One of the key factors in the evolution of the blog into something that can’t be easily stripped down to a primitive form is the parallel rise of group and institution-sponsored blogging. If blogs were originally records of what one person found interesting online, with maybe a bit of their own commentary, reader communities didn’t matter, and thus the ability to comment didn’t matter. Group blogs, such as Daily Kos, changed that by emphasizing community, discussion and organization, much of which hinged on the ability of readers to interact via comments (both with each other and with the bloggers). Similarly, institutional bloggers, such as those employed by major media outlets, have an incentive to use comment sections to build and retain site traffic.
Predictably, active comment sections have proven difficult to utilize to their maximum effectiveness. The more open comment sections are, the more likely they are to attract trolls and other malcontents, driving away potential community members who just don’t want to deal with it. Registration can help, as can techno-organizational factors like discussion-threading and comment-rating, but the risk of somebody pissing in the punch bowl will always be there. A couple days ago, Ezra Klein relayed some other bloggers’ hesitant feelings toward their commenters and would-be commenters, and suggested that he’s interested in moving toward the most highly controlled form of commenting, which is already employed by the likes of Talking Points Memo and Andrew Sullivan — e-mails to him that he would post if he felt like it.
I don’t think there’s anything majorly impactful or important about these specific developments, but I do think they’re worth noting as milemarkers on the road away from “the blog” and toward a broader theory of online publishing.