Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Some Comments on Comments

A couple of weeks ago Freakonomics posted a couple of pieces about why people comment on blogs. This created some ripples in the blogosphere as other people commented on it and it got me thinking about comments. maybe it only seems that way to me because I was thinking hard about comments and started mapping out this post last week. Anyway, here are a few thoughts:

In General

Comments have been up lately, which is great. Keep ‘em coming. Positive or negative, comments let a blogger know he’s not just talking to himself.

I’ve been trying to respond to comments better than I have in the past. Two classes of comments continue to flummox me. Comments saying “Great post, thanks for writing this,” are wonderful to get and give me a healthy pink glow around the ears, but seldom can I think of anything to say in response. Thanks, of course and I do drop that on occasion. But I don’t tend to take praise gracefully and without embarrassment. Mostly just understand that your comments are appreciated and, more than that, keep me going.

I also lamely have trouble with some truly heart wrenching comments. For instance, this one during the HPV vaccine debate really got to me, but I couldn’t come up with any response that didn’t sound facile and trite. Next time, I’ll ignore the inner critic and say something like “I really appreciate you sharing something so personal a painful to help us understand the issue.” Come to think of it, that would have worked

Some Specific Shout-Outs

The best comments are those that tell me something new or otherwise make me think. Daniel Jack Williamson has been one of my consistently best commenters on that score. Also, Tom Blumer from BizzyBlog wrote a great comment about the PD story on bloggers and journalists which offered some insight into how the article came together.

Finally, and not apropos of any of the above but nonetheless quite cool, Sgt. Brandon White, blogger of the Afghanistan-based GWOT dot US tracked back some click-throughs and left a very nice comment on the post about him. He mentioned that they are setting off on a major mission, so keep him and his fellow soldiers in you thoughts and prayers.


Are getting on my nerves again. Even if you aren’t going to set up a blogger ID, how hard is it to drop some sort of identifying information in a comment? Instead I have to muddle through with “Anon1, you said, but then Anon2, you noted that. . .”

Up the annoyance scale are people who cop harsh attitudes from behind the Anonymous wall. I know it may seem inconsistent to complain about this, given my nom de blog, but I haven’t made it all that difficult to track down Pho’s Secret Identity.

What’s more, there is a level of ownership to a comment attached even to an online persona that isn’t there. When a comment comes from someone who bothers to append a name it feels more like that person is engaging the discussion. When someone comments anonymously, it feels like an entirely gratuitous drive-by flaming. And maybe it’s my imagination, but people seem far more likely to adopt a snotty or abusive tone when the comment anonymously.

I won’t turn off anonymous commenting, but it would be nice to be able to make that veil of anonymity fit less comfortably. I would love someone in the Blogger hack writing community to allow bloggers to change how anonymous comments are announced. Right now they post with “anonymous says:.” I’d like to be able to change that to something like “I’m a Big Pussy says:.”

Some Ground Rules.
I’ve never really set out any, but here’s the basic contours of how things go in the comments section. The only reason I’ve ever deleted comments was when a commenter used the blog to attack someone else. That person is also the only commenter not allowed to post here (which is to say I delete him whenever he posts.) Generally speaking, I have less patience for incivility toward other guests of the Pages than incivility toward me. I don’t have that many friends, so I’m quick to defend those I have.

It’s conceivable that at some point someone could post something so sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted that I would be unwilling to leave it up. I wouldn’t leave up anything I know to be slanderous even though I’m apparently immune from action. Happily, I haven’t had any such problems so far.

So it’s fairly easy to get a comment up that will stay up. Nonetheless, a few aspirational guidelines are in order. I think I maintain a fairly respectful and respectable tone around here, even when in high dudgeon, and it would be nice if commenters could post in the same vein. I like when smart people who disagree with me challenge me to argue well. I don’t like comments that drag the discussion down.

The only action I take toward nasty comments is return volleys of nasty. If you disagree respectfully, we’ll be fine. If you want to come in on the attack, you’d best come in strong because I can and will bring it.

The Return of Comment Spam?

I've had a couple of instances of comment spam -- comments that serve only to steer readers to a website. It looks like there probably went up as a result of an actual human's work as opposed to a webcrawler, but I'm nervous. It's probably only a matter of time until the spam industry find away around Bloggers word verification and my blog will again be a playground for the world's penis enlargers.

An Interesting Tool

I tracked a SiteMeter hit back to something call I hadn’t seen it before and can’t find indication it has been around that long. It’s a bookmarking tool, kind of like (and this bit with breaking up perfectly fine words with random dots must end here and now, btw), but what it does is lets you bookmark a discussion in something like blog comments and it keeps track of the discussion for you. I haven’t tried using it yet, but there it is if you want to try it.


ohioexile said...

I would just like to leave a generic comment on your comments on comments. comments.

Pho said...

Thanks for commenting.

Village Green said...

The only comment I ever deleted was one that was a bunch of gibberish featuring synonyms for human waste. It was like someone had thrown trash all over the village green -- so I cleaned it up and tossed it away!

Sometimes I do post anonymous comments at various places. Not often, but for very considered reasons. Certainly not to attack anyone, that's for sure.

Daniel Jack Williamson said...

Thanks for the shout-out Pho. I really appreciate that your replies don't sidestep the positions of the commenters. You address others' arguments head on.

Not all bloggers are capable of engaging in dialogue. Such bloggers enjoy standing on the soapbox that their blog provides them, but do not invite commenters to examine the blogger's utterances. Commonly, such bloggers will revert to fabricating and tearing down "straw man" arguments to sidestep the position of commenters. My reaction to such bloggers is: "Fine! Let them talk to themselves. I'm not making a habit of visiting their site."

I read your blog with regularity because your posts exhibit great concern for the community and your replies demonstrate that you handle scrutiny very well.

I'm a big pussy said...

I am what I eat

JollyRoger said...

I like controlling my own website, with software I installed myself.

Reconstitution will get, on an average day, between 8,000 and 10,000 individual hits. Thanks to owning the Web server Reconstitution sits on, I can filter out keywords in URLs and keep the number of false positives way down. I have, in the past, gotten threats in the form of comments-my blog software also scans for jkeywords that might be related to my demise and it stops them from being posted. However, I have a log, and I can usually figure out where my more rabid fans are posting from-for them, I usually insert a redirect to the website of the County Sheriff in whatever locale they may be in. This usually causes them to lose their appetite for suggesting new and colorful methods for my demise in a hurry.

If you think I offended you with my little hit piece on Ann, you should see how offended some of her supporters were. I actually had to go that rare extra step and forward their well wishes to their ISPs in a couple of cases.

I don't allow anon comments anymore primarily because the threats tended to be made anonymously.