#Communication, #Web Design

No Comments, No Conversation?

I kind of set out to write a scathing little entry here about the ‘trend’ to shut off or not include comments in a few recent redesigns around the design community. A couple of big name folks have decided to go down this road, and sure enough a few of the smaller players followed soon after, and this sort of follow-the-leader game bothers me–as it always has. It looks like a trend to me.

So, not too long ago I asked myself, “what purpose do blogs serve on the web, if not as a place to engender and encourage conversation?” Isn’t this what the medium has become, and isn’t this it’s purpose? I’m not entirely sure how to answer this question–my own notebook here isn’t a bastion of discussion so much as it is a one way soap box–but there are many who have decided it is no longer important to maintain the debate on their own site. And now that I’ve let this thought stew, I can’t blame them.

If you operate a site that receives substantial traffic volumes it can become more of a chore than it is worth to moderate and maintain comments, and so a few of these folks have turned to encouraging the use of Twitter, Facebook, or a reader’s own blog, to continue the discussion. This is perfect, except that a disconnect can exist between the content, author, and material being discussed.

And I get why people would want to utilize social tools for encouraging discussion. Any one of these formats is better suited to the purpose of getting a community involved around discussing various topics. Frankly, they’re much better than blogs, despite the disconnect I cited a paragraph ago.

I’m referring to Content Management Systems here. Generally, you still need the assistance of a developer to set this up properly.

You see those of you who have not been working on the web in the past fifteen years might not know, but blogs have advanced a great deal over time, adding a wide range of functions and becoming outright CMS’s in some cases, but in researching and thinking about this entry, I have to ask myself if their original use was bastardized to fit a need that wasn’t met at the time?

Blogs are essentially online journals; a place to fill the diminishing role of analog pen and paper, where one could write one’s thoughts in an environment they were more likely to be involved in. Creating a social environment around this seemingly simple use is tricky, particularly when the traffic volume increases exponentially–but it’s all we had until someone took the need and created a product that fit a community participation model better than blog software and commenting models ever could.

In my situation, that is in a low traffic one, this sort of thinking doesn’t have to apply as I rarely see a comment come across my in box. I have very little to moderate, or discuss, which begs the question, who am I even talking to right now? Myself perhaps? But, would my site be better served by eliminating comments altogether? Would it give the appearance of being more widely trafficked if I didn’t reveal that my site is rarely commented on, thus appearing rarely visited? That’s intellectually dishonest thinking, but that doesn’t mean keeping comments is the right move.

I’ll keep comments open for the time being, because I still like the model for my purposes, but what say you fine reader? Does this eliminate anything in your mind, or could you care even less about this now than you did when you didn’t even think about it?