Should you disable comments on tutorials?

I received this question over email and I have to admit it’s a tricky one for me to answer. Before I get to the answer let me tell you about my outlook on comments and why I enable them here.

I allow comments because I love interacting with people without the 140 character restriction. Comments allow the conversation to continue and it’s nice to hear other points of view.

Pros and Cons of Comments

Before I dive into the question let’s look at some pros and cons of comments:

Pros

  • Builds a community
  • Better SEO
  • Allows you to meet new people

Cons

  • Time-consuming​ to manage
  • Can get overwhelming
  • Trolls, Spammers, and hate (1,200+ spam ones on this site)
  • Overall comments are declining across the web.
  • Posts with no comments

The question

The question is very specific, though, should you disable them on tutorials?

If I look at one of my popular tutorials, Setting up Gulp, Bower, Bootstrap Sass, & FontAwesome, it has 55 comments and most are related to it not working or some strange error.

Being the type of person that wants to help everyone I’ve spent a lot of time trying to debug various errors reported. I feel like when you share a tutorial you are the expert on the subject and when people ask for help I should be available. Much like releasing an open source project.

Then the other disadvantage is with 55 comments are they really useful? I can’t expect anyone to ever read through that many.

Plus most software that you are covering has their own forums or chat room where readers can get more details or clarification.

So it really comes down to you the writer. Can you handle the comments? Do you have the time to manage them? Do you have a thick skin?

If you answer yes to those questions, then I’d enable them. Otherwise no.

Have a question about tech, writing, or something random? Contact me here and I’ll do my best to answer it.

9 thoughts on “Should you disable comments on tutorials?”

  1. I think comments show how your post is being received. It’s like removing comment feature from facebook and rt from twitter. While it’s courteous to reply to comments, you are not bound to do so. As for spammers, well, they will still find your other profiles and do what they do 😀 In short, i don’t think it’s a decent idea to try to zip people 🙂

  2. I think a limit on the total root comments could work quite well, say 10 – this hits some of the pros whilst eliminating some cons. Easier to moderate, allows you to meet new people (hello btw! :)) and is a little less overwhelming.

  3. No no no, 1000 times no to disabling comments on articles that are either tutorials or explanations of features.

    For example, an announcement of a new Laravel feature doesn’t need comments. It’s simply an announcement that doesn’t need any discussion. But if you want to write a post about how to do something you need comments. Here’s why I believe that to be true, and that I have never seen addressed.

    Referencing a post,
    “A blog without comments is a soap-box, plain and simple. Not having comments says you are only interested in passing on your wisdom, without testing it against any external source (at least not where others can watch you do so) or leaving open the opportunity to actually learn something from those who don’t have their own blogs, or aren’t on Twitter or Google+.”
    Mathew Ingram, Yes, Blog Comments Are Still Worth the Effort (http://gigaom.com/2012/01/04/yes-blog-comments-are-still-worth-the-effort/)

    The no comments crowd will counter that argument with they get far better responses by not allowing comments. To quote Matt Gemmell, “High-quality, well-considered feedback and responses written on other blogs, rather than impulsive retorts and/or snarks”.

    Do you? How do I, as someone who doesn’t know you but found you via a Google search, know that these articles exist? How do I find them organically? http://mattgemmell.com/comments-commentary/, (found via link that @FredericSeiler posted above) talks about how he got a great discussion going. But he had to write another post about it, which means I’m at least 2 clicks away from any discussion, intelligent or not. This is a bad user experience for the person reading your site.

    On top of all that, you are deliberately making it harder for people to provide feedback, better ways of doing things, etc. In some cases that is good. In some it may be bad.

    But to assume that only long responses are worthwhile or intelligent, and that all the intelligent people who write worthwhile responses have a blog/twitter is clearly logically wrong.

    And on top of that, just because all the cool kids are doing it, doesn’t make it right.

    End of the day, it’s your site to do with as you please. The reason I refuse to read *anything* on medium is because of the fact every response is an article that opens in a new window.

    p.s. I had to create another account just to comment on this article. Very annoyingly high bar for commenting (understandable though)

    1. I’m not quite sure it’s bad UX to separate content into different posts (logically splitted), with links on each other, to prevent any tldr; effect. I mean, you found the discussion, right ? You expected it to be at the end of the page, but instead there’s a link to reach it. Is it really so bad ? If it’s only a matter of reducing clicks/easily findable content, why not put all the blog content into one page ?

      Joke aside, like I previously said, it’s about the context : if you’re doing a “best way to do something” or “let me show you what I do” post, do you really want 40 other best ways hanging around for your readers, sometimes with some really wrong advices ? Now, that’s what I call bad UX.

      It’s a bit like “50 best expensive clone plugins to do one stupid thing for WordPress” posts. I don’t need the 50 best, I only need one.

      As the teacher of a classroom, you don’t want random folks running everywhere in the room and yelling “ME, I PREFER TO DO THAT” in front of your students. That’s what forums are for, not tutorials.

      1. There are some good points there Frederic, but I think your analogies are a bit off.

        UX wise, it’s more of a general annoyance with the way Medium works than anything else.

        Analogies though. First, with the “best of something” post, most sites I read have upvote/downvote on comments, to allow the best replies to bubble to the top. In addition, I believe you should have other people providing advice. Not just for you, but also for the readers. They may point out good ways of doing things, or bad, or simply alternate ways. They can link off to other tutorials, etc. It allows your community to ask questions, provide better ways of doing things, get clarifications, all without needing your direct input. Stack overflow is a great example of this style. Good answers bubble to the top, and old answers often receive updated answers when technology changes.

        Secondly, I don’t think of this as a teacher in a classroom situation. Instead, I think of it as standing in a park, with multiple people talking. Some are simple recordings, spitting out their information. Others are people standing on a soap box, explaining their point of view and debating / clarifying points to any passerby who stops to join in.

        Both can be valuable. I’ve often used “50 best of” posts to quickly find 10 or so that I can narrow down to find a plugin with the features I need. More often, while learning you’ll use a tutorial.

        On a completely separate note, I find forums to be the worst experience on the Internet. Hard to find what you want, and it’s in a very poor interface. Discourse does some good things, so there is hope for the future of forum software but overall not a big fan.

        As an aside, if there were no comments and we wanted this discussion, we’d be up to 5 blog posts. Just saying 🙂

  4. I think comments are very useful on these types of posts. You could find a happy medium, and enable comments only on posts where you’re trying to pass information on, possibly teach something, like tutorials.

    You could disable comments on story posts, like your experience installing a new framework.

    In the end, I think selectively enabling/disabling comments is a happy medium. Comments do have their uses, and interacting with your user base is important.

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