Coding Horror

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Finally, a Definition of Programming I Can Actually Understand

I believe very strongly that a blog without comments is not a blog. For me, the whole point of this blogging exercise is the many-way communication of the comments -- between me and the commenters, and among the commenters themselves.

As I said in How To Advertise on Your Blog Without (Completely) Selling Out:

It's an open secret amongst bloggers that the blog comments are often better than the original blog post, and it's because the community collectively knows far more than you or I will ever know.

Indeed, the best part of a blog post often begins where the blog post ends. If you are offended by that, I humbly submit you don't understand why blogs work.

A blog without comments is like Amazon without user reviews. Is it really even worth using at that point? The products themselves are commodities; I could buy them anywhere. Having dozens of highly relevant, informed user reviews means I'll almost always buy stuff from Amazon given the chance. It's a huge competitive advantage.

Comments aren't the only form of commentary on a blog post. Yes, you can follow comments on Reddit, on Digg, even on other blogs using Technorati's distributed trackback mechanism, and so forth. I also try to practice Scoble's 21st rule without being all creepy and Beetlejuice about it. All of these are great and worthwhile conversations, but none of them can match the immediacy of viewing comments right there inline with the original article.

Of course, as with all other useful things, there is a dark side to comments.

I scrutinize every comment, and I remove a tiny percentage of them: they might be outright spam, patently off-topic, or just plain mean. I like to refer to this as weeding my web garden. It's a productivity tax you pay if you want to grow a bumper crop of comments, which, despite what Joel Spolsky and Nicholas Carr would tell you, often bear such wonderful fruit. The labor can be minimized with improved equipment, but it's always there in some form. And I'm OK with that. The myriad benefits of a robust comment ecosystem outweighs the minor maintenance effort.

I really try to avoid deleting comments unless they're egregiously violating the above guidelines. I do read every comment that is posted here, and although I am unable to respond to them all -- I can barely get through my email backlog these days -- rest assured that I eventually read every single individual comment left on this site. I enjoy constructive criticism and feedback. I even welcome downright unconstructive criticism, if it's amusing or useful enough.

Comments mean additional work for the blog owner. Personally, I don't mind spending a little time every day weeding out mundane evils: spam links, naked promotion, offensive rhetoric, and so on. It's well worth it to harness the considerable collective wisdom of our community. Comments are a large part of what makes this blog work.

And then there are... the strange comments.

I don't mean your average Fark level of strange. I'm talking about category 5 weirdness, the equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot combined. I'm talking about comments that feel like they were teleported here from another dimension. About once a year, I'll discover a comment so mind-bendingly bizarre and wonderful that it defies description. This year's strongest contender comes to us from "Hello" on my Why I'm The Best Programmer In The World* blog post:

Programming is all about knowing when to boil the orange sponge donkey across the phillipines with an orangutang gorilla crossed with a ham sandwich to the fourth power of twelve across the nile with an awful headache from the previous night when all of alfred's naughty jalapeno peppers frog-marched the nordic elves across the loom-lined geronimo induced swamp donkey over and above the fortran fortified kilomanjaro fence past the meticulously crafted anti disgusting sponge cake scenario where all the hats doth quoteth the milk which is not unlike the super werewolf from the infinite realm of ninja-step. it's hard to define, really.

Finally, a definition of programming I can actually understand.

I don't think any stronger proof that comments are awesome has ever been written. So, wherever and whoever you are, "hello", thanks for that one. You've restored my faith in the value of comments for another year.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: