Another podcast that I got around to listening to in my GDC commute was the CDC Podcast episode on “A Post-Comment World”. And thinking about that episode added a twist to my understanding of forms of publication and discussion on the web. The number of online publication niches continues to grow: it’s not just blogs and Twitter, there’s Facebook (including posts, comments, and likes), Tumblr, Quora, Buzz, Formspring, and I’m sure that all of my readers can add another half-dozen types onto that list. And I continue to be amazed at how each of those niches functions differently: you’d think they’d be redundant, but they each have their own reason to be.

So: say somebody has written a blog post, and you want to respond. Where might you do this? On the comment thread to that blog post, of course. Or you could be motivated to write a blog post in response. Or you could post about it on Facebook, or comment or like somebody else’s post on Facebook, or simultaneously post it on Buzz and share it in your Reader shared items, or you could link to it on Tumblr, or you could tweet about it. (Or you could talk to people in person about it, or talk about it on a podcast, or e-mail the author, or write a book about it, or write an academic journal article about it! But I digress.)

These all have their roles, these all have their distinct characters. A Facebook like is the simplest signal, while a blog post response is probably going to allow for the most thought and nuance. Facebook comments are short-form and part of a conversation among a few people; Buzz comments have that same conversational feel but, in my experience, have room for more context; Twitter is similarly short form but less conversational and is read by a broader audience.

As a blog author, you may prefer some sorts of response to others. And, to some extent, this is in your control. If you want responses on Facebook or Buzz, you’ll forward your posts there; if you don’t, you won’t. (Not that you can prevent other people from linking to your posts in those fora, of course.) If you want responses on your own blog, you’ll have it open for comments; if you don’t, you won’t.

It strikes me as entirely reasonable to value and hence want to actively encourage some of these forms of discussions more than others. Roger Travis, for example, has decided that he finds Buzz discussions more useful than comments on his blog posts, so he’s turned off comments on his blog posts and encouraged people to comment on Buzz.

And I suspect that many blog authors would prefer responses to their posts that come in the form of other blog posts. We’re likely to learn more from such responses, because they’re likely to be longer and less impromptu; and we also like the ego boost that comes from somebody’s being inspired enough by what we have to say to take the time to write a post in response. If that’s where you want responses to appear, then turning off comments is a pretty reasonable strategy.

I would also say that it’s an overly optimistic strategy—what are the chances that somebody would write a blog post instead of leaving a comment?—except that I’ve done that twice myself in response to Ben! In both instances, I probably would have left comments on his blog instead of posting on my own blog if that option had been available to me; I suspect that Ben is glad that I responded on my blog in both cases, and I know that I’m glad that I responded on my blog instead of in comments, because I learned more from the act of writing the blog posts than I would have from leaving comments.

Listening to the podcast discussion made me wish that more people turned off comments on their blogs, not because I think it’s a superior strategy but because I’m curious how that would affect the culture of response. And, now that I think about it, on the culture of craftsmanship that goes into writing blog posts: by stepping away from the possibility of immediate conversation, would authors feel compelled to put more work into ensuring that posts stand as objects on their own? (Ben, Daring Fireball, and Kill Screen all care about aesthetics, certainly.) I’m not yet convinced that I should turn off comments myself, though perhaps I should fork off another comment-free writing space where I take more care with what I produce; in a gesture of solidarity with Ben, though, I will turn off comments on this particular post. (While leaving on trackbacks: I’m all for blog-to-blog conversations!)

Post Revisions: