popular blogger getting a lot of mentions today, John Gruber, is actually famous specifically for not having comments. As the Cult of Mac describes, the reason Gruber dislikes comments is because they distract from his all-important voice.

But here's why blogs ought to keep comments. It's one thing to turn them off temporarily, like when the site is flooded with spam or when tensions rise and personal and mindless insults start flying. However, this story itself justifies leaving comments on... When I wanted to see what people thought of Engadget turning comments off, the first thing I did was go to Mashable and read the comments that people were sharing about the decision.

It's the interaction that's fascinating. If we want the news, we read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. But the reason we read blogs is to engage in dialogue with other voices on the same topics. That's the big selling point of New Media, and what sets it apart from the Old.

Bloggers would be wise not to forget that. After all, without comments and interaction, such blogs would be indistinguishable from the masses of their going-out-of-business counterparts.


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