Utah Blogosphere Hall of Shame: Open the Comments!

What separates blogs from passive content is the ability to comment and counter-comment on any written article. These comments often serve to illuminate the reader and allow him or her to add to the discussion, providing clarification, counter-points and all kinds of additional information. These systems only work when maximum participation is encouraged.

There's some sure-fire ways to discourage participation as well. The smallest of these is to disallow anonymous commenters. I can understand why someone would do this. Most folks looking to post anonymously are usually looking to troll. (Witness how bad they'll get over at The Utah Amicus and Senate Site and you'll be rushing to lock them out too.) This is legitimate because the signal-to-noise ratio on these individuals is often so low that little or nothing is lost by keeping them out of the conversation. While forcing them to fill out an e-mail address and a name is no real deterrent (pseudonyms and fake addresses have been used here more than a few times), it seems that psychological barrier keeps most of the snide remarks to a minimum.

There are a lot of sites in Utah's blogosphere that go a step too far: they require registration to even participate. This sends a message to potential commenters that if what you say isn't well-liked enough, you could find yourself shut out. By putting up that barrier, it also prevents most folks from considering participation. I didn't leave comments at Wasatch Watcher for a very long time because of the forced registration and I haven't left many since because I keep on forgetting my dang password. Other Hall of Shame members include Holly Mullen, Democracy for Utah (the irony) and Utah Senate Democrats. A dubious distinction goes to Dave Fletcher, a blogger that chose to turn off comments entirely. I don't know the rationale behind such a thing, but it defeats the purpose of having a blog to do so. I can't figure out if that qualifies for Hall of Shame status or not.

I'm willing to give the guys at Wasatch Watcher half a free pass because the blog platform they use seems to be a bit on the bizarre side. Democracy for Utah also seems to be in the "oddball platform" camp, so it might just be technical limitations. (I don't count Blogger/Blogspot users that require registration because one account gets you access to hundreds of thousands of blogs and it integrates with existing Google accounts.) Holly Mullen and the Senate Democrats, however, have no excuse. They both use WordPress. I use WordPress. I know what the system can and can't do better than many other users. It's easy to set it up in such a way that spam is blocked and legit comments get through. Exerting that much control over the conversation leads to a bunch of preaching to the choir and squashes free speech.

So what do you think? Is forced registration antithetical to free speech? Does it discourage you from participating? Is there anyone who should be on this particular Hall of Shame that I missed?

UPDATED 9-5-2007 12:30PM: Utah Rattler is also on the Hall of Shame.

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10 Responses to Utah Blogosphere Hall of Shame: Open the Comments!

  1. Dan says:

    Jesse,

    I think it depends on the purpose of the blog. Andrew Sullivan’s blog, for example, is probably one of the most frequented blogs on the internet, but he does not allow comments. It’s his choice really, as there are not “rules” for bloggers to follow.

    I use my blog mostly to give me an avenue to let out my frustrations at politics today. I don’t care that much if people respond (but of course, like everyone else, I like having more traffic). My blog is on a small scale, however, and I can generally reply to all comments. I would not have the time required to handle far more comments than I do get right now, so I can understand why some blogs tend to just decide draconian ways to limit commentators.

  2. I have wanted at times to comment on Wasatch Watcher, but I’m just not willing to sign up for one more thing. Until I switched to Blogger myself, I also resisted signing up for that (I really hate having to sign up for things), so I couldn’t comment on Alienated Wannabe’s site, either. It definitely can be a psychological barrier.

  3. Jeremy says:

    My favorite thing about having open comments is watching the different pseudonyms people use when they don’t want to be seen saying things they wouldn’t say using their own names.

    It is also fun to see blatant sock puppetry. I usually don’t publicly out people who are doing this but I get a good laugh to myself about it when I look at the IP addresses in my comments log.

    Everyone should be using WordPress. It is easy, it is powerful, and it is relatively safe.

  4. Democracy in Utah is one blog that comes to mind where I have wanted to comment, but haven’t because of the registration requirement. It seems like WordPress blogs are strange in that I have to register for each one separately (that requires registration), even though I have already registered for other WordPress blogs. I agree that blogspot is much simpler in this regard.

  5. Jesse says:

    Frank: That’s because WordPress also comes in a self-install version similar to what we use around here. Blogs hosted on WordPress.com use a unified account system similar to Blogspot/Blogger.

  6. David says:

    I used to believe that blogging without allowing comments was not really blogging. I have since changed my views. I don’t personally see much benefit to putting my thoughts out there without allowing for feedback, but I know some people who not only don’t care about feedback, but actually get flustered by even benign feedback.

    As for requiring registration – it is a deterrent for me. Sometimes I choose to register, but only after I have concluded that I will participate regularly by commenting. Many sites that restrict comments are, as you say, preaching to the choir. Those are not the kinds of sites where i like to participate, even if I happen to agree with them.

    On my site I allow for people to enter name, email address, and url, but all fields are optional. The only control I exert is that people who comment anonymously, or who have not had an approved comment before go through moderation. my standards are very open – I have only unapproved one comment in the history of my site and that was an Anonymous comment that didn’t have anything to say.

    The only control I expect to exercise is that I will not likely allow any profanity to pass through. If someone has a good comment with profanity I will either edit it, disapprove it, or invite the original author to submit a more tasteful version.

  7. Bradley Ross says:

    These systems only work when maximum participation is encouraged.

    I disagree. Have you spent much time reading comments at any newspaper that allows them? They are useless because the signal to noise ratio is so unfavorable. This would also happen at any of the huge blogs if they allowed comments. The comments are usually only meaningful when the commenters feel like they are part of a community. If you feel like you’re part of something, you tend to treat the others who are also part of it with more respect.

    This works well in the LDS blogging world. I hope we can continue to foster a similar sense of unity in our Utah bloghive, even when we disagree about policies.

  8. jasonthe says:

    Open comments are a must.

    Even an anonymous blog comment can point out something new, correct an error, encourage dialog, and further debate.

    In my experience, those who block anonymous commenting are too easily offended for blogging, or have to thin of skin to be presenting an argument to an audience effectively in the first place.

    And the occasional troll can provide hours of fun.

  9. marshall says:

    Cool, we made the list. The purpose of our site is to be a community of watchers over the state of Utah and creating an online identity is beneficial to do that. The site is not meant to be a free for all for anonymous bomb throwers, if that is your purpose go to a different site.

  10. Jesse says:

    I don’t like the trolls either, though it seems that having to use a pseudonym and an e-mail address actually is enough to discourage them from trying to do so in the first place. I can see your point that registration is useful for a community portal type site, though someone using the same posting name on a regular basis can establish the same kind of identity.

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