Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Do comments add to or detract from the conversation?

An interesting post on a blog we follow occasionally, on the subject of online comments (a subject that has come up more than once here as we have wrestled with whether, or not, to allow anonymous comments). The post on the site Lost Remote, by Don Day, a digital media producer in Boise, Idaho, questions whether comments add any real value to discussion. It refers to a Time.com piece from last July that we had missed and which contains the following observation:
In theory, (comments are) a great thing. We’re giving the people a voice! But the reality is that commenting either attracts loathsome people or somehow causes ordinary people to express themselves in a way that is loathsome.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is rich: bloggers musing on whether to let commentators weigh in. I thought bloggers *were* commentators. Excuse me, perhaps I should have written Bloggers...

Whatever, guys...

(Bet ya this doesn't get posted.)

6:02 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Well, your comment (which adds little to the conversation but abuse) seems to prove the thesis...

7:19 pm  
Blogger Kat Tancock said...

Comments are much like democracy - great in theory, less than ideal in practice. (But probably better than the alternatives.)

9:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If pointing out an unwittingly sumptuous bit of irony is seen to add little to the conversation then what dreadful cocktail parties you must be attending.

I suspect one of the main reasons Canadian Magazines continues to allow anonymous comments is that they exhibit a lively readership. If no one is seen to be strongly engaged by the content (and that's what comments demonstrate), then you've got a dud (and a tougher sell).

Out of curiosity, and quite relevant to this thread, what percentage of the comments on this fine (and I mean that) blog are anonymous? I'd guess something like 70%...

12:41 am  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Don't have time to go to many cocktail parties, but aside from that, you're correct. About 70% are anonymous and we have chosen in the past to allow that for some very good reasons. But the question of anonymity was raised by me, since it's been top of mind at this blog. However that doesn't preclude reprinting a link to discussion by others who were raising an interesting -- if arguable -- point about whether comments add little to reader value and simply deteriorate into bad manners and worse.

7:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ultimately open comments will increase and sustain the traffic on the blog, and we need Cdn Mag Blog to enjoy a robust and healthy future. With comment moderation enabled, that seems like enough measure to keep the conversation civil. As for anonymous posture on comments, candid thoughts sourced from inside the biz are valuable. Considering the harsh climate and littering of comment sections on most other blogs, in fact it's not so unruly or messy on the feral comment frontier here at Canadian Magazines Blog.

8:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The tendency for "ordinary people to express themselves in a way that is loathsome" is called disinhibition and its causes have been quite well documented.

10:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often post anonymously, both here and elsewhere. I'm sometimes controversial, but usually polite. However, I will never post my real name--not because I'm scared, shy, or ashamed of what I post. But as a freelance writer whose byline is likely Googled from time to time, I have to consider the long-term. Do I want my blog posts immortalized on the web? What if I make a typo? :-)

10:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To build on anon's cocktail party analogy: there are some sites I've left because of the comments--like being at a cocktail party where the conversation starts out civilized and then degenerates into a bar brawl. (Though I'll also admit to sometimes watching the brawl with car-crash-spectator-like fascination.) And I think that experience points to an important question for brands: is a lively conversation among what is often a handful of committed commenters indicative of an engaged audience, or can it create a culture that excludes and turns off segments of your audience? When do you step in? How do you step in? Clearly, it depends on the larger culture of your brand--a women's mag site, for instance, is likely to make different choices than Yahoo.ca's newsfeed. (Volume of comments also influences your ability to manage the conversation.)

And as a blogger, if I'm hosting the party, don't I also get to eject the boor who is spitting in the punch bowl?

11:56 am  
Blogger Matthew said...

The use of comments really depends on the site's purpose. YouTube, for example, is based on illicit videos, anonymity, and "ranting." Not a big surprise that they attract such horrible commenters. Vimeo.com, another video site, is based on user-generated content and fosters a community. Even as that site grows, it's comments have remained constructive and positive.

I think a better discussion is how to make comments useful. We've all seen those comments that add information or clarify a topic: they do exist. WIth a major advantage of the web (over print) being immediacy, it's silly to just ignore that based on a few bad eggs, and a lack of effort to make things better. How do you make a magazine blog's comments as useful as a magazine's Letters to the Editors section?

Getting rid of anonymous comments might cut down on the number of comments you get here (and your advertisers might not like that), but people will always be more thoughtful and constructive when they're culpable.

1:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Kim Pittaway raises an excellent point or three. Bloggers who want to attract ads need comments, and since few will comment under their own names (in order to protect themselves from cyber-harassment, as often as to be able to post scurrilous remarks without fear of consequences), moderation is a must. But if you moderate too strictly, you do wind up with an insider group patting each other on their respective backs. BTW, most people who post on industry blogs do it anonymously because they have career concerns that are quite legitimate, on top of the usual privacy worries. BTW2, you can hardly expect a bunch of journalists to refrain from the occasional waggery, irreverence or -- heaven forbid -- outright rudeness. Professional gossips, remember?

1:16 pm  
Blogger The Messy Baker said...

Perhaps food blogs are an exception to the rule. Most people who comment on my blog provide their name. The comments are often as entertaining or informative as the post itself -- which is either a credit to my readers or a testament to the unifying power of food.

I know Paul Wells turned off his comment function for a while because
things were getting nasty. He's talking politics; I'm talking butter tarts. Foodies like to swap tips, not insults. Comments definitely add to the conversation when it comes to food blogs.

Dusting off the party host analogy, most of my guests are delightful. The only visitors I have shown the door were spammers.

10:44 am  

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