What is the purpose of blog comments?

Tuesday August 24, 2010 @ 01:33 PM (UTC)

A while back, Ryan mentioned to me that he may remove the capacity to comment from his blog, wonko.com. This rocked my world. No comments? But blogs have comments! It’s a universal constant! Okay, so I exaggerated there. Sure, I’ve seen comments-disabled posts, often on touchy or personal matters, on otherwise comment-enabled blogs. And I’ve visited a few blogs with no comment system. It tends to have a more…austere feeling. Like a museum, rather than a tearoom. Comments invite you to stay a while and have a scone. No comments? You are invited to move along to the next exhibit.

Ryan tends to think things through, so he had plenty of arguments against the necessity of comments for his blog. His blog is increasingly about technical matters. I pointed out that people like to discuss these matters, and he pointed out that they are welcome to do so by e-mail or on twitter. If their comment is longer than 140 characters, he pointed out, they’re welcome to post it on their own blog and send him a link. Obviously, he has a point.

Different blog spaces carry different necessities. I read a fair amount of social justice blogs, like Racialicious and Feministe. Part of their purpose is discussion — lively at times — and to provide a space dedicated to hashing out issues, often nominally or actually “safe” for those participating. Many major blogs of this type even have “open threads” from time to time, where the management offers no guidance on what the commentariat should mull. Obviously, these blogs are part forum.

But my blog isn’t like that. I am glad it’s not. Writing a social justice blog means setting yourself up as an authority and giving yourself a certain responsibility to keep up with and comment on current events. That’s admirable, but it’s not the path I’ve chosen in life. I’ve chosen to be a fiction writer, which means a certain amount of dreamy detachment is part, parcel, perquisite and peril of my vocation. Some of my blog posts ask for audience participation, but some of them don’t.

I can see some arguments against comments in general. Where the commentariat is largely people one knows, there is a sort of social pressure. If I post good news, do you have to publicly fête me? I like congratulations as much as the next person, but I don’t want to make anyone feel they must pipe up. (I’m the sort of person who tends to send off-list congratulations to on-list good news, so obviously I’m a little weird about the dynamic of clapping people on the back in front of a crowd.) In other cases, I’ve heard people talk about the social pressure of commenting – someone you don’t know or barely know comments on your blog, so you feel you have to comment on theirs.

This brings me back to the responsibilities of blogging: I don’t want to ever be in a position where I have to blog about something. If something dreadful happens in the world – which happens all too often – I usually feel that my perspective on it is redundant, if not useless. I may feel stunned and wordless. Political bloggers and social justice bloggers seem to have a socially mandated duty to speak on current events. I never want to be there. Neither do I want to be committed to post everything of a certain sort in my own life — every time I make a pie, for instance (I guarantee you, while it makes useful filler here and there, that I don’t post every pie I make!). There’s too much speaking for speaking’s sake in the world. That isn’t a call for seriousness, by any means: anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am chock-full of nonsense. What I am advocating is sincerity. Don’t blog if you don’t feel it. Don’t comment if you don’t want to (and if you do want to, don’t feel constrained!)

And if you do want to respond to something, I hope you have the space or make the space. Ryan’s point that would-be commenters can post on their own blogs is well taken. Even in the forum-like bustle of large social justice sites, people take a step back into their own spaces and respond there. A long comment may not get much attention when it’s attached to someone else’s work. On your own blog, it has the chance to breathe, to be read on its own merits and for its own sake. Much of what we want to say in the world is a response: to someone else’s speech, yes, or to our own lives, our own experiences, to nature or culture. Maybe it would be silly to start a blog just because you wanted to comment on someone’s post and comments were locked. But maybe it will happen again, and again. Maybe you should have, if not a blog, a text document on your own computer. Even if you don’t need or want anyone else to hear, hearing yourself is vital and healthy.

Maybe I’ll close down comments on a post here and there. I experimented with this on the most recent update on my upcoming story. Just the facts, ma’am, and no meaty topic for discussion. But upon reflection, I’ll be keeping comments open on most posts here. I like the idea of putting out tea and biscuits for all comers.

This blog’s purpose has shifted over the years. When I began, I hoped to share a few silly anecdotes, but mostly give myself room to write and hear myself. I needed a place for words and creativity in a life that didn’t otherwise hold that space. Now my life fully inhabits those spaces, and the blog serves to share — my news, my nonsense, things that make me laugh, delight me, or make me think. It’s my blog, but I need to believe you’re a part of it. I’ll definitely be keeping comments, but I’m glad to have considered the question. Rethinking and questioning keeps blogs, as well as people, healthy.

Comments

The purpose of the blog should decide the nature of comments. I understand the logic of “they can always write something in response on their blog,” but I see two problems with this: Most traceback systems don’t seem to work very well (or I never figured them out, which is pretty much the same thing), and a separate post on a separate blog loses the feeling of conversation I find in well-threaded blog comments.

Yeah, I agree. I’m much more of the stay-and-chat sort myself. But I can see an argument that if people have something really substantive to say as a response, they should have it under their own control under their own banner.

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