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Comments Are Dead - Long Live Comments

·733 words

I’ve avoided comments on this blog for the longest time mainly because I got a lot of spam and back in the day when it all ran on top of WordPress it was completely unmanageable. I spent more time responding to email alerts about the next spam storm than I spent writing long-form content. Since then, a lot changed - I moved my blog to a static site, shuffled it through a bunch of hosting providers before finally landing on Cloudflare, and completely removed the ability to add feedback to posts in the form of user-submitted comments.

That latter part kind of bugged me, but I always found that I could still engage with folks on other social media platforms where I shared links to my posts, like Twitter or LinkedIn. Well, what do you know - for all intents and purposes, Twitter (I simply refuse to call it by its new name) is dead. My work in building a little corner of the community there was effectively erased within months. I haven’t logged in to the bird site in a year now and have no intention to in the future, but I don’t want to invest in another social media channel either. Mastodon, Threads, Blue Sky - it doesn’t really sound appealing to me in any capacity and it’s, in my opinion, a waste of effort to try and bootstrap another “social” channel that’s not within my own domain. I’ve done the same mistake that ReCode did in 2014:

The biggest change for some of you, however, will be that we have decided to remove the commenting function from the site. We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion. But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.

Good times. I am sure the social discourse has improved since that thesis was made public and the audience filters improved. Oh wait. With that, the question I started asking myself is “Where do I engage and build a community around my writing?” Birds of a feather and all.

Summer red bird. Tanager. Color engraving by R. Havell, after drawing by John J. Audubon. Elephant folio, 1827-1838. Rare Book Division. Sourced from Library of Congress.
Summer red bird. Tanager. Color engraving by R. Havell, after drawing by John J. Audubon. Elephant folio, 1827-1838. Rare Book Division. Sourced from Library of Congress.

The natural and somewhat “under my nose all this time” answer was conversations in this very blog. Jeff Atwood said it best when he proselytized - a blog without comments is not a blog (and that’s not an isolated opinion, either). There is just very little in terms of positive discourse, feedback, and most importantly - learning and growth if there is no direct input from the communities the content is addressing. I don’t want people to:

  1. Email me with questions.
  2. Find me on LinkedIn and message me with requests about this blog.
  3. Scour GitHub to find some random repository I am maintaining and open an unrelated issue.

Instead, I want them to submit a comment here. No extra effort beyond logging in with their GitHub credentials and doing it from any of the blog posts I’ve written over the past decade and a half. I want to defend my ideas on my own turf and not force readers to go somewhere else. I don’t have the time and energy to track down all other blog references that someone responded to.

Infrastructure-wise, I use Utterances by Jeremy Danyow to power this experience. If you have a static site, I highly recommend it. It’s respecting user privacy, allows you to use the identity you’re already using (i.e., GitHub), and makes it easy to plug into any site generator that supports JavaScript (in this day and age, that’s all of them). Because it’s all on GitHub, all content is also easily exportable through the API. There is minimal proprietary lock-in. The likelihood of GitHub-based spam creeping through is non-zero but also significantly lower than any other system I’ve tried in the past, so I am optimistic that this change can facilitate some really good discourse.

Long story longer, I invite you, dear reader, to leave your comments and feedback on my writing. This is another step in my effort to not waste my and my community’s words. What can I do differently? Any tips that I might’ve missed?