Written by Dan Anderson
For years, reader comments have been a staple of personal blogs and news websites. Whenever I read a controversial article, I always scroll down to the reader comments to see how others have weighed in. Sometimes the reader feedback enhances a story by adding a contrasting viewpoint, correcting inaccuracies, or by showing support for the writer’s opinion. Other times, comments take away from the story when they are off topic, crude, or inflammatory.
Reader feedback can be a benefit as much as a liability, which is why several news sites and blogs have decided to turn off comments. When Popular Science removed comments in 2013, the site was among the first to take this step and received significant backlash. At the time, Popular Science said that vicious, insulting, or ignorant comments could hijack the conversation, particularly on divisive issues like climate change and evolution.
A few years later, Reuters turned off reader comments for an entirely different reason. “We value conversation about the news, but the idea of comments on a website must give way to new realities of behavior in the marketplace,” said Reuters executive editor Dan Colarusso. In this case, the decision to turn off comments was prompted by the conversation moving to social media channels. Reuters saw that readers chose to speak their mind on Twitter or Facebook, rather than posting a comment on the site. As evidence of this, the Reuters blog announcing the change had 53 comments on the page and more than 1,500 comments on Twitter.
For writers managing their own site, the reason behind turning off comments can be more pragmatic. It takes time to filter spam or abusive comments – time that can be better spent writing. It can also be painful to read comments when they attack you personally.
Chelsea Day, author of Someday I’ll Learn, shared “We had a couple parenting posts go viral and the backlash on all of our posts was brutal. It got to the point that I was overthinking every word, fearful of how it might be twisted. I turned comments off and it was the best blogging decision I’ve made.”
Other writers choose to keep comments open on their site because it is a direct channel to their readers. Cristina Trinidad believes there is a sense of intimacy within blog comments. “The direct interaction and meaningful connection between the blogger and the reader can’t be duplicated in shares. I want the reader to have every available option to communicate with me whether on social media, my blog, or email.”
Regardless of where you stand, it seems nearly every writer appreciates hearing from readers. Turning off blog comments doesn’t necessarily close all feedback channels. It simply adds and extra step, which often is enough to deter comment trolls. For those who leave comments on, there is a greater sense of connection with their readers. This leads to a more robust discussion and a sense of community for those who visit the site frequently.
With most of the discussion taking place on social media, there is less of a practical need for a blog comment channel. The stigma that Popular Science dealt with a few years ago has begun to fade away. Sites like Re/Code have been able to turn off comments in recent months without any significant backlash. Ultimately, deciding whether or not to enable reader comments is a highly personal choice, rooted in what each writer values most for their site.
What is your take? Do reader comments still have a place? Share your perspective in a comment below or tweet me at @dadlogic.
About the Author: Dan Anderson is a proud dad and self-proclaimed king of dad jokes. Dan began writing Dad Logic in 2009 as a way to share his family’s adventures and to connect with other parents. In his day job, Dan is a marketing manager in the software industry. You can find him on Twitter at @dadlogic.