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Commenting About Commenting: In his 2000th post at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield expresses his frustration with moderating comment threads:
  [I]t's the one aspect of this Blawg that makes me think I should hang it up. It gets unbearably tedious after a while, and sometimes painful to watch a topic veer off onto a tangent because the one commenter didn't get it (while insisting, always, that he did). . . .
  The comments are often as more fun than the post itself. It pains me to acknowledge this, but it's true. I enjoy the comments most of the time, and that's why I engage commenters regularly. But I don't enjoy the emails I receive after I ban someone, or delete or edit a comment, accusing me of intellectual rape. I don't need this from people who have never contributed to the discussion here and whose thoughts are, in my view, less than worthy of much discussion. I will tolerate a lot more from people who I like and have been regular contributors, even when they get testy with me. I won't tolerate much from people I don't know or don't like. That's how things work in real life, and they are no different here.
  Blogs are still pretty new, so blog comment threads are, too. But I wonder if we're beginning to see a trend in comment sections already. As a blog becomes more popular, it becomes harder and more frustrating to moderate comment threads. There are just too many commenters out there to moderate each thread really effectively. Bloggers who try to moderate in good faith end up wasting great deal of time on a handful of individuals who feel that the world has wronged them somehow and that blog commenting is an effective form of revenge.

  For most high-traffic blogs, useful comment threads just aren't realistic. The two choices become an unmoderated thread or no comment thread at all. (A blog that has extremely high traffic numbers can try a Slashdot-like ranking system to try to bring attention to the best comments, but that requires enough traffic and the right reader culture to make it work.)

  If I'm right about all of this, readable and useful comment threads may end up largely only on blogs with traffic in the range of around 1,000 to 10,000 hits a day. Traffic below that usually won't generate enough commentary, and traffic above that usually won't allow effective moderation. My vague sense is that we're pretty much seeing this already, although I can't say that with certainty, as I only read a dozen or so blogs regularly. But I wonder if the realities of comment moderation will cement this trend over time.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Comments Off:
  2. Developing a Comment Culture:
  3. Commenting About Commenting:
93 Comments

Developing a Comment Culture: In the last few days, Balkinization and Above the Law have introduced new comment policies. Balkinization is mostly turning comments off, in light of the fact that its comment threads were pretty much unreadable: Above the Law is hiding them a bit and taking a somewhat more aggressive approach to moderation. Over at CoOp, Dan Solove comments:
It seems to me that different blog commenting cultures arise on different blogs. I bet that the readership for Balkinization and Concurring Opinions overlaps quite a bit, yet I have noticed that the comments at Balkinization are much as Jack describes them [that is, nasty and nonsubstantive]. Why have commenting cultures developed so differently at different blogs? I don't really know the answer, and it would be interesting to figure out why commenting cultures develop in the ways that they do.
  I suspect the explanation rests largely on the different moderation practices at different blogs. If a blogger doesn't moderate comment threads at all on a widely read blog, people who want to be shocking, mean, or just irrelevant realize they can do their thing and reach a decent-sized audience. They eventually push out the more thoughtful people: You end up with a mess, or, as Brian Leiter would put it, a "cess pool." In contrast, if bloggers moderate their threads reasonably well, deleting irrelevant or abusive comments — and in some cases, participating in the comment threads themselves to carry on the debate — then you end up with a shift in culture over time. Readers begin to expect that the comment threads will be reasonably good, or at least entertaining, and more thoughtful people consider commenting themselves.

  Over time, comment moderation practices end up having a profound impact on who comments, and different approaches either attract thoughtful commenters or keep them away. I think this explains the largely unreadable comment threads at Balkinization, for example; My sense is that Balkinization threads were lightly edited if not unedited altogether, with the bloggers themselves generally not participating in comment threads.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Comments Off:
  2. Developing a Comment Culture:
  3. Commenting About Commenting:
210 Comments

Comments Off: Some may have noticed that, since the beginning of the year, I have been blogging more, but without comments. These two developments are related. Over time I found monitoring comments, which I believe I have an obligation to do, to be such a drag, as well as time consuming, that it undermined my desire to blog at all. So gradually I got out of the habit. As Orin noted last week, Jack Balkin has largely turned off comments for his own posts on Balkinization. Since Jack's reasons largely track mine, I thought I would quote his post in full:
Since last week I have implemented a new policy on the blog. The default rule is that comments are turned off. Each author will decide individually whether to turn the comments on for his or her postings.

For the first year and a half of this blog, there were no comments, and the blog operated quite successfully. I added comments in the middle of 2004. (Comments you find earlier than that are probably comment spam that was added later on.) Many blogs have developed successful communities of commenters, with many very interesting and substantive contributions and discussions. Unfortunately, this has not happened here.

Generally speaking, there are two things you want from a comments section: quality of comments, and civility. If you cannot have one, at least you want the other. Recently, with some exceptions, it has become obvious that neither is occurring in our comments sections here. Instead, the comments sections are populated by regular trolls and many threads have turned into little more than name-calling. There is very rarely any serious analysis; mostly there is point scoring and vitriol. Many regular readers have written to say that they find the comments section a distraction and think the blog would be far better without it.

About a year or so ago, after considerable frustration with the quality and the incivility of the comments, I turned off the comments section for a bit to calm things down and to see whether, after a time out, a culture of civility would reassert itself. It did so only briefly; then the trolls reappeared, the name calling began again, and things went downhill once more.

For the time being, therefore, I have decided to switch the default to no comments and not to have comments on my own posts except in special situations. Those members of the blog who wish to have comments are free to do so; Ian Ayres, for example, has enabled comments on some of his recent posts. I may experiment with moderated posts in the future, but moderating takes considerable time and effort, more time than I have at the present.
I cannot speak for the quality and tenor of comments on other VC posts--they may be terrific--but for me, to paraphrase Cosmo Kramer, I'm out there without comments and lovin' it.