Comments suck

Web comments are awful. Most comment threads are complete garbage. They are full of the worst of what people say and think. But you knew that already.

I recently installed Steven Frank’s Shutup.css extension to shut down the cesspool of Internet comments. Shutup.css hides the comments sections on most popular websites. I’ve only had it for a few days, but it’s already making the web a much happier place.

Some sites have good comment sections. There are, after all, exceptions to nearly every rule that involves people. Some well moderated and positive conversations happen in the comment threads on sites like Fred Wilson’s AVC.com and Horace Dediu’s Asymco. Other popular sites like Daring Fireball, Marco.org, and JustinJackson.ca consistently stir up both divisive and interesting conversations despite not having comments on their pages. These sites may actually get these in-depth conversations elsewhere on the web because they don’t allow on-site comments.

There are also sites like Imgur and Reddit whose community of commenters offer a large portion of the site’s value. Users’ ability to up and down vote comments plays a big part in bringing the good ones to the top of the list. Fortunately, Shutup.css lets you toggle comments on and off for specific domains.

Discussion is good, but a post’s permalink is often not the proper place to engage in it. Besides, many comments on the web are actually directed at other readers with the intention of turning their opinion against that of the author. It sounds crazy for an author to provide a venue for a few early readers to undermine his point for the rest, and it is, but that’s what the comment section offers.

Web comments are a difficult problem to solve. Google is trying to solve the commenting problem on YouTube by forcing users to use Google+ and their real identity for commenting. This move won’t stop all the garbage posted on YouTube, but hopefully it will make there be less of it. Disqus, Discourse, IntenseDebate, and others have sought to fix web comments too. All these platforms seek to put comments out in the open, on display for all. But should comments be public? Perhaps not.

Email might be a better platform for comments on many sites. Email is personal. Email provides a better way to communicate directly with authors on the web. Emailed comments can start a more positive dialog between reader and writer, and the writer can then address specific comments in a follow-up post. Everyone (if you’re reading this you probably have at least one email account) still has and uses email, and few writers will ignore an email directly responding to something they publish on the web.

I don’t expect to miss seeing comments on the web, re-enable them, or seek them out again anytime soon. (Thank you Steven Frank for shutting them up.) But even though I don’t want to see comments on the web, I’d love to hear from you. Email me your comments through the ‘Comment’ link below. And please be nice.

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