There seems to be a fair amount of talk recently about comments on weblogs. It’s interesting to me, the love hate relationship so many have with them. It’s such a simple idea that it’s hard to believe it is generating so much heated discussion and defensive behavior. The way I see it, the use of comments engages readers to participate, not by running off to their own corners of the net and writing up replies in their own blog, but by taking a knife out and whittling in their own thoughts right there on the trunk of the tree. Must we hole ourselves up like islands? I fully support others writing on their own blog space but does a reaction always warrant that?
The comment space is a whiteboard where others are able to expand on ideas or opinions on whatever topic is at hand. This is an understatement, of course, because as everyone that has ever visited a site with the ability to comment knows, they are often abused. With the first painful stroke of the word “first!” comments became a questionable commodity. This is where the debate over the necessity of this ability usually begins. No one wants to invite people into their home just to have their guests scribble all over the walls and trash the place. This of course begs the question, just who is it you are hanging out with in the first place?
A readers response to an article is entirely dependent on the article itself and the feelings it evokes within the reader. Are you writing opinion articles, thick with facetious banter, talking shit about this or that, and heavy handedly suggesting the person reading believe what it is you are writing? Then you should expect emotional responses in line with the way you are writing.
Blogs that contain this kind of heavy opinionated content are often quite popular because we all have opinions and we all like to challenge our beliefs. We are also, whether we want to admit it or not, well aware that the phones we use, the apps we put on them, and the font we choose to type our secrets in don’t make us any better or worse than anyone else. If you have opinions on the world of technology that leave you with feelings of anger or discontent I suggest you ask yourself why. Technology is fun, it is there to make life easier and its nice to stay informed but don’t let the things you consume in turn, consume you.
It’s only human to want to be heard but it’s your choice how you decide to say your piece. This may seem random, but I recently saw some ancient episode of the TV sitcom, Scrubs, and within the episode there was a bit where the main character stated, “Anger like this has a way of being passed on to whoever’s closest” and this couldn’t be more true. We all know information on the net is a virus but it’s not always just information that is passed, it’s the emotion embedded within it. Of course I am not suggesting that every blogger with an opinion has an angry one. It is the way in which we present our opinions that dictates what kind of audience we will draw.
That said, yes, I could see how many bloggers out there may not want comments available on their site. It’s not always appropriate and many don’t have the time or patience to handle comments left by followers. Many users simply thrive on online conflict because it gives them a chance to have a voice and with comment systems they don’t have to reply in obscurity within their own space, they can contribute directly at the source. In life outside of the net is it not often encouraged to speak your mind directly to someone rather than behind their back?
My point is this, there is not a lot of ground for debate here. There is no right or wrong unless you are speaking of a specific site. The only other sites that may need some constraints in place with commenting are those with an overly large, broad audience. It comes down to the trust you have in the audience you have built. It’s a sad truth of the internet that to have a concrete opinion that draws a lot of attention, people will come out of the woodwork to prove you wrong. No one want’s to read comments full of aimless attacks. This backlash against comments feels harsh and unwarranted. The inherent dissonance and pride associated with writing on a comment-less blog feels like a trend like any other.
Two sites come to mind that provide good examples to these ideas, neither currently support comments and most likely never will. Shawn Blanc of shawnblanc.net, and Ben Brooks of The Brooks Review. The two stay closely affiliated with one another yet have two very different approaches in reporting news in the tech world. Ben has an outspoken presence and seems to have strong opinions and is not afraid to rub people the wrong way to get a point across. Shawn writes in a way that is more down to earth and considerate of a broad audience. I could not imagine comments on The Brooks Review would be a good idea, he draws an audience more passionate and opinionated, others like himself, and would lead to needless arguments that simply wander in circles of stubborn opinion. Shawnblanc.net, however, I feel would not suffer from having comments around at all. He has an open, trusting relationship with his readers that became even more apparent when he went full time with his writing for the site and started up a more personal podcast that is available to paying subscribers. Two different approaches to a similar end, and while a fair amount of the audience is shared, the two bring out much different reactions among their followers.
In my personal experience here on 50ft, having comments enabled has taught me a lot about the people that follow along with the site. I am not in it for affirmation or coddling my ego, any writer that accumulates a moderate audience gets enough of that in other ways. It gives me a direct link to gauge the reaction of a post or image which in turn, allows me to further develop myself as a writer and photographer while building a healthy audience. Sure, there is Twitter and other social networks that also provide me with this feedback but these are disconnected from the source and offer a different kind of response. I also love the sense of community comments here have built. They help readers feel part of what is going on rather than the usual disconnect that breeds an unfortunate sense of entitlement in so many. I’m not a newspaper, professor, or preacher.I am here to talk with you, not at you.
While often I find a blanket statements of simple praise, I also discover a number of small stories and opinions that agree or differ with what I have written in a space not for full length articles or tiny, restricting tweets, but one for that gut reaction or memory brought forth after reading or seeing something. I actually encourage readers to browse though comments as well as articles because of this. I enjoy being challenged and even if I do have a fragile conscious at times, I take anyones point of view at face value. The amazing thing is that the replies I find are often fairly constructive additions to the overall narrative of what I was discussing. Even if only one percent of readers pay any attention to what others have scribbled there on the wall it is still there for those who choose to read on and have a place to discover what others may think about the subject. If you’re not interested, simply don’t scroll down.
Maybe I am lucky, but I honestly feel that it has a lot to do with the mutual respect I try to encourage with the people that follow along here. I realize that a lot of what I do is simply sharing photographs and musings on life, photography and the occasional article such as this but still. Out of the 32,000 some odd visitors that currently graze here each month I feel fiftyfootshadows makes for a humble exception to the mentality that comments are for axe wielding crazies trying to hack their way through the forest rather than stop and admire the grace and power of opinion the net gives us.
It’s really not as complex and dramatic as many are making it out to be because it really does simply come down to what works best for different voices online and does not warrant any drama. Who knows, one day I may change my mind here on 50ft. I did shut off all comments and even the dates on entries over on my not updated enough side project, You Disappear because they felt in the way with that project. If I feel they get in the way of the bigger picture here then I wont hesitate to pull the plug but until then, lets keep things civilized, shall we?