Ah, the comment section.
Sometime later today into tomorrow, we will hit our 300,000th comment. In 6 years.
That’s not a lot compared to some websites, but it’s a lot here. And the pace has picked up dramatically in the past couple of years. We seem to be running close to 10,000 comments a month (that’s just a guesstimate).
We “try” to keep things under control by not using third-party comment software such as Disqus — which means you have to register here specifically. That cuts down on drive-by commenters and flame throwers, which helps keep the comment section relatively (by comparison to other websites) civil.
But it also cuts down on the number of people who comment, and likely cuts down on our traffic. Having massive fights in the comment section is what drives some websites to have several hundred to several thousand comments for a single post.
That’s not to say sometimes things don’t get rough, but we appreciate that our commenters generally don’t go there. Policing the comment section is a drag, and with our volume and staff, difficult.
In the end, though, I think it’s worth keeping comments open. It creates a sense of community and shared purpose. We have shared election victories and losses, graduations, promotions, deaths and births.
Some commenters have crossed the cyber/real world barrier, and communicated off site with each other, and with me. I count some of our commenters as real world friends now, and the comment secton was how I located one of our authors (Andrew Branca).
Amazing as it is, in 6 years we’ve only had to ban 222 usernames, and many of those usernames were multiple entries from a single person. It takes a lot to get banned here. Mere disagreement is not enough. Trolling will get you banned, as will threats of violence and other language that crosses some line that is hard to define but you know it when you see it.
From time to time I read about one website or another closing the comment section. Usually it’s because it’s too wild in them thar hills, or too much work.
Today, it’s The Week, for a combination of reasons, Why TheWeek.com is closing the comments section:
Here at The Week, we have a deep respect for the intelligence and opinions of our readers, and take very seriously our mission of concisely giving smart, busy people all they need to know about everything that matters, on all topics, from all perspectives. And as our site continues to grow and change — we’re now averaging 10 million unique visitors a month, and have a beautiful new redesign launching in early 2015 — we want the work we do to drive more and more smart and vibrant conversations among thoughtful people from all ideological backgrounds.
But as our industry has changed in recent years, so too has the optimal forum for these conversations. There was a time — not so long ago! — when the comments sections of news and opinion sites were not only the best place to host these conversations, they were the only place. That is no longer the case. Too often, the comments sections of news sites are hijacked by a small group of pseudonymous commenters who replace smart, thoughtful dialogue with vitriolic personal insults and rote exchanges of partisan acrimony. This small but outspoken group does a disservice to the many intelligent, open-minded people who seek a fair and respectful exchange of ideas in the comments sections of news sites.
And so today, the smartest, most thoughtful, and most spirited conversations are being driven not by pseudonymous avatars in the comments sections of news sites, but by real people using their real names on the social web. It is no longer a core service of news sites to provide forums for these conversations. Instead, we provide the ideas, the fodder, the jumping off point, and readers take it to Facebook or Twitter or Reddit or any number of other places to continue the conversation.
That’s why we will be closing the comments section on TheWeek.com at the end of the year.
While I agree that there are other places that conversations take place, I don’t agree that such other places are complete substitutes for the comment section to a specific website or post. We get our ideas challenged, and we’re better for it.
In a world of where everybody knows your name, there’s also a benefit to being able to post your thoughts pseudononymously, although that certainly can be abused.
It’s in our blood as a nation, and important to our freedom.
So for now, the comment section is still open for business.
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