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Friday, December 13, 2013

Why I Moved Comments to Twitter



The traditional blog commenting format may be convenient, but it is in many ways a broken system.

The last couple of posts have been an experiment of sorts, deigned to help me regain some of my sanity. I have turned off comments and instead created a Twitter hashtag around which to group post-related discussion.

And if the early results are any indication, things are already getting better. Here is why I am not going back.
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Tip of the Iceberg

To those who are saying to themselves, "Wait, what? Nothing is wrong with comments," I would say that you only see a very small part of a system with a lot of moving parts.

I moderate a small fraction of comments received into publication. What you don't see are the increasingly sophisticated contextual spambots which have long since figured out how to circumvent the CAPTCHAs that continually frustrate many actual human beings.

A small percentage of the contextual, text-scraping spambots are sophisticated enough to where difficult to tell them from real commenters. Especially if those legit commenters do not speak English as a first language. But most of the time they are just a colossal waste of time, as I screen them to avoid them being a waste of your time.

Here's a current sample:



I have come to think of them collectively as Edgar, the "bug" from Men in Black, and who's photo is at top of this post.

But there is also the percentage of comments you never see that are trollish, argumentative, try to use the platform to attack third parties, or are bigoted and/or racist. I am not even gonna post examples of that in this context.

You never see them, but I do, screening every one and moderating them out of publication. I have rejected many thousands of comments over the past years that fall into one of the above categories. The effects of dealing with this are cumulative and range from annoying to downright depressing. (And to be fair I am mostly talking about the racism/bigotry/trolling, etc., here.)


Towards Simplicity and Better Discussion

Using Twitter for related discussion does several things. First, it encourages brevity. Second, comments are attributable only to the person who made them and not, by proxy, to this site. You wanna be a troll? Fine. Anyone can easily block you on Twitter. Have a nice life. Or don't.

But above all, Twitter is a great and wonderfully efficient discussion engine. And because of the brevity (and the lack of a need for my timely moderation) those discussion can happen in real-time.

I have already seen better, broader and more fluid exchanges happening via the hashtag comment version than I was seeing in traditional comments. And I have found myself far more willing and able to engage with readers who had comments or questions. That's because the thing that had grown to make me hate dealing with comments was gone.

So from here on out, if you would like to leave a comment or rant or engage in post-related discussion or ask me a question or take the readership's temperature or whatever, I encourage you to try out the hashtag version of comments. And I very much hope that many of you will do that. I am very much enjoying engaging with reader questions without the related baggage of trolling and spam.

And for those of you who have contributed to the comments who for one reason or another choose not to participate in the Twitter version, I am of course sorry to see you go. Thank you so much for your contributions. You made the site a better place.

If you'd like to chime in on this particular topic, the Twitter hashtag is #StrobistComments. (And and always, include an @Strobist at the end if it is important that I see it.) But also understand that each new post will get its own hashtag, so please only use #StrobistComment for this particular issue.

Thank you all so much for any understanding you can muster on this issue. And fare thee well, contextual spambots. I will not miss you. :)



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