“Don’t read the comments!” translates as follows: “Don’t read, don’t discuss: Leave public discourse to people who for whatever reasons happen to command relatively high-profile platforms already. If you are one of those people, pull up the ladder behind you, and sneer at those below.”
Put more precisely, “Don’t read the comments!” and its allied gestures, like advertising a post’s, blog’s, or site’s prohibition of comments, or, as on one popular blog, refraining from identification of e-mailers supposedly in the interest of fostering discussion, are meta-comments on comments, or comments in another format. As an emptily self-gratifying, attention-seeking, and otherwise pointless attack on strangers, the particular meta-comment “Don’t read the comments!” further qualifies – or disqualifies itself – as a “troll” comment.
The non-trolling or serious response to unsalvageably obnoxious comments sections is to support responsible sites: Not “Don’t read the comments!” but “Read and comment where commenting is taken seriously!” – or, for those of us who operate our own sites, “Take commenting seriously!”
I myself returned to blogging and to writing in general as a blog commenter. At many sites I find comments threads more interesting than posts, and I frequently discover topics for new posts through comment-thread discussion. In my observation the refusal to participate, one volunteer in the Army of Letters to another, is often among the first signs of a blogger’s creeping careerism and intellectual conformism.
I do not aim at this blog for quantity over quality. I will remove comments that I deem offensive or insulting, or that I find indistinguishable from “comment spam” (which often takes the form of praise, usually garbled and generic), though I do regret that more visitors – whose numbers I track via site statistics – do not pause to offer their thoughts even briefly, or to email them to me if too shy to comment in the threads. I am grateful to the visitors who, sometimes without commenting or explaining themselves, have given donations (though I’m beginning to wonder whether you all will ever start Cent-Upping).
To improve the commenter and comment-reader experience here, I have recently added new comment editing and formatting tools, I am continuing to research other enhancements, and I’m happy to take suggestions. In the coming weeks, I expect to be adding Commenter Pages (collecting every commenters’ contributions in one place, with enhanced features for registered commenters) and Comment Titles (further encouraging commenters to treat their comments as “posts” in another format). I have resisted adoption of an externally hosted commenting system like Disqus, Livefyre, or Facebook Comments, since, whatever their virtues, they make the level of customization I seek difficult or impossible. Where, however, they approach the level of integration and convenience in which a comment smoothly converts into a tweet or update, a tweet or update converts smoothly into a comment or post, and a comment anywhere is already a post everywhere, they define the challenge to bloggers and developers who accept social media on their own terms, as tools rather than threatening distractions, but who also want to maintain independence.
At some point, I may even address the visual convention that always places the post “above” its discussion, not to erase the difference between a piece of writing carefully crafted and an offhand reply or set of replies, but to let the difference, when it is a qualitative difference rather than a merely presumed or conventional superiority, stand forth on its own.
I take DRTC as a reaction as much as anything else – as such representing an understandable although not articulated critique, and therefore mainly unaware/uncaring of its limitations. Vox does seem to combine this with an air of smugness at its particular brand of dumbing downess. So I guess I see the commentlessness a symptom not the disease even as they see it as a feature not a bug.
For my part, I view your planned heightened prominence of commenters with some alarm. I just as soon some of my comments never see the light of a Wireless Mobile Device again. This may derive partly from my non-participation in social media, and I recognize that it may represent an idiosyncratic view that is unhelpful to the development of your blog. Further expression of this is the fact that I never comment at sites using the externally hosted commenting systems you mentioned. They always seem to be trying to herd me into behavior I don’t have an interest in.
On the other hand, you have a vision of possible alternatives in blogness and I find that interesting and would like to see it play out. My ambivalence perhaps is a feature not a bug.