Commentary Value

Back in the day when most of us were using the very early versions of America Online to access the internet, leaving comments for our favorite websites was virtually impossible. If we didn’t feel like sending an e-mail to the author’s provided address, we sometimes had the option to sign their guestbook. These are unheard of practices these days, as many individuals will not provide e-mail addresses (or none that are direct, anyway) and an online guestbook now would seem laughable. Many pages of many blogs now offer the option to post your comments. This used to excite people who were creating content for the web. There may be a slowly developing backlash, though.

A few weeks back, Gizmodo posted an article about trolling in the comments. Superficially, this may not seem like an issue. None of us are trolls, right? Mat Honan, the author of the article, provided a broad enough definition of the word “troll” to include almost anyone who has ever posted a comment on the web. It essentially comes down to whether or not you agree with the author of a piece. Disagreeing, even if altruistic in nature, is trolling.

To be honest, the piece is brilliant. Not for it’s content. No, it sounds whiny. But it puts anyone who disagrees in the position of a troll by the article’s definition, and many of those who would want to share why they disagree would not want to put themselves in a position that might suggest they are trolls. That is an extremely painful spot for people who like to comment on articles but disagree. So, all they could do is agree…or get over the idea that they might be trolls.

A few days later, a video game blog that I was checking out, Second Quest, turned off the comments on their site. This was surprising because of how few comments there were on each post. I don’t know if this was because of moderation or because the site is relatively new and no one was commenting anyway. But a site with relatively few posts and fewer comments made it a point to shut down their commentary system and post about it.

Their post links to a series of posts about blog commentary that is definitely worth reading if you’re into that sort of thing. What value do comments provide to any given piece? The posts discuss that shutting down comments can suggest a lack of humbleness to some readers but also provide more direct and thoughtful communication while simultaneously trimming out the less appealing comments. It is definitely food for thought, and that series of posts was better than this comment that stuck out to me from Second Quest‘s post about it: “Comments are always something I personally have felt uncomfortable having on Second Quest, primarily because most comments we get are of two types: agreement with no substance, and disagreement with no substance.” I cannot say whether or not this is true because I saw few comments on their blog, although I left a couple myself. Without taking offense to the suggestion that I posted comments without substance, I’m left wondering what does constitute a comment with substance?

I started this blog over three years ago, and in any given month I get a handful of comments. I realize that this is for two reasons: my blog is hardly popular, and not everyone who visits has an opinion on the various topics of my posts. I’m fine with that. The comments I do get range from the thoughtful to those comments that are more self-serving for the blog’s visitor than for me. I’m not talking about spam. Some people just need their thoughts out on the screen because they feel a lack of sufficient audience in their interpersonal lives. Don’t take that as a knock at them. I have a blog for a reason, y’know.

But I rarely consider any of the comments to be without substance. Not all comments are for me, and I will not respond to them all. Some comments stand well on their own. Some comments are begging for response from a much broader audience. I like that. The way I see my blog, and many blogs of this nature, is that it’s the starting point for a longer conversation. The posts themselves are a sounding board for my thoughts, but I know very clearly that I’m one person with one point of view on topics that are ultimately subjective in nature. There are occasions when I like to think I make good strong points on more objective matters, but everything is taken into subjective interpretation anyway. From there people can discuss – not just with me but everyone else who cares to take part. In essence, the blog is a community project. I’m not a community leader by any means. Just because I take up a soapbox doesn’t mean anything. The guy who stands in the middle of a public area spouting on and on about his beliefs isn’t leading a community, but he’s making people talk. To him and among themselves.

So it is my opinion that turning off comments is not a good thing in the public forum of blogging. Aside from suggesting that the comments are without value (or outright saying it, SQ), it stifles possible community discussion. And I know that not everyone wants a community; they may fear the fostering of a community like the Gawker family’s, but regular readers of an author are a de facto one. No one owes it to anyone to foster or preserve such a community, but having one can enrich the experience of a blog.

So now I turn to my community. What are your comments about comments?

Author: Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

5 thoughts on “Commentary Value”

  1. I feel so meta right now. From my experience as a reading teacher, I’d have to say that a comment box is a key step in reading skills. I think it encourages reading engagement and comprehension. While I don’t like long trails of comments after something I read, I like that it’s there.

  2. I think we agree. Rarely do I read them on larger non-tech sites: New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN. Too many noise.

    On larger web sites, Ars Technica, Slashdot, etc, I’ll quickly browse to see if anything catches my attention. The above sites seem to bring out a lot of folks looking for attention: trolls and alpha-geeks showing off their knowledge. I’ll notice some people engaging and following the conversation, but considering the size and number of participants — and dealing with trolls — I’m curious how satisfied they view their efforts and rewards. My enjoyment threshold is apparently much lower.

    On the self-serving side…
    You post on a number of topics that interest me and back-and-forth conversations exist here, such as the one on SOPA. When you do, this is a great place to ahem, knead my ideas out. Beyond that, it’s becoming a small online community. I know the regulars… like Mel and Kaz. The best part to me is when the comments are thought provoking. For example, I’ve never thought about comment-systems being used as an engagement/comprehension index. Neat idea that I stole from Ms. Carbine.

  3. There is so much subjectivity to the value of comments that varies by blogger. They could be a great resource for providing a greater understanding through prompting discussion on the topics that are presented; they could be a total heel to your aims if you get a lot of people disagreeing with you and you can’t find a way to back yourself up; they can show validation (like when someone just says “nice post” it makes me feel like my time was worthwhile).

    I don’t know how “big” these sites are that decide to turn off comments, but maybe as one gets larger s/he loses taste for the last on in the list, and maybe then starts to feel like the second isn’t worth it. But then, dissenting opinions can totally be valuable. If a constructive critic comments and the blogger gets pissed, whose fault is that? And if the blogger turns off comments due to too much dissent, to whom is the blogger really writing and for what aim?

  4. I don’t know how I feel about them turning off comments, especially because I imagine if somebody would want to know what they consider a comment with substance, they can’t leave a comment asking for clarification. It’s interesting, because I would imagine they should want a more educated and substantial discussion, but they have limited potential contributors to that conversation. I was going to say had you eliminated comments, I would reach out to you directly if I felt strongly enough about the material or opinion, but that’s because I already have your contact information. I just can’t comprehend why you would do a post about it, it comes off as arrogant to me, but I don’t know a better option once you decide to remove the ability for others to comment.

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