April 21, 2007

The ups and downs of blog comments.

Glenn Reynolds notes this NPR discussion about the difficulties of maintaining a comments section on a blog:
[MODERATOR ADAM] DAVIDSON: Jacquelyn Schlesier is a full-time moderator for Chowhound, a food discussion Web site. She says keeping things civil is a lot of work. She spends as many as 12 hours a day reading through posts and deleting anything offensive, abusive or off-topic. It's a food blog. How bad can things get? Really bad, Schlesier says, especially with some topics.

Ms. SCHLESIER: Children in restaurants - children in restaurants is an issue that Chowhounds cannot discuss civilly.

DAVIDSON: People can generally say anything they want about food or restaurants, but they can't insult each other. She says she just about never gets the truly nasty kind of posts that Kathy Sierra faced. That's because long ago, Chowhound established a tone.

Ms. SCHLESIER: Kids learn what's acceptable and how to behave in the real world by how they see other people around them and how they see adults behave. People in communities learn the same way.

DAVIDSON: But keeping things civil on Chowhound takes three paid moderators and 12 volunteers. They spend hundreds of hours a week getting rid of all the mean comments. A lot of people who run Web sites don't have that kind of time.

Ira Glass hosts the public radio show "This American Life." The show hosted a Web discussion board for years until one week, his show featured a story about a troubled relationship between a woman and her two daughters.

IRA GLASS: The day after it aired, people started posting to the bulletin board, saying that the girls were sluts and that the mom was a terrible mom. And it continued, and finally, we killed it. We killed the discussion board.

DAVIDSON: Glass didn't want to feel responsible for hosting nasty comments about people who bared their souls on his radio show.

Mr. GLASS: We could actually, you know, devote staff time and look at the board and monitor it and all. But, I mean - and the truth is, you know, what we wanted to do is make a radio show.

DAVIDSON: There's surely many like Glass, people who just don't have the time or inclination to enforce civility on their Web sites. And without people enforcing it, the online code of ethics is unlikely to have much impact.
Glenn adds:
People just tend to get nasty on the Web; the subject at hand, whatever it happens to be, isn't so much a provocation as an opportunity.
That all makes comments seem like a lost cause!

As for me and blog comments, I was against them before I was for them. Here's what I said on the subject at that blogging and politics panel I did here at Dartmouth College on Thursday:



(The video is straight off my MacBook laptop. I hope you enjoy the comical way my hand hogs the screen at the expense of my face.)

33 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

Wouldn't it be funny if no one commented on this post?

AJ Lynch said...

Your wish is my command....must delete this comment...must delete this comment....do not hit enter...

Ann Althouse said...

No, really, please comment!

Don't not comment just to amuse me!

Mindsteps said...

From my perspective one of the mixed blessings of the internet is it's evocative and disinhibiting impact on it's users. It can result in wonderfully honest insights that seem rare in face-to-face discourse. At the same time, it also seems to evoke dissembling and insulting behavior as well.

As for Mr. Reynold's. From my vantage point, his style of blogging seems reminscient of Eddie Haskell.

Steve S said...

Let's hope that at least the jester comments.

Mindsteps said...

The decision to include or not include blog comments probably varies from blogger to blogger, to some degree. However, I wonder if for some, the decision whether to have or not have comments has to do with the level of one's anxiety over or comfort with the unpredictability of human interaction.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Henry Hill: You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny.
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I'm funny?
Henry Hill: It's funny, you know. It's a good story, it's funny, you're a funny guy.
[laughs]
Tommy DeVito: what do you mean, you mean the way I talk? What?
Henry Hill: It's just, you know. You're just funny, it's... funny, the way you tell the story and everything.
Tommy DeVito: [it becomes quiet] Funny how? What's funny about it?
Anthony Stabile: Tommy no, You got it all wrong.
Tommy DeVito: Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. What did ya say? Funny how?
Henry Hill: Jus...
Tommy DeVito: What?
Henry Hill: Just... ya know... you're funny.
Tommy DeVito: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little fucked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
Henry Hill: Just... you know, how you tell the story, what?
Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don't know, you said it. How do I know? You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what's funny!
Henry Hill: [long pause] Get the fuck out of here, Tommy!
Tommy DeVito: [everyone laughs] Ya motherfucker! I almost had him, I almost had him. Ya stuttering prick ya. Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning.

[From "GoodFellas", emphasis mine.]

Mindsteps said...

Ruth Anne Adams said...
Henry Hill: You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny.
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I'm funny?

I loved that scene. I am listening to it in my mind right now and it still packs a wallop.

peter hoh said...

Should I win the lottery, I will consider arranging for transport so that the regulars here can have a party. Probably in Austin.

Mindsteps said...

Ruth Anne Adams said...
Henry Hill: You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny.
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I'm funny?

I loved that scene. I am listening to it in my mind right now and it still packs a wallop.

AJ Lynch said...

NPR vs. blogosphere.

One is like watching a quiet somewhat boring chess match and the other is often like the last two hours before last call in a hard-drinking bar.

With NPR, you tend to fall asleep while in the blogosphere, you are tempted to stick around til last call to be there in case a good barfight breaks out.

To each his own huh? I think most of us have decided which we like best.

vet66 said...

Professor Althouse;

Nice job with the hands! You could be an honorary Italian with those gestures.

Blog comments are worth the effort. Civility should be enforced after the envelope is pushed too far.

That said, it is always amazing to me how complex the most seemingly simple topics can become upon further examination. They take on a third and fourth dimension that would seem impossible at first blush.

Excellent presentation!

Ann Althouse said...

The hand is in such frightening closeup that you can see what's left of the permanent black ink that leaked out of my pen from the pressure change on the airplane the day before.

Tending to the comments can be time consuming, and Glenn has 10 times the traffic I do. You have to picture the crap that would mess it all up. But if he were to just hire a couple students to watch over it, it would work. Still, his blog functions to send people to other blogs -- like mine! If there were comments, people would stay inside his place, and it would be more like Kos. You should give him credit for what he does do. He is empowering a lot of other voices: the smaller bloggers.

Mindsteps said...

Prof. Althouse noted "Tending to the comments can be time consuming, and Glenn has 10 times the traffic I do....You should give him credit for what he does do. He is empowering a lot of other voices: the smaller bloggers."

I give him credit for supporting smaller bloggers (I was not aware that this was one of the purposes of his postings, so thanks for bringing it up). Also, I like his blog for his tech observations.

Personally, however, Mr. Reynold's blogging style seems rather passive aggressive to me, at least with respect to policy and political issues. His use of links, it seems to me, have a quality of employing others to do much of his dirty work for him.

Unfortunately, I frequently have an unpleasant emotional reaction when I visit his blog. I feel like someone is trying to manipulate and play me, in a sneaky way. I have no idea if others have this reaction to Mr. Reynold's blog, so it may say more about me then him.

Even Mr. Reynold's remark you included in your post could be interpreted as embodying his seeming reluctance to be direct and take some responsibility for his posting when he observes:

'People just tend to get nasty on the Web; the subject at hand, whatever it happens to be, isn't so much a provocation as an opportunity.'

Although his point is well taken there is no hint from Reynolds that he plays any role in the responses of other in that many of the issues he posts on have powerful emotional valence for many visitors to his blog.

Although I do not always agree with you or, for example, Andrew Sullivan, there is an openness and authenticity that is communicated in your postings that I do not detect when I visit Instapundit.

Tim said...

"Personally, however, Mr. Reynold's blogging style seems rather passive aggressive to me, at least with respect to policy and political issues. His use of links, it seems to me, have a quality of employing others to do much of his dirty work for him."

I think Reynold's politics, for anyone who has been paying attention, are exceedingly clear. His use of links is more about efficiency than anything else. It may seem nefarious or passive aggressive to you or others, but I hardly think that is the case.

Tim said...

PS: Andrew Sullivan is utterly useless - his emotional swings make my pre-adolescent daughters seem like battle-hardened Stoics - and render his opinions suspect, at best.

Phillep_H said...

I'd like to see some way to killfile certain other users. Blogs are pretty much a website with a moderated news group attached, anyhow.

Maybe one of those programs the teachers use for online ed?

Mindsteps said...

Tim said:

I think Reynold's politics, for anyone who has been paying attention, are exceedingly clear. His use of links is more about efficiency than anything else. It may seem nefarious or passive aggressive to you or others, but I hardly think that is the case.

Again, it may say more about me then Mr. Reynold's. The issue is not the clarity of his political position....it has more to do with how much ownership he takes of these positions.

I refer back to his remark about comments being an opportunity for others to be vicious (the Cathy Sierra matter certainly supports his observation). Alternatively, Mr. Reynolds remains silent on the emotionally evocative quality of many of his postings and links (he regularly posts on Iraq, Gun Rights, and Media Bias, all very emotionally salient issues). Mr. Reynold's does not acknowledge his role in the reciprocal and interactive process. Personally, I think this style has shortcomings.

I am by no means a conservative....I tend to be politically eclectic. However, when I visit, for example, The Corner, their style of blogging is such that each Cornerite appears to take more responsibility for their statements. I do not get the same impression from Instapundit.

Maxine Weiss said...

Shakespeare had commenters. Back then (I wasn't there) they were called "The Chorus" and they were brutal.

You also had the Court Jesters. Nobody got offended back then.

Peace, Maxine

vrse said...

1. You're right, you're not a good fit for Madison, WI. This may be a rumor, but I hope that other school thing works out for you (Cuny?). And if it is a rumor, maybe a less "serious" town/law school will take you in, somewhere in the south maybe?

2. We know you had to overcome that initial threshold and don't care about your reputation anymore, and that's fine. But, you should care about UW Law's reputation, and those of us who have to put up with the bi-monthly "oh... Wisconsin? Isn't that obnoxious blogger from..."

3. To clarify, people aren't "nasty" to you because you post American Idol... you're so clueless. They're nasty to you becasue they find you hypocritical, vain and vapid. And because you make stupid comments like "Padilla's blinking code to terrorists" or "Obama is a gasbag" or "Murtha seems crazy" or "Pelosi's plane... (my God!)." [Note how I left the Valenti thing out.] Are you as hard on the right? No, but you still call yourself the moderate feminist from Madison, WI, now that, gets under a lot of people's skin, and rightly so.

Theo Boehm said...

Yes, Maxine is our very own barmy Greek Chorus. Shakespeare didn't use a chorus, but Sophokles did. And now Althouse has one. Reminds us all of our hubris, but from the perspective of the totally bonkers.

Speaking of totally bonkers, vrse exhibits classic symptoms of ADS. Althouse's remarks in the video were, in my opinion, spot on, but I must say she has a very thick skin indeed to put up with these insults. I couldn't do it.

But I do appreciate what she said about people wanting to come in and have a discussion. That's the reason many of us are here.

Naked Lunch said...

I haven't read many Shakespeares, but I do remember struggling with a book of sonnets for years that made several moves.

Love heats water. Water cools not love. Or some shit. God I hate women.

XWL said...

Vrse has come up with one of the more creative takes on the old "you a law professor" trope that I've seen.

That's commendable in some way, I guess.

Still a bit of '2 legs bad, 4 legs good' thinking, but it's been awhile since anyone left of center has been worthy of being called subtle, and Vrse almost gets there.

XWL said...

At the risk of being unsubtle myself. . .

What it takes to be branded an embarrassment to UW from the perspective of some on the left, hold a non-Sorosian approved viewpoint.

What's not an embarrassment to UW from the perspective of some on the left, Promote whack-job conspiracy theories in class.

Reasonable?

cobdeluxe said...

Look.

Chowhound is a good website. But when they get on Bernaise sauce it makes my blood boil (no pun intended.) 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice is way too much. And you know what? I think deep down THEY know it. And you know what else?They do that to taunt right thinking people but they say it anyway. Isn't there ANYTHING we can do?

(And don't even get me started on DRIED Tarragon.)

I'm just saying is all.

zzRon said...

Tim said...."PS: Andrew Sullivan is utterly useless - his emotional swings make my pre-adolescent daughters seem like battle-hardened Stoics - and render his opinions suspect, at best."


LOL. Good one! Yes, Sullivan's emotional swings are something to behold. I used to be a reasonably big fan of his, but in the last year or so he has gone totally bonkers. It seems he has become obsessed with his hatred towards Dick Cheney (especially), who in my mind is a VERY decent, though somewhat dogmatic man. And him demanding that Mary Cheney has some "serious explaining to do" reminds me of something a two bit dictator might come up with.

Maxine Weiss said...

"Yes, Maxine is our very own barmy Greek Chorus.

....wanting to come in and have a discussion. That's the reason many of us are here."---Theo Boehm

You feel that I lower the dialogue with my coarse and spicy banter. Very reductive and uncouth am I. Well, I'll have you know, I was procured especially for this site, and only the recruiter can dismiss me.

I can always go grace someone else's site with my presence.

Several have been crying out for me.

Peace, Maxine

Theo Boehm said...

Oh, I didn't say I wanted you to leave, Maxine.  You are, in fact, one of the principal ornaments of this site.  It's just that newcomers and the literal-minded should understand your purpose here.  Just think of my occasional comments about you as a sort of Guide for the Perplexed.

Althouse and others go on about "getting" Maxine.  I like to think I might be able to offer a few words  as a plain and easy introduction to practical Maxine-getting.

Others, perhaps a Derridiste with a newly-minted PhD, could more adequately deconstruct Maxine's comments, but, being a non-tenured part-timer with outdated credentials, I'll content myself with the introductory course.

Eli Blake said...

Look at it this way, Ann:

It's a measure of your success.

Here is the secret to not having to moderate blog comments:

Create a boring blog with much less variety, insight and taste than Ann's, and then you won't have to worry that much about deleting inappropriate comments.

Hey, it worked for me ;)

Seven Machos said...

Too funny, vrse. How utterly clueless and classless. And baseless.

Where's your blog?

reader_iam said...

Maybe you or somebody somewhere else has already addressed this, but is this entire conference going to be available in audio, and posted on line, for anyone/everyone to hear?

If so, when? If not, why not?

Too many jims said...

In large measure, I think the comments here at Althouse are uncivil, small minded and useless. Still the comment section here is more civil, high minded and useful than most other sites in the blogosphere.

AJ Lynch said...

I think the shows on NPR are civil but small-minded and of litlle use :)