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.
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.
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.