A Few Quick Thoughts on Commenting
James Joyner has had a couple of interesting posts over the last week concerning blog comments, especially here at OTB. Here are some more thoughts.
James Joyner has had a couple of interesting posts over the last week concerning blog comments, especially here at OTB.
In regards to Are Online Comments More Trouble Than They’re Worth? I would say the following:
1. I agree with the general tenor of the discussion in the comment threads attached to the above post, i.e., that the comment section here is, on balance, a clear value to OTB.
2. Yes, as a blogger, I prefer having feedback. It is interesting as a general proposition and it allows me to gauge how well I have explained myself as well and to raise issues I may have not considered (or to identify errors)—so it is certainly valuable to me. I like conversations. I will say that some folks could work on their conversation skills (i.e., conversations are give-and-take, or, at a minimum, should be focused on the topics actually under discussion. Often it seems like some conversations simply go from A to B to C without every finishing topic A. (I frequently feel like I have stumbled into a cyber version of Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch. Michael Palin’s first line from that bit, “I’d like to have an argument,” could easily be the commenter’s, or even blogger’s, credo.)
3. An interesting side issue that was raised in the post that came from Joel Johnson (whom James was quoting) was about whether or not comments make money. Of course, a key stipulation is that money is not my blogging motivation, so my observations here are biased, I suppose. Having said that it seems to me that, as per the comment thread in the linked post notes, there are readers who come to OTB for the comments (at least in part). That helps traffic which affects the ability to sell advertising. So, in that regards, comment section is a plus. On the other hand, time spent responding to comments by a blog’s author(s) is time not being used for blogging (indeed, I have probably spent more time responding to comment threads over the last two weeks or more than I have blogging—but, of course, this is mostly a function of a really busy set of weeks and the fact comment response is a quick affair, in general).
In regards to James’ Where Have the Thoughtful Conservatives Gone? (where I have commented quite a bit and I will not recapitulate my comments here) I have noted that in that thread there are a number of commenters who are all up in arms over the (now discontinued) comment system in which readers can give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to a given comment which (used to) lead to comments with lots of down votes being covered up (and thus requiring an extra click to see—but, importantly, no being deleted).
The commenters in question perceive that “conservative” comments are more targeted than “liberal” ones. Now, such an evaluation, as I noted in the thread, is rather subjective (as are, I will allow, my own perception that mostly just lousy comments have been voted down). I do find that some of the more “conservative” (if not reactionary) commenters do seem to get voted down with some frequency. A lot of that (such as comments by “superdestroyer”) are as much about the angry tone of the comments and/or redundancy (how many times can we be told about the coming one party state and the plight of whites in the US?) as it is about anything else.
In general, I think that a lot of the conservative/liberal distinctions have more to do with self-perception and politics-qua-team sports than an objective system of classification. Also, I think some commenters draw more attention to themselves in terms of confrontation with other commenters and that leads to more thumbs down than some other commenters receive (i.e., there are more variables in play here than just a simplistic ideological dichotomy—some commenters can simply be more annoying than others).
In regards to the thumbs up/down bit, the following thought occurred to me this morning: is this not an example of a market at work? Readers have total freedom to read or not read, comment or not comment, and to vote up, down or to abstain. As such, it struck me as ironic when I was thinking about it this morning that some commenters are so incensed by the system while arguing that the main reason that comments are voted down is that they are too “conservative.” But, surely, the “conservatives” are allegedly more invested in the power of markets to solve problems (the wisdom of crowds are whatnot that James himself noted in the above-linked post). Granted, this is a limited example and the counter-argument is likely to be that the market in question is skewed in one direction, ideologically. Of course, my counter would be: where is there ever a guarantee that give set of consumers will represent a perfect pool of participants? Markets can be rather brutal, yes?
Just like I do as a blogger, commenters might consider that the reason that they are getting voted down is not as much petty ideology as it is that they are not coming across the way that they think that they are. This way be as much about tone and style than it is content.
Of course, the hidden comments are gone. I wonder if this will incentivize more voting, now that people no longer wish to contribute to what they believe is an unjust outcome (a factor that demonstrates, too, that behavior is influenced by a number of conditions in a given context).