Starting today, comments on this website are disabled. And hopefully this will put an end to a saga that has been going on for a long time. It is a difficult decision, mind you. It’s something I’ve been pondering for a while, because I have always valued comments. I have always valued a healthy debate and feedback. And criticism, when constructive & generally intelligent.
When I was about to launch this site three months ago, I was coming from a somewhat disappointing experience with comments back at the old quarters of The Quillink Observer, and I was quite close to start this new place without a comment system. But then I thought about the few good people who had shown me that smart, intelligent, compelling commentary was possible. So I enabled comments. I even gave them a rather prominent section on my Main Page to show that I actually cared about them.
The dark side
There is a dark side to comments, however. The side where spammers, trolls and idiots live and prosper. Give people a box where they can write what they want, protected by some layer of anonymity, and they will be mean. Sometimes they just want to scratch an itch, like when people scribble nonsense on a wall just because they can, just for kicks, just for patting themselves on their back: Ha, I did it! This kind of commenter is generally annoying but harmless. It’s an inch over the automated spam level. Then there are malicious commenters: those who aggressively attack you or what you’ve written, and they do so in a way that prevents a constructive exchange of views and opinions.
Then there are those whom I refer to as ‘chess players’. Those who like to play a game with you. Their degree of malice is higher, because they’re neither idiots, nor hot-headed. They start provoking you apparently out of spite: they’re really evaluating you. They want to know if you can be a worthy adversary. You can’t write to them privately, because they don’t leave a valid email address in the comment section. I just have their IP. Sometimes they try to circumvent comment moderation by commenting from another place with a different IP. Sometimes they feign adulation hoping that I’ll approve their comment, and so on and so forth. Some do this for the game itself, they get a kick out of it. Some hold a mysterious grudge against me and this game is their twisted way of retaliating. (Dudes, just cut the crap and write me a letter telling me what the problem is). Some view this game as a (peculiar) way to earn their trust.
My place, my ways
There is a problem, though. This is my ‘home’, and you don’t get to play your games and by your rules in someone else’s place. These people are abusing tools I have made available for everyone out of courtesy. The only thing I’ve ever asked since I started writing online was respect. I have been sharing my views about technology & design for a while, and gave readers a quick way to publish their input, their feedback, their thoughts. Some did, and brilliantly so, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Others just behaved mindlessly, maliciously, without respecting me or my work. They are digital hooligans. They just love to trash public places and tagging the walls.
No, they haven’t won
You may think that, by closing comments on my website, I’m admitting defeat. You may think that my hand has been forced, and that the trolls and the idiots have won. They haven’t, but they’re free to think so. Verily, I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with comments. When Marco Arment wrote this post on comments last year, that relationship got even more conflicted, because on one side I fully agree with him, on the other I still have (some) faith in (some) people. He wrote:
I don’t see my writing as a collaborative effort, and I don’t see my site as a community in which I need to enable internal discussion via comments.
I also disagree with the widespread notion that comments are “discussion”, or that they form a “community”. Discussion and communities require mechanics such as listening and following up that are rarely present in comments. […]
A blog post is a one-to-many broadcast. Comments are the opposite: many-to-one feedback. […] If comments are behaving as many-to-one feedback, there’s minimal value to showing them to the world, because the world largely doesn’t read them. But the act of showing them to the world — your world, not the commenters’ — creates a setting in which commenters are encouraged to behave negatively.
We already have a widespread many-to-one feedback medium that avoids this: email. So that’s the feedback system that I allow on my site. Anyone can email me, and I will read it.
Those who truly want to start a discussion usually have their own blogs, so they can write their commentary to their audience. […]
Given that this site represents me, and I’ve earned an audience over a very long time of people who generously allow me to take tiny slices of their attention on a regular basis, I don’t think that tightly controlling its content is unfair.
(These are the most significant excerpts for me, but please read Arment’s whole post.)
However, at the time Arment wrote that, I was still publishing my writings from a free platform. Now that I’ve paid for registering this domain, paid for the hosting service; now that I have a hopefully recognisable online identity, I think the time has finally come to take feedback and commentary to the next step.
The next step is simple and easy
You want to give me feedback? Write me an email. If you really have the urge to let me know what you think, I’m sure you won’t mind taking the small extra effort of opening your email client and write. If you want to start a longer, public discussion, write on your own blog – create one if you haven’t got one — and let the world know what are your thoughts on the matter. I have read many interesting, smart, and civil exchanges where people referenced one another in their blogs, at times building up an excellent debate while avoiding stupid, inflammatory comments.
I’m tired of lifting all the weight here. It takes time to research information, to write an article, to take care of comment moderation. It takes nothing to scribble a mean comment in a box. It’s time you do your part of the effort.