Comments are an in-a-nutshell representation of the problems that communities have on the web. Namely that everything exists in the same context. Communities are what the web does but communities are also utterly unprotected in the comment sections of most websites.
Any community that you build through comments is vulnerable to invasion, raiding, and hijacking by roving bands of internet assholes.
You only have a few options in this situation:
- You can close the comments section and rely on social media (and maybe forums) for your community building efforts.
- You can make commenting harder. Require registration. Make it harder to join.
- You can spend a fortune on moderation.
- You can give the commenting community tools to defend itself.
Of all these options, the first one is not only the easiest, it is also the tactic most likely to succeed. Social media is where modern online communities are. . That’s where they are built and maintained. The major downside is that you become dependant on somebody else’s platform but that is just an unavoidable part of the web today. No matter what you do, you are always going to have to rely on other people’s platforms in some way.
The ‘I need to follow all of the discussions’ fallacy
One of the common arguments for keeping comments on a site is the idea that in doing so you pull in discussions from the web that would otherwise take place somewhere else.
This is untrue in a couple of ways.
- The discussion will always be spread across the web. Social media means that any hope of controlling or centralising the discussion was lost ages ago.
- Keeping track of all of other people’s discussions is a very bad idea. Some, sure. All, no.
Remember how readers tend to react when an author randomly butts into a discussion of a book? Yeah, they react pretty badly. (As they should.) Publishers and writers, even journalists and columnists, have no business intruding on or participating in discussions of their work unless they have been specifically invited.
The only discussion you should follow on the web about your work are the ones in communities you are already a part of. They don’t have to be communities that you build but you do have to be a long-standing member.
Don’t be rude and butt into other people’s conversations. Don’t be egotistical and expect everybody to discuss your work in the places you want them to.
Think in terms of community participation and your online discussions and comment threads will be more pleasant and fruitful.