Comments are not content

For the same reason that book reviews are not books. Ann Althouse turns off the comment section. Instapundit readers do not approve:

“Keep it the way it is” — that is, let comments flow into new posts unmoderated and deal with problems as they come up by deleting the trolls and the spam and so forth. I like the free flow too, but unlike the rest of you, I have to continually tend to the problems, and whenever I step away from the blog to go about my life in the material world, I have background static: I wonder what’s happening in the comments. Do I need to get in there and deal with a troll infestation? There was an open door to anyone in the world to make a mess of a place that I had bound myself to protect and that I had protected for 17 years.

I didn’t try to skew the poll by telling you about the burden it has become for me. I just wanted to see what you thought, and it’s nice to know that the majority of poll-takers were happy with the experience I had worked so hard to create. The behind-the-scenes work for me isn’t something that should concern you. Quite the opposite. The backstage labor isn’t part of the show. 

I was interested to see what people would say in the comments. That’s the up side of comments for me. I like to read what people have to say. I’m used to the sense of seeing the readers and feeling the camaraderie. But somewhere along the way in that thread that is now up over 600 comments — many of which are from me, responding to people — I could see that there is only one answer that gives me what I’m afraid I must take for myself. And that is the end of comments. 

I’ve chosen the least popular option — if you don’t count the “Something else,” which wasn’t any specific option at all. You can email me by clicking here. If you email me, you need to say if you don’t want to be quoted on the blog, because I may select quotes from the email to use in updates to the blog. But the freewheeling chattiness of the comments section is gone. I’m sad to lose it. 

In that long thread yesterday, a lot of people told me that they come to my blog not for me but for the comments. They seemed to think that argued in favor of my continuing to carry the burden of moderating the comments. It cut the other way. I didn’t plan for yesterday to be so momentous, but it was that argument — augmented with the threat that I would lose traffic, the all-important, precious traffic — that pushed me toward decisive action.

Althouse needn’t worry. A simple survey of the ratio of pageviews to comments demonstrates that only a tiny fraction of readers on any blog comment on it, which makes it particularly amusing to hear all the commenters talking about how the reason they go to a site is for the comments. That’s not true. There is a word for a site where people go just to read the comments, and that is Twitter. Except the reality is that they mostly go there to scream into the void, as most tweets are completely ignored by everyone else there.

The number of self-interested comments at Instapundit – nearly 700 – complaining about her decision are downright amusing. They appear to be mostly motivated by their sudden inability to force their Very Important Opinions on those who did not request them.

  • The point of blogging is to offer the service of commentary. Blogger’s who turn off comments are forgetting why people came in the first place.
  • she discontinued comments because they almost 100{3549d4179a0cbfd35266a886b325f66920645bb4445f165578a9e086cbc22d08} disagree with her. If a site wont let me or others comment, I dont go there. I read sites not only for what the owner says, but to gauge opinion.
  • Goodbye Althouse. No comments, no visit. The comments were the only attraction for me.
  • Not going to Ann any more. I read her and the comments. Without the comments then there is only her, which is not enough for me to go there.
  • Watch as her reader numbers decrease as her “community” becomes less interested in a one-sided interaction info/news resource that became just one more out of many. She could have easily chosen not to respond personally to comments that were always going to include voices that called her out for previous issues or disagreed with her current opinion. She is simply unwilling/unable to take that route, despite the simple fact that she herself knows and acknowledges that many of her readers come for the comments. For the interaction of other voices besides her own. Now she doesn’t have to deal with any criticism that she would ever have to respond to though. And really, that is the point. Is anyone supposed to have empathy for her situation? I do not feel any.
  • Without comments you have an echo chamber.
  • I went there FOR the comments. Went, past tense.
  • Bumner. At her site in particular, the comments were as informative and entertaining as her posts- which tended to be very short. I wonder what the metrics say when a site gives up comments? I know I don’t frequent many sites that don’t allow comments. And my activity notably drops way off on a site that had comments and then drops them.
  • The comments were always by far the best part of Althouse’s site. You didn’t miss much by skipping her posts and going straight to the comments. Hasn’t been much reason to go there for awhile, none now.
  • Getting rid of comments will disappear readers almost as fast as putting it behind a paywall.
The fact is that commenters are completely delusional about their impact on a blog. In addition to the pageviews/comments ratio, I’ve seen what has happened when I shut down the comments and was able to examine the resulting impact on the traffic, which was absolutely none at all. But that’s neither here nor there, as my position on comments has not changed since 2008, although my position on being a libertarian certainly has.
What people often forget is that the commenters on a blog make up a small fraction of the readers of that same blog. A few people may read blogs for their comments, but the vast majority do not, the self-inflated fantasies of some blog commenters notwithstanding. Moreoever, a blog’s commenters tend to be the most outspoken, fractious, and emotionally troubled portion of its readership. They inevitably cause problems; the notorious trolls are actually much less irritating than the revenant-stalkers who are so socially inept that they cannot refrain from showing up where they know they are not wanted. Add to this the emotionally incontinent fanboys who respond inappropriately to everything from criticism of the blogger to criticism from the blogger and you’ve basically got a worthless morass of wasted time in the making. It doesn’t help when people feed the trolls and revenants by responding to them either.
This is a real problem for many bloggers and I don’t blame those, like Ross Douthat, who have decided that it’s simply not worth the trouble trying to manage the unmanageable. Fortunately, it’s not a problem for me, for three reasons. First, as I have repeatedly stated, most people are idiots – functionally if not literally – and that applies to most commenters here. Until you demonstrate otherwise, rest assured that I hold you in all the intellectual regard you have merited to date, which is to say none. I therefore need not concern myself with your ramblings. Second, while I definitely do care what some people think, you almost certainly aren’t on that particular list. I might like you, I might find you amusing, I might even regard you as a positive mutation and a distinct step forward in the evolution of Man… but that doesn’t mean that I care what you think. Third, as a libertarian down to the bone, I don’t believe that it is possible to manage people for an extended period of time, so I’m not inclined to waste my time trying.
So, no one need be concerned that I’m going to ditch the comments. They are often useful, occasionally amusing, and always completely avoidable. I’ve even heard more than once from bloggers who envy the way in which substantive and intelligent discussions erupt here from time to time.