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High volume flow

David Carr wrote an article for the NY Times about the Washington Post’s recent decision to close down comments on their blog when one of their threads turned ugly. As the article points out, the issue of web sites having problems dealing with feedback (particularly published feedback like comments) is not localized to mainstream media publications:

Mickey Kaus of, which does not carry comments, said that “the world is crying out for the jerk-zapper,” although he added that he thought that The Washington Post’s Web site overreacted. BoingBoing, a heavily trafficked “directory of wonderful things,” shut down its comments section last year. “We took a lot of heat over it,” said Xeni Jardin, a founder of the site. “But until we are able to come up with a better comments system - most of what is out there is too crude - it is not worth the trouble.

If you’re wondering why the comments on aren’t on more often, this is the reason.[1] This site is a one-person operation and even though I work on it full-time, I don’t have the throughput to manage a lot of threads. Comment gardening (as I call it) is hard work if you want to maintain an appropriate level of discourse. And as Xeni said, the current technological and user experience solutions suck. Approved commenting, sign-in to comment, Slashdot-like comment moderation…they all have their problems.

As an experiment back in October, I opened the comments on all threads on for a little over a week. During that time, I kept track of my comment gardening duties, basically everything I did to keep those threads clear of trolling, flaming, off-topic comments, and the like. The only thing I didn’t record was how many times per day I checked for activity in all the open threads โ€” every 15-30 minutes or so while I was awake (~8am to midnight) โ€” because I would have been too busy recording the checking to actually do the checking. At one point, I had almost 60 simultaneous threads open and was spending half my day keeping up with all of them.

After more than a week, I stopped recording everything…even though most of the threads were still open and the comments, flames, trolls, and spam kept pouring in. But the resulting document will still give you some idea of what’s involved with opening comments on I would love better tools to deal with this because I enjoy having comments open on the site and so do my readers. But for now, I think it’s a better use of my time to focus on other aspects of the site and open comments when I feel a particular post would benefit from them.

[1] You can’t imagine the reasons I’ve heard about why comments are off on Most of them are variations on the theme of: “All the big bloggers have their comments turned off because they’re too stuck-up and self-important to care what their readers have to say, those arrogant bastards. They can’t stand people disagreeing with them.” And so on.