Blog Comments: Should You Close Up Shop?

Think back. Why did you start a blog? We all may have started for different reasons – but one things is unanimous, we all felt like we had something to say, and for most of us – we wanted our voice to be heard by others – we seek to encourage discussion – by putting our thoughts out their in public, we open ourselves to the feedback and conversation that ensues.

I’ve been in and out of blogging for over four years now – about a year and a half on Life Without Pants and through the transitions and ‘real life’ happenings, my focus, goals, and voice has changed. But one thing has always remained the same. The love, the PASSION for writing. Even if I’m wrong, even if some people absolutely despise my content, I write because I love it. It’s a release, it’s a learning experience, and it’s opened opportunities door time and time again.

Are you writing for yourself or your community?

But an interesting thing starts to happen with managing a blog. In that whole process of ‘community building’ – it’s easy to lose your voice. It’s easy to start writing for your audience and not for yourself. There has to be both – but when you give up your own perspective for the sake of what other people want to hear, or what other people might think or say in the comments, you’ve lost what it means to be a writer.

I read an excellent post yesterday by Derek Powazek about the value (or lack there of) when it comes to ‘online commenting’. Here’s an excerpt. Read on below for my thoughts…

“…But I’ve seen incredible communities form in the confines of comment forms. I’ve seen funny, helpful, informative, intimate, amazing conversations. I’ve seen groups of people come together using the crudest of tools to form intense personal bonds. I’ve seen it literally change lives for the better.

Of course, I’ve also seen comments on YouTube.

I don’t think the problem is that people are stupid. I think that people, when given crappy tools, with almost no oversight, no incentive to behave, and no semblance of real identity, often behave stupidly.

The choice is not really to have comments on or off. The choice is: What is the level of community interaction you want to foster on your site? What’s the purpose of the site, and is community interaction part of that purpose? Too many people don’t think about these questions as deeply as John Gruber clearly has.

I turned off comments in the last redesign of because I needed a place online that was just for me. With comments on, when I sat down to write, I’d preemptively hear the comments I’d inevitably get. It made writing a chore, and eventually I stopped writing altogether. Turning comments off was like taking a weight off my shoulders. It freed me to write again.

I may enable comments again someday. But what I really want to do is fundamentally redesign the commenting experience. Most comment systems are practically designed to create stupidity. I know there’s a better way. But that’s another post.”

It’s interesting because I’ve always been a huge proponent of blog comments and community building – I’ve written elsewhere about how responding to comments is a huge priority to me – but I found a LOT of truth in what Derek said.

Like Derek, I have witnessed, first hand, the power of community here on my blog in bringing people together, learning, and sharing ideas. My blog has been a springboard in the forging of many, many real life relationships, both personally and professionally.

Do you know what the response will be before you publish?

But as I write this, as I write almost any post…I can almost predict what the response is going to be – who will agree and who will disagree.

This is why Derek’s reasoning behind turning comments off rings so true with me. With them on, it’s easy to dictate your writing approach toward your audience’s predicted response. With them off, the focus can really be, in the truest sense, about writing – why most of us started a blog in the first place.

Now before you say “You should always write for yourself and not worry about what others think” – I get that, I strive for that, we ALL do. But not many out there can admit that you write without even thinking about what the response may be. It may not sway you to write a certain way, but it’s that lingering thought in the back of your head.

Derek says that ‘most comment systems are practically designed to create stupidity’. Youtube aside (good luck finding an intelligent comment there) comments often end up as a sounding board for everyone who thinks they’re right about everything.

While a lot of learning and value can be had in the comments section of any site, it can also turn into a competition for who’s standing on the higher pedestal and who can rally other commenter’s around their opinion. If everyone’s right, what’s the point? Where’s the value?

Is closing comments cowardly?

There are a lot of folks out there who will label someone who closes comments as a coward – not allowing or welcoming different opinions – I agree to an extent – but if you’re REALLY burning to respond, there are about 764,984 other ways for you to sound off and have your voice heard.

So…this isn’t me giving up on comments. I’m not opposed to the idea of closing them somewhere down the line, re-opening them, whatever. We all evolve and our focuses change…

But I AM interested in your thoughts (yes…a closing comments post asking for comments, gotta’ love the irony). I see a lot of validity in what Derek is saying and want to know what YOU think.

How much value do you place in the comments of your own blog?

To those of you who don’t allow comments – what’s your reasoning? Why keep things quiet? Are you denying the chance to build relationships by limiting conversation?