I came across a post (via Daring Fireball) by Joel Spolsky regarding comments below blog posts. While I think that he sort of misrepresented Dave Winer's post about blogs (Dave's post was about what it means to be a blog, and the fact that having comments don't make a blog), Joel does bring up some interesting points about comments:
I don't know how many times I've read a brilliant article someone wrote on a blog. By the end of the article, I'm excited, I'm impressed, it was a great article. And then you get the dribble of morbid, meaningless, thoughtless comments.[...]Thoughtless drivel written by some anonymous non-entity who really didn't read the article very carefully and didn't come close to understanding it and who has no ability whatsoever to control his typing diarrhea if the site's software doesn't physically prevent him from posting.
Joel really doesn't like those comments. But what do you think? I agree, sometimes comments can get pretty out of hand; but on personal, design-oriented blogs (like the kind I am trying to create and the blogs that I subscribe to), I very rarely see them get ridiculous. More often than not, the comments are actually helpful. Comments can help extend the post beyond original, going in directions that the author never even thought about. They can help point out mistakes in technical posts, and offer solutions.
Of course, there are times when that doesn't work out so well. Joel's example was pretty funny: a real estate post gone awry (spiderpig referenced by the sixth comment). But I would say that it's the author's (or moderator's) job to make sure things don't get out of hand. There's a line that needs to be drawn in order to keep threads like this in check. Each person can draw it where ever they like, but I think we can all agree that comments that end in "go kill yourself" probably have no place in the discourse of anything.
I, obviously, have enabled comments, as have most of the bloggers that I actually know (Eric Wiley, Brad Dielman, and Nate Klaiber to name a few) . But, not everyone does (Dave Winer and of course John Gruber come to mind). Some, like Shaun Inman and Cleveland's own Eric Meyer rely on pre-moderating (I think; I didn't want to just put a "test" comment in...) to stem some of the unwanted comments, but this of course becomes more of a problem the more posts/comments that you have. In addition to pre-moderating, Shaun Inman also only enables comments for some posts, and closes them to comments after a fairly short amount of time.
Of the two newspapers I work for, only the Lakewood Observer has comments of any kind, and they're in the form of a forum, not right under the story. As an interesting side note on the Observer Forums, your real name is required, instead of any random user name. This is a fairly huge hassle for the moderators, but helps prevent the "thoughtless drivel" that Joel complains of (well...most of the time). However, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Scene have comments right below their articles (I'm not sure if they're pre-moderated or not). FOXNews does not.
So what's the right choice? I sympathize with Joel that the comments on his site have gotten out of hand. I don't see it enough in the sites that I frequent to be that worried about it, but what happens when a it does? Do you just wait and see if the problem keeps happening/gets worse? If you pre-moderate, do you do so with a heavy hand, or let anything that's legal go through? Do you do away with comments altogether, or stand by your subborn faith in human-kind?