Dave Winer has turned off comments on his blog, and I have just started reading him again after a hiatus of a couple of years.
I do not think that these things are unconnected.
These days, I don’t get that many comments here. That’s not surprising: I’ve gone from being a fairly prolific blogger who would happily churn out half a dozen posts a day to maybe writing a post a week. But my experience back when I had to deal with lots and lots of comments was that it soaked up a lot of your mental energy. More than that, it actually made you write in a completely different way, often more confrontational.
To put it another way, comments tended to make you more irritable. Comments often turned into silly little fights between people who completely ignored your original post, or had obviously barely read it. More often than not, those people also chose to hide under throwaway or anonymous names, too, which only made matters worse. If you don’t use a recognisable name (it doesn’t need to be a real one) you’re depersonlising yourself, encouraging others to treat you as a little less of a human being, a little more of an avatar they can have an argument with.
The best way to comment on anything – and the way I’d encourage anyone to comment on anything I write – is to write something on your own blog. Not on Twitter, where, unless you’re a brilliantly-pithy epigram writer, you’re likely just to indicate agreement or disagreement. Not – god help you – on Facebook or Google Plus, where you don’t own the space and it’s as much about engaging your community of friends as it is you.
(As an aside, one extreme example of this is MG Siegler’s Google+ stream. It’s pretty clear that MG doesn’t even read it: he simply “+1’s” stuff on this own site, which feeds it through to Google+. Every post is a cesspit of vitriol, a bunch of people screaming into the wind. A pointless waste of bits.)
Do it on your own blog, where you have time and space to write as much or as little as you want, to explore your own thoughts in depth, without having to be concerned about “your community” or anyone else. If you’re worried that the person you’re writing a response to won’t see it, email them or Tweet at them. Almost every writer who’s actually worth reading will engage with, and respond to, people who write interesting stuff. For major bloggers, this is much more likely to get their attention than any comment. On big sites, they may not even have the time to read comments anyway.
Looking through his posts, it feels to me like there’s a little bit of a tonal difference between Dave’s posts pre-comment turn-off, and after. He feels a little bit more relaxed, a bit more varied, more like the Dave Winer that I used to read and enjoy, even thought I often (maybe usually) didn’t agree with him. It sounds like he’s having more fun.
As for comments on here, I’ll keep them on for the moment, but probably turn them off at some point. It’s not that I find comments here arduous, or that people who comment fall into the category of “bad commentors” (often, far from it). But I’d like to do a little bit to encourage people to write for themselves, on their own blogs, and in a thoughtful way rather than just drive-by commenting.