Popular Science Bans Comments: A Step Back for Online Communities?

October 17, 2013

By: Rachel

Popular Science's online content is now similar to its print content: there's no room for reader discussion.

Last month, PopularScience.com made the decision to turn off its comment section on new articles, saying, “comments can be bad for science.” Of course, no one could comment on the post by Suzanne LaBarre, Popular Science's online content director, but a quick Google search showed an overwhelming response from journalists and readers. LaBarre says the decision is in part because “shrill, boorish specimens of the lower internet phyla” can overwhelm the “delightful, thought-provoking” commenters.
A major draw to getting your news and content online is the reader community that can debate, question or provide further insight into an article. Sure, there are spammers or folks that post irrelevant noise, but that exists in real life, too. (The obnoxious drunk uncle no one talks to at Thanksgiving, anyone?) This move is especially interesting coming from one of the most mainstream science publications, since many developments in the science and engineering community were presented, proven wrong or improved through community debate.
LaBarre encourages readers to engage “through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, livechats, email, and more,” which is interesting. The conversations will continue, but they won't take place on PopularScience.com or on the same page as the article. If there's an added step between reading an article and conversing about it on, say Twitter, will it change how readers internalize content or be influenced by others?
This move begs the question of whether more outlets will follow suit. Comment sections are valuable for more than just what you can learn from reading others' thoughts. Engaging with readers about a new development in your industry or responding to questions about an article you contributed is a great way for executives to demonstrate their thought leadership, join and continue a conversation with potential customers, and help drive website traffic.
Do you think this was a good move by Popular Science? Our blog comments are open, so leave one below.

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