What’s wrong with comments
Firstly, everyone has an opinion and the easier it is to express it, the less considered a comment tends to be. When you can just type a message and have your browser fill in the ‘email address’ and ‘your name’ fields there is almost no barrier to the visitor dumping their current state of mind in a comment - they read (or part-read) a post and immediatly write a reply, hit “send” and leave. And usually a comment of that nature will be flippant, trollish, missing the point, or largely useless. The easier it is to leave a comment, the lower the average comment’s quality will be.
Secondly, spam. There’s no need to go over what spam has done to comments other than to say how poor our attempts to defeat spam are. We either turn commenting off altogether, or resort to automated filtering (which makes mistakes and still needs moderating) or some form of fragile and useless “are you a human” test. That’s fundamentally flawed. A lot of “spam bots” are human, and they’re employed to leave comments as fast as they can in as many places as they can. We shouldn’t be testing for humans. We should be testing for understanding.
How to fix comments
Test for understanding of the article’s content.
I intend to do this when I rebuild my site. I’ll have a small “quiz” on each post and test the user understood the points I’m making. If they didn’t, they don’t get to comment. Harsh? No. Let’s look at what doing this buys me…
It buys me quality. I’m not interested in flippant comments, trolls, or arguing unrelated points. By crafting a simple quiz I get to cut the majority of those types of comments out before they’re made. By making it an effort to comment, people with weak agenda’s vanish because most of those people would rather leave than spend the cognitive effort required to comment. Those that do spend the time and effort are worth listening to - especially if they disagree with my article! Because they took the time to say so and they understood my article’s main points and arguments - I know they did, because I tested them! Won’t this put people off who have valid feedback? Maybe - but if the visitors comment wasn’t worth an additional 10sec of their time to leave it, then it wasn’t worth any of my time to read it.
Testing for understanding also buys me much better spam protection. It doesn’t matter if the spammer is a bot or a human; they need to have read and understood the article to post a comment. That’s far too time consuming (and therefor unprofitable) for human spammers even if they had the article to read for context (I imagine many don’t, I imagine they just use systems that scrape forms).
As a consequence of both the above points, the system buys me time. Time I can spend doing fun, useful, and pleasurable things instead of moderating valueless comments or searching through a sea of automatically flagged spam trying to find genuine comments within.