I read the comments. I have no shame.

So. Comments all over the place used to be all the rage. Still are, if you’re in to posting pictures of the not quite so fancy dinner you’ve thrown together in 5 minutes and figure someone might take half a minute to complement you on how amazing the arrangement is or something. But actual, constructive and worthwhile comments are going out of style in a hurry.

Take a lot of news/current events sites as an example. On its face, with the exception of your various opinion columns, if you’ve read a newes story somewhere you probably won’t find anything new or interesting reading the same story somewhere else. For the Canadians who trip and land on this thing by accident, the crack Ford story comes to mind as a perfect example. In case you’ve forgotten, either because you’ve been busy or what’s the point, the Toronto Star was the first actual news place (insert snarky comment about the Toronto Star and news not belonging in the same sentence here) to actually come up with the story of Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor. Everyone else, regardless of their opinion on the topic–or the man at the center of the topic–was basicly reporting on the Star’s having reported on the story. The differences, and they were minor, had to do with the particular tilt that additional reporting took–oh, they might have found one or two people who were willing to talk to them and not the Star (see previous snarky comment), but the meat of the story stays the same. The major differences came when you got to people’s reactions to the story.

Sometimes, largely depending on the story being written, the most interesting and often times informative part of the article I’m reading wasn’t actually the article, but the comments that went with. Sure, there were the usual trolls, but more often than not they were either ignored or backed into a corner courtesy people who have even less of a tolerance for BS than I do. Which again, made for interesting reading at the end of the day (I can already hear at least one person who much prefers books to current events snickering in the corner… and I know where said person lives).

For the sake of being honest, I’m about as lazy as they come. If there’s a way that I can accomplish a task while having one less window open, I’ll find that way. I also follow a lot of these news sites by way of RSS feeds–multiple websites, one interface, easy scrolling. Which makes it either really freaking easy or really freaking annoying to stay relatively on top of things. And if the sites I’m following do what a lot of sites are starting to do now and put the full content of their various articles into the RSS feed itself, that’s even better for a lazy geek who is lazy. Of course the down side to doing that, then, is you’ll need to give the lazy geek a reason to click over to the site and see what else you’re holding out on me for. Hence, comments.

All that having been said, there are still some news sites (I’m looking at you, CBC and CTV), who decide nah, let’s require people drop by to have a read of the same article they’ll probably find somewhere else because hey, we got it from the Associated Press. which meant that, sure I’d click, and I’d even read the article if I hadn’t seen it posted somewhere else first, but then I’d stick around to see if I was the only person who thought braindead politician of the week could use a gag until he finds his filter. And that’s how I’d spend an hour or two–more, if I was bored and otherwise behind because life can be cruel that way.

At some point recently, the CTV in particular decided to say nope to comments. I’m not sure if that also means they’ve scrubbed previous comments, but that would just about be standard operating procedure. The reasons are usually just as standard–trolling, people are using Twitter and Facebook more, etc–but usually boil down to the sites would rather not have to deal with people who disagree with the news story they posted, so here, go vent your everything on Twitter for people who haven’t even read the story to see.

Again, from a strictly content-related perspective it makes no nevermind one way or the other to me. Whatever they’re posting I’ll probably read in the National Post, or the Ottawa Citizen, or any number of places who actually want their content to be read and don’t much care how they do it. But every time I see an article about this or that site shutting down comments, especially when they immediately throw out the usual reasons listed above, my first thought is usually along the lines of why would you give people a reason not to read your particular version of that article?

Yes, comment spam is a problem. In just the short time since this site’s been with its new host there were over 100000 spam comments attempted. Yes, okay, trolling can be a problem–one of my most popular posts, now over three years old, has had its share of trolling. It’s what you do about it that matters–very often, ignoring and/or deleting it is enough, since the offending trolls probably won’t come back after they’ve vomited in your shoe. slamming the door shut and bolting it until the bad people go away just seems like a not entirely thought-through reaction based more in the mindset of people aren’t agreeing and we don’t want to interact with them.

This site has always had comments. They’ve rarely been used, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow I’m going to decide hey, that was fun, but see ya later. Why? Because sometimes, even the ranblings of an internet nobody who does this thing less and less often lately are worth an opinion–and people are full of them. Also, because probably against the advice of just about everyone on the internet, even if I don’t actually respond to a comment I read every single one–probably easy to do given I don’t exactly get that many. Because as much as I started this thing for me, if I wanted it to be for me and me alone I’d hardly have started it on a public-facing platform. Most of what gets posted here is probably useful to perhaps 1 other person. That one other person may drop a comment saying so. On the other hand, the extremely technical post that took me two hours to write–if we include testing, because I probably hadn’t done it before until just before I wrote the post–might catch the interest of a surprising number of people who don’t comment directly on the post, but who’ve read it, probably posted the link elsewhere, and therefore started a discussion–and probably brought more eyeballs to the post itself. Either way, I–and the people doing the discussing–win. I’m not going to close off one possible avenue of discussion because you decided instead of dropping a comment you took the link and circulated it to your mailing list, or posted it to Facebook, or whatever.

Do I think it’s awesome when people show up and call me out because I dared to question their favourite politician’s intelligence? Damn right. And if they do it in a way that doesn’t scream troll, or “please institutionalize me before I hurt myself”, they might even earn themselves a response that’s slightly more than mocking the nutters. Because that’s how things get done, even in 2016.

If you don’t want to be criticised, then don’t do something worth criticising. Or at least, if you’re going to, don’t do it in public. And if you write an article that people disagree with, show up and explain why you wrote the way you did–provide backing evidence if you need to. What you don’t do is stick your head in the sand until it blows over, then decide okay, that’ll be enough of that whole people having opinions thing. Because people are still going to have opinions. the difference is if they want you to see them, they’ll email you (I’ve done this). And if they want other people to know your facts are fiction, there are more than a few ways for them to do so–and most of those ways, to the surprise of no one, you’ll have even less control over (also to the surprise of no one, I’ve done this). Being part of the conversation is great, but you’re not part of the conversation if you kick the conversation off your lawn. And hey, maybe if the people behind the articles would spend more time reading and engaging with their audience, comment sections might not suck as bad as some of them do. There’s nothing wrong with reading the comments. I’ve done it for years, on this site and others, and for that I have no shame. The shame is reserved for the folks who instead decide to flip the off switch. They can do a whole lot better.

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