The conversation around closing comments

Commenting is one of the default activities on the internet. Read an article? Comment. See a picture? Comment. Watch a video? Comment.

It’s so ubiquitous that it’s allowed without a second thought. That’s a problem. But things are changing.

Some sites are stepping up their moderation practices. Others are going a step further and disabling comments altogether.

It’s a welcome change. “Allowing comments” has been the default setting for websites for far too long.

A recent (and arguably one of the bigger) anti-comment converts comes from YouTube.

Felix Kjellberg (better known to the world as PewDiePie) is a YouTube and videogame celebrity. He has 30 million subscribers and his videos attract millions of views on a weekly basis. On August 29 he closed comments on all of his content.

He explained his decision thusly:

I go to the comments and it’s mostly spam, and people self-advertising, it’s people who are trying to provoke, and people replying to all these, just all this stuff to me, it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t care about it. I don’t want to see it. I just don’t care. […]

I wouldn’t say we lose something, I would say we’re taking the next step in the right direction. This has been going on for too long.

Another YouTuber – Matt Lees – has done the same. In his video announcing the decision, he argued that

The comments under my videos are my responsibility. If I choose not to moderate those comments, then that’s fine but that’s my choice and it doesn’t diminish that responsibility.

No comment: Why I’ve turned them off by Matt Lees.

And he’s right. If you allow comments on your site, they’re your responsibility. This causes problems when allowing them is the expected norm. Adding a comment section to the bottom of your page needs to be a conscious decision.

John Gruber (of Daring Fireball fame) doesn’t allow comments on his website. His rationale is simple: he wants his readers to read everything and enjoy every single word.

If I turn comments on, that goes away. It’s not that I don’t like sites with comments on, but when you read a site with comments it automatically puts you, the reader, in a defensive mode where you’re saying, “what’s good in this comment thread? What can I skim?”

Others have questioned his stance, arguing that it makes it “easy for [him] to revise history when there is no easy place to respond to him”.

John’s response? There are other ways to have a conversation online.

And he’s right. Email, Twitter, blogs (which are officially becoming cool again)… there’s a plethora of ways to voice your opinion on anything and everything.

So why bother having a comment section?

Because it’s an integral part of what you want your site to be. Because you’re prepared to look after them.

Comments are a vital part of The Conversation – it has something to do with our name. The exchange of ideas, the dissenting opinions, the evolution of thought that can (and does) happen in comments and replies forms part of our identity. To remove them would be akin to removing a limb.

That means we have to do everything we can to look after them. They’re an extension of our goals and, as such, an indicator of our success.

They’re not a default setting or an afterthought. They can’t be.

If you run a website or are thinking about starting one, ask yourself why you have or will add a comment section.

If your response is “because that’s what you do on the internet”, don’t allow comments. If you’re not prepared to moderate them, don’t allow comments. If people complain, tell them to start a blog. (And, really, you should start a blog: they’re cool, remember?)

We all benefit from more thoughtful content to engage with – the web as an entity started with and expanded because of that belief.

A better internet starts with your comment section, whether you have one or not.