The comments of crowds

The Future Of Web Apps summit took place in San Francisco this week. By all accounts, it was an excellent two days although it did spark an interesting hand-wringing debate about diversity which reminded me of the best ever episode of Father Ted: “I hear you’re a racist now, Father”.

One of the speakers was Mike Davidson. During his talk about Newsvine and online communities, my ears started burning. Why, I do believe he’s talking about me!

It all goes back to this post I made where I talked about how crap most comments are:

I’d like to propose a corollary of Sturgeon’s Law for blogs: Comments should be disabled 90% of the time.

Mike made the point that he finds it frustrating not being able to comment on my posts. Fair enough. He also speculated that the lack of a comment facility here might well lead to a decrease in traffic. I think he’s probably right.

But here’s the thing: I’m okay with that. I don’t think lots of traffic is a goal to strive for. There’s no doubt that comments are a simple and effective way of driving traffic to your site, but to what end? Instead of having lots of visitors, I’d much rather have a small amount of the right kind of visitors.

I’ve tried to explain this to people in the past (especially people just starting out in blogging) but I keep running into the same problem over and over: nobody believes a word I’m saying. But I swear it’s true! I’ve seen the way that useless comments can lower the tone on other sites and I don’t want it happening here.

Let me reiterate that this problem is particularly troublesome on sites that cover a diverse range of topics. Narrowly focused sites tend to foster higher quality comments. That’s why I’ve got comments enabled on the DOM Scripting blog which is focused entirely on JavaScript, but not here on Adactio, which is a smorgasbord of any ol’ rubbish that pops into my head.

It’s definitely a challenge for a wide-ranging site like Newsvine which seems to be handling the situation quite well. It’s certainly doing a lot better job than Digg. The rude, pointless, spiteful bickering that goes on over there makes me want to block any referrals from that domain. Mind you, it could simply be a matter of numbers. Digg users have clearly left their Dunbar number in the dust while Newsvine still feels cosy enough.

I’ve been trying to get at the root of my issues with comments on blogs. Ironically, I was able to crystalize my thoughts through participating in the comments on a blog post by Bryan Veloso. Oh, the irony!

I realised that comments on blogs are trying to fulfil two roles. On the one hand, they are a feedback mechanism — “Good post!”, “Me too!”, “You’re full of crap!”, et cetera. On the other hand, people claim that comments are a great way of fostering conversation.

Well, which is it? Feedback or conversation? Comments are a so-so way of dealing with both although better tools exist. Email is better for feedback. Mailing lists, forums, and instant messaging are better for conversations.

Now that I’ve had my about the dual nature of comments, I can better address what I want from them.

Here at Adactio, I don’t want to start conversations. I’m not looking to foster a community. I already run one large online community and I’d rather keep this site separate from all that. I am, however, interested in getting occasional feedback or hearing what other people have to say about some of the things I write about here. So, after much deliberation, here’s the moment that almost nobody has been waiting for:

I’m opening up comments here… but with a twist. To encourage feedback whilst discouraging conversation, I’m turning to .

There are a number of factors that go into making a wise crowd:

  1. Numbers. Generally, the bigger the crowd, the better. I have no idea how many people read this blog so I have no clue as to whether there will be enough people to make this work.

  2. Diversity. A diverse range of backgrounds and opinions is vital. I suspect that my site is mostly read by geeks, but I know there are non-geek friends and family that also stop by. Everybody’s opinion is valuable.

  3. Independence. This is the clincher. To really get wisdom from a crowd, it is vital that each person is acting independently. For a practical demonstration, just think about the “ask the audience” part of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The results are strikingly good because each audience member has no idea what the others are choosing.

Comments on blogs fall down on that last point. Traditionally, comments are visible, thereby influencing future comments. That’s good if you’re trying to stoke a conversation, but lousy for getting some honest feedback.

So here’s what Im going to do:

I will occasionally open up some posts for comments. You will be presented with the usual form: name, email, url, etc. I would greatly appreciate getting your opinion. However, your comment will not be published immediately.

Comments will remain open for a set period of time; sometimes a week, sometimes a month. At the end of this time, all the comments will be published at once. At this point, it will no longer be possible to add a comment.

I still need to iron out a few technical details. It would be nice if there were a cron job set up so that you could be notified when your comment goes live. But mostly it’s a pretty straightforward set-up. It’s really only a minor variation on the traditional comment model but I’m intrigued to see what the results turn out to be.

Like I said, I won’t be doing this for every post. I intend to stick to my rule of thumb and keep comments closed 90% of the time.

Let’s get the ball rolling. What do you think of this idea? How vehemently do you disagree with my assessment of comments on blogs? Exactly how pretentious and arrogant do you think I am?

Comments are open.

Have you published a response to this? :

Comments

Sounds like an interesting experiment, one worth trying. I can’t think of any site that’s taken quite this approach.

# Posted by ralph on Saturday, September 16th, 2006 at 9:01pm

Alright! A step in the right direction! First, a couple of housekeeping notes:

  1. Yes, I specifically pointed out Adactio as my prime example of a place that suffers from its purposeful lack of discussion mechanisms.

  2. I also, of course, pre-empted my quick discussion of Adactio by saying something like "Jeremy Keith is one of my favorite people in the world and I love his blog and every time he comes to Seattle I dance and sing."… so please just remember that the Adactio segment was merely a dig at the lack of commenting on the site, and not about the site in general (or you!).

Now, on to the points raised by this post:

  1. With regards to the generating of traffic, I agree that this should not be a consideration for everyone. I, like you, am not concerned with the amount of traffic I get to my blog. I am more concerned about the quality of experience I provide to people. In my view, comments can significantly raise the quality of experience on most sites but cannot significantly lower it. Merely giving people a way to express themselves on your site raises the experience and so does giving them a view of other intelligent comments. Unless a good portion of your users are assholes, even a low quality comment thread isn’t really going to hurt the value of the original entry much. If the thread is lame, people skip it.

  2. I think your timed comment experiment is interesting. I don’t think it’s exactly what you’re looking for, but it will be a good test. If I were doing something similar, here’s how I’d do it: After you post, start a timer at 24 or 48 hours. Make the timer visible. Allow everyone to get their comments in in that time period. After the time period is over, publish all comments simultaneously, send out e-mail notifications to these commenters that their stuff has been posted, and then keep the thread open from there on out. That way, you get the initial rush of independent opinions that you want without making people wait too long, and discussion can ensue from there.

# Posted by Mike D. on Saturday, September 16th, 2006 at 9:10pm

I’m curious as to how comments that no one else can see will foster good feedback. Sometimes the best leaps I’ve seen in online "conversations" come from the back and forth, which is helpful for some people to help crystallise their thoughts. Which I suppose means I’m not 100% in agreement with your point #3 above.

Also—is there any facility for you to reply to our comments should we ask questions etc.? I assume you can see the comments as they come in.

Regardless, I’ll be interested to see how this pans out. It’s certainly a good model for feedback, but it’s the reaction of the public I’m most curious about.

Well, to be honest, I didn’t even know that you didn’t have comments turned off, but I think it’s great that you’ve reenabled them.

You’ve made some useful delinations in terms of the types of comments that you get, and in the post of mine that you linked to, the comments definitely fall into those categories and one more: "I came here via another blog post that linked here, skimmed your post and commented summarily, ignoring and indeed contradicting your points simply because I presume that you’re reiterating everything that’s already been said before".

For Flock I wanted to redefine how comments were made — relying on blockquotes and trackbacks as the only mechanism for creating cross-conversations. I know that wouldn’t necessarily be ideal, but it would solve some of the issues you’re talking about. The idea would work like this:

I would make comments on blog posts, just as I am now, except this comment would be stored on my blog, in a special category. It would keep a copy of your post on my blog for reference, blockquoted and cited with a trackback/pingback sent off to your blog post. If you had them turned off, a search engine could discover my comment and its relation to your post by looking at the cite attribute in the blockquote tag and would "derive" the trackback — making it visible through a web service.

In this way, distributed conversation could happen all across the web, w/o the issue of moderation, since I would own my comments on my own blog and I wouldn’t be prevented by a site author from blocking what I might have to say.

Additionally, when I revisit your blog, you could use AJAX or a server-side scraper to collect the cited comments and list them in chronological order.

Anyway, if you’d like an alternative to comments that involve more painstaking effort on the part of the commenter… maybe you should only allow people to "remotely" comment via trackback? Just a thought.

Hello, Jeremy. Long-time reader here, or lurker, should I say? You may have seen me over at WordRidden littering the place with comments every so often.

I do think it was long overdue that you opened up a window to let some fresh air in… I will follow this experiment of yours with interest indeed. I agree with most of what you think about this whole thing, and in fact I’ve opened up comments once or twice in the last year in my personal site. I have pretty much the same reasons you’ve mentioned before.

Of course you’ll feel the need to moderate, but expecting the worst to happen is not a good position in something that personal or not, is absolutely public, I suppose. As you say, it makes you look a tad arrogant towards your visitors.

Anyway, give us a chance to surprise you or make your day once in a while, or even give a new perspective on something you say. A couple of sentences in reply to your random thoughts on any given day can do that sometimes.

Also, I’ve noticed that people commenting in other web sites often are somehow different from the way they express themselves in their own sites, which makes for a very interesting read when seeing them on someone’s post elsewhere. Can’t wait to see what Mike Davidson says here…

Cheers.

# Posted by Heck on Saturday, September 16th, 2006 at 9:56pm

Jeremy, I am really glad that you have opened up some of your posts for comments. They are important part of the conversational aspect of blogs.

I have enjoyed using my blog as a place to air out some of the ideas in my head. It is good to get feedback from the outside world. Sometime I have gotten good feedback, where they have engaged me, sometime it isn’t. The feedback and the conversation is important.

I look forward to putting in my 2 cents on some of your posts in the future.

Because I subscribe to blogs I rarely read comments on individual postings. If I want to find out more about the topic and what others have to say about the post, then I’ll go direct to the source to garner opinion.

To not find out comments are not allowed can be disappointing, mainly because it requires me to go hunting for more info or join a discussion elsewhere.

I see where you are coming from regarding comments for conversation. On a lot of popular blogs, readers converse between themselves, go off-topic and things spiral out of control. I’m sure your approach will breed a higher quality of comments because the commentators know they only have one chance to put their thoughts forward, which may lead to higher word counts.

On that note, I’ll finish before I decide not to submit this ramble.

# Posted by Nick on Sunday, September 17th, 2006 at 12:19am

Well - I have no admit, I’ve just became used to the fact that there would never be comments on here, so I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. I’m sure Mike will be delighted to say a thing or two, that is, if he remembers to come back and visit.

I can’t really speak on behalf of what it’s like to have a blog where "anything goes" as I generally try to keep my own blog in focus of a particular vision. Anything outside of that, I try to keep myself from writing it. On the other hand, I do disable comments every once in a while when I feel that there would be no clear benefit - such as linking off to someone else and giving a brief paragraph about it.

In your case, Jeremy, you have an interesting situation where you whale out a lot of opinion (which is excellent), but opinions generally foster more opinions - and those people too, want to be heard.

Ok, I just wrote a very long comment - and what happened to it? It’s no wonder people don’t want to comment here. Or maybe your comment system is a bit rusty ;)

Well, I agree with your analysis and therefore completely support the idea. My hunch is that it will work rather well.

The only question I have is how you will choose posts that will be open to comments? Wouldn’t it be better, eyeing wisdom of crowds, to open them to all, but instead choose which ones to publish?

I think your position on comments in pretty much bang-on. The Technorati link does a good job at indicating who’s commenting on what you’ve written but doesnt enable those without blogs to feedback to you. I think your contact forms, email, telephone and instant message are great ways of communicating. And people without blogs will probably use these methods instead.

I would however add that I have got some very useful information from the comments of a post. Take for example Mark Boulton’s piece on his new project management web app. Through that particular post I managed to discover sidejobtrack. This has become an invaluable tool to me. This particular comment however did not relate to any other comment on the post but to the original post content itself. Therefore your comment publication method would have worked in this instance.

So, good luck to you. I look forward to getting some more useful nuggets of wisdom from the comments in your blog.

I think this is an interesting (and certainly novel!) idea. Not sure what the results will be, which is probably at least 80% of the fun.

I very much agree with your assessment of comments on blogs. I hates them, myself, at least on my own blog which operates on a strict non-commenting policy because I don’t want to weed out the bad ones and let all that mindspace be occupied by why there aren’t more/better commenters and what I should be doing about it.

Though there are other blogs that do have comments, and where I even comment myself. Most of them are writers’ blogs, I think, where the atmosphere is chatty and funny and constructive. As soon as the bitching starts I’m outta there, at least in the comments. No sense of humour (in either the site owner or the visitors) is a dead killer, too.

I don’t think you’re either pretentious or arrogant. Sorry to disappoint you :-)

And what’s a cron job?

# Posted by marrije on Sunday, September 17th, 2006 at 1:06pm

If nothing else, it’ll be an interesting experiment. I guess the signal:noise ratio on most blogs is fairly weak and “conversations” tend to be either “nice post”, “thanks” or flame wars if someone says something stupid/controversal/troll-ish (see ALA’s “how was it for you” comment threads for numerous “this sucks” flames).

Give it a go, I say; you can always turn comments off again if it doesn’t work.

# Posted by Francis Storr on Sunday, September 17th, 2006 at 5:18pm

Interesting suggestion! I am very interested in how this goes!

Well, you probably have a very good idea here for keeping the comments on track to the subject of the post,and it will mean that you can edit out the ones that are there only for the intent to flame. But(yeah,you knew that was coming,didn’t you?),

  1. it will lose the conversation aspect of the comments.Sometimes that creates real areas for thought. Some blogs I will admit are well worth the trouble of wading thru 280+ comments for the knowledge of the commenters(such as Belmont) others you kind of get glassy eyed after a while as I am sure you know.
  2. I would imagine that most folks do not leave a comment(despite reading 5-10 blogs and their links every day,I may only comment on less than 1 a week). Most may not feel qualified to comment,but are looking for the knowledge and expertise that others may have.
  3. Of course you are stuck with those commenters that are determined to prove that they are fools! They take up your space,early and often,I am sure!As blogs and blog readership grows,this is I am sure a growing problem.I guess that bloggers and readers need a site separate from their posts for comment “conversations.”

# Posted by flicka47 on Sunday, September 17th, 2006 at 8:26pm

I think this is a great idea. Often when reading comments you can see some have been influenced by other people’s comments or don’t want to stand out from the crowd so offer the same opinion. I believe this is called the sheep syndrome.

On the flip side you do get comments that clearly show that they haven’t read previous comments and waste space making a point that has already been cleared up. Sometimes you get the impression they haven’t read the original post either!

This is your personal site, you do what you wish. You don’t have to follow the rules. Isn’t that what the web is all about? (Apart from web standards of course!)

It will be interesting to see the results.

# Posted by Mark Stephenson on Sunday, September 17th, 2006 at 9:55pm

-pre text-

I read your blog very regularily, and enjoy it. I’m delighted that comments are on, even if it is in this strange way

Comment:

Why do you think there is a difference between feedback and conversation? Can they not co-exist e.g.

JK: Here is a cool way to present your resume in Microformats

Commenter: Umm, how do I link to a past employer.

JK: The best way to do that would be XFN, see here. Good question though, I’ll add it to the post.

Surely good feedback results in conversation, which results in education? At least thats what I see happening occasionally on my blog.

# Posted by Des on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 1:30am

As I suggested in my earlier this blog post (http://halowdesign.com/journal/2006/06/20/comment-or-compliment/) earlier this summer, a comments system is a great vehicle for an online ‘round-table’ discussion with the author of the source article and other readers. With any good discussion or debate there is inevitably development of concept, and sometimes even real teaching.

OK, I’ve paraphrased my own blog post, as I’ve had another few months to consider the value of blog comments.

Anyway, my personal experience tells me I’m not all baked, but then again I’m not one to post a comment like "Great Article!". Having said that, I do like your idea and I’m interested to see the results.

# Posted by Jody on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 2:05am

Do as you will, it’s your blog. I’ve been reading it for a while now, and if you post something I’m not interested in, I don’t read that post. But as it is, that’s the exception, hence, I continue reading. If ever that changes, then perhaps I’ll stop subscribing, but until then. I see no reason for you to change what/how you write; comments or no comments.

I’ll be interested to see how this little experiment goes for you.

# Posted by Neil Cadsawan on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 4:34am

I’m betting that when this comment finally appears, it’ll be lost amidst a sea of advertisements for viagra.

# Posted by Ben Darlow on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 10:10am

Comments are too difficult to leave, and too difficult to follow.

Blogging or emailing is much easier because you can control your own editing environment by careful choice of tools; not so with (most) comments. For instance, the box I’m typing in here is too narrow for me to feel entirely comfortable. Before I reach the end of the paragraph I’m going to run out of space, so I lose context and writing a reasoned argument is difficult.

Then there’s following comments. Some people provide comment feeds (I do on one of my blogs), but either they’re all-or-nothing, or my blog reader doesn’t know to subscribe to them. I want to know when someone comments on a post I’ve commented on.

Better is the idea of trackbacks, but the practice sucks - they rarely work, or they get disabled because of spam. Technorati is a nice idea, but (at least for me) it never actually shows me all of the posts linking to something; it always leaves some out for no obvious reason (even when it knows about the posts themselves).

However then there’s the other side: I don’t actually want to read everyone’s comments. I only want to read the comments from people whose views I’m likely to respect (not necessarily agree with). This is incredibly difficult to do completely - it touches on reputation, which is likely to be an impossible problem in general - but interestingly it’s reasonably well catered for already, in that if someone posts their comment in their own blog, and I subscribe to their blog, we’re most of the way there (some blog clients even have a bash at showing the thread relations). If I don’t subscribe, I have to rely on the blogosphere to point me there from someone I already read. It isn’t ideal, but it serves me fairly well.

Of course, having written all this I’m kind of wishing I’d done it as an email, to get a conversation flowing. In my experience, most really interesting stuff happens in private conversations, and then is presented to the world. (Maybe I’m just being cynical.)

(This is perhaps my fourth or fifth comment this month.)

The comment mechanism—along with the whole of the Web 2.0 community ideal—presupposes that everyone recognizes the real value of conversation, and wants to contribute to that value. It has little to no contingency plan for the inevitable result of communal anonymity: senseless conflict. For the same reason we won’t figure out world peace, the idea that there exists a formula for creating civil online communities just drips with hubris.

Just as in the physical world, smaller, more manageable communities have smaller, more manageable problems. The difference online, however, is the speed with which a small community can become a big one, and that’s where the real problems tend to start.

I do support those who are fighting the good fight and trying to make comment mechanisms and online communities work, as well as those cynics who gave up before they even started. Finding a way that sort of works can, in many cases, be good enough. Depending on the goal of your site, it could be worth the headache.

As for your experiment, and in spite of your concerns that Adactio’s focus isn’t tight enough for a finely-filtered audience, I’d be very surprised if the majority of your readership wasn’t made up of people who, like you, understand and want to contribute to the real value of conversation.

Your idea is a very interesting one. I guess you’re going to have to work out how to filter all your spam (in my opinion, this is a bigger problem than just plain naff comments). I’m watching this space :-)

# Posted by Sam Aaron on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 2:14pm

Jeremy,

It’s your site and you are entitled to run it as you see fit. But, in my humble opinion, you’re making a mistake by waiting until the comments close to post them, and not moderating and posting as they come in. You are restricting the conversation to just one-way, directed at you only. This is just like me emailing you and telling you this. No other readers have a chance to tell me I’m stupid before you do. Also, I don’t get a chance to see if somebody else made the same point before I did. I suspect what you are going to wind up with is a long list of the same comment over and over again. That’s not crowd wisdom at all. If your blog was a multiple choice quiz, then fine, but it’s not.

To continue your gameshow metaphor, on Family Feud, the family discusses the answer before giving it, they don’t vote on it. If somebody in the family is more informed than somebody else, his suggestion has more weight. If you ran Millionaire without the multiple choice, how could crowd wisdom ever captured? Certainly not by vote.

Cheers to you for finally deciding to open it up at all. But I do think you should reconsider how much your method will truly restrict the wisdom of the crowd.

# Posted by chris on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 4:51pm

Fantastic. That’s what I think. Jeremy, I hold you up as a model of how all web professionals should behave. "Question everything."

I am sorry I didn’t take the time to talk to you at SXSW 06, hopefully our paths will cross in the future.

Thanks again.

You suck!

p.s. Wanna buy an online diploma?

# Posted by Andy Budd on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 7:14pm

Comments will remain open for a set period of time; sometimes a week, sometimes a month. At the end of this time, all the comments will be published at once. At this point, it will no longer be possible to add a comment.

sometimes it would be handy to immediately publish them to: a) open a discussion on a topic (viz. get user feedback and let other elaborate on it a bit further) b) explain the matter a bit (viz. when a user asks on how or why what was done, as described in the topic).

And oh, is (some basic) (X)HTML allowed in commenting?

Kindly, Bramus!

# Posted by Bramus! on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 7:18pm

One of the biggest problems is that when you enable comments is:

People tend to also comment not on the article itself but on previous comments. Which is not a bad thing on itself but may confuse other commenters. Why? A visitor tends to go the last comment, probably even without reading the whole article. This way you get comments about what other said about your article, which in turn makes comments less objective in most cases. The writer of the article has an opinion, so do some of the commenters. On top of that you get commenters that have the freedom on commenting on what they like even when it is off-topic. Does this behaviouradd value to an intresting /discussion? This depends on the topic: an article on web development is totally different than an article about social networking. Every article, depending on the topic and the crowd it attracts, will have better or worse comments.

It is a fast medium, how long do people reflect about what they are going to write? Is it not more writing as you think in most cases?

To end this rambling on … You as a writer. You are the writer and want to communicate your thoughts and ideas. You can not expect that all comments are evenly valuable, it is trial and error.

# Posted by Johan on Monday, September 18th, 2006 at 7:57pm

YOU SUXXOR!!

heh. i have no idea what that means.

lose the comments dude.

# Posted by lazy_atom on Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 at 1:27pm

except you’re going to get a lot of the same thing, no? no chance for "what she said," or "i was going to say what he said, but because of abc not because of xyz," or "i was going to say xyz but her argument won me over" etc…

hi jeremy. very tidy concept, cleanly deals with the cascade behaviour of visible comments, whereby the thread of discussion can easily wander off topic. nice read, and some good links too.

ps. enjoyed your session at dConstruct recently.

# Posted by Paul Clark on Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 at 2:43pm

What a beautiful, elegant and innovative idea. I feel like I want to hug you for coming up with something so… perfect.

I absolutely agree with you that many, many blog comments are dross; but I also believe that they can contain value, sometimes. I tend to dislike the "me too" posts and prefer feedback with some substance. Conversation is also fine, as long as it stays on topic. Better editing by blog owners is key here. For instance, when people write to local papers, the editor doesn’t print every letter. They (tend to) pick well written, respresentative correspondence that adds something to the burning topics of the day. Conversations, of a sort, are also engaged in, with back-and-forth correspondence between various parties being printed to show both sides of an issue. I often find myself turning to the letters page of papers and magazines first for some reason, as opposed to mostly ignoring blog comments, so there must be something working in the print media model. It’s not censorship - it’s good editing.

In many ways I’m reminded of the golden era of A List Apart, when it still really was an email list, but with a twist. It was heavily moderated, and felt almost magazine-like in the quality of its content, which was a mix of written ‘articles’, discussion and questions and answers. It arrived once a week and was an exciting event back then when the web was still fresh. I still remember the buzz one got from having one’s comments ‘published’. Sadly, although ALAs content remains of a high quality, the comments aren’t much cop. I’d love to see your idea applied to ALA - wouldn’t that be something? The only other system that comes close that I know of and is being actively published is Ruby Weekly News (http://www.rubyweeklynews.org/) which is really successful at cutting through the noise of the Ruby community and delivering something enjoyable, and useful.

So, bravo. A great idea. I hope it works out.

# Posted by Charles Roper on Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 at 3:06pm

I agree completely. If you are not attempting to foster community there is little point to comments, most of which are boring or banal, chatty or catty.

Interesting approach here, though. Periodic feedback might be interesting, but I doubt it.

Guess you’ll find out.

I think, on average, you’re probably right. The vast majority of comments, especially on heavily-visited sites, tend to be rubbish. If not rubbish from real people, then outright spam. click here, click there, et cetera. Even on my site, which only has a few dozen regular readers at best, I regularly have to delete spam comments.

But. When the regular readers do comment, it’s generally rather good. Not all posts require comments, but there are some posts that simply invite discussion. Posts involving politics religion can go either way — either they can lead to good debates and intelligent discussions, or they can degenerate into flamewars. It’s up to the readers to stay responsible and up to the site owner/moderator to weed out the undesirables.

So it’s a bit of both, really.

# Posted by Tigerblade on Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 at 8:30pm

I think sweeping generalizations ("You should/n’t have comments, you should/n’t use curved edges, etc") are always stupid, but they’re ever so prevalent in our industry for some reason. Maybe because of its age, maybe because of its natural intangibility.

# Posted by Colin on Tuesday, September 19th, 2006 at 10:48pm

Hi,

First thing, love your book and your various talks you do at web conferences. I wish I lived in the UK so I could goto all those ‘geek’ events you do :P

Now, my opinion is that I think comments are good 50% of the time. For every blog I see that has comments that provide useful feedback, I see another one that totally brings down the site.

One blog I look at a lot is Dustin Diaz and he gets a lot of feedback and most of it is very constructive and provides a valuable tool for his posts.

Why does it work for him? No idea, but it does. I like your idea of opening comments for certain posts, but I feel the majority of people will want it either all on or all off.

Just my 2 cents. :)

Cya at Refresh06!

I’m interested to see how this comment system pans out. When I first set up my blog, a good few years ago now, I assumed that the comments form would be used like the ‘guest books’ we were used to previously, in that the comments would be entirely independant of each other.

In most, but not all cases, that didn’t prove to be the case and some posts (particularly those more technical posts) fostured some fascinating conversations. In the fact the best sets of comments were always conversation-based. The worst sets were always comprised of individuals posting independently of any other comments.

From that experience alone, I would say you may be running into the danger of fostering the wrong kind of comments by implementing this closed system. Clearly that will depend on your audience, and to a large degree on which posts you open up to comments. I await the results with interest.

Also, it would be cool to have some coComment support in the comment system (http://www.cocomment.com/tools/integrate).

I really like the idea as an experiment. I’m not sure it would work for everyone, but for your site, which has never had comments open in the past (as far back as I can remember) it will be an interesting departure.

My only issue with it is that I would have to remember to come back and check the comments after whatever arbitrary quarantine period you define.

How about having the RSS update when the comments are released?

I think this is a great idea.

In my experience, I am driven to comment when my passion-meter spikes at either extreme (pro or con). If I’m only lukewarm, I’ll remain content to lurk. And generally, if the urge to comment spawns from the negative end of the spectrum, it’s usually best if I get it all out and then delete it.

It will be interesting to see what happens. Once the comments are displayed, will they then remain open for some arbitrary length of time, or immediately closed again? I expect the comments themselves will be linkable, as with any modern blog/CMS, so the continuation of dialogue further comments will be pushed into other channels (blogs/email/forums etc).

Plenty of food for thought, in any case. Inveterate geek that I am, I would enjoy a technical exploration of how you do it. Perhaps a plugin, of sorts, to propagate this unique gedankexperiment?