Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

No comment

The Canadian blogosphere exerts a lot of peer pressure on those bloggers who choose not to turn comments on. One-sided monologue, the accusations fly. Newspaper columnists posing as bloggers. And it is true that most of the political bloggers who don't have comments turned on are either professional political journalists like Andrew Coyne or Paul Wells, or other political personae like Warren Kinsella or Monte Solberg. Most of them have explained their choice by voicing a fear of being held legally responsible for what others say on a site with their name on it. And then there's this blog, which also hasn't ever allowed comments, but my reasons behind that choice are a little bit different.

Some of the more minor ones include the following:

1. I really don’t like the way commenting is set up on most blogs. On personal journaling-based sites like livejournal or some more professional-looking blogs like Daily Kos, the comments are threaded so that you have a choice of commenting either on the post or on one of the comments. At livejournal, your comment is even emailed to both the owner of the journal and to the person being responded to, which makes it much easier to keep a real conversation going without having to check back on every one of the ongoing conversations you're involved in. And after all, the only reason to turn commenting on at all is to get real conversations going. Otherwise, why bother?

2. I welcome respectful disagreement, but I see very little of that in the political blogging world. Most of what you see in comments is either fawning agreement or rude hit-and-run disagreement, neither of which I like and neither of which I
particularly want to court here. There’s a lot that goes on out there that I’d rather not have in my backyard, so to speak. And I actually think people are more likely to say what they really think in a respectful sort of way if they’re not performing for others, i.e., if they're sending private email rather than posting comments.

The third and most significant reason, though, surpassing both of those other reasons combined, is that I never really intended to become a political blogger. I enjoy reading political blogs; I actually was a regular commenter on various other blogs for about two years before I ever created this one. I was also already writing regular pieces on various topics and sharing them with my friends anyway (which is why a lot of the posts here are older than the site itself). Eventually, a couple of those friends convinced me that I should really consider creating a blog for my various politically oriented rants so that a wider audience could read them if they wanted to. Because I was already feeling a little annoyed at not having something to put in the "URL" line when I commented on other people's blogs, I wasn't all that hard to convince.

I decided from day one not to take it particularly seriously and only to throw things out there that I was already writing to share with my friends, mostly because I didn't want to feel pressured into writing more regularly than I wanted to. That decision lasted about two weeks. See, the first thing I noticed was that people were suddenly taking the comments I was making on theirblogs a lot more seriously--they were actually generating discussion! Having a recognized name in the blogging community, even a pseudonymous one, seemed to be a free ticket to exactly the sort of thing I was trying to do--have discussions with some of these bloggers whose work I enjoyed--and the more I wrote, the more recognized my name became. And as a side effect, occasionally people would like reading the stuff I had to say, too...and, frankly, it's fun to be read. Gradually, I started developing a greater commitment to this little blog than I'd originally wanted to have. I'm having fun with it, but it takes away from all of the other things going on in my busy life, and I'm not always sure how I feel about that.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that in a way, not having comments enabled is sort of my way of remaining in denial about the fact that I'm now a real political blogger. On the more rational end of things, comments are one more thing that takes time...time I don't necessarily have to spare. I have a limited number of minutes in the day to spend on blogging-related activities, and since my original intention was to be a voracious reader and only a very occasional blogger, most of me would rather spend that time reading and commenting on other people’s posts than responding to comments on mine. I could always just refrain from responding to comments–a lot of bloggers do–but again, why allow them at all if you’re not going to promote genuine back-and-forth conversation?

At the same time, though, I'm also sensitive to the fact that whether it was my original intention or not, I'm now a member of a community, and it's a community that strongly values the option to comment. I understand and respect the reasons behind this, so I'm going to experiment a little with turning comments on. I don't know yet how I'm going to feel about the results, especially given reasons one and two above, so I may turn them back off again. But I want to at least give it a chance.

7 comments:

Aaron said...

I use Word Press, which emails me the comments as well as all the IP addresses from commenters. I have the comments sent to my gmail account, and gmail has a nice feature of nesting the conversations together.

I can send you a gmail invite if you want to try it out.

Moving over to WP was a bit difficult for me, but I figured it out. I did not realize that they have hosts advertising on their site who do the install, and maybe even the blogger import for you. (Import your old blog's content).

I think your criticisms of the medium are a function of the blogger software itself. It has its limitations.

Thumbs up for enabling comments.

Coyne's blog, though, has just tanked. Not sure if it's due to the lack of new content or the no-comments or both.

I think that if anything is balkanizing the blogosphere, it's the no-comment newsbloggers who have much more mindshare, and then attract all the traffic, and then import their one-way medium into the blogosphere.

But Zerby has trackbacks, which is a step up.

Oh, and due to the technology behind RSS (Real Simple Syndication), one enterprising person seems to have aggregated the content of the "No Comment" bloggers into his own blog, and has enabled comments on _that_.

So the no-commenters are screwed because someone has found a loop in the technology.

People are going to comment anyway. The no-comment bloggers even comment on their own posts at this guy's blog.


Click HERE

Matthew Good said...

I've had years dealing with this problem. From US conservatives looking to spam to death threats, it's all happened. One of the easiest solutions is to use haloscan, upgrade to a paid account, and set it so that you have to okay the comments before they appear.

AWR said...

I don't have any problems with comments. If someone gets out of line, they get deleted and banned.

I agree with you when you say that comments take the form of either total agreement or nasty attacks and foul language (Blogging Tories are known for the latter).

Blogs only work, in my view, when comments are enabled. Coyne saw a drastic drop in readership after he disabled his comments.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Aaron:

I think Word Press would address some of my issues, but not others, and at least at this point I'm not interested in making the time investment it would take to set it up. It is pretty cool, though. Some of the issues it doesn't address, though, include the fact that there's no threading (making a conversation with lots of comments hard to follow), and the subsequent comments get emailed only to the blogger, and not to the various commenters following the conversation. This means that the best-case scenario is that people end up in a back-and-forth conversation with the blogger, but rarely address anything to each other, the way often happens in places like livejournal.

I'm pretty sure turning comments off has something to do with Coyne's traffic plummeting, but I'm sure that it's in large part because he's not posting. My traffic has always gone up and down based on how much I post, even without comments. As for the "comments blog," I actually suspect that a lot of the professional bloggers are quite happy it's there, so that they can have discussion without having to take responsibility for it being on their site.

In any case, I don't know yet whether I'll keep comments enabled, but you should know that you're a big part of why I'm at least trying it out!

Matthew:

You know, that's a fine idea. Thanks for the suggestion; I might check it out if it doesn't work out this way.

(Great music, by the way. :-)

CA:

I suppose it depends on how you define "work." If you're saying that people don't get readers if they don't allow comments, I think that's absolutely incorrect -- I've had lots of readers with a blog that didn't allow comments (many more than I could have anticipated!). Maybe I could have had more with comments enabled the entire time, but like I said, I'm just happy to be read at all and am not looking for bloggerly fame. And like I said to Aaron above, I'm pretty sure Coyne's traffic has gone down because he's not posting, not because people aren't allowed to comment. Coyne's a terrific writer whether people are allowed to show their responses to the world or not.

Thanks for proving, though, that it's possible to find a middle ground between fawning agreement and rude disagreement! It's appreciated.

Rob Cottingham said...

Oddly, I don't get flames. Comment spam, yes (and if you haven't encountered that yet, hoo boy) -- but so far it's been nobody but the nicer bloggers who show up.

That might be because I blog at least as often on technology, PR and pop culture as I do on politics. That said, my political posts are sometimes pretty vigorously worded (I keep the Hitler references to a minimum, but otherwise...); I would have expected them to attract at least a few hot-heads.

Maybe a more pertinent factor is that I don't often get involved in commenting on right-wing blogs, with the URL for my blog hanging out there like a big red flag.

I've noticed, by the way, that your civil tone in commenting pays off in the kind of response you get. Yes, the dittoheads seem to show up to ask why you don't, like, marry Cuba if you like it so much... but they tend to get (gently) slapped down by others who appreciate the dialogue.

I hope your experiment works out well!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Rob:

Thanks for the encouragement (and the warning about comment spam)!

I do read and comment on a few right-wing blogs--as part of my personal resistance to the Balkanization of the blogosphere that I've talked about here--but they tend to be the ones where sensible and level-headed discussion tends to take place, so I might actually be okay on that front. We'll see.

Aaron said...

IP SAID:

"Some of the issues it doesn't address, though, include the fact that there's no threading (making a conversation with lots of comments hard to follow), and the subsequent comments get emailed only to the blogger, and not to the various commenters following the conversation. This means that the best-case scenario is that people end up in a back-and-forth conversation with the blogger, but rarely address anything to each other, the way often happens in places like livejournal."

I think that's why people use web-forums in phpbb format:

http://www.phpbb.com/phpBB/