This weekend Tobias Buckell announced on his blog that he’s going to try an experiment: For the next couple of months (at least), he’s turning off the commenting on his blog. He has a number of reasons for this, which he explains in detail, but essentially they boil down to: Managing comments is a lot of work, both in time and in psychic energy, and Toby’s of the opinion that at the moment, this is not the best use of his own person bandwith. So off go the comments.
I say: Good on Toby. Not that he needs my endorsement, but I fully support his decision to trim off the comments and give himself a break. Why? Because:
1. It’s his blog, and he should do whatever the hell he wants with it. I do think that people forget that personal blogs are personal, and that the person who owns it gets to decide how it’s run. Arguments of “well, most blogs do [x]” are in fact null arguments; if most people running a blog decided to jump off a cliff, I would not be obliged to follow them, and neither would Toby, nor anyone else. Comments can be part of a blog, but then again there are any number of successful blogs that don’t have them, too.
The first five years of Whatever, there was no direct commenting here, either. That was partly rooted in technical issues — things were harder to implement back in the day — but it was also rooted in the fact that I didn’t really want any comments here. I implemented comments in 2003 as a “let’s see how this works” sort of experiment; if I hadn’t have liked it I would have pulled it. Fortunately, you were all entertaining enough. However:
2. Managing comments is a lot of work. If you don’t want your comment threads to turn into a pointless morass of trolls and spammers, you have to put work into keeping them readable, and it is a lot of work, particularly when you feel free to comment on controversial subjects — which, this being the Internet, could be any subject at all. Call it Rule 34 and a half: If a topic exists, someone will be an asshole about it in a comment thread.
I mean, Christ. I wrote about my dog dying, and inevitably some jackasses showed up in the thread to say “whut r u so sad about, itz just a a stoopid dawg.” I knew they were going to show up, and when they did I zapped them, but it still meant I had to stay on top of the comment thread and be ready for them when they showed up, ready to be asswipes for the lulz. Which is another thing, of course:
3. Lots of commenters are a drag. We’re not even talking about the out and out trolls and spammers. There’s also the single-issue tubthumpers, the condescending rhetoricians, the “devil’s advocates,” the concern trolls, the unintentional derailers, the grievously offended, the eager self-promoters, the cluelessly “helpish,” the ignorant who think they’re not, and so on and so forth. Mind you, you are not any one of them – of course not! — but I’m sure you’ve seen them in the comment threads, and they have to be managed if the comment threads are to have any value at all. Which brings us back to “managing comments is a lot of work.” It’s enough work, in fact, that:
4. Sometimes the amount of work required to manage a comment thread has an impact on what gets written. I quite obviously don’t shy away from subjects here that can garner hundreds of comments and/or require a fair amount of my attention in the moderation thread, but what’s not so obvious is that before I post about something I know will be controversial or likely to garner comments, I’ll ask myself if I actually have the time to deal with it. Because, you know, I don’t get paid for my comment thread management tasks, and I do have work that has to get done if I want to keep this lovely roof over my head. If I don’t have the time to deal with a comment thread, I’ll sometimes punt that topic to a later date.
And then there are other times where I’ll not write something here because, you know what? I don’t wanna argue. I love you guys, honestly I do, but, man, sometimes? I just don’t want to hear from you. Now, there’s also the flip side of this, when I post something and then say bring it, suckas, and hit the “refresh” button on the comment thread every fifteen seconds. So it’s not all bad, trust me. But the point is, sometimes the mere thought of having to deal with comments makes a difference whether I rouse myself to write on a topic.
Of course, there are good things about comments and commenters as well, and while I’m not going to detail them at the moment, let’s just say that I wouldn’t keep my own comments open if I felt all y’all were a constant burden. But, look. Even with all the good stuff, it’s still a lot of work. And it’s not in the least unreasonable for someone running a blog to decide that it’s more work than they have time and energy for. Especially if the way they pay the bills is by writing other things.
If by giving himself a break on comments, Toby finds he’s more interested in writing his own blog and sharing his own thoughts there, then I think both he and his readers are going to benefit. I’m one of his readers. I know I like it when he blogs. If this means more, I’m willing to forgo the comments. Lord knows I (and others) have other ways to make our thoughts on what he writes heard.