Sunday, July 13, 2003

To Comment or not to Comment?

Asymmetrical Information's Mindless H. Dreck has a post up on the supposed drawbacks of reader feedback via comments. Personally, I find myself in total disagreement with what he has to say, and not just because I have a lot less traffic to handle than he does.

The best form of blog feedback seems to be when someone else blogs on it on their own site ... the problem is that the comments (good and bad) are bundled together with an individual post, and email is pushed upon you. A link, however, is yours to follow, and the author's to "wear" on his own site.

The natural Usenet laws that apply to email and comment forums are less operative when people write on their own site. I believe this is because they have to place it in the context of their own writings and online identity-- there's less bluster, more proofreading and no attempt to simply achieve some kind of verbal graffiti. Finally, an entry on someone else's site doesn't seem to sit there demanding a response (because it is 'bundled' with your post) as it does when it's in your inbox or a post on your blog.

Where he sees a "problem", I see an advantage - what could be better than to have a comment and the responses to it bundled together in the same convenient spot, rather than having to chase them down by following any number of links, assuming that the original commentator even bothers to provide links to those responses of which he may be aware?

What we are seeing here is a clash between two fundamentally opposed visions of what online communication should be about. On the one hand we have the old-style publishing model, in which readers are thought of as passive consumers of "product"; at best they may write in to the Editor with their comments on what they've read, but whether or not their responses see the light of day is left entirely to the Editor's discretion.

The second model in contention is that of the blog as salon, with a host who facilitates the discussion by introducing the subject matter, but otherwise grants the other participants the freedom to respond either to him or to each other, as the fancy takes them. This alternative is potentially a lot messier than the publishing model, since there is no telling where the conversation might lead; there is always the possiblity that the blogger may get shown up as an ignorant ass! But this, to my mind, is precisely what makes the salon model more attractive than the vision of blogging as publishing-on-the-cheap. The world has more than enough opinionated blowhards as it is: what it needs is more genuine intellectual give-and-take, which reader comments are uniquely positioned to provide.