My website is my digital public face. It is the first impression visitors get of me when browsing it. I’m careful about what I publish on my site since it impacts my public image. It is a one-way street, on purpose, but it doesn’t mean I’m not open to feedback.

Comments are a liability

In the blog section, I post lengthier pieces. Some readers might have a different perspective on a topic, and they can shed new light on the problem. I don’t want to miss out on that potential feedback: I need to give them a way to reach out and let me know their thoughts.

Comments are a common way to get this feedback, but there are two main problems with built-in comments:

  1. Everyone can post something on a page I own under my domain. Some jurisdictions such as the EU make me responsible for it. This means additional moderation work to keep the site pleasant and within the law’s boundaries.
  2. I use Astro, a static website generator. Static sites are simple, portable, and secure. Built-in comments must be stored on the server side and queried at run time to be rendered, which is impossible on a static site. I could use JavaScript to embed comments hosted by a third party, but I would rather keep my deployment simple.

Comments are a social activity

Whenever I write an article, I share it on Mastodon and LinkedIn. I add links to those social media posts at the bottom of my article. By following them, people can directly reply to my Mastodon and LinkedIn posts on the platform I posted them on. I will receive a notification and will be able to answer. Others can join and re-share the post to their network, making it a truly open conversation.

I benefit from the moderation of those platforms, all while not adding complexity to my website or making me liable for their content. It also draws a clear line between what I post and what others say about it.

There are side-effects

The downside of relying on Mastodon and LinkedIn for comments is that people need to have an account on either to be able to comment. The former is an open network based on open standards, but it can be impenetrable for the less tech-savvy. The latter is a proprietary platform with a broader audience. I could also publicly expose my email address. But I decided not to do so to prevent scrapers from reading it.

The comments are also spread across several platforms. There is no unified view of all the comments at once. I don’t mind, but some authors or readers might see it as a problem.

Finally, the publishing process is also slightly more tedious. When posting on my blog, I now need to share it on socials, grab the link to the social posts, paste them into the front matter of my article, and redeploy the website.

I regularly rely on Buffer to schedule my posts to increase their reach to European and American audiences. Buffer cannot update my blog post to add the links to the socials. I need to be available whenever Buffer shares my article on socials to update it, which defeats Buffer’s point. The longer I leave the blog post unmodified, the more likely I am to miss out on an interesting conversation.

A net positive

Relying on third-party platforms for comments proved to be a simple way to make conversations happen around my posts and to enable feedback. The trade-offs are acceptable to me, and I plan to keep linking to Mastodon and LinkedIn. It’s a trivial thing I recommend others to do as well.