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Dec 14, 2008

Comments, communities and ghettos

I wish my blog got more comments, I look forward to them and I often learn stuff from them. But I don't stress about it. It is easy to exaggerate the importance of comments. My visitor

I wish my blog got more comments, I look forward to them and I often learn stuff from them. But I don’t stress about it. It is easy to exaggerate the importance of comments. My visitor stats are a better guide to what people read than the comments. Colleagues in the US, where blogging is more mainstream, tell me that 80 percent of readers never read the comments and anecdotal evidence suggests the same is true here. Nevertheless, more comments would be nice 🙂

Frankly, I’d rather suffer the disappointment that comes with getting very few comments than have to endure the horror of the ABC Unleashed ghetto. On my last piece, I was subjected to incredible abuse most of it irrelevant, much of it incoherent and unintelligible. Very little of it had anything sensible to say about my argument. It would perhaps be sensible not to read these comments but I’ve written nearly 40 pieces for Unleashed and I’ve always felt that an author should interact with the commenters even though most of the Unleashed authors never do.

Apparently (I don’t read them), the comment streams on News Ltd sites and some other sites are even worse. Of course, part of the problem is the very nature of these exercises encourages the maladjusted. As one of the editors at ABC Unleashed told me, “we need stuff our readers can react to”. And, it is much easier to get a reaction when you go negative than positive. Writing nice, balanced stuff is not going to cut it.

Notably, most of these fierce critics on ABC Unleashed and elsewhere are anonymous. Hiding behind a false name while you accuse someone of sexism, misogyny, reflexive anti-Labor bias and the rest of it is hardly courageous or conducive to rational debate.

Unfortunately, too, the Unleashed commenter community is now dominated by a few handfuls of these dyspeptic individuals and I think it is turning off other, perhaps, more thoughtful commenters from leaping in. Perhaps they can’t be bothered or perhaps they fear being attacked as well. Personally, I can’t be bothered commenting on other pieces on Unleashed. The discussions were better in the early days (late 2007) then they are now.

I come back to the problem with the ‘opinion piece’ format. It has to be sharp, pointed, aggressive etc or the editors will consider it boring. I don’t have much trouble writing in this format and I try to not be too personal (even when it comes to politicians who are fair game because they specialise in nasty personal attacks) but it does feel pretty futile after awhile. It would be worth it if it was a starting point for some reasonable discussions but that, it seems, is pretty unlikely.

This is a shame because one of the promises of blogging was the creation of communities of constructive dialogue where the author learns more from the exercise than the ‘audience’ does. This certainly happens on many blogs to a greater or lesser extent, but not it seems where the ‘opinion’ format inherited from old media is in operation.

I’m not sure that I can be bothered with this ‘opinion’ stuff anymore.

UPDATE: Bob Meade posts about another, more disturbing, aspect of the comments problem.

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15 thoughts on “Comments, communities and ghettos

  1. paulprentice

    Its a shame to see a tax payer funded station like the ABC be turned into commo corner, unleashed debate has the same nasty lefties personating different persons,as you say people who consider them selves and what they say not worthy of putting there real name to there posting should be treated with contempt

  2. Laurel Papworth

    Well it’s always been war out there – even before blogging, my forums would explode every so often. Not managing a community is absolutely the worst thing – I totally disagree with those social media ‘specialists’ that say “hand the community over to the community”. absolutely NOT. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says we need to feel safe in our community – online or offline – and it’s the community hosts responsibility to ensure that as many behavioural modifiers are in place as possible. There ARE things that can be done. Unfortunately with media entitities like the ABC they think they have tried everything and nothing will work. *shrugs* they are wrong.

    I started my social media addiction with IRC, then went to forums, then to blogging then to Twitter. Wot’s next Trev, eh? 🙂

  3. Trevor Cook

    Yes, kimbofo, and not just the nature of comments, blogging itself no longer seems to be as exciting or fresh-dawn new as it was. It’s strange but like indie fashions as they get mainstreamed they seem to lose the fun bit.

  4. kimbofo

    The nature of comments has definitely changed in recent years — there’s a tendency for the lowest common denominator to suddenly take charge. I think this is largely due to more and more people coming online and engaging with blogs — several years ago these people wouldn’t even know what a blog was much less write a derogatory comment on one.

  5. Trevor Cook

    Stig, one of the problems with the Unleashed model is that someone else does the moderating and they don’t seem to care about off-topic and that sort of stuff. If I do anymore Unleashed stuff I will only engage with constructive stuff in the future.

  6. Trevor Cook

    GP you’re right about the posting frequency I read Darren Rowse talking about this recently and I think it’s right I tend to go in fits and starts and lots of the minor stuff can be posted on friendfeed

  7. Trevor Cook

    I think you’re right LP about blogs not being communities. It would be a lot better I think if the commenters had some context and history so you could tell who the good / bad guys are

  8. Trevor Cook

    Thanks lifeasdaddy I haven’t forgot that our coffee morning is long overdue

  9. Trevor Cook

    Thanks Spam Box I will keep blogging but I don’t think I have the stomach for the wild west stuff on ABC Unleashed – if there is anything you think I should blog more about / less about please feel free to let me know

  10. Stilgherrian

    I’ve always thought that you have to cultivate the commenters, too. Praise and encourage the folks who add good material, and ask them to expand on their comments where appropriate. Ignore, discourage or even warn off the persistent off-topic or abusive wankers — and just get rid of them if they’re putting people off. Ask specific experts to respond. It’s a slow, gradual process though.

    And yes, one of the important points is having a presence in the discussion. ABC Unleashed tends to have people making speeches then walking away and leaving the kiddies fight it out.

  11. Generic Person

    Also, Trev, you would probably do well to reduce the post count. On some days, I can recall you writing three or four blog entries which is not conducive to multiple comments because older entries are unlikely to be seen by as many people.

  12. Generic Person

    I agree with Laurel. I think it would be far more self-regulating if the comments systems were more sophisticated – i.e. linked to profiles, ratings and other similar things.

  13. Laurel Papworth

    George Megalogenis and I and Andrew Barlett did a Radio National piece on this. I think the main issue for me is that blogs are not community. At least, they don’t have the features that a social network has. For example, there are no commenter profiles, with links to comments, and rating by peers and friends lists. I can’t find a commenter I like and follow his/her threads. There are no reward programs.

    Therefore contextually there is no “report card”. Until heritage media learns to build social networks instead of commenting engines, then I’m sorry hon, but they won’t be able to give you the tools to manage behaviours. 🙁

    Here’s a brief blog post I wrote on the subject. here I also teach corporates this sort of stuff. Well, it’s a living. Heh.

  14. lifeasdaddy

    The one time I went to look at one of your pieces on Unleashed I was so disturbed by the comments I have never been back.

  15. Spam Box

    It must be frustrating for you and the other bloggers out there. Your not alone in your frustrations either, George Megalogenis had something similar to say about this a while back, as do a few other bloggers I read. I guess it’s the nature of the beast that once you get a large number of comments things always seem to go feral. Many of the best blogs don’t have many comments so don’t despair. I have no real answer for you except to say keep it up, I read your stuff every time and quite enjoy it.

    Chin up ol’ chap! 😀