(10 January 2012)
There has been some detailed thinking about the place of comments on blogs or websites in general recently, and I thought it would be a good time to talk about why I don't have comments enabled here.
The most important point I want to make is that this is my site, and that means I am the final arbiter of what is or is not permitted here. Even if that was the beginning, middle, and end of my rationale -- that would be enough. My site, my content, my rules.
I call this the Sysop Principle after my days as a BBS sysop. The sysop was king. The sysop was usually laying out more of his personally-earned money in the form of phone service to provide end users with an entertainment. Personally I spent more in both absolute and real dollars on my hobby as a sysop than I do as a web author. It was also a far greater proportion of my total income then than it is today (although sadly not a greater proportion of my discretionary budget).
You put all that together, and you have a sizable investment on my part to provide an entertainment. That financial outlay gave me the final word on what did or did not happen on my system.
Even if my financial outlay was zero (ie if I was only writing on Blogger blogs and had no personal domain or system) the fact that it is my effort to get content out there gives me the right to decide if anyone else gets to play in this particular sandbox.
My second point is about spam.
We all know about comment spam. There exist various methods for automatically removing the worst of the spam (and that's really all the automatic systems can do -- the inventiveness that spammers show in defeating the various automatic defenses will always be at least a half-step ahead of the defenses themselves.
There is also the inevitable problem of false-positive results, something I hit myself on an earlier incarnation of my blog when I started to write about poker. Not only did the subject matter attract the poker spammers, but regular commenters couldn't get comments through the automatic filtering. Lose-lose.
Moderation is the second line of defense, and in that the spammers can still win by burying the system in spam, making it infeasable for an author or admin to go through it all to separate the signal from the noise. The only way to defeat that is to scale up the admin effort, either in time or bodies, and again there's the possibility that signal will be lost in the noise.
There is also the problem that automatic moderation acts as a brake on the conversation, as each response has to pass through the brain of a moderator. For a small site that is only occasionally looked at, that can have a huge impact on the quantity and flow of the conversation.
The bottom line -- for any community worth participating in, the effort required to police it is very high. And for small sites, should someone decide to engage in anti-social behavior, their efforts to be disruptive can hugely out-scale the efforts of manual or automatic moderation.
For my particular sites I doubt I attract commenters in any relevant quantity. Spammers and anti-social actors would be (and in fact were) too large a burden to make the commenting worth the effort.
It is true that not having comments does impede having a conversation with other users. A comments field does permit a back-and-forth flow with people far easier than a string of blog posts do. I'm not sure what to do about that.
I think that if one does have a site without comments, one should indicate clearly how else people might communicate with you. I do that by having a link to Feedback on all my pages. You can see that at the top of the page on the right, there's a link to a page that tells you how to reply to me. I also lay out the terms of communicating with me.)