08 September 2007

To comment or not to comment

From the Australian public relations blog, Better communications results, comes a timely post on the subject of comments on blogs.

Not surprisingly, opinions vary.

Equally unsurprising is the indication of a trend to be found on some local blogs for comments to turn into pointless, sometimes personally hostile comments by anonymous people.

There have been some examples of that at Bond Papers, especially in the posts by an essentially anonymous commenter on the post "The revenge of the newfies?" containing Benoit Aubin's recent L'actualite piece on the province.

If you want to see the sort of pseudo-flame war that can erupt, there's a good example locally from a blog run by a pseudonym who - himself - also keeps his profile closed and makes it pretty well impossible for most people to find out either his identity or an e-mail address where you could reach him to take up an issue privately. The big spurt of personal vitriol erupted in the late winter and early spring; he commented on the "Revenge" posting, incidentally, following the same tactic of launching a form of personal attack rather than deal with the post itself.

As a last point, let's take a clip from Dave Winer's view on the subject of comments:
..."The cool thing about blogs is that while they may be quiet, and it may be hard to find what you’re looking for, at least you can say what you think without being shouted down. This makes it possible for unpopular ideas to be expressed. And if you know history, the most important ideas often are the unpopular ones…. That’s what’s important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment.”
Comments are an issue, and how to handle them takes some consideration. Moderation is, to my mind, a form of peculiar censorship. In practice, it seems to turn that unpopular comments - i.e. ones that don't fawn over the blogger or essentially confirm their line of argument - never see the light of day.

At Bond Papers and Persuasion Business, the practice has been to require a blogger.com ID and an e-mail address as a way of forcing people to take responsibility for their own words. People who don't want to do that can go elsewhere and their comments - usually the pseudonymous, blocked profile types - will usually find their words deleted. This is especially the case when the comments turn out to be ad hominem nonsense. They remain in the e-mail in-basket, though, for future reference.

Comments can add significantly to a thread, such as Craig Welsh's questioning of the recent poll goosing post, or the opinion offered by another commenter - with a name but closed profile - on a thread about Hebron royalties.

In a post on Grenfell, strong opinion was voiced from what appeared to be an anonymous commenter. When challenged on that point, an e-mail appeared which identified the person as someone who has offered - as in the comments - thoughtful, strong opinions. The person took responsibility for his words and hence they remain available for all to see. He added significantly to the discussion.

At Bond Papers, there have always been comments even if the ability to comment on each post has been disabled. That's while the profile is open and an e-mail address is prominently displayed. Some of the most valuable, informed and sometimes highly critical comments have come from there. Productive discussions ensued and in one case, a scathing comment intended for publication with the thread came through e-mail; it went on the thread as the commenter intended originally intended and with the commenter's permission. Strong words and critical comment are not enough to get someone's words in the bin.

Comments on blogs are likely to be a hot topic in the upcoming election for two reasons:

1. Blogs have become a source of critical or alternative comment, something the Premier has made plain he doesn't like.

2. One tactic to counteract that would be deploying sock puppets - the anonymous ad hominem attackers - to disrupt the information flow. They are the modern version of the thugs sent to a rival meeting to start a fight.

Let's see what happens as the story unfolds.


[Cross posted to Persuasion Business]