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.