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Comments, Blogs, and WaPo, Oh My!

PoliticsTechnologyThe National Journal’s Blogometer took on one of my favorite subjects yesterday and dove into the debate over comments and the differences between liberal and conservative blogs.

Liberal blog readers expect that a blogger make space available on their site to facilitate discussion, whereas conservative argue that anyone can start a blog and it’s not the responsibility of the blogger to give others a soapbox. It’s their soapbox, of course. The difference here is one of conservatives touting the virtue of ownership and individual initiative vs. liberals expressing a desire for community… So the online left and the online right tend to have slightly different ideas about what a blog is for, and on this point they’re talking past each other.

That’s actually a pretty good argument. However, most of my feelings on the use of comments within a blog are driven by a more practical reality than an ideological one. The inclusion of blog comments should be driven by the strategic purpose of the site and the audience.

On the Bush campaign we chose not to have comments because there were plenty of other opportunities to comment on conservative politics elsewhere and we would rather have people spreading the word outside the confines of our site – where their comments were likely to be consumed primarily by other supporters.

For the RNC, we chose to include comments because the purpose of the RNC blog is about party building and connecting activists. The comments section is a good way to do that. It’s also a good way to build an audience. Since people do not gravitate to institutions the way they gravitate to personalities, a strategic goal of an institutional site should be finding a way overcome the impersonal nature of the institution.

Granted the implementation of the RNC blog was hampered by the old school notions of message control. The GOP runs a very tight ship when it comes to message, and blog comments are viewed as a threat to that. The comments were moderated to remove anything off-topic and off-message. I understand their moderation has since been relaxed, but still remains.

For an individual blogger, the considerations may be more practical. While trying to do my day job, raise a child, and be a good husband, the task of posting regularly to this blog takes a good deal of time and effort. If the comments on this site took off and I suddenly had 500-1000 comments on a single post, I can guarantee I would not moderate them. Even if this blog became my day job, I wouldn’t feel the need to moderate every comment for content.

In addition, the considerations for a GOP blogger are based on the base of our parties. The GOP base is more commonly comprised of individuals who are sensitive to religion, morality, and “decency”. It is often the right side of the political spectrum that advocates for restrictions on what can be shown, done or said on TV and radio. Conservative bloggers, then, have to be more sensitive to the potential for profane/offensive comments.

While the Blogometer makes an interesting point about the nature of the parties and the role of the individual or the community, the practical realties of comments; how they relate to the strategic vision for your site; and the nature of your audience likely play a larger role in the decision.

Written by Michael Turk