The death of the Comments section. R.I.P.

by Steve Mallett

There's a very interesting trend happening in the arena of micro-publishing. And it's one that, I believe, is connected to the idea of Communities taking place at < 150 people: the death of the 'Comments' section on websites.

People don't like to make comments on websites like they used to. Instead they make comments on their own website where they have a voice.

I'm not going to tell you that 'blogging is a new phenomenom (no kidding?!). But what is new is that people aren't just using them for their own original publishing, but are replacing the beloved 'comments section' of popular websites.

Think of it this way. Let's say that there is a really interesting story on Slashdot about a subject close to your heart. You wish to contribute to the conversation taking place, but have not commented in the first 200-300 comments. You're voice is generally lost among those already written. Not a terrible thing, but just the way it is. Who is heard among a mob? (I use slashdot only as an example of a mob. Webloggers are out scooping slashdot on a regular basis.)

What I've noticed is that people are choosing to have their conversations among themselves via weblog and have taken their conversation to a different level insuring their voice is heard. Among conversations between five to ten people each will make commentary from their own personal soapbox, their weblog instead of commenting in someone else's space. They then link to the original source or topic of converstion instead. Normally people used to comment underneath a given piece in the originating website.

This is interesting because the idea of a comments section (like the one below) is quickly becoming old-school. Those who are regular weblog readers or writers will no doubt recognize that they too would rather comment to their own weblog's audience on a given subject than comment to a noisy crowd. Sometimes rather than a small crowd as well.

While surfing through other's weblogs you'll often see a 'blogroll' or 'blogodex' which is a list of sites that the author of said weblog often reads. I see the O'Reilly Network Weblog listed more than not among my favorite author's lists and yet almost never see comments from them on this site. They do however comment on their own weblogs about subjects written about here.

Others even specifically turn off the ability for others to comment on their weblogs. This isn't from not getting comments as much as a "why bother?" decision.

Personally, I feel this is a case of the pendulum swinging all the way to the other side. From commenting within other sites to commenting within your own. Voices are heard just fine in conversations taking place in a moderately sized community and only become unruly when the number of participants climbs to the point of creating more noise than signal (150?).

So, get ready to implement "who is linking to this article" mechanisms to replace your comments section. It's not like anyone is there anyway.

Care to comment on commenting? Post your weblog's comment URL too!


2003-02-15 11:32:30
Proof positive
Proof, as if it was needed....

- Neil.

2003-02-16 05:52:03
Trackback is not suitable
The last time I looked at trackback it was too easy to add invalid entries to a trackback log.

I think langreiter's "people came from" solution is much better suited for that.

2003-02-16 05:53:59
Solutions all not really ideal
I think all solutions that exist today aren't really ideal to solve our problems.

Sometimes I think newsgroups are much better for distributed discussions but they're just not good integrated into the web today.

But to follow a discussion distributed over multiple blogs is really tedious.

2003-02-16 07:56:17
Solutions all not really ideal
"Tedious" Though I somewhat agree I think the matter is out of our hands. Trackback with those writings/comments integrated onto the originating site is interesting.

Overall, my feeling, and this seems to be baring out, is that people are going to write to their audience, solutions be damned. I don't know that people prefer their voice to the exclusion of a easy conversation, but their first preference is definately sliding toward voice over mass-conversation.

2003-02-16 07:58:38
Trackback is not suitable
"referrers" definately has legs too. Is it better? I dunno.
2003-02-18 09:47:36
-1 (Offtopic)
When I reply to an article in the comments section, I try to limit my response to the original article. I'm also speaking to the readers of that article. Politeness demands succinctness. People read the comments to get new perspectives on the article.

When I reply in my weblog, I'm really speaking to myself. The audience is much smaller, so I'm far more willing to consider other issues that would be off-topic in the comments section ("His article reminded me of that time in fifth grade...").

2003-02-18 13:24:07
Good suggestion
We should definitely add "Who is linking to this piece" trackbacks to O'Reilly Network.
2003-02-18 15:02:42
Blogging? Who cares?
The main difference between commenting on an online article and blogging about it is that someone somewhere might actually SEE, maybe even READ your comment. Nobody is going to read your blog.

Blogging seems to have fallen mostly into the hands of pundits who just cannot find enough outlets for their streams of semi-consciousness. The blog sites for working people, like Advogato, boomed and then fell off as all the working people went back to work.

What fun is spouting off if you don't get at least a couple of people ticked off in the process? Blogging is no more useful to the world than my screaming at the drivers in front of me during "rush" hour.

2003-02-18 15:39:13
Blogging? Who cares?
Au contraire. Blogging is more like screaming at the drivers in front of you with passengers in your car.
2003-02-19 05:34:23
Blogging? Who cares?
There is also TrackBack and other social networking technologies tha tmake commenting through a weblog more effective.
2003-02-19 05:34:57
Good suggestion
+1 ;)
2003-02-19 09:25:59
O'Reilly is my ASP
Most O'Reilly blogs (that allow them) get more than one comment. Thus, I'd estimate half the overall blog content comes from outside the organization. You can tell me people don't read the comments, but lots of folks have been responding to mine. Are comments dead? Maybe on slashdot, but here the evidence is contrary.

I like to comment on the O'Reilly blogs for a lot of reasons. The community is active, diverse, smart, worldwide, and reasonably sized. The authors are similarly active, diverse, smart, worldly... perhaps size doesn't matter. The bottom line is, it's not strictly push or pull, but real, honest dialogue. The cluetrain arrives.

However, another important reason I post here is because that means O'Reilly is hosting content for me. I could put all my verbal diarrhea on my own site (installing port-a-bloggies as we speak), but it's therapeutic to just talk frankly with a broader audience. I can even play at anonymity, but we realistically can't count on that in these dark times. Besides, not *everybody* has their own web site.

The first time I saw blogging (1999), it was an anesthesiologist pitching Radio Userland to a medical school as a replacement to their beloved FrontPage. Customers were so the facility that let them review products on Amazon so much when it was released, that it became a market differentiator. People *love* to express themselves, but their lazy and want it to be easy. It doesn't get much easier than a blog comment.

I believe a big part of the future of the web will involve exchanges of not just money and products, but ideas and information: text for text. The people who post exclusively on their own blogs are probably the same people who raced to get a big cheezy picture of themselves up on their home page when http introduced it's very first killer app: the inline graphic. Let them sit out in narcissistic isolation if they want. Viva le Comment, I say.

2003-02-19 19:01:31
O'Reilly is my ASP
I think the isolation of 'blogments' are short lived with many of the blossoming tools being added to blogware everyday.

Viva whatever ya want!

2003-02-20 13:28:19
It's about audience, as always
Steve Mallett correctly identifies a growing trend, but is mistaken in what it means. If your content is only aimed at people with websites (or, more specifically, blogs), then it may be true that trackbacks are increasing and comments are decreasing. But not all content is aimed at people with websites, and even when it is, trackback systems are clumsy at best.

The bottom line is, if you're talking to webloggers, then they'll likely talk back on their weblogs. But the web is made of more than webloggers, and it'd be a shame to limit the "conversation" to those with the tools to respond. That's what comments are for, and why they'll never become irrelevant.

2003-02-24 04:11:01
Comments are vital
IMHO .. they are often a very useful springboard to other sites/ideas/technology and I rely on them a lot, especially when my current project or purchase may mean spending money...

One of the best/worst examples of withdrawing user comments was the "Citizenspace" on the UK Number 10 website. I recently went to post a comment only to find that I couldn't login any more. Worse, I couldn't even post anonymously. When I finally gave in and emailed the webmaster, I was told that "user comments were no longer being accepted".

That says it all really ..

2003-02-24 04:56:54
Comments are vital
I've seen many weblogs that have the commenting capability, but have them turned off as well. Now, this could be that they're simply embarrassed that no one bothers to comment on their writing, but could also be that all the good comments simply take place elsewhere.

Sometimes articles/writing are done simply to generate an RSS feed for readers of RSS/XML newsfeeds. This is interesting because the news and discussion thereof take place within three planes of medium. There is the visible website that generates the RSS. The RSS is a simple file that is retranslated into a human readable form and then the discussion takes place in weblogs.

On the other hand they simply may have been overrun by trolls & wanted to extinguish that.

Carla Schroder
2006-09-28 08:25:37
Is it really an either/or deal? Just like in meatspace, online conversations are rambling and chaotic, and readers gravitate to whatever forum attracts them. As one poster said, the comments here are generally pretty good. Even Slashdot has its good nuggets, though you have to dig for them. Visitors to a particular site might want to talk, or just listen. Something for everyone.
2006-10-01 20:10:39
Spam kills more forums than anything else. That's a hint.
Harvey Pengwyn
2007-06-11 05:25:52
Sorry, that wasn't me being MORE ironic and post-modern (or 'Post' modern, boom boom), just that the posting on this site is so slow I accidentally posted it twice. Almost so slow to make me want to post the comment on my own blog instead :-)
2007-06-16 06:18:42
i simply want to say that "solution". people want to see the solution nothing else
Nicole cAr
2007-07-15 09:19:10
Others even specifically turn off the ability for others to comment on their weblogs.
2007-07-15 09:21:00
Think of it this way. Let's say that there is a really interesting story on Slashdot about a subject close to your heart. fatsscars
2007-12-16 17:31:19
Available tools influence our behavior. New tools bring new behaviors. People used to walk more before cars...

Blogs are easy to set up, and that is why more and more people have them. Stumbleupon is a website that further changed the way people comment. They can write comments about any website and post it on stumbleupon blog for other people to read.

Another thing that influences commenting is the culture you are raised in. In Japan, the most popular forum is anonymous, and people don't really care there that comment is on their website or a blog, or in their name. In English culture, running anonymous forum is a much more challenging task.

2007-12-30 07:59:50
2008-02-10 01:46:38
Isn't ironic then that only 2 of the ~15 people (some duplicates) who commented on this article provided links back to their own voices (blogs)?

And why is there a 3 and a half year gap in comments to this article?

Props to Steve Mallett for starting this one.

2008-07-27 06:28:56
good site )
2008-07-27 06:33:23
good site )