If you spend long enough reading blogs — or even newspapers, for that matter — you will eventually come across an essay about how a site is struggling with the question of whether to allow comments, or has decided to shut them down. The latest example of this genre comes from former Gawker Media and Wired staffer Joel Johnson, now managing editor of an arts and culture site called Animal New York, who says comments are worthless because they are filled with garbage and hardly anyone reads them anyway. As tempting as this conclusion may be, I still believe it is wrong for a number of reasons, as I have tried to point out in the past.
In his post, Johnson says he is revamping the Animal New York website and thinking hard about whether to have comments. He argues that comments used to be a worthwhile thing because they built a sense of community and created a “sort of virtual street team to share your stories with friends,” but Twitter and Facebook have made the sharing of content easier than ever. The other rationale for having comments, he says, is that they help drive engagement, which causes readers to return more frequently — and all of that is good for pageview metrics and other things of interest to advertisers:
People want to read good comments, goes the theory, which increases their involvement on the site, which leads to more traffic, which leads to more ad impressions, which leads to a one-billion dollar sale to Facebook.But this math doesn’t work, Johnson argues — since most comments are trolling or spam, and therefore few people read them anyway. He says that friends who run mid-sized internet properties have told him only “a small fraction of one percent” of their visitors even read the comments, let alone contribute. As a result, Johnson says it’s impossible to defend comments as being valuable even in an overall business sense, because they don’t drive enough readership to make it worthwhile.
Full essay at GIGAOM