Balkinization  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New comments policy at Balkinization

JB

Since last week I have implemented a new policy on the blog. The default rule is that comments are turned off. Each author will decide individually whether to turn the comments on for his or her postings.

For the first year and a half of this blog, there were no comments, and the blog operated quite successfully. I added comments in the middle of 2004. (Comments you find earlier than that are probably comment spam that was added later on.) Many blogs have developed successful communities of commenters, with many very interesting and substantive contributions and discussions. Unfortunately, this has not happened here.

Generally speaking, there are two things you want from a comments section: quality of comments, and civility. If you cannot have one, at least you want the other. Recently, with some exceptions, it has become obvious that neither is occurring in our comments sections here. Instead, the comments sections are populated by regular trolls and many threads have turned into little more than name-calling. There is very rarely any serious analysis; mostly there is point scoring and vitriol. Many regular readers have written to say that they find the comments section a distraction and think the blog would be far better without it.

About a year or so ago, after considerable frustration with the quality and the incivility of the comments, I turned off the comments section for a bit to calm things down and to see whether, after a time out, a culture of civility would reassert itself. It did so only briefly; then the trolls reappeared, the name calling began again, and things went downhill once more.

For the time being, therefore, I have decided to switch the default to no comments and not to have comments on my own posts except in special situations. Those members of the blog who wish to have comments are free to do so; Ian Ayres, for example, has enabled comments on some of his recent posts. I may experiment with moderated posts in the future, but moderating takes considerable time and effort, more time than I have at the present.

UPDATE: The post immediately after this one explains why closing comments when moderation is difficult or costly makes sense given well-known features of social software.



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