Blog Comments: Chaos or Currency?

Are comments more trouble than they are literally worth? According to Animal’s Joel Johnson, the answer is a resounding Yes.

I believe I’m right, and I think it’s important to start the discussion. And my theory is very easy to disprove: just run your own analysis on your traffic and determine exactly how many people are scrolling down the page to read comments. Then figure out how much you’re spending to maintain comment communities that are civil, vibrant, and not an embarassment sitting just below your own work. I bet once you run all the numbers, you’d discover you’d be saving money simply by not having comments at all. (You’d probably save a bundle on therapy for authors alone.)

Johnson’s objections to comments are many. First, he says, most of them are worthless. Only 1 or 2 in 100 “actually provoke discussion or elucidate another’s argument,” he argues.

Next, he says, comments don’t make any money. (But then what does for most bloggers? Please let me know.)

Moreover, commenters are often rude to authors. Comments, he says, are a dinner party, and “if I’ve invited you to have a seat at my table, at least have the courtesy to not call me an idiot for serving you food slightly different than you preferred.”

Finally, and most damningly, almost no one actually reads the comments.

I’m sure all this is true for high-traffic, commercial blogs. But I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of blogs, the problems Johnson and others experience at mainstream, consumer oriented blogs like Animal simply don’t exist.

One reason, of course, is that most blogs, like mine, alas, don’t get many comments to begin with (other than the spammy variety that Akismet so silently and effectively filters out).

But some are so clearly and consistently focused on a single community interest that they generate with almost every post a huge number of intelligent, interesting, and polite comments. For some of my favorite blogs, in fact, the comments are at least as good as the original post, and often better.

Though I haven’t asked them, I’d guess that Steve Buttry, Mark Schaefer, Mitch Joel, Porter Anderson, and others too numerous to mention here don’t just tolerate their comments, but live for them. Certainly the comments they approve and respond to all reflect a genuine and productive engagement with the topic.

In addition to a carefully targeted focus, there are probably a couple of other reasons these bloggers get such a wealth of thoughtful and useful comments.

First, they are all personal. These bloggers are heavily invested in their blogs, and take the responsibility for every word that appears in them.

Second, they are all genuinely good, thoughtful, and generous people. They attract like personalities that come to enhance the discussion, not to degrade it.

So, yes, if your aim as a blogger is first and foremost to make money, you may want to disable commenting. For the rest of us, though, comments, not cash, are the currency we seek.