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Robin Winslow
Robin Winslow

Posted on • Originally published at

I now support comments

Originally published on my blog.

If you've read my blog, you'll have noticed that I never had a comments section before. This was a deliberate decision, although I maybe didn't think about it quite as deeply as I have some other choices. Instead of comments, I pointed people at Twitter or Hacker News to continue the conversation. As far as I'm aware, not a single person ever took this advice.

I've always been quite scared of public opinion, and I think it has led me to be quite scared of putting my writing out there. It's why, until recently, this blog only averaged a few posts a year. I've always wanted to write more, but I'm basically too scared to. I procrastinate it terribly.

This is probably why I was quite convinced by some articles I read a number of years ago about comments sections being toxic. I'm not sure exactly which article it was that stuck with me, but it may well have been this one from NPR in 2016, which I think was part of a trend at the time. It puts forward the following arguments for disabling comments:

  • A very small percentage of people leave comments
  • It's easy to interact on socia media if you want to
  • The work behind an article is probably discussed elsewhere

You'll notice none of these arguments are actually very strong. They explain why comments aren't the be all and end all, but not actually why they should be removed - after all, why not support every communication channel you can? What the article doesn't mention as a reason are personal attacks or vitriol that can appear on comments, but it was quite obviously there between the lines. And I'm pretty sure I read other similar articles mentioning it explicitly.

But a number of things lately have led me to reconsider this position:

  • I personally have always actually liked interacting in comments sections. Even back in 2016 I was sad to see the comments sections removed.
  • In a remote and cautious post-pandemic world, I've been craving connection with people. Why shut down one more option?
  • Social media sites (especially Twitter) are toxic places to hold any conversation. They are designed to encourage outrage and divisiveness over civil discussions.
  • Just as it's a small act of revolution against Big Tech to have your own website, similarly we shouldn't let them monopolise online social interaction.
  • I've noticed how very different-feeling the comments section on Richard Murphy's blog is from the responses to his tweets.
  • My friend Tris has mentioned many times how positive his experience has been of the comments on his wildly popular Rust videos on YouTube.
  • My friend Goulin mentioned to me that he would have commented on an article in the past if there had been an option to.
  • I saw someone using the GitHub-based Utterances on their blog and thought it was pretty neat. I'm not sure who it was now, 'cos I can't find it. It was definitely someone in our Blog Guild - I thought it was Peter Makowski's blog but he doesn't seem to have it set up any more, so who knows. Anyway, Utterances looks neat.

And in the psychological battle against writer's block, I think getting real human feedback on my writing might be quite motivating. I took the decision recently to deliberately tone down my use of analytics, because I felt that was a pretty unhealthy addiction for my ego that was counterproductive to my motivation to write. I still think that's true. But I think that's because it's fake, it's not human interaction but an excuse to replace human interaction with gamified metrics. I think actual discussions with real humans through comments on my blog could instead be quite wholesome.

I just went to look for articles about whether blogs should have comments sections, and it seems like the world has also changed its mind in much the same way as I have:

So I'm now enabling comments on my blog with Utterances. If you're reading this, please say hi and let me know what you think of this post, Utterances, my blog or life in general. Or just how your day is going.

But who knows. Maybe no-one will comment. I guess time will tell.

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