Maybe I was wrong about that commenting thing

June 8, 2014 by Lucian Mogosanu

Almost a year ago, back when The Tar Pit had just ceased to be a collection of ideas on a whiteboard, I delved into technical details related to blogging; mind you, nothing as philosophical as "why blog?"1, but rather a discussion on the right tools and the right approaches for blogging. While I never implied that the way I considered doing it was the right approach for everyone, I was back then fairly sure that the technical tidbits behind The Tar Pit were not only the right way, but that they were the only feasible approach for myself.

One specifically bothersome detail was the issue of comments:

On the other hand comments, I admit, are kind of a big issue. For a while, I looked into third party commenting systems, or writing my own, or even using the one from Wordpress, but I realized this would bring back the spam nightmares I had previously had with it. I also thought about proprietary alternatives such as Disqus, but Disqus is a service with terms that I don’t necessarily agree with. So no, I wouldn’t have them owning the comments of my readers.

Therefore, I have given up comments altogether. Once the blog has a contact page, you’ll have the option of commenting on my stuff by sending me an e-mail or a message on whatever social network I’m on. Moreover, feel free to link my posts to Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and whatever social network you’re on, and drop me an e-mail if you feel like I should give my input. Other than that, I don’t really feel like turning back to comment moderation, I think that I should focus on writing and not much more.

More simply put, commenting platforms, especially the proprietary "in-the-cloud" ones, are a bitch. They either make it considerably difficult to moderate content, due to the horrendous amount of spam (as seen in Wordpress), or they lock your data into their services, a fact that I for one find unacceptable, to say the least. Thus my idea involved delegating commenting to whatever platforms lie on the Internet, closed or otherwise, given that historically speaking, my blogs haven't received much "engagement" from their readers anyway2.

Of course, that didn't really work. So far, exactly zero people have contacted me on The Tar Pit's e-mail, and only a few people have discussed the blog's subjects with me on social networks and other public forums, although others may have been discussing them among themselves, who knows. On one hand, people prefer to do it the "convenient" way rather than the "right" way. On the other, Facebook is one example of a completely useless publishing platform, while Twitter's 140-character limit encourages only linking, not discussions. I haven't really tried posting my writings on Reddit and the likes and I'm not planning to, but feel free to do that if you think it's a good idea.

Now, while I'm living in my own writer's bubble, Robin Ward (also known as Evil Trout) comes and announces that Discourse can now be embedded in static sites. This is of course very dissimilar to the classical way of commenting: you can view comments on the blog, but you have to actually access a forum to post comments, implying that you also need to make a virtual identity, i.e. a user, and become part of a community. Anonymous posting is thus turned off by default, a fact which I don't wholeheartedly agree with3.

I've thought about this long before creating The Tar Pit, and I must admit that it is an interesting concept. It's also one that might not work here, since creating a community around a single blog would require that blog to be more active (I write 0.5 to 1 post per week on average), and it would also require a critical mass of posts and/or categories. People wouldn't gather there simply because they're readers of The Tar Pit, but because they'd have found something worth debating, which I am skeptical of.

Despite my skepticism, I will confess that maybe I was wrong about that thing about commenting. Maybe this Discourse thing is indeed the right tool to enable commenting on arbitrary (non-Wordpress) blogs, maybe even my blog. And even if it isn't, maybe it's worth trying to use it and failing, I'm sure the experience itself would count. I don't agree with Jeff Atwood that "a blog without comments is not a blog", but it is definitely less of a blog, which I guess The Tar Pit is.

I can't say I'm ready to give this a try yet, but who knows, sometime, in the future, maybe...

  1. Steve Yegge has already discussed the subject rather well, in my opinion. 

  2. While I'm aware that we live in the age of "virals", "user experience", "engagement" and other such mildly annoying buzzwords, I find this phenomenon to be perfectly normal for my personal blog. I hardly expect that a massive number of users read The Tar Pit, simply because I deal in more or less esoteric subjects. Moreover, I hardly expect most of my readers to "engage" in discussing the content, since I've given up writing stuff that will stir up sensation. The reason is quite simple: asking for attention in a time when it (that is, attention) is so expensive, and when attention deficit is so widespread, is simply wrong. Either you read this or you don't. To put it in the words of Simon Peyton-Jones, I'm avoiding success at all costs. 

  3. It solves the spam problem by default, though. 

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One Response to “Maybe I was wrong about that commenting thing”

  1. [...] that my blog lacks a comments box. This is not a new issue: I've admitted a while ago that I might have to fix this, and while the long-awaited magical solution hasn't even been on the table (or nowhere near the [...]

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