Credit: mjmontyCC BY 2.0

Evan Hamilton wrote the other day about a Washington Post article by Alexandra Petri, where Petri suggests that the idea of a good comment section is too hard, therefore not worth the effort. Petri’s article is interesting and makes some good points, but that’s not really what I want to discuss.

In his post, Evan made two points that he felt the Post missed. First, pointing to io9, that comments can be a reason that you return to a site. That comment sections can be so interesting and engaging that they are a primary reason that many people choose to visit a site. They enjoy the passion, the knowledge and the conversation that happens in the comments.

His second point was that some content doesn’t really work without comments. As an example, he mentions Jezebel, which was the motivation for Petri’s article in the first place, given their recent issues. Evan says that because Jezebel spends a lot of time “calling out and debating women’s issues,” it is only natural that they have comments to further facilitate the debate. “These sort of issues are an ongoing discussion, not a piece of news,” he writes.

When I read Evan’s post, this is what I took from it: closing comments alters your purpose.

Your perspective will determine whether or not it is in a good or bad way. If io9 gets rid of comments, it is no longer a place where you go to connect with others about geeky topics. Instead, it becomes a place where you can simply read about them. The only value created is that which is created by the original article author. If Jezebel closes a comments, it stops being a site where issues are debated. They may cover the issues, and maybe debate will occur between a writer and invested guests, but most of the actual debate will shift somewhere else.

A lot of this boils down to participatory vs. observational. People who want to comment will, in their own way, whether or not you have comments. So is the purpose of your website to allow people to participate or is it simply to be a resource for them to observe and go elsewhere for discussion.

Community doesn’t require comments, you don’t need comments, and I’ve even thought about getting rid of comments here. I’m not really pro- or anti-comments. There is no one size fits all. But don’t forget that the existence of comments (and the effort you put into them) informs your purpose.