John Scholvin

John Scholvin

still can’t fit a half-stack in the trunk

02 Feb 2021


an old screenshot of notifications that's all over the web

Long time friend of the program, Jay, asked me:

Anyway, I was just wondering if you had made any decisions about a comments section on your blog posts. I enjoyed hearing the comments and replies of your followers on FB….  Everyone seemed funny, thoughtful and/or intelligent summarizing what you said - “after weeding out the chaff”).

The short answer is, yep, I’ve made a decision, and it’s that there will probably never be a comment section here. The reasons are technical, practical, and ethical.

Technical. Building a comment system is a lot of work, which should seem self-evident. Lots of web coding in the front, lots of databasery in the back—the worst kind of mullet. And of course there are security considerations, because then I’d have to maintain a database of users and passwords, which would make this site a much riper target for attack. There are open source systems for commenting, but there would still be a really large coding effort to get them integrated, and the database problem doesn’t go away. And, finally, there are third-party vendors who offer commenting systems I could integrate. But, again, that’s work, and in this case there’s a new, worse problem—now they maintain the database of users, and the commenters’ personal data becomes their commodity to buy and sell. That cuts straight across the indie web ethic I’m trying to live here.

Practical. Commenting systems on the public internet require constant vigilance to monitor and moderate, even for a modest, unknown site like mine, and the only person at this corporation to do that is me. I already am out of hours (and focus) in my days, and I can’t spare the time (or the interruptions). If I’m lucky, the biggest problem ny public commenting system will face is spam. More likely, here in the early post-Enlightment era, I’ll get vicious, unbridled hate, directed at me or some other commenter. Say this for Facebook: they gave you a lot of control over preemptively blocking the kind of people who see a picture of your kid as an excuse to pick a political fight. No such tools exist out here beyond Zuck’s walls.

Ethical. Public commenting destroyed the social internet, is on the cusp of destroying democracy, and will soon destroy civilization itself. I’m not being hyperbolic here. Name one good thing that ever came out of unverified/anonymous comment sections, anywhere. While you’re thinking about that, I could list a hundred examples of death threats, bullying that led to suicides, sexual harassment, doxxing, stalking, too many disinformation campaigns to count, and, recently, a mob action that nearly overthrew the world’s oldest surviving (so far) democracy. While you could argue that maybe some of the technologies used to propagate those horrors weren’t technically “comment” systems, I’d argue the distinction is semantic at best. Where the public can perform anonymously online, they will, and it’s a bad movie with a terrible ending. Zero stars.

If you want to respond to something I write here, my inbox is always open. And I’ve gotten a ton of really thoughtful emails! I always reply! Feel free to engage. It’s low-commitment, like texting but with better spelling. And I promise I’ll never publish any of it, unless I ask first, like I did with Jay’s question above.

And as far as that goes, regarding the cool, smart, hilarious, informed, irreverent bunch of friends I’d cultivated over the years for discussions on my old Facebook page: it’s true. An incredible, one of a kind group. That’s the thing I miss most about not being there, no question. Unfortunately, the tools and the time simply don’t exist to create that kind of experience here. The solution, if it exists, is going to end up being something that looks nothing like what we’ve seen so far, radically different. I’m not that kind of seer, sadly.

The ingredients for good discussion are well understood, but assembling them is something like alchemy. You’re way more likely to get a bowl full of rocks than you are anything like gold.

(Note: the image up top is all over the place and I couldn’t find the original source for attribution. Gotta be old…Vine’s dead, and that Tumblr logo is about three iterations ago. If the owner sees this and wants credit, just let me know.)