A few days ago in my RSS reader, David Levinson’s Transportationist blog has a post about the end of comments on his blog. I’m somewhat sad, as (at appropriate volumes) comment sections can produce valuable discussion. Commenting on blogs was part of the reason I started my own. David’s platform (hosted by the University of Minnesota) requires registration for commenting, however – the reason I never offered comments on his blog. If compulsory registration was indeed out of his control, then there’s not much difference between disallowing comments and burdening them via registration.
David’s post shared a few links on blog comments I found interesting.
On trolling: Never read the bottom half of the internet. The idea here being that trolls are aiming to provoke you into an argument, whether solely for the purpose of exposure and notoriety, or to discredit the idea of a post.
The sad thing is, tolling works: One of the purposes of trolling would be to discredit the main content, fighting an honest post with FUD, disingenous comments, or outright lies – all without accountability. The sad thing is that it works. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
A new obstacle to scientific literacy may be emerging, according to a paper in the journal Science by two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.
The new study reports that not only are just 12% of Americans turning to newspaper and magazine websites for science news, but when they do they may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself.
In an experiment mentioned in the Science paper and soon to be published elsewhere in greater detail, about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.
“Disturbingly, readers’ interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story,” wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.
“In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself.”
Comments as a dinner party: One piece that immediately came to mind in reading Levinson’s links was this On The Media session (written semi-transcription here) with Ta-Nehisi Coates, discussing the challenges (positive and negative) of comment sections – perhaps thinking of comments as a dinner party with interesting conversation, but noting that good commenting requires curating the comments – e.g. a lot of work.
Nonetheless, I love the idea of curating comments, if only thanks to seeing interesting and productive discussion in many blogs. Perhaps these places have the virtue of a critical mass of commenters (unlike, say, this blog) without the vice of too much trolling – or even too much volume (with too many people shouting, how can one expect to get a word in edge-wise?)
Application to this blog: Limited. I don’t get too many comments here, nor do I post frequently to spark much discussion. Despite the value in commenting under the right circumstances, one of Levinson’s last points did hit home for me:
If you have comments, you should get a blog (or if you have one, post there). As someone on the web remarked, that will get a lot more attention for both of us due to Google’s PageRank formula than posting on comments with a nofollow tag.
Again, that’s part of the reason I’m here.