Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The End Of Comments

"Internet comments have long been a conundrum. Like communism, they’re great on paper but not so much in practice. Done right, publishing comments can drive discussion and increase reader engagement. But more often than not, publishers have seen their comment sections devolve into a free-for-all in which decorum and even social norms are tossed aside in the name of some grievance, real or perceived. That’s why a small but growing number of publishers are turning their backs on the entire notion of Internet comments."
—Quick question: How do you feel about Internet comments? Do you still leave them? Do you even read them? This may not be a simple matter of academic interest here, so if you have opinions feel free to share them. Unless they are about spellcasters, because boy have we heard enough about those guys over the last year.

41 Comments / Post A Comment

anildash (#487)


SurgingSantorum (#214,904)

I don't leave comments. I leave zingers

LondonLee (#922)

Better to take out your anger on some random stranger in a comment section than keep it bottled up. That's what I always say.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I'd straighten you all out on this here, but no one's reading it, anyway.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@KarenUhOh Oh, I am.

@barnhouse : Admittedly, I only read posts that already have comments on them. It's kind of a low-hanging-fruit deal, I dunno.

City_Dater (#2,500)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose

If no one is commenting, is anyone reading?


jolie (#16)

@Brendan O'Connor@facebook In my mind, Choire made him do this.

thematt (#222,196)

I find that when I want to comment on something at the Awl, and I want people to read what I have to say, I tweet it. When I don't want anyone to read it, I leave it in the comments. I am a terrible person but then so are we all.

brent_cox (#40)

Password still works!

Alex Balk (#4)

@brent_cox Mine too!

Screen Name (#2,416)

Give me a few minutes and I'll weigh in with what appears to be an attention-seeking, overly long comment not even related to this post!

jolie (#16)

I still, for the most part, enjoy the comments on things I write—which is saying A LOT, given where I write. It's frustrating, however, to be subject to the "silencing effect" that negative comments have on writers, i.e. that you truly just CANNOT respond to them even when doing so can clear up a misperception, misunderstanding or address flawed information that a person is trying to insist is true and that your audience might take as gospel because there's this sense that a commenter correcting a columnist is the one who is in the right. Sometimes that's the case, but most often that person is dead wrong and yet? There's no truck in attempting to respond because no one wins in a comment (or twitter) war.

Related: No, Jezebel Commenter, Goo Gone does NOT remove silicone buildup from wood but thanks for playing and also while I have you, NO Jezebel should not hire a cleaning expert who has a PhD in Chemistry. That is an absolutely fucking ridiculous thing to suggest; if you have a PhD in Chemistry PLEASE do something better for the world than what it is that I do.

Sorry, really have wanted to get that out of my system.

ANYway. On the flip side of that, I also enjoy sites that have a robust commenting community and find it sad when that peters out. I've enjoyed being part of what was once a really fun and smart and sometimes incredibly insane commenting community here and at The Hairpin and have been sad to see that fall by the wayside. Though I suspect that the editors are thrilled to have effectively silenced the commenters, and it's their site, so what I feel about it doesn't matter at all really. If it happened while I was still contributing to the Network I would have been wicked bummed, but I still retain an incredibly vocal (oh my God, so vocal!) audience so in practice the lack of comments here has no effect other than to tug at my sentimental heartstrings from time to time.

BadUncle (#153)

@jolie I have to agree about critical responses to articles. I've been guilty of it, though I try to remember to not be an asshole. Maybe all commenting dialogue boxes should have mouse type saying "Don't be that jerk."

@BadUncle : All of my critical responses have been posted because I'm just inherently a bad person.

Except the half-ass copy-editing, of course. That's because I'm a fastidious bad person.

@BadUncle Arguing a point in the article is good. Leaving a comment about how the article was poorly written or needs an editor is annoying.


Great points all around! Has their been much speculation/research about the commenting drop-offs of once-fervent communities? I wonder if people think it's more because of editorial changes within a site or just the aging of the commenters or… a million other things! Maybe it's just impossible to keep a commenter community for very long.

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

@Reginal T. Squirge: Wonkette has had a lively commenter community for ten years or so now. Some of its current members go way back, too, despite the site's passing through three different owners and a bunch of different editors. It's had ups and downs, but I don't think any of the downs have been very severe. Heavy moderation is crucial. Occasionally, the editors let in a troll, so the regular commenters can enjoy kicking him around for awhile, but only very occasionally.

bitzyboozer (#6,867)

@jolie Any insight into the cause of commenting drop off? I have particularly wondered this in regards to the Hairpin for a while now…

mrmcd (#9,309)

Sooo is this like an open thread??

Because I have important news about my cats!

Please don't make me get a Gawker account just to satiate my urge to comment.

This is really nice. Like old times. We should do this more often. Every couple weeks? Thursdays are good for me. We'll talk.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Foxy Brown singlehandedly destroyed the Internet, and she wasn't even online.

jolie (#16)

@KarenUhOh I often find myself wondering if Spinderella still has that Treo.

BadUncle (#153)

I started commenting years ago on Gawker and a couple of its sister pubs. At the time, it seemed to offer the same opportunity for clever banter and occasional insight one used to find on the pre-Web Intertubes, while also mutating normal civility by the same false intimacy. Worse, anonymity with a democratic medium gives a megaphone to every crank in a crowd. When Gawker's readership floodgates burst, standards for wit eroded. I think the lesson here is you don't have to flog traffic by lowering the bar to entry for the commentariat.

These days, about the only commenting in which I participate (reading or writing), is on Awl pubs and IO9. And also Etsy, because, you know, doilies.


Alternate take : (cat gif)

Peteykins (#1,916)

Awl comment threads tend to be good, smart, short. When I see articles on the Huffington Post (for instance) and see that there are 5,000 comments, I just wonder what is the point?

IBentMyWookie (#133)

This is the only site on which I read the comments. So I would say, keep the comments on this site, DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY on all others, especially G**ker

LondonLee (#922)

AV Club comments are still a good read, usually gives me a chuckle on the bus

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@LondonLee True. I've also discovered numerous writers, musicians and podcasts I wouldn't have otherwise heard of through those threads.

Remember when commenting got people laid?


Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

Comments can be wonderful, but unless your site is very niche-y, you *must* moderate. A sizable minority of the Internet-having public is vicious idiots unable to comprehend or unwilling to accept the norms of civil discourse. (Really, I think we knew this before the Internet. It was clear to me in grade school.) There are also paid shills and trolls. Unless you're willing and able to stomp on them mercilessly, these savages will verbally defecate all over your comment threads.

As an example of what's possible, consider Wonkette. It publishes highly political, highly "partisan" (i.e., generally on the side of decency and intelligence) posts that are read by thousands of people, yet its comment threads are a joy to read, despite the fact that almost nobody comments under his real name. Some of the regular commenters – the Wonketteers – have been at it for many years (e.g., Say It With Wookies), and I believe they've contributed substantially to the site's success. Certainly, they're a big reason why I've kept visiting the site. The key is crushingly heavy moderation. There's a running joke among the commenters that "Wonkette does not allow comments," because, as the site advises, "[I]f you are a new commenter, your comment may never appear. This is probably because we hate you."

That's how it's done. No doubt it's a major pain for the editors. But if Wonkette can do it, so can any other site. I think it's just a question of whether the value good comment threads add to the site is worth the effort it takes to maintain them. For many sites, of course, the answer is no.

NinetyNine (#98)

3 comments on the average Awl post these days, seems about right.

osmium (#7,705)

I remembered my The Awl comment log on pusword

I read comments on this site if I recognize a veteran whose writing I like.

libmas (#231)

You're getting rid of comments, aren't y

oldflame (#235,977)

I read and write comments on this site because people generally aren't asses and the spam is at a minimum. Ask Polly posts would be way less interesting without the comments. Also you don't require log-in with a social media account, which I hate.

The only other blogs/sites I read comments on are mostly about and for librarians, who will be civil if it kills them. I used to post/read comments on BoingBoing but then they switched to a forum and I can't be bothered.

p is for pee (#900)

I love reading comments, but leaving them gives me anxiety.

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