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Are comments worth the trouble or not?

Gawker founder Nick Denton (home of Mac Hacker, er, Lifehacker; Gizmodo; io9; Jalopnik; and formerly Consumerist) says online comments aren’t worth the trouble.

I agree and disagree.

The comments on a daily newspaper are a terrible place to search for intelligent life. You may find one or two insightful comments posted, but mostly you’ll find people talking off-topic, repeating prejudices, trolling, and other bad behavior.

Popular blogs like Gawker’s portfolio tend to fare a little bit better, but the volume can be overwhelming.

Then you get to people like me. I average about 100 spam comments per day, but I have good spam filtering so very few of those get through. I do think I typically get less than one legitimate comment per day. If I opened the comment window longer, I’d do better, but I found that keeping the comment window open forever did two things: The comment section for particular posts became a primitive online support forum for particularly hard-to-deal-with online vendors or makes of computers, and I attracted trolls on very old topics. So making the comments section close after a while dramatically reduced my traffic, but it also reduced my headaches.

The remaining comments I do get tend to be very beneficial. They don’t always spur long discussions, but they do sometimes spur other posts. And as an author, I like to see that people are paying attention and thought enough of it to say something. It makes it easier to keep trying to write something nearly every day.

I think comments are beneficial to get you to a certain point, then once you get big enough, you reach a point of diminishing returns. Trolls seem more likely to speak up if they think they have an audience, the bigger the better. And trolls breed more trolls.

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