musings between the lines

there's more to life than code

outsourcing comments

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So this is interesting. +Dave Winer (@davewiner) decided to remove [most] commenting from his blog:

Due to spam and people just not quite being on topic with responses (or even understanding what they’re responding to). It used to be that we would consider something an article if you simply read it, but more of a blog if you could interact with the poster.

Now that the concept of interactive pages has gotten a lot more prevalent (is an understatement), and if you’re high profile, you’re bound to run into quite a lot of spam commenting. Even if it’s all “quality”, once comments hit a certain number, rarely do I even bother beginning to read any of them seriously (maybe just to troll).

So the commenting system as we know it is broken. Even if we do moderation like what gizmodo and related sites to do pick up the best, that’s nice, but someone still has to sit and moderate. We try to alleviate that by having disqus or other commenting specialty systems take out the genuine spam, but you’re still left with those that lack the grasp of what’s being sought in the comments (the dedicated trollers too cant be stopped).

So what to do? At the moment, it could be that you disable comments, and just move the discussion to other places via crossposting: like to twitter, facebook, google+. That way at least your website remains clean, your points are there and are brought to higher attention without the distraction of loads of comments, related or not. It’s a bit of a change of pace, but in essence, not different than what we do nowadays anyway, you’re just removing one option of a place to comment, but all the other ones remain.

From a site owner POV, you’ve off loaded the moderation needs, the commenting hassle, registration, notification and all that to another system. And before we jump in with “but where’s the control?”, in this case, it was being run off of disqus anyway so the control was already being given over to another system.

I think in the end, it’s just an inevitability if your posts get to a certain point in popularity. I see that as a problem anywhere. Google+ with a 500 comment chain is equally just not worth the effort to comment, and certainly if you own that type of post, hard to justify going through them all and replying.

Oddly, twitter’s model of not really having a good threaded view of a conversation gives you the ability to pretend like you’re the only one there without regard to all the other replies. An odd realization…

Anyway, comments as we know it are a little broken. Perhaps time to think of a way to come up with something that hasn’t been exported from the days of newsnet and BBSes.

[This post was originally posted to my posted to Google+ account]

Addendum: From the perspective of this blog, I also use the Disqus commenting system to outsource my comments. And in fact, since this post is technically a transplant from my google+ account, I’m really also using google+ as a commenting mechanism. So perhaps this concept of comment maintenance and ownership is merely just a facade over what we do anyway. Most of us don’t handle our own commenting systems, so what we do is oursource it all to wherever we crosspost content to. Especially since more likely than not, and especially if the content is fully there, people are likely to comment within their chosen environments.

What would then be interesting to see is to aggregate those places that get the comments back onto the blog. Then you have a fully outsourced commenting system. Though that now starts to beg the question, why bother at all? Since comments are outsourced to Disqus anyway, what difference does it make if it comes from twitter or facebook or google+ or disqus? So perhaps the whole issue isn’t so much about spam or outsourcing or the logistics of the comments, at least for Dave, it’s more about having a clean white space where you can simply put out your thoughts without having to think much about the comments and so on.

I think this works well for a Dave type personality where he has strong opinions, and if looking for comments, only really wants something from people he gets and respects. I, on the other hand, am not so confident in my thoughts and ideas. And I also dont have a popularity issue that will detract from the content of my post. I can certainly see the whole logistics of a runaway commenting system to be just worthless after a while, but I think it will work well for a majority of those that are still in between.

I’m not sure if this is really a solvable problem because it’s not a technology issue, it’s really a more psychological, comprehension or simply human issue, take your pick. I do think the way we comment on something needs to be done better, and perhaps that’s mainly where a conversation like this should lead to, the generation of something more functional and interesting than something that’s slapped onto a page. What that is yet, I’m not sure. Any ideas? :)