Comments on comments

Comments on comments
: Blogger Tom Mangan has been influencing other blogs via their comments. Mangen positively inspired Jay Rosen to unleash his pent-up, still-jelling views on FoxNews (Jay told me about it over lunch yesterday and, voila, there was his post a few hours later). Mangen inspired Tim Porter to take an idea a step further on the Californian election.

And that’s just one example of the gems buried in the comments of so many blogs (those with the courage to open them up).

: I love my comments. They are a cafe, a community, a klatsch. People bring wonderful ideas, links, and punchlines there (just check out the string of interactive DNA on mascot names here). They are, in a sense, a whole host of blogs within the blog.

I try not to involve myself in the comments too much since I have my say here. I’ve killed only a handful of posts over the years (bad words, off-topic, personal attacks). I sometimes join in a conversation (sometimes to defend myself, sometimes to parry). But usually, I just like to listen.

Still, comments and interactivity of all forms do take care and feeding. At my day job, we have people who repond to alerts from the users and kill bad posts (they were quite busy after the Yankees/Sox brawl the other night). But when you look at the whole, the bad apples are few. It’s well worth having comments and forums, for this medium is a conversation.

: I’m saying all this because I just saw that blogger Tom Coates of PlasticBag is starting a blog about managing community. It seems a bit abstract and talky (“…children and teenagers are using the affordances and limitations of social software and community spaces as mechanisms to help them assert their dominance (often through bullying) in schools’ social shark tanks…”), and controlling. It’s about moderating discussion. I believe that most discussions don’t need moderation; they need content and value to draw the cafe customers; they need janitors to sweep up the trolls; they need an occasional reminder to behave from a higher authority. But, in general, what’s so wonderful about this great online conversation is that it moderates itself. The joy is in the listening.


  1. ....a moment with Easycure says:

    I half agree. Some people (for example, such as the first blogger I ever read, Rachel Lucas) have had comments before and decided to get rid of them. For them the joy is in the writing.
    For me, the joy is in the reading and responding. When I get my blog going, I will comment in my comments often, if for no other reason than clarifying my position because of poor writing in the original post.

  2. Seyed Razavi says:

    I agree in some cases and not so much in others. Blogs aren’t the only Internet medium and community sites (especially driven by business needs) need moderation. Personal sites sometimes want it too.
    On BlogShares, there’s various moderation strategies for different parts of the site. Industry voting is moderated. The forums are moderated but different parts more so than others. Inter player messaging isn’t (and if you can’t see why that might be needed you were lucky enough to miss out at least one of the unfortunate dramas that accompanied the site).
    On MonkeyX I only delete spam. For some reason, I’ve got a particular post, prob. with a good Google Rank, where Xbox and PS2 lovers mouth off and compare console sizes. I have no interest in it but it doesn’t hurt me to let the kids rant on if they like. It’s a sad indictment of my thoughts that this throwaway piece has received more feedback than anything else I’ve written.
    One aspect of moderation on blogs that bothers me somewhat is when people are directed to the site under false or mistaken pretenses. An example: I wrote about a couple of Universities merging here in the UK. Then I got a bunch of comments from people asking for information to join “my” university. Those asking are obviously not natives and English isn’t their strong suit. I felt bad for them asking the wrong place so I closed the comments on that topic and deleted some of the requests. It just wasn’t worth my time to direct them all and a general notice wasn’t effective (again due to their poor language skills).
    A similar thing happened on another blog where the discussion of Meca Cola turned surreal with keen Muslims with poor English skills wanting information on how to obtain the French-Algerian man’s “holy” sugary water.
    If blogs are powerful and gaining prominence in both online and offline networks, sooner or later we’re going to have to take responsibility for not just the content we produce but also the content submitted by our readers. Each comment on your blog becomes embued with your personal authority (using whatever metric, Google most notably).
    I don’t believe we are taking that responsibility as seriously as we should or looking at the long-term viability of the ecosystem at all. Those who are loudest at calling this out now (e.g. Orlowski @ The Register) are derided by our myopic utopianism about the “community”. This worries me… for all the echo chamber congratulatory patting each other on the back for being part of a potentially powerful medium we’re not looking I think as carefully at the responsibilities that come with that power.
    So in short: I think Tom’s site is a great step towards that even if it is academic in tone.

  3. Jeff Jarvis says:

    Seyed: A great comment; thanks. And I agree: I think Tom’s site will be worth watching with much interest. I also agree that our communities do need policing. But that was a lesson I learned at my day job: it’s policing more than governing. When we didn’t police, the community crumbled; it turned into a mess of trolls and spam. But when we tried to govern — to steer the conversation — that didn’t work either; the community wants what the community wants. So the best formula we’ve found is to let it do what it wants to do within limits and then to enforce those limits (for which the community is always grateful).

  4. George Peery says:

    I write as an (occasional) commenter, not a blogger.
    Sites that support comments can make site visits more interesting. (“Busy hands are happy hands.”) But the rule is far from absolute. Posts on certain very popular blogs may attract 50 to 100 comments in a single day. I find this overwhelming and, unless the blogger works at it full time, I’m guessing he or she must feel likewise. If I were a blogger, I would have no interest in managing such traffic.
    Some of my favorite blogs don’t support comments. But these have to be very good to keep me coming back. I have little patience with wind-bags who assume (it seems) the world is waiting breathlessly to hear his potty little opinions on this, that and the other.

  5. Right now we have the blogosphere, and in the the blogosphere we are witnessing the parallel development of the “commentsphere.” We’ll really see this take off when all comment packages support unique URLs for each comment and RSS feeds for comments (not just for posts). Once that happened, for example, someone like George Peery, another commenter on this thread, could right-click on his comment and have his comment and a link to the post he was commenting on automatically appear on a page. I’d love to have this kind of “commentblog” as a sidebar to my own weblog — showing a few lines of my five most recent comments on other blogs and the related posts — or a link to a comment by someone else I found insightful.
    Once we have these, we could extend the reach of tools like Technorati and Feedster through the blogosphere and into the commentsphere — so a blogger could see things like a feed of a commenter’s comments on other sites, where their commentors come from if they wish to allow a geolocation tag, and be able to search comments across many different blogs in the blogosphere.
    I have a post on the emerging commentsphere over on my site.

  6. George Peery says:

    My goodness, Ms Williams! I have hardly a clue as to what you’re talking about, but it sounds awfully impressive (and I’ve added your site to my “Favorites,” for now).

  7. George Peery says:

    Then again, Lisa Williams, I may not have added the beginning of your site (what most blogs call “Main”) to my Favorites. Your site seems to be, um, eccentric in that respect.
    Nevertheless, I’m delighted that your Rowan is 798 days old. But that only served to remind me of how negligent I’ve become as a parent. And so I broke out my TI calculator and determined that David, our first-born, is 12,593 days old (plus or minus). That’s alot, I suppose; but thankfully he’s still younger than me.

  8. George: I think John Keats said, “I haven’t got the time to write you a short letter, so I shall have to write you a long one.” I haven’t been thinking about the idea I call the “commentsphere” long enough to make it make sense in a few concise sentences. The basic idea is that if you make comments on websites, you should be able to see all those comments and the related posts on one page — even if those comments and posts originally appeared on dozens of pages. Also, once we can categorize and organize comments on weblogs, we should be able to search for comments on similar topics on different weblogs. Anyway, I hope it makes more sense on the post on my own site.
    Also, thanks for linking. My website predates my weblog by a few years, so unlike more recent blogs, the blog isn’t the front page of the site.
    And those old TI calculators rock!

  9. EvilPundit says:

    One thing that can be done to enhance the value of comments right now, at least on Movable Type blogs, is to provide permalinks for individual comments.
    There’s a step-by-step description of how to do that, here.

  10. Dann says:

    As a participant in your “day job” forums, I am a bit hesitant to get into too much detail. I agree with your thoughts regarding blogs, comments, other online forums, and the communities that such things inspire. Heck, how else am I (a schmuck from the midwest) going to have a conversation with one of those big wig media types from New York? (grin)
    At the same time, there is a large difference between how you think your people kill bad comments and how it works in reality.

  11. Pele says:

    Public opinions – private lazinessess.

  12. The meaning of life is that it stops.