Too Many Unproductive Comments

It seems as though there is an epidemic across the web. Bad comments. Not spam, not flames, not even rude remarks… just plain drivel. I spent the last few weeks reading all the comments (or as many as I could stand) on the hundreds of blog articles I read every week. They fall into two major categories, which I’ll discuss below.

I’ve linked to this in the past but I’ve really taken it to heart: Your Shit Does Stink — Good Friends Are Hard to Find.

What the gentlemen at Less Everything were saying has just continually amplified in my mind over these last few (dare I say “trying”) weeks. Their article is short, and worth the jump, but to put it in context:

It’s easier to just smile and nod and say, “that’s great,” and that’s what most of us do. But a true friend will tell you to polish it up or go make changes or start again.

The same applies to comments on a blog post. The idea is to inspire discussion, clarify points, etc. eventually enriching the value of the article itself. Instead, in a number of sites I’m seeing “fluff” comments, which just make the entire experience of reading comments a downright drag when I’m actually interested in the content. So, I counted…

I took a well written article with over 100 comments and counted more then 50% of the comments were of this “fluff” nature. Although not directly from the article where I calculated my statistics, I pulled this paragon of an example:

Useless Comment

I made little effort to hide the identity of the user and the website (which I have the highest respect for). The fact of the matter is that this comment is not only worthless, it pollutes the pot of potentially worthy comments and thus detracts from the value of the article itself. In this particular example the commenter actually admits to not reading the article but then claims he knows it will be awesome?!?! Give me a break. Hell, if I was the author of the article I would be upset at such an ignominious comment (yah, I looked that one up).

I’ve gone years on this blog without making a rant. This is my first. So, admittedly, I did not hold back. However, eventually I calmed down and tried to really think about this “problem.”

From the author’s perspective this simple “praise” is uplifting. For those offering the praise its quite simply that… many want to portray honest thanks and support to the author. This is all well and good. However, there are still many reading the article intending to engage in discussion. Undoubtably the author should both encourage and look forward to this kind of discussion; even more so then the praise!! Why? Because its in our nature. We write so that others can read. We enable comments so others can tell us what they think. If we didn’t care for other’s opinions or views then comments could just as easily be disabled.

So, essentially there are two categories of comments, Praise and Discussion. So, I think that this should become a model. The more recent up/down voting scheme is not the model to use for most blog articles. It works well on ranking sites like StackOverflow and Reddit where correctness or opinion influences the votes. However in this case there is:

  • Praise – essentially always an “up-vote.”

  • Discussion – a level playing field likely to contain constructive criticism as well as support for the article.

Both avenues should be available so that the author and all the commenters have the freedom to interact with whichever degree they feel is appropriate. In the end the discussion is separated from the “fluff” and everyone wins.

I’m thinking of the current system of WordPress with comments and trackbacks/pings. They are handled separately, but that is because fundamentally they are different. To make a system like I’ve suggested work would either require user action, moderation, or a (likely) sophisticated action. Two of those don’t scale and the last is probably too complex to be reliable. If I’ve learned anything from StackOverflow its that they have actively crafted and trained their community of users to “do good” and do all of this low level work willingly and it has paid off very well.

For starters “commenters” must at least be given the choice: to contribute to a discussion, or to thank the author for a well written article. I don’t intend on building this system yet, because I personally don’t have the influence or the popularity to make an impact. Yet.

Just keep this in mind the next time you comment. Actually try to “add value.” To rip off the Army… The whole world can read what you’re writing. Is it worth reading?

Cheers?

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