January 29, 2009

"Many blogs have developed successful communities of commenters, with many very interesting and substantive contributions and discussions."

"Unfortunately, this has not happened here."

Lawprof Jack Balkin nixes comments. Though his co-bloggers can still turn comments on for their individual posts, he's had it with trolls and name-calling:
There is very rarely any serious analysis; mostly there is point scoring and vitriol. Many regular readers have written to say that they find the comments section a distraction and think the blog would be far better without it.
Daniel Solove, who likes his own commenters, says:
It seems to me that different blog commenting cultures arise on different blogs. I bet that the readership for Balkinization and Concurring Opinions overlaps quite a bit, yet I have noticed that the comments at Balkinization are much as Jack describes them. Why have commenting cultures developed so differently at different blogs? I don't really know the answer, and it would be interesting to figure out why commenting cultures develop in the ways that they do.
One question I'd ask is: Do you go into the comments yourself and talk with your readers or do you just look on and hope for the best and fret and contemplate total destruction when things go to hell?

Orin Kerr says:
I suspect the explanation rests largely on the different moderation practices at different blogs. If a blogger doesn't moderate comment threads at all on a widely read blog, people who want to be shocking, mean, or just irrelevant realize they can do their thing and reach a decent-sized audience....

Over time, comment moderation practices end up having a profound impact on who comments, and different approaches either attract thoughtful commenters or keep them away.
A little too much stress on commenters behaving themselves? I think I have a taste for more wildness than these other law professors. I want something exciting to happen in the comments. To me, a troll is someone who's boring, verbose, and repetitive. There's no end to how creative readers might be if you give them a place to write. You need to care about seeing that happen.

IN THE COMMENTS: Henry Buck says:
He's complaining about point-scoring and vitriol in the comments of a blog that takes its name from a play on a word for diviseness and nationalistic hatred?
Ha ha. Yeah, he's long had that slogan: "Balkinization: an unanticipated consequence of Jack M. Balkin." Which made it sound like we don't expect it and he loves it and is going to going to serve it up for our pleasure.

45 comments:

MrBuddwing said...

The Perfesser: To me, a troll is someone who's boring, verbose, and repetitive.

*Sigh*. Two out of three says I'm a troll.

traditionalguy said...

I suspect that the style of the host attracts the style of the commenters. Many screamers attract screaming commenters until you wonder whether this Blog is healthy for anyone. The best comments seem to come in return to a laid back, and curious style by the host, leading to real intellectual efforts by the commenters in return. Then extreme intelligence becomes valued, and is respected, instead of valuing the harshness skill of the attacks. Different types seek out their favorite style levels.

fcai said...

Glenn Reynolds does not allow comments. Seems reasonable to me...

Heh...

Henry Buck said...

He's complaining about point-scoring and vitriol in the comments of a blog that takes its name from a play on a word for diviseness and nationalistic hatred?

Instapundit has too many readers to have a useful or interesting comment section.

EDH said...

In my experience, blog comment sections are a lot like mosh pits. The best tend to have their own informal tempo and protocols, which in turn is influenced by the tone set by the participants (audience, commenters), content (song, subject) and the host (band, blogger).

True, one prick can ruin the self-regulated activity of everyone. That's why an etiquette must prevail, or be enforced -- preferably among the participants themselves.

I also think Althouse's oblique approach to topics avoids the kind of direct confrontation that elicits the sharp elbow responses you see in the comment sections of many blogs.

Henry said...

Instapundit has too many readers to have a useful or interesting comment section.

That's a very astute point. Has anyone every tried to read the comments on a New York Times article? They're as individualistic and insightful as salmon roe.

A lot of blogs don't have enough commentators for interesting comments. But too many also kills the discussion.

The Expatriate said...

I fail to see how commenters, including myself, make much of a difference on a blog, except to alienate people when they go too far. (We are looking in your general direction, Little Green Footballs.) I read this blog for its editorial content, not a group of people sniping at each other.

jdeeripper said...

The hissy fits between commenters or the snarkiness of the commenters toward the blogger are always tedious and irritating to read.

But the biggest problem is that they can swamp the potentially interesting comments.

Most sites have a few intelligent or funny regulars but I'll give up trying to find them if the dummies or Oedipals have inundated the blog.

On the other hand some sites ban people or delete comments that are well written or funny simply because they have touched taboo areas.

Althouse has some pretty good commenters in the mix. Some sites like bloggingheads are just awful. Insufferable commenters. They're almost as bad as most of the bloggingheads themselves. But at least you don't have to look at the commenters.

The Expatriate said...I fail to see how commenters, including myself, make much of a difference on a blog

Don't underestimate some commenters. Many of them can be smarter, funnier or have more knowledge on a subject than the blogger himself.

Original George said...

"A taste for more wildness..."

That's you, Professor.

The music plays the band.

You create a growth environment and then surrender control to let it happen within loose/tight limits. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. It's about the moment, the ride. The circus might be your kind of zoo.

Simon said...

MrBuddwing, don't worry - some days I worry that I'm all three!

Henry Buck said...
"Instapundit has too many readers to have a useful or interesting comment section."

Yesss. I see a lot of blogs - particularly on the left - where every single post gets several hundreds of comments. That would be insane even if most of the comments weren't, as they always are, redundant, duplicative, or ridiculous, calling to mind the old saw that the debate isn't over because while everything has been said, not everyone has said it yet. For the most part, this little coffeehouse tends to avoid that kind of "me too!" commenting style.

I must admit, however, that I agree with Orin - a slightly heavier touch with regard to deleting troll comments here would be healthy (albeit time-consuming).

Robert Cook said...

Most of the sniping in the BALKINIZATION blog comments were due to one commenter--who has posted here, recently--whose provocative and nearly always wrong or wrong-headed remarks invariably elicited a predictable storm of passionate responses, some of which was well stated and reasonable, but much of which, unfortunately, resorted to intemperate name-calling.

Robert Cook said...

"...WAS due..."

Simon said...

It's good that you're so honest about your comments flaws, Robert...

;)

PatCA said...

I think it's time for a meta discussion on commenting. A scholary article perhaps on the various conventions of commenting and the different styles on different blogs, and why this happens? Sir Archy would be the wonderful Outlier, of course, here!

Franco said...

Comments are sometimes the most interesting aspect of blogs. I also like radio talk shows that take callers - every now and then you get a real great one, but it is an art to getting good callers. Constant compliments to the host is boring along with repetitive phrases and a lot of initial back-and forth before the caller gets to the point. I like to hear regular people and what they have to say, there is also a lot you can learn since people have different expertise and live in different areas of the country.

Sometimes the comments can be more though-provoking than the original post.

former law student said...

Orin Kerr also refers to "Above the Law," whose comment threads are polluted with "First!"s, and old memes from AutoAdmit ("Guys in my high school used to do X all the time"). Maybe 1 in 5 or so of the AtL comments are worth reading.

Trooper York said...
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MadisonMan said...

I think EDH and Trooper York hit the nail on the head. It's hard to be obstreperously trollish when the topics discussed are moving around so much. God knows I try!

If the topics are interesting and not repetitive, then the discussion is interesting. Repetitive topics lead to boredom, and that bordom leads to trollish behavior.

So the blog authors who complain about the trolls in their comment section should be asking themselves: Why are my blog topics so boring?

Trooper York said...
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MadisonMan said...

AI is boring until after Hollywood.

Trooper York said...
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TMink said...

For me, the commenting community here is absolutely as important as the blog proper.

Trey

Trooper York said...
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Trooper York said...
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Tibore said...

Many times, comment sections deteriorate because someone or some group is deliberately trying to bring the forum participation down to a low level. I've seen many a fine forum with much terrific and stimulating discussion just go down the toilet because of the immature antics of a pair or small number of people who's only goal is disruption. And no, this isn't merely from my participation correcting 9/11 "Truth" propoganda; I held this thought long before I got involved with debunking that junk.

Sometimes moderation helps, and sometimes it doesn't. Regardless, in just about any comments section deterioration I've seen, it's happened because someone or some few people deliberately work at tearing the blog participants' sense of conversation and community down. That's the common line: Deliberate intent. Because mere disagreement - even at vehement, venemous levels - doesn't necessarily bring a forum down; it's possible to have ferocious antagonism between commenters and still have a good, lively, entertaining section, as long as the partisans are not deliberately trying to destroy the conversation. It's when some participants decide to do deliberate damage to the discussion that things go in the sewer.

That's why I think eventually all blogging services - WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, etc. - will implement "Ignore" features. It simply has become a necessary defense against commenting community degradation.

Tibore said...

"Trooper York said...
Good topics make for great comments.

Boring topics make for boring comments."


Trooper's dead-on right. That plays a huge part in things too.

Justin said...

The comments section has changed the tone of the Althouse blog. Before comments, each post could stand alone. Read it and move along.

Now, Althouse encourages her readers to participate in the posting process. The comments extend the post.

So many posts nowadays don't make any sense without reading the attached comments. Some don't make any sense without being a longtime reader of comments.

Tibore said...

" Franco said...
Comments are sometimes the most interesting aspect of blogs. I also like radio talk shows that take callers - every now and then you get a real great one, but it is an art to getting good callers. Constant compliments to the host is boring along with repetitive phrases and a lot of initial back-and forth before the caller gets to the point."


Sometimes listening to some call-in shows - like my occasional foray to NPR's "Diane Rhem's show" - is like having teeth pulled over and over again: "Oh Jesus that's so bad it hurts... oh God, here it comes again!..." Most callers simply display so little to no original thought, with only a few exceptions here and there, that you wonder why they even bothered calling. You just get repititious commentary, nothing but mindset reinforcement. It's like you can write a script generator for most of those shows.

That's why I'd rather read blogs and other online forums. People seem to feel that they're on a more equal footing with the blog author and each other in those cases, and are more likely to engage in actual conversation rather than this silly "client-server" interaction you see with a radio talk-show host.

"I like to hear regular people and what they have to say, there is also a lot you can learn since people have different expertise and live in different areas of the country."

Sometimes the comments can be more though-provoking than the original post."


Agreed.

Justin said...

Althouse said...

To me, a troll is someone who's boring, verbose, and repetitive.

I think most people misunderstand the term "troll". It's not a monster that lives under a bridge. It's a type of fishing. You throw out a line (often behind a moving boat) move it around and see what you catch.

That's what trolls do. They throw out comments that are designed to create controversy and start fights. They're fishing for drama.

On this blog, Luckyoldson (Michael) is the troll archetype. Every keystroke is intended to stir something up. Cedarford, on the other, fits your description perfectly (boring, verbose, and repetitive). But I wouldn't consider him a troll because he doesn't seem to care if anyone responds to him or not.

paul a'barge, on the other hand, is certainly not verbose, but he is a troll because he's just trying to piss off liberals.

Bruce Hayden said...

Volokh doesn't seem to have as many problems with commenters as Ann seems to here, but even here, I don't see things getting out of hand that often, and Ann does step in when necessary.

For this blog, I think that comments are essential to its success. Ann seems to throw stuff out for us to comment upon, as opposed to some who operate more in an analytic mode. But because of the interesting dynamics in this eclectic community, this blog seems to work well.

Commenting seems to also work well at volokh.com, but for a slightly different reason. There, the bulk of the posters seem to be fairly intelligent lawyers and law professors. I have had more exhaustive intelligent discussions about the law there than I have had anywhere else, even in law school. In particular, I have fond memories of debating FISA to death over there. Because of the relatively even divide between right and left there, I think that that debate was more extensive and comprehensive than probably anywhere else. As noted in Orin Kerr's comment thread on this subject, the problem with Balkin is that the community there is too liberal to get a real debate going.

p.s. Ann - keep up the great work.

Justin said...

Full disclosure:

I find Cedarford's comments so boring I don't even read them. Maybe I'm wrong about him.

Luckyoldson, though, makes my day every time he throws a hissy fit about dinosaurs, Sarah Palin, or an extra "k" in a word.

traditionalguy said...

Coming from a long line of oedipals myself, I still love to hear from Trooper, Bissage, Archie, Titus, and Crack. Without their sly humor and wit, my visits would seem boring. verbose, and repetitive. Thanks for the memories. If you want your mind twisted by lengthy commenters, try Spengler's crew. You guys/gals are grounded and cordial, enuff.

TMink said...

Tibore wrote: "Many times, comment sections deteriorate because someone or some group is deliberately trying to bring the forum participation down to a low level."

I see a lot of that over at Dr. Helen's. Every now and then, likely when InstaP linked to her, a small flock of really irritating and nasty people would come in and be nasty and mean.

I had one of them track down a photo of my daughter taken while she was in the NICU and belittle and make fun of her. Really class stuff like that.

That seems to happen less often over here. Here the nuts tend to go straight for Althouse.

Trey

LonewackoDotCom said...

Everything boils down to the actions of the blogger. If all they do is post red meat entries or stupid entries, they get visitors who eat that up and who leave comments in line with the entries. Those who are more "erudite" have more "erudite" visitors and commenters who are less likely to engage in useless "fighting".

For examples of sheer stupidity, see the thinkprogress blogs. For examples of me-too, see a Freerepublic thread.

As far as moderating comments are concerned, that's almost always an indication that the blogger realizes their arguments are faulty and they're trying to cover it up. Here's a partial list of some of the sites that have deleted my comments. One I haven't added was left at washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_01/016618.php where I linked to this Althouse entry.

peter hoh said...

Maybe Balkin's just pissed that he never got any insects participating in his comment threads.

Trooper York said...
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Henry Buck said...

If the "nuts tend to go straight toward Althouse," the squirrels will be sure to follow. Look out, Prof. A.

chickenlittle said...

Althouse is like a rope in the following way: Each post of hers is connected to the previous, if only by common author. Hanging off each post are comment threads. But in some ways, each commenter's comments are also linked in time, and can be thought of as parallel threads in time. Taken together, the threads make up the rope.

blake said...

And given enough time, we'll all be able to hang ourselves.

Back in the '90s I often saw a group of commenters come in to a nice community and wreck it. Sort of like The Wild One for pussies.

And before that they were ruining Usenet.

Howard said...

A troll is anyone who comments on a blog post.

Comments on blogs are a freeform nuanced gathering of dispirit folk seeking human contact and an affirmation of community, of place. In a sense, it is like sitting around the family dinner table listening to Mom and Dad discuss politics, the weather and sports. Brother and sister chime in with their views, often making playful snipes at one another. As we all ride down that unceasing conveyor belt to oblivion it is comforting to reach back to a better place and time. The blog comment world is like a time machine. Seeking comfort, praise, a little ribbing now and again, each one of us is a pathetic bag of pus, rotting our meaningless lives away and posturing for strangers whom we have little regard. Oh, there are little groups of pals that provide a feeling of human connection that one finds impossible to achieve in real life. As we burn out our eyes and fill our heads with an endless diet of trivia and phony terror the sun continues to ride over the clouds and we forget that the reaper waits.

tim maguire said...

I like Justin's definition of a troll, "They throw out comments that are designed to create controversy and start fights. They're fishing for drama." That sums it up tightly and accurately.

This is a great question. Most of the time, I think a blog suffers from allowing comments. I opposed it on Volokh and on Oxblog. But now and then, like here or Protein Wisdom, a great collection of commenters really enhances the blog. While some other places (yes, I am looking at Little Green Footballs) I won't even visit because the comment section is so offensive and I hold the blogger partly responsible.

When it comes to LGF, some other bloggers I have great respect for (particularly Roger L. Simon) defend Charles Johnson claiming he's not his commenters. Maybe so, but I can't help but notice that these same defenders manage to have civil comment sections.

blake said...

gathering of dispirit folk

Sir Archy?

William said...

They say in writing the hardest thing to develop is a voice. It's like a major league fastball. You either have it or you don't. Some of the regular commenters here have a voice. Their entries and their interactions with the other commenters are instantly recognizable and fun to read.... I enjoy reading Cedarford. It takes a rare level of crankiness to be annoyed at Medal of Honor winners and to dismiss them with an epithet, "grenade floppers". If there were a Medal of Honor for crankiness, I would award it to Cedarford.... I especially enjoy his interactions with Palladian. Palladian is to invective what Billie Holiday is to the blues. Palladian's coat grows thick and shiny on a troll rich diet.... Cedarford is not so much a troll as a red flag to Palladian--and vice versa of course. There's a real chemistry between these two commenters. Reading their exchanges can teach one a great deal about the futility of seeking peace in the Mid-East.

Henry said...

Some of the regular commenters here have a voice.

I would say that is characteristic of the Althouse comments section in general.

By exalting the interesting over the agreeable, Althouse subverts normal troll-like behaviour. Take Titus for example. On any other blog he would be a classic troll -- wildly off-topic, profane, and attention-getting. Let's face it, Titus can be really annoying, especially when he smothers an interesting topic in loaf jokes.

But Althouse gilds the turd. On Althouse, a commenter that perverse is a valued performer, not a troll.

MadisonMan said...

Justin, I don't read him either, so you're not alone.