P021: Commenting on the Feedback Loop

I got a Facebook chat this week from a reader that asked if these newsletters were cross-posted somewhere so he could leave feedback about a previous issue. While I do post these up over at periodically.co, I have disabled comments on the site for one simple reason: comments on the internet are terrible.

If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video or accidentally read an article about North St. Louis on the Post-Disgrace website, you know this to be true. And yet people look at me like I’ve got thirty eyes when I say that their corporate blog shouldn’t accept comments. “But we want people to engage with our brand,” they say. “We want to start conversations and build a dialogue,” they say. Those are good and honorable goals, but they are goals that can be achieved without enabling comments because comments aren’t conversation starters, they are graffiti.

The wisdom of our elders has been lost

Dave Winer and Joel Spolsky have been talking about this since at least 2007 and creating products to deal with these issues for their whole careers. Far from anti-social, these two are legends when it comes to helping people communicate online. Spolsky’s company makes online collaboration tools and he is also the co-founder the . Winer – developer of blogging software both old and new (among other things) – has since implemented a heavily moderated comment policy on his blog in an effort to provide a level of discourse while still maintaining the voice of the author.

Because comments or no, the publisher is responsible for the content on the pages. If your website’s comments are full of spammy, hateful garbage, it’s your fault. If you are going to allow John Q. Randombro to chip in his two cents, you need to have a plan in place for when that inevitably goes awry. It takes a lot of time and resources to manage a community effectively. These things don’t happen on their own.

Comment at me, bro

The point of this newsletter is not to broadcast my opinions far and wide. The blog and Twitter do that just fine – and if you want to connect with me on those platforms, great! But I’m looking to create direct connections. Whether it’s a personal conversation around the water cooler (hi, coworkers!) or a reply via email or chat, don’t be afraid to share notes and opinions. Just don’t expect to scribble a comment all over my writing for all the world to see.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron