June 28, 2004

I GOT AN EMAIL THE OTHER DAY slamming me for not having comments on my site. I get those occasionally, and they're usually nasty enough that they're self-refuting -- yeah, I really want to give you a platform, buddy. . . .

But, as Eugene Volokh noted in a discussion of this topic a while back (read it, as I agree entirely and he said it better than I could, as usual), the worst part isn't the flaming by people who don't agree with you, it's the nasty comments by people who generally agree with you.

For example, Q&O made a perfectly reasonable point about James Rubin, only to see the comments degenerate into nasty remarks about Rubin's wife, Christiane Amanpour. I don't like Amanpour, whom I regard as excessively agenda-driven, but I wouldn't want her called names like that on my blog. Which means I'd either have to edit such comments out, or live with it. I don't have the time for the former, and I'm not willing to do the latter.

Some blogs, like Daniel Drezner's or Roger Simon's seem to avoid that problem most of the time, but I think it's a scaling issue -- up to a certain level of traffic it feels like a conversation, past that it degenerates into USENET. At any rate, I'd rather blog than deal with comments.

The other problem, which I've seen both at blogs I agree with and blogs I don't, is that bloggers can be captured by their commenters. It's immediate feedback, and it's interesting (it's about you!) and I can imagine it could become addictive. My impression is that often, instead of serving as a corrective to errors, comment sections tend to lure bloggers farther in the direction they already lean. Anyway, I worry about that.

And since anybody can start a blog, I don't feel that the absence of a comment section on InstaPundit is doing much to choke off free speech. [The Blogosphere is my comment section! -- Ed. Er, yeah, something like that.]

UPDATE: Hmm. Looks like Billmon has had exactly the experience I feared:

I thought I was opening the kind of smoky little bar where the regulars outnumber the first-time customers, and, as the Cheers theme song had it, "everybody knows your name." Instead, I've ended up with something that's more like one of those huge franchise watering holes were you have to shout to be heard over the roar of the crowd.

Which means that playing the role of bartender/moderator has been sucking up progressively more of my limited blogging time, while becoming progressively less enjoyable - a textbook example of diminishing returns.

Perry DeHavilland has more thoughts, here.