Disabling comments on old blog posts: questionable wisdom

There’s a lot of talk among hardcore bloggers on the subject of the best way to deal with spam in their blog comments. Some people advocate turning off comments entirely; others suggest turning them off after the post reaches a certain age. It seems that comment-spammers mostly focus on older entries–perhaps simply because statistically, most entries are old, but perhaps this is intentional, in the hopes that the blog owner won’t notice comments on posts that have scrolled off the front page.

There’s also been a lot of discussion of power laws and inequality.

How one runs one’s blog is one’s own business, of course, but it’s a shame to disable comments on old posts. Jason Kottke famously had a thousand-comment-long discussion following his review of Matrix Reloaded.

I’ve observed a vaguely similar phenomenon in a post I made after getting my wisdom teeth out. A google search on the phrase “wisdom teeth out” brings up the comments on that entry as the third result. People drop by to relate their own experiences getting their wisdom teeth out: it’s not a discussion, exactly, more a repository of anecdotes, mostly by people I don’t know and have no other contact with. Obviously this couldn’t happen with closed comments.

What’s also interesting is that this must be a self-reinforcing tendency. I have no way of tracking how the same comments page has been ranked in Google’s results over time, but I can’t imagine that it has always been #3. The more people that comment there, though, the more that page is likely to be ranked highly as a result for wisdom-tooth-related queries.

3 thoughts on “Disabling comments on old blog posts: questionable wisdom”

  1. Congratulations on having one posting that people want to continue commenting on. :-)

    Even still, I don’t think blogs are the right tool for this sort of thing. They are better suited for contemporaneous dialog. Sounds to me like you’d prefer to have a message board.

    This exception aside, old blog entries tend to attract not just spam, but also clueless comments. For instance, my entry on Lowe’s spam became a consumers’ gripe board against Lowe’s, with few comments having anything to do with the matter blogged.

    And, goodness gracious, you wouldn’t believe the kook comments attracted by my posting on the apricot seed spammer.

    Closing comments on older entries isn’t simply a good anti-spam technique. It’s a good anti-stupidity technique.

  2. One more thing: may I add that the MT-Blacklist plug-in is an awesome tool? Not for the reason most people mention (the blacklist function). As we’ve seen in email spam, spammers adapt to get around blacklists and they lose effectiveness.

    I think the best thing about MT-Blacklist is that it appends a URL to the comment notification email that Movable Type sends. When you get spammed, you can delete it with one click. With a second click you can search your blog for more spams from that address or with the same URLs, and have them deleted too.

    That, of course, is not a solution that scales. For years, many naive fools thought the answer to email spam was, “Just hit delete.” You don’t hear that refrain much these days. Over the long term, that method will fail for blog comment spam too.

  3. Well, I’m not going to set up a forum just for people to relate wisdom-tooth-extraction stories. I don’t get much commenting on other old posts, and I don’t mind my comments serving that purpose in this one limited case.

    I agree that mt-blacklist is great, if only because it let me bulk-delete the 100 bulk-spam-comments I received all at once. I’ve created an RSS feed of my comments to help me catch these as they occur (I’ll post the template).

    I don’t think blacklisting by itself will suffice in the long run, but it will be a useful too. As I wrote in a comment on one of the items I linked to in the original post, I think that we bloggers will need to have a toolbox of anti-blogspam techniques, so that when a would-be spammer tries to attack us, he won’t know what combination of techniques to defeat in advance.

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