EDIT: Hello from the future! This post is part of the old blog. That means it may be deprecated. However, I deemed it valuable enough to keep around. The new blog starts here!
I removed the comments this week. I've decided to do this after listening to an older StackExchange podcast with Dave Winer. Listening to Joel, Jeff and Dave's discussion, I realized that the commenting system is broken.
It's not that comments don't work well - they work really well at letting internet entities leave a message after your post. But parse that sentence again. This is what comments today allow people on the internet to do.
They allow other people to leave a message after your post.
That is to say, commenters don't have to enter in a discussion with you about the content of your post; they are just given the power to write on your post.
Many do discuss the content of your post, but even more don't. Notably:
- the spammers: "Exactly what great hot follow here free <link>"
- the thankers: "Thanks great post about beluga whales!"
- the questioners: "Great post about beluga whales! But what if apply that to my specific albino beluga problem? Here are my weird results. you explain why?"
- the trolls: "Why did you talk about belugas? Dolphins are strictly better. Talk' bout them."
- the side-trackers:
- Mike8992: "Why don't you choose to make a project about this. Fund it on Kickstarter?"
- the_kale: "I like Kickstarter. It's cool."
- wastedWaster: "but I saw many project fail on ks"
Let me explain why I think even thankers are not desirable. Hey, sure it's nice to know you've helped them out, but their contribution doesn't help the overall discussion or your post that much. As a person who landed on your post:
- First, I didn't get to the post by searching for "thanks great post". If you want to promote the content use the Like or the +1 button. That's what they're for (I am aware of the irony, but I am not eloquent enough yet to have people want to promote my content).
- I don't validate the accuracy of the post by seeing a "ur great! zo culz!" comment.
- If anything, those comments degrade my perception of the post: if you don't curate the comments, you probably don't curate or research your posts with much effort as well.
The spammers and trolls are obviously undesirable. The questioners and side-trackers as well, but at least their posts are an attempt at discussion (let's give them the benefit of the doubt - although sometimes they are spammers or trolls in disguise). The problem is that it's not a discussion about what you were talking about really. It becomes a discussion about what they are talking about.
If you answer all questions, then you've turned your post into a support site. If you let the side-tracking go too far, then your post will lose all coherence.
What about the good 'commenters' ? Here are the ones that come to mind:
- the correcters: "You said belugas are white, but recent studies point that more and more belugas are really grey. Check it here <link to study> ."
- the constructive debaters: "I agree with you about belugas. However research also points to this behaviour in dolphin. It's more widespread than you think..."
- ... (that's it actually!)
So, correcters are nice. They bring an added value to your post. Your content is more accurate and richer by their input.
Constructive debaters are really what you're after in terms of having a good discussion. They improve the post a thousandfold by constructively presenting other sides of the debate or bringing a more nuanced approach to the topic.
Yet think about this:
- the correcters: If you take into account their correction, their 'post-it' comments become obsolete and you can remove them.
- the constructive debaters: If there really is a rich debate to be had, it should take the form of other posts. You can have links to those and the other parties can have complete ownership of their content. Everybody is happy.
Comment systems as they are today are broken because they are a bad solution to the problem of contextual discussion. A blank space where outsiders essentially have carte-blanche to write their content on your post is a horribly vast solution to a delightfully specific problem - you have to admit that allowing contextual discussion on an inherently distributed platform like the internet titillates your engineerey-sense.
So that's why I removed them. Comments are a bad solution. Plus, they make the posts look ugly ;).