Dear Bob,

You caused a lot of discussion in your OtM piece about comments — and that discussion itself — in the comments on WNYC’s blog, in the comments on mine, and in blogs elsewhere — is an object lesson in the value of the conversation online.

Look at who is trying to help you understand that conversation while also trying to improve it:

Derek Powazek agrees with you — as we all do — that some comments are bad and so he shares considerable wisdom about how to give a community the care and feeding it needs and deserves.

Doc Searls, a coauthor of the seminal Cluetrain Manifesto and a teacher from whom I have learned more about the essence of the internet (hint: it’s not a medium) than most anyone, is delivering a history lesson with perspective on the growth of communities. “We need to remember that the Web is still new. It’s about three seconds after the Big Bang and all we have is a few light elements, no galaxies, and a lot of heat,” he said.

ComcastScott (a vice-president, I learn) — whom I suspect you inspired to join the conversation with your own not-very-temperately named — gives an eloquent defense of the value of listening.

Kevin Marks is a preeminent architect of community online; he was the technology genius behind Technorati — which enables the distributed conversation (and where you can follow the conversation around you here) — and is now writing Google’s gospel on the social. On his blog, he took the time to discuss what communities need and how they are structured, sharing the smarts of many other people who a great deal of experience in the field.

Tish Grier, who has been a leader in local communities I’ve been involved with, also tells hosts what they need to bring to assure civility.

Aaron Barnhart – who, like you, covers media — explains how he handles commenters who don’t like him.

The conversation on your blog is really quite incredible with some legitimate questions for Ira Glass.

I know you didn’t like my own observation of irony in your report. Fine, dismiss that as just another damned comment.

But note well, my friend, that all of these people are speaking to you with intelligence, experience, generosity, and civility. You know what’s missing? Two things: First, the sort of nasty comments your own piece decries. And second: You.

Bob, the best way to learn about the conversation online is to join in. That doesn’t mean just defending yourself against my wisecrack (though even in that, I shared links to my experience, perspective, and lessons with communities). It means engaging in the ideas there, bringing your journalism to the conversation: ask questions, ask for examples, challenge ideas, seek clarification. Learn. That’s what these conversations enable and the conversation around your piece is the best proof of it.

So when it’s time to report the reaction to your piece, I suggest that you not just read one comment — that’s so letter-to-the-editorish of you. Instead, leap into this conversation, draw on the generous sharing of knowledge and viewpoints of people in it, take lessons away, and share those.

Your friend,