Sam Brown

Allowing visitors to leave comments has many benefits

The Comments vs No Comments debate has been a hot topic for some time and is something I have never really been able to get my head around. I am absolutely in favour of having comments enabled on blogs, especially on sites that are writing and promoting great content worth discussing further. Not wanting to kick up another big debate about it here, but I did feel compelled to write about why I have them enabled and the benefits that have come of it.

Managing comments is hard

There is no doubt about that, both from a visitor and site owner perspective. As a visitor dropping by a site and leaving a comment is only half the battle, being able to easily keep track of where you left a comment and reading the many responses since then is always a bit of a struggle. Signing up to be notified of further comments on a discussion via email always seems like a good idea at the time. It rarely is. I would guess people seldom come back to check to see the responses and many do not come back at all.

Site owners have it harder still, there is no denying that a great volume of comments is hard to manage – checking them for spam, are they valuable (people writing FIRST!! are likely to get banned), fixing any errors with links or formatting and then of course, divulging what they have said and how it relates.

Personally replying

I personally reply to every single comment I receive via email. I’m proud to say that and I will not deny it takes up a fair bit of my spare time but I think it’s important for many reasons. I’m a pretty approachable person, I respond to the majority of emails I get from people asking for help or advice – if people are taking the time to read my articles or write me emails I think it’s only fair and polite of me to take a few minutes to respond.

One to one communication via email is the best way for me to let my commenters know I appreciate their time and thoughts and that I am in fact a real person willing to discuss what I have written. If it’s a valuable topic we are discussing that is relevant to the article or other commenters I not only reply via email but post my response publicly on my blog.

I enjoy engaging with visitors to my site in a conversation and I feel this 1 to 1 communication alleviates the anonymous bitching and complaining that is so prevalent on the web today.

Spam

I was undecided whether I was going to highlight this topic but I am sure it accounts for a number of peoples reasoning for disabling them. I rarely get any spam at all, perhaps one or two every few months – I believe that is down to the clever handling of comments by Textpattern.

All comments have to be previewed before being posted as you will know if you have left one here and furthermore I have opted for any articles older than 4 weeks to have comments disabled, the comment form is replaced with a link to my contact page.

Making it easier for visitors

Around the middle of 2009 I changed my comment form to match the in-line writing style of my Contact page – whilst doing this I played with the idea that once a visitor has left a comment and checked the Save my Information checkbox they not only no longer need to fill these fields in, I have completely hidden them from view. Instead replacing the traditional comment form with a textarea and a personalised note asking the visitor, by name, if they would like to leave another comment.

I don’t have any real data to back this up but the number of people leaving comments who had previously left them has increased. I think this simple, friendly method of attracting commenters to leave another comment has greatly improved not just the number of comments, but the value of them.

Who are you writing for?

Ultimately I think it comes down to who you are writing for and why. I sometimes feel that because a site owner has disabled comments they are stating what they say as matter of fact, this is their opinion, this is their site, that’s the way it is. It feels strict and unsociable.

I am completely open to comments because I know their are a wealth of people out there who know not just as much, but even more than I do and they continue to leave great nuggets of information and feedback that I can learn and benefit from, I think comments are the best method of acquiring this information.

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Comments

Jason Cale 29 January 2010, 06:18 #1

I don’t have comments, there is one practical reason for this, and multiple emotional ones.

The practical reason is my site is hand made, so I’d have to create or integrate a comments section, lazy perhaps as it would probably only take me an hour or so to do.

The emotional reasons outweigh the practical, I’m not averse to criticism, but I’ve never ever come away from reading a comments section of a website without feeling worse off. Plus my personality isn’t suited to it, I’m paranoid and have multiple personality traits that make me take things way too personally.

Basically for me, I either don’t have comments or I have no blog at all. It has taken enough courage to try and write stuff that the comments would just cheapen it for me.

It is unsociable, but then again I’m a pretty unsociable bastard.

Even this comment I’m writing now is filling me with contempt, but because I respect what you are saying I’m starting to wonder how and if I could manage commenting. I know that it probably would help my content, but also if its just full of those punctuation, nazi, wankers then I just-can’t-be-arsed;,:

Dear commenters of the internet, do I really care what you have to say to me? Yes, probably a bit too much, so I have to keep you away.

I need to go lie down, this comment stuff is all a bit too much.

Mark McCorkell 29 January 2010, 06:38 #2

The way you have this comment form now does have a more “welcoming” feel to it. I feels less formal, I think? I like it anyway.

I love the idea of comments on blogs, for me blogs are like the the best way to interact with other designers because I spent so much time in my cocoon of a design studio working.

I don’t really get comments on my blog, probably because nobody cares enough about my articles and my hit count isn’t high enough. :D P.S. I do have a few funky typographic poster designs in the pipeline inspired by previous article about “progressive enhancement”.

Yaili 29 January 2010, 06:43 #3

I completely agree with you, Sam. And, may I say, I love getting the personal email you send after I post a comment here. Even if it’s just a very quick 1 line, it makes me feel like my comment is appreciated, thank you :)

Regarding my own website, I very rarely have to delete a comment because it’s spam, and never deleted a comment for being too nasty. I spend some time every week going through the comments that were blocked by Akismet to make sure something valuable wasn’t lost.

But even though I have some opinion articles on my blog, a lot of them are simple tutorials, and I know many times people like to ask questions, or discuss how things could have been done some other way.

About subscribing to comments, I’m not sure I agree 100% with your views on that. I would like more blogs to have that feature enabled. I comment a lot. Whenever I have the time I like to read an article carefully and then add my comment, if I feel I have something to add, of course. And for blogs with fewer comments, I like to see how the discussion evolves. If I can’t subscribe, unless I bookmark that page for a few days, I will forget about it.

Also, with more technical posts, often people ask technical questions, hoping for an answer. And it’s much easier to keep track of the answers you get if you can subscribe to the comments.

@Jason, you are right. Some comments can be pretty mean sometimes. I’ve stumbled across a particularly bad one about myself the other day, on another blog, not my own. I thought about it for a few hours, read it again, and concluded I need to reply to it directly and then forget about it (which I clearly didn’t).

Also, writing for Smashing Magazine urging people to use CSS3 will get you a lot of negative comments. So I’m getting used to that.

To wrap it up (long comment, I know…), I think the pros surpass the cons of enabling comments by far, so I would never consider not having them own my articles.

Dean 29 January 2010, 07:10 #4

I completely get where you are coming from here Sam. For the longest time, I never thought I would have a blog that was sans comments, but then I started to think about it a little bit more, particularly in the context of my blog, which has little to no traffic, and very (very very) few comments. I came to a few conclusions.

Namely that the sight of “0 Comments” on most, if not all of the posts on the front page was a sign from any potential commentators that this wasn’t exactly a vibrant, well read blog that people liked to have a say on (which is obviously an accurate interpretation).

Then I realised that this created another thought of “Why aren’t there comments, is the content actually horrible?”, and therefore discouraging people from reading (and once again, not an altogether incorrect interpretation of the situation).

So I went sans comments for a while. And it sucked. I lost having a sense of audience, whether real or imagined, and stopped wanting to write. Sure, I had a contact page, but that brought in a grand total of three emails in 3 months, so that wasn’t exactly a success. I stuck with it, because I couldn’t get comments to fit properly with the design.

With my new design, I have re-enabled comments, and since I did that about 4 days ago, I’ve received one new comment, which, to me at least is a victory.

Now, off to fix my comments display, because since I got that comment, I realised just how ugly it truly is. Also, holy crap this in epically long.

Sam Brown 29 January 2010, 07:20 #5

@Dean I completely agree that ’0 Comments’ can be a worrying sign for potential visitors. Around the same time that I changed my comment form last year I changed my ’0 Comments’ slug to read ‘Be the first to comment…’ – this has proved successful as well and is something I perhaps should have mentioned in the article.

Adam 29 January 2010, 07:52 #6

Nice post Sam, very interesting! :)

Paul Randall 29 January 2010, 08:10 #7

I can only imagine how long it must take to reply to comments, but it’s a nice touch I rarely see. I was a little taken back by the removal of comments on maxvoltar.com. Suggesting that all comments can be via Twitter is a backwards step in my opinion.

As a blog owner, I really appreciate people leaving comments, and if I like an article I tend to leave a comment to show appreciation. I wish there was a higher ratio of readers:comments on the web.

Paul Davis 29 January 2010, 10:17 #8

I was comtemplating removing comments from my blog (with about 20 visitors a month I might add) after seeing Tim (Van Damme, that is) do it on his blog. I think Dean’s comment “I lost having a sense of audience” made me swing the other way.

Even if people don’t want to reply, it shows I’m at least open to their comments & criticisms. That’s important to me.

Kevin Holesh 29 January 2010, 10:51 #9

I also love that you take the time to individually respond to my comments. I was a little confused at first when it arrived in my inbox because I’ve never seen such a nice gesture from a writer before. I’m always impressed by it.

I agree with you that comments should be on. I judge the success of my articles by the number and quality of comments I receive (stuff other than “Great article. I’ll use this in the future”). In my mind, the # of comments is a more important and telling statistic than # of page views.

Matt Hooks 29 January 2010, 12:50 #10

Comments are worth it if you have/take the time to read and respond. It’s fine if you don’t but, as you say, you may be missing out on a veritable font of information and you may be turning away readers.

I decided to enable comments on my blog recently and saw a slight uptick in visitors, at least for that week. Anecdotal, sure, but still interesting to note.

Damien Buckley 29 January 2010, 19:43 #11

I’d love to know how you manage not to get spam on here Sam, we’re running TXP on our site too and I get mountains of it.

Noel Hurtley 30 January 2010, 08:45 #12

I’d like to second Damien Buckley. After going through waves of spam, I tried various plugins for Textpattern aimed at preventing spam bots and they only seemed to cause more problems than they solved.

Lovely comment form by the way, I know you’ve been sporting it for a while but it’s ridiculously clever.

Hany 30 January 2010, 17:01 #13

I just recently re-did my blog and for the time being many things are incomplete. This includes my ‘about’, ‘contact’, and ‘archive’ pages. Basically, other than my main index page with the posts and my RSS feed page, nothing is actually completed.

As I was re-designing it, however, I thought about comments. And for the time being, decided it wasn’t a good idea to go with them. But it’s an issue that I still don’t know for sure…I really would love to get in touch with my audience but am afraid that the beginning of that (with my blog attracting only a small number of visitors) would be too unbearable.

Ian P. Hines 30 January 2010, 22:00 #14

I’m glad you touched on this, because it’s something that I (and apparently a number of other of your readers) have given quite a lot of thought to.

When I most recently started blogging again, I enabled comments mostly out of habit. My old blogs (circa 2003 – 2005) had always had comments, and a rather healthy flow of them to boot. However, I soon noticed how many of the blogs I had come to enjoy reading the most (Shawn Blanc, Pat Dryburgh, and Jorge Quinteros come to mind) were comment-free and I started to wonder what value they truly added. I removed them and didn’t look back, largely because of the healthy and vibrant conversations I was having on Twitter.

It wasn’t until I went back and started rereading my old blog entries on Archive.org that I truly realized what great value they added. I came to realize that it was the community that I experienced through those comments that made blogging so enjoyable in the first place. I’ve since restored comments (now powered by Disqus), and while I haven’t yet received one since I’ve found that the mere possibility makes my blog feel—to me—to be more inviting.

*As a side note, thanks so much for always taking the time to reply by email. It really does mean a lot.

prisca 1 February 2010, 10:52 #15

Sam,
thanks for another great article – I love the way you are handling your comments. I have to say your email replies are a wonderful personal touch ~ very unique and I would say very much worth your precious time. So thank you so much for your extra effort – it is such a treat :)

I agree with your sentiments on blogs without enabled comments – with these it does feel more like simply reading someone’s statement. Depends on the audience, I suppose – but us ‘webbies’ should be talking via any means available ~ this is how we learn and keep up to date. So I am all for comments, regardless of whether you get many or not. The comment box below your post will invite dialogue and show you’re happy to discuss what you’ve written.

Though I would not call myself a blogger or someone who writes well or a lot – I chose to have comments purely for that reason, to encourage conversation as well as possibly give something back to the online community. For example, I wrote a blog post 4 years ago – a tutorial for my webstudents at the time – on how to use the Firefox plugin FireFTP. The comments here are still ongoing now – after all this time… Though it does take quite a bit of my time to try and respond to everyone (I feel like an unofficial tech support at times) – I love the fact that I am able to help people out in some small way ~ the same way so many people have helped me out.
[Sorry to go on so long… usually try to be more brief – but I am very much in favour of comments so I got carried away here, sorry…]

David Vosburg 1 February 2010, 12:15 #16

I just wrote a post on the necessity for communication to be social as media has become more and more fragmented. It is a bigger discussion than aesthetics or practicality, I think it is a discussion of the core of how communication, messaging and media are happening today. You can check it out at http://davidvosburg.com/me/fragmentation-and-integration/

No need for me to retype it here! Thanks for bringing up this disccusion.

David

David Becerra 6 February 2010, 05:17 #17

Dude, you honestly make me want to better my site. Great read. Your site has been bookmarked and will be visited frequently. Can’t wait for the new article!

Lee Munroe 18 February 2010, 16:10 #18

Really liking the personal reply idea. Makes sense if someone takes the time to contribute to your blog, it’s good to make sure they know it was appreciated. But as you say, takes time. Going to give it a try.

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Hi, I'm the VP of Design at Foursquare in New York City.

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