Once upon a time, comments were king. The number of comments you got on a post not only represented the conversation surrounding that post but also measured its impact. This inevitably led to ways of gaming the system — spammers used comments to implant their backlinks to their black market viagra sites, and would-be and/or fake blogging mavens used them to artificially enhance their own reputation by having posts with seemingly lots of comments. (I regretfully admit that I’ve been duped in the past by fake commenters masquerading as different people. It happened on this blog, even — though ultimately I was able to root it out by identifying two, similarly-named free email accounts and an identical IP address.) Blog comments suddenly became more about the numbers and less about the discussion.
Newer, minimalist blog platforms (like Medium, Ghost and Dropplets) don’t deal with comments at all, instead encouraging users to continue the discussion where it’s actually happening (or more likely to happen) — Twitter. A while back, I wrote a mod for Dropplets (now, sadly, outdated) that would embed a Twitter search widget that displayed the conversation in a comment-like area if tweets referenced the blog post. I’m on Twitter a lot and — thanks to the fact that TweetDeck chirps at me whenever I get an @ mention — I see replies sent to me on Twitter faster than I would see them otherwise (on my blog, via email, etc). Twitter isn’t great for long discussions, but it’s fast, it’s simple, and it’s good enough to say “hey, you wrote this post over here? Well I have a post over here that responds to that” if you’ve written something that required more than 140 characters to explain. And today I read that Popular Science disabled comments because reading comments from other users had the undesired effect of polarizing the audience before they even read the article.
I admit, sometimes the comments are the best part of the article. But usually that’s at the expense of the commenters (unless you’re looking at Gizmodo or Slashdot or BoingBoing in which case it’s a fight for who can be the snarkiest). For us normal folk, why bother with comments at all? Why not just drop them and take the conversation to Twitter?
This has gotten me thinking, especially since the comments on this blog are something I often think (and sometimes worry) about and, really, what’s the point? This will never be a high-traffic blog in which case the numbers don’t matter — be they sharing numbers or comment numbers. And interacting with a real human — as opposed to writing a reply to someone’s comment that they may or may not ever see again — in more-or-less real time on Twitter is a lot more appealing to me. So, I think I’ll be looking for a plugin that replaces the WordPress commenting system with a link to discuss the post on Twitter and if that doesn’t exist, I may well just write my own.