There is a real sense that sites of all shapes and sizes are moving away from commenting systems. Pacific Standard appears to have turned them off altogether. I’m seeing comment systems that have been reduced to identity verifiers that allow users to enter text-only when the web itself allows so much more. This had me thinking, how could we remake the entire idea of commenting on blogs (and the web in general). I have an idea of how we can save them.
One of the problems is that comments are becoming more restrictive. Facebook Comments (currently on this blog) don’t allow for active links or images in a comment. Other sites have taken measures to limit user’s ability to post all kinds of active content including animated gifs and embedded content. This feels like the biggest disappointment: As the web becomes more powerful and versatile, comments are becoming less useful and more restrictive.
1. Take down all active commenting systems
I mean, let’s stop trying to outwit or automate those who might spam, troll, or send comments of no use. That seems like a losing battle.
2. Have a method of contacting the moderator with a comment on the article
This might be via email, a simple form on the article, or otherwise. This method of commenting should allow anyone to use any form of active content or another standard the blog supports. Maybe this could be implemented by simply emailing the author or moderator. It has to be zero friction. Spend time on the idea, not registering.
3. Have an elegant solution that allows the moderator to add that comment to a post
The tricky part is this one. For smaller blogs, the article’s author does this. For larger outfits, this could be a group of moderators. The comment would be read and, if the comment is a consistent and useful addition to the article – it is added in its entirety to the end of a post. This could be nested and include many levels of replies and other sorts of things. In WordPress, this would be a great addition or plugin that just allows the author a place to “tack on” a piece to the end of an article. Who’s up for making that kind of plugin? I would use it.
Since most bloggers (and larger companies) don’t see it as “their job” to handle or moderate comments, this could be a real non-starter. But, what if we made the process of moderating and adding comments to an article a part of the ongoing process of publishing? What if this was just as important to writing for the web as researching your topic, linking to references and citing sources? Could this sort of culture change be possible? I think so.
I would be excited to receive a comment here that might include a diagram, image, or video someone took the time to put together with valuable links. The idea of building a site that people gainfully contribute to, through the eyes of the author, is probably the best way I can see blogging evolve. This would be like commenting where it belongs; with the topic idea, and the source of the message. Not on some far-flung other places that may or may not be seen by the author. Every blog post is its own story and idea, started by someone.
For a commenter, the very nature of knowing what you’re writing needs to useful and relevant to the topic at hand should motivate you more than ever to send something useful, and less troll-y. Can we just admit that the war to automate commenting systems is over, and build something that is actually useful? Either that or the practice is dying one lame commenting system failure at a time.