Chances are, when you think of blogging, you also think of commenting. Comments have been a unique and tightly integrated feature of blogging since the beginning of blogs.
But several high-profile blogs have decided to turn comments off in recent years. Zen Habits is one of the biggest examples. Seth Godin doesn’t allow comments on his blog either and never has. These two blogs are among the biggest in the world.
If these two massively successful blogs have done fine without comments, should you allow comments on your blog?
I reached out to two of my favorite red-hot popular bloggers and asked them to debate that question here.
Pat Flynn blogs at The Smart Passive Income Blog. His site has attracted over 15,500 subscribers in 28 months and he welcomes nearly 80,000 visits to his site per month. Pat regularly attracts over 50 or 100 comments per post and has written two posts with over 300 comments.
Pat will be arguing why you should allow comments on your blog.
Everett Bogue writes at Far Beyond the Stars (no longer active), and has attracted over 8,500 subscribers in 16 months. Everett’s site also attracts a huge audience of 70,000+ readers per month. Everett turned comments off as an experiment while he was traveling over the summer and decided not to turn them back on.
Everett will tell you why most blogs (that matter) should not allow comments.
And now on to the debate.
This debate comes in four parts, first, Pat’s argument that comments should be allowed on most blogs. Next comes Everett’s argument that comments shouldn’t be allowed on most blogs. Finally you’ll read Pat’s rebuttal to Everett and then Everett’s rebuttal to Pat.
Enjoy the debate! And I’d love to hear your thoughts after you read it.
Without comments, a blog isn’t really a blog. To me, blogging is not just about publishing content, but also the two-way communication and community building aspects behind it.
A successful blog does not come without its readers, so I feel that the least we can do for them as bloggers is to allow them to have their voice be heard if they choose to speak. In a way, I find it self-righteous and smug to simply post content and disable the ability for people to voice their own opinion, as if to say “my content is good enough as it is and your opinion doesn’t matter.”
Take this debate about blog commenting, for example. What value would you get from only reading my side of the argument? The fact that both Everett and I are discussing this topic together, publicly communicating relevant points about both sides of the story, you, the reader, can learn more as a result and form stronger opinions of your own. You may even feel inclined to leave your own opinion about this topic, possibly hitting on points that Everett and I missed, thus adding to the value of the post as a whole, which benefits everybody – including those who are quiet on the sidelines.
There are countless times, on my own blog and on other blogs that I read, that I find the comments from the readers to actually be more interesting and more informative than the post itself.
Beyond the benefits for the reader, allowing comments on a blog provides benefits for the blogger as well.
First and foremost, there’s the social proof aspect of blog commenting. Just like how if you’re at the mall and you see a ridiculously long line coming out of a store, certain blog posts with a relatively large number of comments will spark curiosity and grab people’s attention.
Have you ever been on a forum and saw a thread with a large number of responses? I have, and it usually gets me to read it because “it must be something good”.
People are a curious breed.
Secondly, reading through the comments of a blog post is probably the easiest way for a blogger to understand what else people want to know. This could help a blogger figure out what other posts to publish and possibly what products to create too.
Additionally, if a blogger publicly responds to questions in the comment section, then the blogger can be seen as being more personable and caring toward his or her readers, which never hurts. I know this isn’t always possible, but a small response can go a very long way.
And lastly, something that many people don’t realize, is that the act itself of a reader filling in the required fields to leave a comment familiarizes the reader with taking action on the blog. This makes any other calls to action presented slightly more probable, including subscribing to an RSS feed, a newsletter, or even making a purchase down the road.
As they say in business, “Once a customer, always a customer”. With blogging, “Once an action taker, always an action taker.”
Blog comments…for the win.
Six months ago in August 2010, I made the decision to flip the switch on my blog’s commenting system to a solid ‘off’ position. My blog Far Beyond The Stars was just under one year old, and had an audience of around 6,000 subscribers at the time. Most posts received anywhere from 50-150 comments on every post around the time that I deactivated them.
For now, I still believe that it’s one of the best decisions that I ever made, for my work.
I’m a huge fan of reader interaction. However, it became increasingly obvious as time went on that commenting was doing immense damage to two aspects of my life.
1. My time.
As commenting grew on my blog, I found that I was spending increasingly large amounts of time moderating comments. A certain group of commenters, which I will discuss below, would spend hours of their own time starting fights with other readers, criticizing minutia (points in my posts that didn’t matter — “do you have a toothbrush? syndrome”.) in my blog posts.
I went back to the reason that I started my blog in the first place: because I wanted freedom. I didn’t want to spend 8 hours at a desk anymore, that’s why I became a location independent writer. Why would I want to go back to the prison of having to control a bunch of lowest common denominator people for the benefit of the readers that I truly admire?
Currently I write for around an hour a day, practice yoga for 1-3 hours a day, and the rest of the day I dedicate to research and development. Which essentially is doing whatever I want with my life. Right now I’m in New York meeting extraordinary people, reading 2-4 books a week, and working on a new project that will change the world as we know it.
My “work” week is probably less than 8 hours a week these days. If I still had comments, it would be 25-35 hours guaranteed with no purpose.
2. My creativity.
Far Beyond The Stars is about pushing the boundaries of human/technological cultural evolution, and in order to do that my writing has to push an edge. In yoga, the edge is the place where you’re between pushing yourself and hurting yourself, the place where your entire body/mind/soul is committed to what you’re doing.
FBTS is about figuring out where we are in a world that wants us to be safe, controlled, the status-quo. It’s about escaping the monotony of having to deal with people who want to bring you down to a safe place, where you can live in the suburbs and drive to the McDonald’s until you die on your couch alone.
In order to make change, you can’t cater to the lowest common denominator, it doesn’t work that way.
I found that the more comments I received from a certain group of readers, which I will explain below, the more I started writing for them. I need to write for my readers, not random stumblers who are completely disoriented and confused.
In order to continue to push the edge, I had to turn off the comments. If I hadn’t, I honestly don’t believe my work would be where it is right now.
Who comments on blogs:
My blog commenters were only around 5% of my readership, and I found that they fell into three distinct categories.
1. Bloggers who are being told lies by Problogger and Copyblogger.
Editor’s note: I (Corbett) originally published Everett’s and Pat’s unedited debate here in full to give them creative license to make their points. That text still stands here. Everett’s statement here about ProBlogger and Copyblogger understandably caused a stir and Darren Rowse of Problogger stopped by to leave a comment himself. Please read the comments below for the full story and my response. For the record, I believe both ProBlogger and Copyblogger are honest and well-intentioned, but I also have problems with certain types of advice that is presented on the popular blogging and social media sites. Now back to the debate.
Yes, I’m not afraid to call these blogs out, because what they’re teaching about blogging is just plain wrong in so many ways that I can’t even read them without getting angry at all of the disinformation.
Around 50% of the comments I was receiving when I turned off comments were from newer bloggers who wanted me to notice them. I love noticing people, but honestly, comments is the worst way for me to care about you. Almost no one clicks through to your blog via comments.
Can I give you the quick heads-up on what creates a successful blog? Write something that actually matters. It’s the ONLY way. Do you think Darren would be able to post a fluff post every single day if he wrote the truth about blogging? Nope, because you’d KNOW IT.
If you want me to care about you, write a blog post I actually care about. To do that, spend less time commenting on blogs.
2. Random confused stumblers.
These were another 25%. Simply people who’d stumbled on the site for the first time and couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on because they’d been watching TV all their lives. They’re confused so they ask simple questions or simply lash out at other readers for believing what we believe. Almost all of these readers didn’t have pictures, home-bases or much of a digital presence online at all.
If a crazy person on the street told you to stop going to work, would you listen to them? No. Why would you do that for random people on the Internet?
Some of these people were obviously just really confused, others were intentional trolls. I put them in the same category as extreme time-wasters for people who are trying to create work that matters.
3. People who care deeply about the work.
The other 25% of commenters were people who care. The people who left incredibly intelligent comments. These people I LOVE, and I still do. In fact, most of them have gone on to create their own blogs. Then they had the power to do three things:
1. Write and hyperlink to the important things I’m saying.
2. Write and hyperlink to the important things other people are saying.
3. Write and say things that they think are important for other people to see as they can become successful.
This creates WAY more google-juice and community interaction than comments ever will. It’s so powerful to teach this group of commenters that the best decision they can ever make is to create their own platform for their digital self on the Internet and operate from there.
I respect Everett’s decision to turn the comments off on his blog. It seems like it was the right decision for him based on his particular situation, however I’m not convinced that the situation on his blog is the same situation that most other bloggers have.
Unless you’re in a similar scenario where there are a number of commenters who abuse their right to comment and you find your time and creativity diminishing as a result, I believe that turning the comments off can drastically hinder the growth and community building aspect of your blog, especially if your blog isn’t quite “there” yet (meaning – you haven’t yet reached that subscriber count, reader threshold or tipping point where a community could still be built around you and your site when comments are disabled).
An awesome site like Everett’s with a strong 6,000 subscribers and 50-150 comments per post (when they were enabled) is definitely bound to have few trolls (people who leave hateful or disrespectful comments for no apparent reason except for the attention that they receive), however I have to use my own blog as a counter example. With over 15,000 subscribers and between 50-300 comments per post, I really haven’t had any real problems. And, to reiterate some of my opening statement, many of my commenters have most definitely increased the value of my posts and I can’t even fathom the idea of not letting my community have their voice and become a part of my posts too.
I agree that many of the comments on my own blog are from newer bloggers, some who leave short, lackluster comments like “Great Post, I’m definitely bookmarking this for future reference”. These types of comments definitely do not add value to a post, but like Everett mentions no one clicks through to their blogs anyways, so really why should they even matter? I’m not going to give up the freedom to comment on my blog because of 2.5% of my readership (50% of 5%) that isn’t even making an impact one way or another.
How about this?
Instead of moderating each and everyone of them, why not reply and simply ask them to comment the right way next time or not comment at all. They’re newbies so they probably don’t know what’s right or wrong, and they could probably use some real advice from real bloggers who know what’s up anyways, and they’d probably listen too.
If they don’t listen (or you find a troll), then grab their I.P. address and put it into the “comment blacklist” in your WordPress settings.
If you don’t want to take the time to do it yourself, hire a virtual assistant to moderate your comments for you.
People’s voices can still be heard. Blog communities can still grow. And blogs can still be blogs.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about focus and the Internet lately.
Where we put our intention with our attention. Our attention is our most valuable commodity, and with unlimited channels competing for it, we’re in a dire situation if we don’t put some emphasis into where our attention falls.
To say a blog is not a blog when it doesn’t have comments can’t be true, because my blog works just fine without comments. My ideas are definitely not perfect, but at a certain point I had to make a decision about where my focus would lie.
Did I want hordes of Internet randoms deciding where my ideas needed to go, or did I want to proactively choose the opinions that would influence my ideas?
So, instead of letting randomness decide, I choose. Over time I’ve connected with dozens of remarkable individuals on Twitter. These are people who are working on similar ideas to me, people who are challenging themselves with their work. I’ll choose to reach out to these people, and ask what they think.
It can take five minutes to get an expert opinion. It can take 5 days or more to get and expert opinion if you wait for an expert to come by and comment on your blog. Meanwhile you’re sifting through ‘me too!’ ‘you’re awesome!’ and ‘I’m trolling!’ comments which take up endless amounts of time.
This doesn’t mean that turning off comments on your blog is for everyone. I definitely don’t recommend it if your blog is about interaction with randomness on the Internet. In my experience the more low-level information I provide, the better interaction I got — we can refer to this as ‘dumbing the content down’. The more I pushed the boundaries of cultural evolution with the work, the more time I had to spend bringing people up to speed on where I believe the world really stands.
It’s kind of difficult to argue this point so broadly, because every blog is different. Pat’s blog seems to thrive on social proof from commenters and reader interactions. Mine thrives when I’m pushing my creative edge and giving the world a challenging perspective to think about. These are two very different growth strategies.
Here’s my question for you though: what about our reader’s time?
Do we want to ask our readers to commit time and energy to commenting on blogs all over the Net when we know for certain that their focus is best spent creating worlds of their own for the digital future?
These readers could be building their own empires, and here we are encouraging them to bum around in the comments section with 5% of our audiences. Maybe they’re contributing value there, but couldn’t they contribute more value on their own platform? I think so.
I want to say a huge thank you to Everett and Pat for voicing these opinions and hanging everything out here. You guys are such awesome examples of how to do things right on the web, albeit in different ways.
Please head over and read and subscribe to Pat’s Smart Passive Income Blog and to Everett’s Far Beyond the Stars. You will learn a ridiculous amount of life changing things from each of them.
What’s your opinion on the comments debate? Let’s hear it below!
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