Yes, Comments Are Still Relevant, But We Need a Better System
Justin Taplock, writing at WordPress Tavern:
More and more, open comments are becoming a thing of the past. Large news organizations have kicked them to the curb. Frustrated bloggers who no longer desire all of the hassles with moderation shut down their forms. The conversations have moved to corporate-controlled social media.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment much of the web devolved into chaos. It was probably more of a gradual thing. The tools that we built fostered the darkest side of humanity. Far too often, people let out their worst unfiltered thoughts without regard to decency and kindness. If we dig deep enough, social media is likely the culprit that spawned this growing experience. However, it is also entrenched in the blogging world.
Now, with the ubiquity of mobile phones, everyone has a voice. And, far too often, the vocal minority drives the masses from discussion to ad hominem. Or, maybe the majority was always looking for a justification.
There is a bright side. Commenting on and discussing ideas in an open forum can change hearts and minds. It can lead to discoveries and create life-long friendships – I still routinely chat with people I met through blogs and their comments from nearly two decades ago.
I've noticed this phenomenon myself. Big sites have made various excuses for either shutting down comments or shunting them to Facebook or Twitter — too much work required to moderate, quality of discussion, trollish behaviour, etc. Meanwhile, other blogging / publishing platforms, particularly static site generators, don't even have commenting as a feature.
But I still find them useful, sometimes more informative than the article itself, or adding missing depth or nuance. Yes, the spam is a nuisance, but a manageable one.
Justin's piece goes into some depth on how WordPress's commenting system could be improved. All it requires is the will to act. I would love to see IndieWeb support built-in, and more features added that are current restricted to users of the Jetpack plugin.
We should also have some serious conversations about what tools publishers need to build thriving communities via their comments. For example, is comment moderation easy enough? If not, what can we do to improve it?
WordPress is more than simply a blogging platform. Users can build any kind of site they want today, with or without the comments. However, commenting is part of the software’s history and identity. It is a gateway to discussion – often as important or even more so than a site’s content.
Comments will always be relevant. Whether it is a response to a blog post, tweet, Slack thread, or some new thing we have yet to think of, the web is all about connecting and communicating with others. We should constantly reevaluate whether WordPress is leading the pack, creating the tools to enable more discussion.