Why This Journal Doesn't Support Comments

If you meet a madman who says that he is a fish and that we are all fishes, do you take off your clothes to show him that you do not have fins?

— Milan Kundera, Risibles Amours (trans. Herbert Stein)

You have probably reached this page by following a link from my journal, perhaps because you were trying to comment on an entry. My journal, unlike most blogs and journals on-line, does not accept comments. Read on if you're curious why. I welcome your comments via e-mail; for the address, see my contact information.

When I first started a journal using Movable Type, it supported comments, like just about all journals do. When I converted it from that system to my current software, I converted the comments with the entries, and adding commenting was on my long-term to-do list. However, after reading several good articles on on-line community and looking at the comments in a lot of other journals and web sites, I've since decided that I won't be adding commenting support.

The reasons for this can be divided into two large categories: practical and theoretical.

On the practical side, supporting comments means supporting a discussion. It in essence creates a community, but one that is supported, maintained, and published by the journal author. For that community to be functional and worthwhile to participate in, it needs to satisfy a bunch of user interface requirements:

This in turn places a bunch of requirements on the software, which I as the journal author would need to maintain, debug, and upgrade. Spam filtering in particular can take a tremendous amount of time or involve weird hoop-jumping required for commenters. I already have way too much to do.

Even with all of that, lone self-hosted journals like mine tend not to get many comments unless you're a well-known name, which I do not aspire to be. So all that work would be in support of a scattered handful of brief exchanges.

I also post about controversial topics sometimes, including about politics. Those comment threads, as you can see on almost any newspaper site or political blog on-line, can quickly turn into a sewer without aggressive and heavy-handed moderation. I have neither the time nor interest to do this, plus doing it sufficiently aggressively would probably make me feel guilty and waste emotional energy on second-guessing my decisions.

This leads into the theoretical reason for not supporting comments. Comments indicate that I'm supporting a discussion community here. I like communities, and such a community would be a fine thing if I had time to support and encourage a proper one. However, I don't. And comment mechanisms that don't provide the above features, aren't properly moderated, and aren't maintained like a good community are, in my experience, worse than ones that don't exist at all. From the perspective of the commenter, it's not clear if anyone will ever see the comments, and there's no way to follow a discussion, so comments become fire-and-forget. From my perspective as the site maintainer, I will occasionally either need to aggressively delete people's comments and feel guilty about it or publish more unproductive and unpersuasive ranting.

Instead, my journal is just my thoughts and activities: an update on my life and my interests. If you want to see someone else's thoughts and activities, there are plenty of other sites where one can do that. The one remaining function that comments would have is a way for people to give me direct feedback on what I write, and I provide for that other ways: my e-mail address is trivial to find, I post some of my journal entries that might spark discussions in newsgroups or on e-mail lists that are well-suited to holding discussions that I don't have to maintain, and I read blog aggregators and the journals of other people I know and will see their comments about my posts there.

If you want to send me a comment about an entry, please feel free to e-mail me. E-mail is good for discussion. If you want to publicly comment on something I said rather than just talk to me, I recommend starting your own journal. Dreamwidth is a fantastic journal hosting facility (albeit blocked in Russia due to their refusal to remove user content that is legal in the United States). There are many others, most of which are free. Join the discussion and create your own space.

The contents of this web page are hereby placed in the public domain. If you find it useful, feel free to refer people to it or copy it and make your own version of it.

Last modified and spun 2014-03-02