Debating the Value of Blog Comment Sections

Austin Frakt of The Incidental Economist group blog recently discussed TIE’s decision to close off comments with Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio One (full program here). One of the good points made in the discussion is that the costs and benefits of comment sections vary by blog. If you are running a big news website in the world’s most polite country and have staff hired to moderate your blog, even thousands of comments are manageable and valuable. In contrast, if you are operating an academically-oriented blog that has no paid staff like TIE, the comment section may feel like more work than its aggregate value justifies.

I miss reading the insightful commenters who used to be able to respond to my blog posts, but on balance am very happy with my decision to close off comments on most of my posts. The result has been that I have more time to engage on Twitter with knowledgeable people. I also have time to look at emailed comments from readers, and thus far at least have been able to respond to every one that was civil and substantive. Last but not least, I like knowing that in blogging I am no longer providing a platform for the subset of people who comment out of hatred, ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. That’s a lot of upside for one click on the WordPress template.

My suspicion is that in the long run, Twitter and whatever technologies succeeds it will supplant most blog comment sections as fora for interactions between bloggers and readers. In the meantime I can understand and respect why some bloggers choose to maintain them, and others do not: The variables in the cost-benefit analysis are qualitatively different from site to site and from person to person.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

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