This website has no comments

If you've browsed through my posts on this website, you may have noticed that there is no comment box underneath my posts for people to leave feedback. There's a few reasons why that is the case, and I figured I'd write a bit about those reasons.

Technical concerns

Originally my plan for this blog was quite a bit different than what it is now. When I decided to set up my own website, I had been doing a web server programming course and my original plan was to code a blog system with a CMS of my own design, user accounts, comments and probably way more than that.

However, I was also quite busy at the time and after I started writing my own system, I realized that it would take too long for me to get anything really ready and I would probably end up ditching the whole idea of a blog before I would have the website up and running. So, I decided to radically simplify my plans and this simplification lead me to picking up a static site generator, which will simply allow me to write blog posts in Markdown and generate the HTML for the website, which I can just push into my server's /var/www folder. The website is easy to update, resource usage on the server is practically none and I can just focus on writing silly posts whenever I feel like it. Win-win.

This has a few consequences. Since the website is purely HTML, I won't have a website backend to handle dynamic components, which would include comments. It is not impossible to add backends and/or comments to a static website such as this one, but it would require using separate components and embedding those into the pages to achieve that functionality. I actually considered making some kind of a microservice-y solution for this, but this opens the website up to possible security concerns and spam, which would require implementing moderation tooling etc. This could be avoided by using an external comment system, like Disqus which many static sites use, but I am not too fond of the idea of having Disqus on my website. If you are getting comment boxes for free, somebody somewhere is paying a price for it, and I don't feel like selling my readers out to advertising corporations just yet.

There is also the small issue that embedding such comment systems would usually mean having to have blocks of Javascript onto the page and I'm a bit of a luddite when it comes to adding Javascript to this website. I actually like that this page works close to flawlessly on terminal browsers and light-weight alternative browsers like Dillo or Netsurf that don't implement Javascript support.

/img/website/samsai-eu-netsurf-dillo.jpg on Netsurf and Dillo respectively

So, in the end, I just decided not to bother and just leave it for later considerations.

The mechanics of comments affect the discourse

So, my initial reasons for not implementing comments were largely just due to sheer laziness. These days I probably could implement them in a fairly secure kind of way, but the more I've considered it, the more I actually feel like I don't really want them.

Now, I have been an editor for for a while, which has also included moderating the article comments from time to time. I don't intend to throw GOL under the bus or anything and the GOL community is actually one of the healthiest and least toxic online communities I have seen, which is a result of diligent moderation and various systems that are used to keep the place friendly. But having done moderation there, I have come to witness a few less than optimal things about having comment systems, even well moderated ones.

One of the big problems is that whichever comment appears first when browsing the comment section will have disproportionately more power in shaping the future discourse. Future commenters will likely react to the initial comments, since those are what they first see, and thus whoever made it to the comments first has effectively decided the agenda and steering the conversation in a different direction can be tough. On GOL we've had a few of these kinds of annoying instances where an early comment has (usually negatively) dictated the course of the conversation and dragging the thread back on track becomes a massive chore or an escalation makes the thread entirely unsalvageable, leading to that comment section being closed.

Some sites like Reddit try to counteract this by having the community up-vote and down-vote comments, allowing the highest-voted comments to rise to the top. However, even this is relatively easily manipulated and relies on a community that can actually make good use of the system, which I would argue most sub-reddits aren't actually really capable of. And even though this might help the community steer the conversation a little bit, whoever has been on the thread the longest has had the ability to collect the most imaginary internet points to rise to the top anyway. This system also discourages out-of-dogma insight, since people are just as likely to down-vote content they don't like as they are content that doesn't contribute to the conversation.

Edit: I forgot one option that tries to address this issue which is used for example on Ars Technica, which is to allow the editors to manually promote insightful comments to appear before the rest of the comments. I think it's a pretty decent system but its effect is delayed until the editors can pick a decent comment.

The current system

Despite there not being a comment system here doesn't mean that I view my opinions as the only valid truth and that I am suppressing the views of others. In fact, I welcome comments on what I write. However, the current system I use doesn't involve comment boxes, but rather a more distributed approach.

Firstly, my email is accessible in the nav bar of this website. I've sometimes received emails about my posts and I quite like reading them and responding to them. Secondly, people can naturally comment on my stuff via the social medias or, even better, write their own blog posts in response on their own websites.

I think this approach has a few qualities that I find interesting and worthwhile. It inherently decentralizes the communication between me and the people reacting to what I've written, which is a good thing for the health of the web in general, and it separates content and comment. I don't get massive amounts of comments, with this site being the tiny blog it is, but I would hypothesize that this could diversify the discussion about the topics I am writing, since the discussions will be inherently separate and thus less reacting to what others have said would take place. Note that this is still theoretical and I am not claiming it as fact. Also, I think the higher barrier for entry will also result in higher quality responses, since you cannot just drive-by comment low-effort quips in an easily accessible comment section.

So, that's pretty much why this website is the way it is. One part lazy, one part paranoid about the potential complexity of implementing a comment system properly and one part idealistic justifications for the first two. Remember to send me an email if none of this makes any sense.