What — no comments?

I sometimes get emails from readers which begin, with a reproachful air, “Since you don’t allow comments on your blog I’m emailing…”. Which is fine by me. But a post on James Cridland’s blog made me stop and think: why no comments here?

Three main reasons. The first is time, shortage of. I’m busy enough as it is. If people took the trouble to comment, then I would feel obliged to reply properly to what they wrote. As a result, blogging would take up more time, and I would do less of it. That doesn’t mean, incidentally, that I don’t admire bloggers like Quentin or Ed Felten, who do allow comments and invariably respond fully and thoughtfully. I just wish I had their capacity for hard work.

Secondly, although it’s nice to have readers (and I have no idea how many there are, because I’ve never done any kind of tracking) and I’m glad that people find this stuff worth reading and linking to, fundamentally I keep a blog for myself. I started blogging in 1998, and for the first three years or so, my blog was private. It was a personal notebook in which I kept stuff that I thought was noteworthy or useful. Because it had a search engine, it meant I could always cheat my poor memory by retrieving stuff instantly. (This, incidentally, is what started Tim Berners-Lee on the path that led to the invention of the Web.) I knew that if I had blogged about something I would always be able to find it again. This philosophy survived the switch to public blogging which took place, I think, sometime after 9/11. It’s just now that my personal notebook is publicly available to anyone who wants it.

Thirdly, one reason I took to blogging was because of Dave Winer, someone I’ve always admired, and whose Userland software I used for years. Following a link from James Cridland, I alighted on Dave’s argument about why a commenting facility is not a sine qua non for a blog. Here’s the relevant passage:

Do comments make it a blog? Do the lack of comments make it not a blog? Well actually, my opinion is different from many, but it still is my opinion that it does not follow that a blog must have comments, in fact, to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog.

We already had mail lists before we had blogs. The whole notion that blogs should evolve to become mail lists seems to waste the blogs. Comments are very much mail-list-like things. A few voices can drown out all others. The cool thing about blogs is that while they may be quiet, and it may be hard to find what you’re looking for, at least you can say what you think without being shouted down. This makes it possible for unpopular ideas to be expressed. And if you know history, the most important ideas often are the unpopular ones.

Me, I like diversity of opinion. I learn from the extremes. You think evolution is a liberal plot? Okay, I disagree, but I think you should have the right to say it, and further you should have a place to say it. You think global warming is a lie? Speak your mind brother. You thought the war in Iraq was a bad idea? Thank god you had a place you could say that. That’s what’s important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment. What there is always a shortage of, however, is courage to say the exceptional thing, to be an individual, to stand up for your beliefs, even if they aren’t popular.

The advent (and exponential growth) of comment spam confirms the wisdom of being chary of allowing comments. I’m responsible for a couple of other blogs which do allow them, and one of my daily chores is weeding out the fake comments by pornographers and other online hoodlums which have got past the filter. Life’s too short for this.