aug 27

Becoming an Old (Blogging) Man

Haughey on the demise of commenting over the years. It's tough because I love blogs and I love comments in blogs, but I'm starting to think there's this "new generation" that has grown up online only knowing blogs as having snarky comment areas and never realizing it used to be a personal, intimate space where you'd never say anything in a comment that you wouldn't say to a friend's face. Yes.


Someone should do a study of Tumblr, which basically takes the notion of commenting and turns it into a blog, to see what percent of comments are actually just put-downs.

And then as you see people protest, they're badged as "humorless."

posted by Rex at 7:32 PM on August 27, 2008

Andy Baio totally summed up my wandering bullshit post by saying it was basically all YouTube and Big Media's fault for introducing comments that were entirely divorced from the concept of talking with the original poster. You are not commenting to the guy that made a video or wrote an Op-Ed, you're usually just talking to other commenters, or yourself. Those became popular and thus, depersonalized the whole thing across blogs as well.

posted by Matt Haughey at 7:57 PM on August 27, 2008

Can I have the Talking Stick? Is this an appropriately safe space? I mean, I know y'all invented the Internet and commenting, but the couple LISTSERVs (PHIL-LIT, DESIGN-L, FICTION-OF-PHILOSOPHY) I was on in 1993 were as nasty as anything I see today. Nothing is worse than 'back when I walked to USENET uphill the snow' so I apologize for going there, but really, commenters just gotten stupider, not meaner. That comes with the territory of lowering the barriers to entry. Rex, considering you are a One Man Band for Inane Microcelebrity, why are you affirming this? Julia Allison wouldn't exist if it were for the stupid commenters. She would never have lasted ten minutes on MeFi. But you didn't sell an article to New York about MeFi, did you?

posted by 99 at 9:31 PM on August 27, 2008

I kind of think it has more to do with the barriers to entry thing, and that what we're seeing is less of a change and more of a magnification, a scaling up of the same kinds of stuff because every idiot can comment now, not just the small percentage of them as previously. I first went online in 1996 and remember chat room ugliness that sounded pretty much like the comment awfulness of today, though I won't say it hasn't evolved and adapted to the comment medium. It seems like it's still based around the basic premise of lack of accountability and consequence due to the anonymity, that same thing that makes you be so much nastier to your colleague in an email than you would if you were standing face to face. I wonder whether Matt Haughey's memory of a time when everybody was civil in comments is less about a time than about the places he frequented. Because the above principal would have applied then as now. Maybe there was some early adopterism going on too, though, admittedly. Maybe a lot more people were there in an interested, exploratory capacity than in the current mass bus station scenario.

posted by Eric at 9:43 PM on August 27, 2008

99 and Eric nail it. This is not a new phenomenon. If it all seems less intimate now then yeah, go figure, more people are blogging and commenting. The online world got bigger and nastier, these are basic social dynamics. I also think people underestimate what people will actually say to someone else's face but maybe that's just a New York thing. (Ha, I kid!) But really, there's also a lot of love out there. Look for it!

posted by krucoff at 10:01 PM on August 27, 2008

That's hypocritical BS as far as sites like Metafilter and BoingBoing go. These two are just left-leaning, censoring places where you can say anything as long as it suits their little agendas, so it serves them well to be left behind for places where frank, real debate can be had. People keep commenting and arguing elsewhere on the net, where freedom of speech is real.

posted by Lupu at 10:32 PM on August 27, 2008


posted by katiebakes at 12:55 AM on August 28, 2008

@99: Thanks for proving the point! There's no reason to be a dick about this. Matt wrote a post expressing his anxiety about the sense of community he once felt, and the tension he feels now. And you: "I know y'all invented the Internet and commenting" -- ya gotta be a dick about everything? Really?

On the Julia/microfame stuff... what? I have no idea what you're talking about. Did commenters/Gawker create Julia? Yes. Did I have anything to do with that? Hah! You have much more to do with that than me! I wrote an article, the purpose of which was to expose some hubris in internet culture. Perhaps it was too subtle.

@Eric: I hear this a lot. I hear people say "no, it's always been like this." And those people usually cite Listservs. They're right! Stupid flame wars were always part of internet culture. (I have flame threads going back to 1992 on alt.whatever.whatever too.) "Part of" is what has changed. Just because it existed before doesn't mean it was pervasive. It overlooks two specific things: 1) places that were once a refuge and 2) the sanctity of personal space.

Like walking into certain bars, when you entered a Listserv, you knew what you were getting into. But starting a personal site, or entering a small community site, used to carry different expectations. You expected more civil rules. You expected some amount of decorum. It wasn't that you wanted all bars to be clean; it's that you didn't want them all to be dirty in the exact same way.

And that's my problem: all of the internet is becoming exactly the same.

This site, and most other personal sites, is proof. Fimoc is now treated like everyone's personal Listserv. It's why people like Kottke have given up and turned off comments, and it's why if this site grows any bigger, I'll have to turn off comments too. There's a point where conversation with people I respect turns into drive-by noise that needs to be contended with, none of which is constructive, helpful, or interesting.

@krucoff: No, it's not just magnitude, it's geography. It's pervasive in a way it never was before. I wake up now looking around for random shitty, mean, stupid things people say, which are framed in little locked boxes that can't be responded to. (Should I write you an email for every fucking stupid, inacurate, mean thing your site says? Or should I just ignore it? It's a perfect world you've created -- there's no right answer to that. You know that everyone has to just live with it because that's what you do. And you LIKE THIS.)

In your world, this is entertaining, fun -- The Way It Should Be. You want everyone to live in this freefall space where an eternal state of The Roast is in effect. You want everyone on guard, ready to take a hit, and ready to give one back. This is FUN to you. In my world, and in most other people's on the internet, it's a lack of progress. There is ZERO conversation in this environment. No one advances, no one learns. We're left to founder in a space of pure attitude and image.

The worst part is now everyone EXPECTS the same thing out of the internet. All sites have comments, all of them are full of people saying bullshit about other people. Commenter society has gone from a) fringe to b) common to c) necessary to d) demanded. If your site doesn't have asshole characters on it, IT SHOULD. Disagree? You're HUMORLESS.

@Lupu: I don't know what you're calling "left-leaning," but I'm sure you can say whatever you want on those sites as long as you're not being a complete dickhead.

@katiebakes: MY EARS! MY EYES! MY...

posted by Rex at 3:39 AM on August 28, 2008

@rex: BVDNR

posted by jolie at 7:35 AM on August 28, 2008

I'm only a dick when people are being unreasonable stupid. Consequently, I seem like a dick most of the time.

YM has always allowed comments. You can reblog our Tumblr, and for extra protection, you can comment own our Tumblr threads on YM (we're still trying to figure out the video camera part; bear with us). You could use your tumblr to reblog and comment, but you were busy using that to chronicle sexual conquests (I remember when the Internet was about something else besides getting laid, mahhhhn).

So you are talking down your Twitter feed? Because I've been desperately wanting to comment on your Twitters, and just end up tumbling about them.

posted by 99 at 8:14 AM on August 28, 2008

99, you're mean and scary in the morning. Go drink coffee, or stop drinking coffee, or something!

And Jolie, if I were drinking coffee, I would have just spit it out.

I'm afraid to comment further, lest this devolve into my own personal listserv! Speaking of 1994 listserv enthusiasts, where's Carney to distill this into 14 Life Lessons for us?

Why doesn't anyone ever think of the Commenters? We're people too! We get hated on all day long by everyone! How do you think that makes us feel? We just want people to appreciate our complicated puns! Is that so wrong? Is that so wrong?

posted by katiebakes at 8:55 AM on August 28, 2008

Please point out where we've been inaccurate. I believe you may be referring to a simple post that asked nothing more than "twhat?" (twitter + what - get it??) to the statement "Rex's Rare Acknowledgment of His Personal Life." Uh, yeah. Someone is a wee bit sensiteeeve.

But progress? You're fuckin' kidding me, right? Through blogging and commenting? That's some delusional shit. 99% of all this is complete diversion. Go do a real thing like volunteering (yes, I went there because I really do!) or advocate for an issue or work for a company that is trying to make a difference or something else that actually helps the world and people who truly need it. If you think a linkblog is contributing to "progress" and the betterment of this world, then jesus christ, we are truly fucked. Exactly what "conversation" and "environment" were you a part of that you are wishing for now? What were/are you "advancing" and what were/are people "learning"? Did the classroom get too big and unruly for people like you to be effective model teachers? Do you honestly hear yourself?? You do realize you sound like the cliche gang member that sits on the corner and says "man, there used to be rules to the game" don't you? (Whew, so many questions!) Again, it *is* magnitude. What you consider "pervasive" is a point of view and it's arrogant, even ridiculous, to think you covered the online spectrum from the beginning of time. More people, more noise, more manifestations. It's that simple.

But hey, it's cool, guess why *you* do what you do? You said it yourself...IT'S FUN. And if you're not having fun, I suggest you stop. Just don't write a goodbye note about it.

posted by krucoff at 8:58 AM on August 28, 2008


hi, hello, did i do this thing right? good morning, all! what're we talking about now? listservs? i'm 23. I DON'T GET IT.

posted by fek at 9:12 AM on August 28, 2008

okay, now i've got this thing working. sexy rexy, say no more, mon amour: listen to me, baby - katie's blog, my blog, lots of other blogs don't have asshole characters on it and do just fine. dare i use The Doree Example, but it's true. also, you're an asshole - grandstanding about when the internet used to be good but is now an unrespondable cacophony of evil voices? weak. - but, so am i. i say that out of love.

do you really think conversation on the internet is dead? seriously. it makes for a good thread but the fact is that it's not, and here we are, proving your point, here. and no, you don't have to write an email every time you want to respond - plenty of tumblrs have comment threads on them, or you could just hit that REBLOG button, and go from there. pick your poison.

when you do the microfame thing - just like when you do the real fame thing - you invite people to get at you. i think this whole thing - "commentors nowawadays are dumb," etc - i think you're having it out a little with the world that's had fun with you, and that's fair to be upset, a little, but it would be innane of you to lose sight of the larger picture: you invited these guests into your house the second you opened your front door for a block party in which you were the star. maybe it was the twittering, the microfame articles, the commenting, the entire online presence, etc. i might be wrong.

it sounds like you have a problem with anything other than sincerity and "civil" conversation, whatever that is (i really, truly don't actually know that it is). it also sounds like you're hunting this stuff down: I wake up now looking around for random shitty, mean, stupid things people say, which are framed in little locked boxes that can't be responded to.

maybe it would be less pervasive if you just didn't look for it. and yes, you do seem humorless, though not because you're not an asshole. your refusal to engage any of these people in a conversation other than this one is mostly pretty good evidence of that.

posted by fek at 9:14 AM on August 28, 2008

Comments came to serve a different purpose when blogs went from diaries to legitimate news platforms (ducking and covering). Now, bloggers are more efficient at generating news than print journalists (ducking, covering, and running away), and enabling comments increases the value of news analysis.

Dont assume that more content is ruining blogs. The prevalence of stupid commenters makes the relevant ones more obvious.

And about the Anonymous Comments Need To Stop mantra: The sheer fact that some comments lack attribution is enough to assume that those comments arent worth reading. If anyone has an actual solution to this, Id love to hear it.

posted by Andrew Graham at 9:23 AM on August 28, 2008

Um, impasse?

Krucoff leaves a dismissive comment saying 'link blogging won't change anything'- which (maybe?) misses the fact that the conversation in the comments is what counts, not the list of links. As for the exhortation to go out and volunteer, that seems off to me - why the assumption that you can only do one or the other, or that ideas/words etc. have no effect. Saying 'all this is a distraction' sounds vaguely like someone in the 14th cent. saying 'these printed books are nice an' all, but real knowledge comes from the mouth'.

Fek leaves a vaguely asshole-ish comment that derides anyone who "has a problem with anything other than sincerity and 'civil' conversastion", thereby setting up the need for a similarly snarky response. Why are we supposed to be aiming for NYC-style shoutfests? Since when was it more productive to engage in a constant game of one-upmanship, submit to this relentless need to perform your cultural capital, "I'm too busy acting like I'm not naive / I've seen it all / I was here first".

Feels like there are two different views here: one of blogging/comments as entertainment, a supplement, a sideshow; and another as it a space for mutuality that has (from the beginning) been hijacked by the competition and individualism at the core of North American culture.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not blindly defending or agreeing with Rex - this perspective on the "THE INTERNET" that seems to only talk about educated, white Americans infuriates me. But I've learned shitloads at this blog and mine wouldn't exist without it and, well, to be totally frank, I'm glad my paltry readership means I don't have to put up with shit like this - my comment included.

posted by Nav at 9:57 AM on August 28, 2008

Krucoff is totally nice in person. He's just a prick on the internet.

posted by Choire at 10:02 AM on August 28, 2008

Well Nav, go ask Rex yourself about "the fact that the conversation in the comments is what counts, not the list of links." He HATES when his posts get comments here. He can explain it better than I can. (This is something he's told me personally.) In his mind, the conversation is supposed to go elsewhere, just give him a via, ok?

Fek, 99, and myself are not saying what anything SHOULD be. Exactly the opposite. I enjoy the anarchy. There's both greatness and crapness to be found in it all. It's just completely obnoxious to assume the crapness has won because of poor commenting.

And I only bring up the philanthropy thing and mindless blogging because I ENGAGE IN BOTH. I'd like to see more people talking and DOING the former, even Rex, but I don't see much evidence of that. I mean, what's the point of all this "progress" if it just means blogging about Mad Men and Gossip Girl?

posted by krucoff at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2008

Feels like there are two different views here: one of blogging/comments as entertainment, a supplement, a sideshow; and another as it a space for mutuality that has (from the beginning) been hijacked by the competition and individualism at the core of North American culture.

I wasn't trying to be assholish at all, but take from it what you will, as people on the internet are wont to do.

The bilateralism you describe above is elitist posturing - the idea that there's mutuality and then there's everything else. Personally, I think the idea of mutuality is great in (utopian) theory but in practice, is often times total bullshit. Go to the theater, watch a play, and the most common takeaway is that most conversations that people have are loaded with things like power dynamics, competition, and the need for one to be heard...without actually connecting with anybody else one is speaking with (I've seen Rex be this dismissive in person, at a bar, let alone on the internet).

I set up a need for a sardonic response? That's you - to use a debate term - perming your argument on to mine. You can respond any way you want; I chose sincerity, as I often do. Deal with it.

posted by fek at 10:11 AM on August 28, 2008

@krucoff. I had no idea you volunteered! Tell me again.

@fek. Is conversation dead on the internet? I think Krucoff above makes the point that this is "99% of all this is complete diversion." You two can argue who's right about this "delusional shit." I'm on whichever side Clay Shirky is on.

@99 @fek. I understand how reblogging and comments and email work. It's not that one can't technically respond, it's that one can't culturally respond. The last time I emailed you, FEK, I got hit with name-calling on your site -- for saying that I didn't want you to publish an email thread. Who's an asshole?

I made the mistake of using myself as an example in this thread. Of course it has nothing to do with me. I suggest people read the comments on Matt's original post that sparked this. It represents a much broader stretch of the internet, and the perceptions therein.

posted by Rex at 10:14 AM on August 28, 2008

I called you an asshole - a broad generalization, humorlessness contained therein - because you were making a point to Andrew and I and consequently couldn't be man enough to let us run the thing in full. How can you complain about not being able to respond culturally when your response was something you yourself deemed unprintable? Especially in a forum, on our site, which we were giving you to be fair to both sides - the same idea as an editorial section on a newspaper, just slightly devolved...

posted by fek at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2008

@fek Fair enough - you're quite right, there was no need for me to return the snark. Bah. Any time I leave a comment here, I make an ass of myself anyway.

I guess I wasn't trying to posit mutuality as some pure state, as if this ideal connection can happen. I just don't get why I'm supposed to give in to all the snarkiness (and elite posturing that I'm totally guilty of), throw up my hands and say "well, because there are always power dynamics etc. at work, I have free reign to be an asshole". Isn't there something potentially helpful or useful about being nice to people, or praising before condemning? To at least attempt that before 'giving in' (problematic language, I know) to the sort of culture that has come to dominate a lot of NYC/SF/LA/Toronto/Van blogs (sorry, had to throw in the Canadian part).

I'm not suggesting that there ever was some idyllic time (and even if there were, it'd be before mine). I just think that beyond all of the distraction, the times that I've really learnt something online have been marked by sincere, respectful, mutual dialogue. God that sounds retardedly corny, but I'm trying not to retreat into my admittedly elitist cynicism.

There are a set of inevitable circumstances: power, subjectivity, cultural capital etc. Shouldn't there be an attempt, then, to work against, rather than with them?

posted by Nav at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2008

By the way, Rex - I'm not asking rhetorical questions. I actually would like to see some answers.

posted by fek at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2008

@Krucoff. Ah. The fact that Rex hates comments explains a lot. I totally should've blogged this and not splooged here. Ah well.

But, I'm an academic, so if you're about to ask me 'what's the point of blogging about Mad Men?', it'd be pages and pages of nonsense about positioning art and the aesthetic as products of various epistemes and it wouldn't change anything and, as it turns out, Rex'd hate it anyway. Bah. Bah. Bah. Stupid internet.

posted by Nav at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2008

@krucoff. What I hate is YM comments that drag down my day. (WHINE!) Other commenters? They usually provide some bit of insight into something, add links, make corrections. Their modus operandi isn't to drop references to me being a dick at a bar. (WHAH!?)

@fek. There is conversation, like this, that is public. There is conversation, like email, that is private. And there is conversation that passes from the latter to the former (which is actually the great majority of the internet). It's this simple: people should have the right to choose which things move on that continuum.

posted by Rex at 10:32 AM on August 28, 2008

Nav, I don't think you need to work against these circumstances or abet them - they're kind of swirling gases in the greater universe of all of this. You work amongst them and you choose your own path.

I think we just fall on different sides of the fence on this - sincerity is a great thing, and great things come of it. But I've had great and "enlightening" (I guess) experiences sans sincerity. If you read us often enough, I think you would, too. And I just remembered this, Rex: our blog is a conversation amongst ourselves, with readers. People can respond "culturally" however they want - not being given a nice, set box to do it in is a piss poor excuse for not getting the job done, even after you've emailed me the Unprintables.

posted by fek at 10:32 AM on August 28, 2008

I don't hate comments! I hate YM commenters!

There's a t-shirt.

posted by Rex at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2008

Look dude, I know it's your instinct but please don't commodify us. We're an ad-free blog.

posted by krucoff at 10:37 AM on August 28, 2008

Aww, I'll miss Fimoc comments! You see them all and I only see a portion of them, but most seem like a fun place to share in whatever interesting thing you've linked to, and sometimes lead to interesting discussions. I hope the poisonous and annoying ones don't weigh on you too badly. I wouldn't like them either, I'm sure. I would think the affirmation of most of them, even little silly ones, would make your efforts more rewarding, though. Otherwise it would seem like shouting into the dark. But I suppose with all the twittering amongst your friends and reblogging and link tracking and stuff, you'd still get a good bit of reaction. Wait, why am I making a case for it? Long live comments!

posted by Eric at 10:40 AM on August 28, 2008

There's a t-shirt.?

That's the best you can do, Rex? This is why I don't dignify this bullshit most of the time. Because the person I'm dignifying can never, in all actuality, give it back to me straight when I prove them wrong. Christ, was this a waste of my time.

posted by fek at 10:41 AM on August 28, 2008

@rex: sac is going to be really hurt by that.

posted by 99 at 10:42 AM on August 28, 2008

"Christ, was this a waste of my time"

That's what he said! OK OK, but...

"It's this simple: people should have the right to choose which things move on that continuum."

Ha! Oh man, if it was that simple. Considering your staunch defense of oversharers like Julia, Emily, etc, that's an insanely hypocritical thing for you to say - even though it's true.

posted by krucoff at 10:46 AM on August 28, 2008

@fek. Fuck, dude, what's your problem? Is there some question that's gone unanswered here?

@krucoff. Why is it insane? My "staunch defense" is simply that this culture is full of people using their personal lives as material. It's their right to do it, and my right to ignore it.

posted by Rex at 10:50 AM on August 28, 2008

Uh, ok, then yeah, we were just using your emails - "material in our personal lives" - for blog fodder. Don't call us out on it, please defend our right and ignore us. You made a statement on the right to choose which things move on a continuum. Sorry dude, can't have it both ways.

posted by krucoff at 10:56 AM on August 28, 2008

Yeah - your complaint is that you can't respond culturally, but then you deem your singular response too private to print. Bullshit. There was nothing I could tell that was compromising about that email in any regard, other than the fact that it's more evidence that serves a certain argument that isn't yours (which one that is, I'm not sure, I haven't read the email since you sent it). Yet, because it doesn't serve you to have your words out there, you deem it "private" and continue to mourn the lack of a "civil" space in which you can be heard besides the nest (here).

My "staunch defense" is simply that this culture is full of people using their personal lives as material. It's their right to do it, and my right to ignore it.

And you say this like there's a separation between the two (YOU and THEM)! It's "insane" because it's blatantly hypocritical. This is why some of us resort to cynicism - it makes the insanity of these dichotomies twenty times more palatable. It's the miracle fruit of inane human dialogue.

posted by fek at 10:57 AM on August 28, 2008

I'm totally lost.

It's probably because FEK proved me wrong.

posted by Rex at 11:01 AM on August 28, 2008

Also, this:

It's probably because FEK proved me wrong.

is the kind of shit you're rallying against, and I'm gonna be the last one to stop you. Welcome to the dark side.

posted by fek at 11:10 AM on August 28, 2008

Yeah - your complaint is that you can't respond culturally, but then you deem your singular response too private to print. Bullshit.

I still don't understand. You asked to publish an email exchange, I said NO. I'm glad you asked. But what now? Your point now is that... that I have to say YES?

That I'm an asshole for saying NO?

I don't get it.

Is it because it doesn't "serve" me? I dunno. Maybe? But it's that it was written to YOU.

And most of all: the entire point of that exchange was that I disagreed with you about the notion that I somehow live an overtly public life. Turning my emails into content just seems to disprove my point.

And you say this like there's a separation between the two (YOU and THEM)! It's "insane" because it's blatantly hypocritical.

Well, okay. YOUR right to ignore them? I don't know what you're trying to say -- that I'm in some sort of "group" that includes Julia? Uhhh, in the sense that you are too, then sure.

posted by Rex at 11:12 AM on August 28, 2008

Well, I've dog sat Julia Allison's puppy*; I just never blogged about it.

*lie for comedic effect.

posted by 99 at 11:35 AM on August 28, 2008

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the single biggest mistake I've made in NYC is less than 140 characters long. I never should have Twittered about puppysitting. I've suffered endless ridicule for it. I'd take it back if I could! (Saying it, not doing it. I'll puppysit for anyone who asks!)

posted by Rex at 11:38 AM on August 28, 2008

Oh Rex, such bullshit. With your Twitter, Flickr, brief Tumblr, those *few* mentions of work and personal on Fimoc, etc, YOU LIVE IN PUBLIC. Sorry to break it to you.

And guess what? We DIDN'T print your email. Just referenced it, the way we would any conversation that conveyed certain ideas that are brought up in later conversations, online or not. But if we did print it, so what? Chalk it up to OVERSHARING. I'd expect you to defend on us on that.

posted by krucoff at 11:39 AM on August 28, 2008

Okay, a confession: I've probably protested too much about my contributions to oversharing culture. You're right on some accounts: My Flickr -- it's like a lot of other people's, full of photos of friends and girls and whatever. My Twitter -- that has almost nothing personal on it; it's all stupid ruminations. Fimoc -- almost never anything personal. The Tumblr -- well, I'll still defend it, on grounds of anonymity and experimentation, but it was clearly breaching the oversharing boundaries, and it's probably why most people want me pillored along with the other oversharers. I probably deserved it.

posted by Rex at 11:47 AM on August 28, 2008

I'd chalk it up to being "newsworthy", but then again, our definition of "newsworthy" doesn't pay.

My point is that you complain about the lack of mediums available to respond, especially with us. But you emailing us is a way to get that thought - that response - out there, and you deny the process by telling us we can't run it. It's a run-around.

Anyway. I take it back, this wasn't a waste of my time, it was fun. Also, Brian Van has a huge cock. This is somewhere in the Book of Revelations, I'm sure.

posted by fek at 11:54 AM on August 28, 2008

Can we close this with a blog post from Lindsay Lohan today?

"If you have something to say to me, say it to my face."

posted by Rex at 12:00 PM on August 28, 2008

Yes, and you know we will!

posted by krucoff at 12:27 PM on August 28, 2008

One last thing, 99 has a very thoughtful comment at the end here that no one has responded to, of course.

posted by krucoff at 1:22 PM on August 28, 2008

Roger Ebert is enriched and astonished by the quality comments he gets. Why is his experience so vastly different? Is someone filtering comments before they reach him?

posted by hurty at 1:31 PM on August 28, 2008

@krucoff It's a good point about technology and history. But I think it misses the mark on what people are saying. It's not that anyone is looking at YouTube (or at Gawker or at whatever) and screaming about the kids today. Most of these people ignore that stuff too. Actually, they learned to ignore it very early, because they were on Slashdot. (Kottke's dictum, which I find personally problematic because I'm feeble and can't pull myself away from this shit, is practiced by large swaths of online culture. It doesn't seem like it from this view, but it's actually the majority opinion.)

Read Matt's point again. It's not saying that commenters suck everywhere -- it's that commenters suck in the places that we actually used to care about. When I was writing my NYmag story about commenters (it never got published), Coen made this point about what has changed: there's now a little input box below everything. This is EXACTLY the point that Haughey/Waxy make: Once the provence of select publications, it's now ubiquitous. (I like Andy's point about the box appearing below newspaper stories being the moment the shift became visual.)

The thing to be wary of here is elitism. If forced to decide between the current anarchic state of affairs and one where feedback was restricted, I pick the former. Thankfully, this isn't a zero sum game. (99 seems to suggest that the right community management software can fix these woes. Paradoxically, MeFi is testament to that entire philosophy. I suspect we'd disagree on whether his product solutions are actually the best ones though. But who knows!)

So back to the history books. I tried to make this point at the top, but the YM crowd disagrees with it. First, things we agree upon: yes, hater culture always existed and yes, it's dependent on factors including mass and technology. (That's my point about Tumblr -- it accidentally contributes to a kind of discourse that's different than "normal" commenting. It's like trying to argue with someone on LiveJournal without using LiveJournal.)

The place we disagree is this: where there was once a place of refuge (personal sites, small community sites), there no longer is. You think that's because of volume, 99 thinks it's technology, I think it's cultural. That is, because the expectations of online discourse are now shared and ubiquitous, we expect to see the same roles played out on every site.

That is the YouTube problem. Not the content (the comments themselves); rather, the form: the sheer ubiquity of that little box where people type into, and the expectations it has now set for commenting.

posted by Rex at 1:50 PM on August 28, 2008

Then again, some things should just pass without comment.

posted by Rex at 3:12 PM on August 28, 2008

@Rex: Matt's point is faulty as thus: if you are stuck in a poor conversation at a cocktail party, it is not always correct and certainly not effective just to sit there and blame both your counterparty, the other guests, the party hosts, the owner of the building, the mayor, etc.

I think it's very clumsy to just dump a commenting form on a website and take zero additional steps in tending to the discussion. Say what you will about the cost of professional moderation, assisting software, marketing, or whatever it takes to create good discussions. The thing is, these things work, they work better than a lonely comment form, and a surprisingly small percentage of online communities are getting this niche right. Sure, Slashdot and Ars Technica have it down pat. Well, they sorta had it right as far back as eight years ago. Metafilter has also worked continuously and effectively on this. I'm not going to complain about the sites that are not getting it completely right, but I will say there's huge potential in making this work for the other 99% of communities and users.

Community management is actually one of the next great frontiers of web development. And what a relief. I'll finally be making money while everyone else fucks around with web videos.

posted by BrianVan at 3:15 PM on August 28, 2008

I'm not sure where Matt or I would disagree with that. Community management is the past, present, and future. I'm not sure if YouTube is salvageable, but Tumblr sure is! (Karp has hinted at some new stuff coming, so we'll see.)

posted by Rex at 3:31 PM on August 28, 2008

@Rex Well, I know none of us want to work for free, but that said: if someone has commenter access to a website, the first place they can start with improving the comments is with themselves and their own contributions. All great movements start from one person.

Really, in regards to discussion quality, the only thing for which you can blame a website administrator is that it's more difficult to start a good conversation than it should be. It's never impossible.

posted by BrianVan at 3:48 PM on August 28, 2008

"where there was once a place of refuge (personal sites, small community sites), there no longer is."

I need actual examples of this. Pre and post. I gather what you're actually talking about are the personal sites of the early "A Listers" and I hate to use that term but you know what I mean. The problem you are talking about is very limited in scope. And I'm sorry, but when you say "Fimoc is now treated like everyone's personal Listserv" that's just ridiculous hyperbole. One post out of 100 flares up and it's JUST THE YM CREW RIDING YOU FOR FUN. Get over it.

posted by krucoff at 4:03 PM on August 28, 2008

Wait, people take shots at other people on Tumblr? Certainly no one has ever fired a shot across the bow of the USS Fimoculous, have they? If such a person exists, they should be flogged immediately.

That said...Rex, I'm developing a crush on you. You're quite the seductive lothario. Choire and Momo have been trying to bring me over to the other side for some time. Who'd of thunk that your spiky hair and flavor savor would enrapture me so.

posted by Cajun Boy at 4:07 PM on August 28, 2008

@krucoff So whoever was behind this fiasco was a YM member? Probably.

Yes, I mean, ick, "A Listers" -- some of whom are still around and some of whom have bailed.

Kottke is the easiest one to cite -- I miss the posts that were open-ended, the ones that started somewhere and ended up somewhere else.

More? Okay, BoingBoing. Way back, the comment threads were fun to read, now they're unbearable.

Would you laugh if I said Gawker, for the first two months of comments?

I could do some archival work and show a bunch of examples (MeFi!!!), but we've gone over this before. You think this is nostalgia for a time that wasn't. We disagree.

@CajunBoy. Shhhh, I'm crashing the party tonight. I'm bringing a tent. You and me, baby.

posted by Rex at 4:20 PM on August 28, 2008

We'll finish this in person! Too tired to type. Blah.

posted by krucoff at 4:52 PM on August 28, 2008

@rex: wait, we are running Gawker and Fimoc now? Your link is to a post by Nick Douglas that links to this site. How did we break the Internet again?

I really should be taking advantage of this sizable influence. Is that whiny oversharer from Seattle around? Cause I should have I drink with her.

posted by 99 at 4:58 PM on August 28, 2008

Rex, you cannot say whatever you want on Boing Boing and Metafilter. "Trolling", on both these sites, is disagreeing with their own stance on politics, sexual options, art and other issues, to mention just a few.
Boing Boing and Metafilter do not give their readers the option to freely express themselves and cannot be trusted as impartial arenas where opinions are exchanged freely.

posted by Lupu at 5:14 PM on August 28, 2008

Sorry, but Matt sounds a little like a curmudgeon.

Guys and gals, this shit has been going on as long as we've been on here. It's not all demographic, it's psychographic.

It's not platform, it's community. The communities fall when they get to big (see. Roman Empire) The mad men escape from the insane asylum, and take over.

posted by taulpaul at 6:22 PM on August 28, 2008

Maybe I read different blogs (ie, poorly trafficed or more technical) to the rest of you, but I don't find comment threads on most blog posts full of crap. From the OP comments: "So now its really easy to troll around, find stuff, comment on it and move on." IOW, he's blaming digg/reddit for bringing the masses to sites that aren't designed to handle huge numbers of visitors, and have basically replaced linkblogging for the common man.

Now if there was something like Trackback that wasn't a spam vector, maybe people would go back to posting comments on their own blog, since it's really hard to maintain a conversation (isn't that what we're arguing about) if the original person doesn't know the other exists. How does FriendFeed with its discussions about posts fit in, does it have a "I blogged about this" button?

Someone mentioned LiveJournal - Since they invented OpenID, it's a lot easier to interact with LJ users without having an account yourself. Meanwhile, both Wordpress and Vox both keep adding features LJ has had for years, but their implementations are worse, like they haven't learned anything from it.

UI wise - Name/URL/hello breaks the Name/Email/URL, pattern that's ingrained into my fingers. Also, hooray for the resize text areas extension - is the tiny box intended to discourage comments?

posted by James at 11:02 AM on August 29, 2008

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