July 31, 2013

"As a frequent (daily) reader of your blog, I have observed that your postings have taken a darker tone since you closed the comments section."

"As to causes and effects, I have no idea whether you closed the comments because of some other area of your life or the disappointment of closing of the comments (and the reasons therefor) caused the apparent darkness. Whatever the case may be, I hope that you are well."

Emails a reader, interestingly. I'm not seeing any life changes, aside from the anosmia for which I had an MRI of my head, which has the side effect of causing me to feel unusually assured that there's nothing wrong with my brain. I feel fine, and Meade and I are very happy as we approach our 4th anniversary on Saturday. But your question got me thinking — as I was out biking today — and I worked out a 3-part answer. Each of the 3 parts has 2 subparts. Any combination of the subparts may be causing what you see as darkness.

1. It just looks different.
a. The absence of comments has pushed me to go a little further in revealing my thoughts, since I'm not throwing it over to the commenters. When I do this, you are less able to think what you want to think about me, which might be that I'm only saying bland, nice things, but I never was.
b. The comments, especially the comments at the top, closest to my writing, were often breezy wisecracks or social byplay, and these undermined my seriousness and blunted my edge. Without that cream and sugar, the black coffee is bitter.
2. It's a shift in the news out there, and I'm blogging about different things.
a. Last month we were talking about Supreme Court cases, and this month it's been the racial and sexual matters in the Zimmerman trial and the long shadow of the World Wide Weiner.

b. Before the gay marriage case was decided, I engaged in a lot of conciliatory interplay with people who were saying some pretty harsh things, which I did not respond to in kind, but after the case was decided, we needed to move on.
3. The loss of comments really did affect my mood.
a. I saw some hurtful hostility before I gave up. You can't see all the things that Meade and I deleted, so you don't know what happened, and the moderation function was broken at the time. After I shut off the comments, I had to deal with email and writing on other sites, and I saw some people whom I had valued as guests griping about what I did to them, showing little appreciation for what I had given for 9 years.

b. I really do miss the comments — or, that is, my idea of what the comments were. 

79 comments:

SteveR said...

Ok Ann, I am one of the longtimers and I do very much appreciate what you have done with this blog. For me, its been a very great contributor to a more enriched internet experience, at every point since Fall 2004 when I was first on here.

I think its mostly number one that I see in your posting lately.

MPH said...

Professor, forgive those ungrateful commenters, for they do not know what they do.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Steve R. I have tried to turn the problem into an opportunity by doing some new things. I like to be very concise, and I like to assume people see all the implications, but I've been adding a sentence or too. I don't like to sledgehammer, but I am taking one more shot.

rcocean said...

I think your writing has improved since you stopped the comments. I've noticed an increased vigor and focus.
The posts seem more feisty and interesting.

One vote for keeping the comments closed - whole or in part.

Ann Althouse said...

@MPH I'm pretty sure some of them not only know what they are doing but fully intend to hurt me and to influence others to think ill of me. But what I've done is move on and try to be a better front-page writer for the people who actually like my writing.

Ann Althouse said...

@rcocean Thanks for noticing! I'm definitely trying to get energy from this... and certainly not depression, which is not the way I go.

wildswan said...

I am sorry you closed the comments but I thought many commenters had become incredibly malicious and spiteful and personal toward you and others were self indulgent. I can't say I blame you. But there were a lot of comments that were interesting right to the end. Probably I'll get used to not reading them. Your posts are still good

ALP said...

The word that comes to mind for me is: freer. Your writing has been freer since the close of comments.

Reader since 2005. Wow, has it been that long?

Inga said...

Ann, thanks for the moderated comments. It's much better this way. Those who attacked you and Meade fully intended to harm you and the blog, that was very clear.

Freeman Hunt said...

I found and find 3.a.b. (as in the second part) depressing. It was, in a way, participatory art for nine years. At times it was sublime. I am very happy to have been able to be a part of that.

Only a tiny percentage of art is good. In the genre of blogging, this blog is in that tiny percentage. It is an incredibly rare opportunity to get to be a part of good art. Incredibly rare.

Thank you.

madAsHell said...

I missed the dust up, and I don't care to know. In the interim, many of your posts were screaming for comments.

Ich war verklemmt!!

Mr. D said...

From what I can tell, things are the same. The blog remains worth reading because you write about interesting things in idiosyncratic ways. Commenters aren't always up to that challenge.

MPH said...

Professor - I do agree with you. I also like the occasional open comment threads with moderator approval, as you are doing here.

Perhaps you might consider the Ricochet.com model. To comment you must subscribe (@ $3.67/mo). That gives you the ability to kick out and refund anyone you think is mucking up the place. How you'd do something like that on trusty old Blogger.com, I have no idea.

Anyways, thank you Professor Althou.se for writing my favorite blog.

Martha said...

I miss the Comments --especially the more erudite and funny commenters. But I read this blog primarily to read Althouse, not the comments.

The last month or so of comments had too many mean, destructive, even deranged comments. I am glad that Althouse and Meade put a stop to the abuse.

Broomhandle said...

I disagree with those above. Without a doubt many of the comment streams, especially those addressing ideologically contentious subjects, quickly degenerated into moronic tit-for-tat pissing matches between commenters with far too much free time and far too little engagement in actual living. But it is just the Internet and it takes no effort at all to ignore the foolish and ego-maniacal and mine the comments for the interesting, insightful, and humorous. I realize that it is your blog and I enjoy many of your posts, but it was your unruly, squabbling commentariat that breathed life into them.

Chris Lopes said...

One of the problems with comments is that some of the contributors knew each other far too well. Discussions got side tracked with interpersonal conflicts rather quickly and made many a thread unreadable. Moderated comments works best, but that isn't always feasible.

David said...

I fear some of my recent comments have been breezy wisecracks, even though they somehow slipped through moderation.

Seriously, sometimes I just can't help myself.

Seriously.

David said...

I thought I would read the blog less without comments.

Turned out not to be true.

And now I know the name of a disease that had escaped my radar. (Is it ok to call things a disease--or should one say "condition?")

Anyway, this is still a place to see some stories that might otherwise escape my notice, and read a take on them that is usually a product of thought rather than impulse.

The whole vibe here is calmer now. That's a good thing. No more shoutfests.

Carl said...

I think you've left out a possibility, Althouse, which is that the your decision to close comments altered your intellectual attitudes towards your anonymous unknown readership towards the pessimistic.

Your decision was clearly fraught -- you weren't sure you wanted to do it, and it seemed there were strongly held competing hypotheses in your head about the nature of the wild population of the Internet, and the value of free discussion, about whether human beings naturally form a community or a mob, some which were positive and supported the idea of free commenting, and some of which were negative and supported the idea of cutting them off.

Once taken, the fact of any actual decision tends to buttress the intellectual attitudes supporting it and weaken those that oppose it. Exempli gratia, if I waver through a difficult choice -- tastes great or less filling? -- my final choice (tastes great!) will reinforce attitudes that support it (C'mon, I don't really need to lose weight anyway.) This is cognitive dissonance in action.

Once you decided to close comments, it is likely your intellectual hypotheses about the nature of Internet discourse among strangers (even your hypotheses about the typical character (or lack thereof) of the typical reader) took a darker turn, towards a more guarded and less hopeful nature. Because those hypotheses argued in favor of the decision you actually took.

We always like to think our attitudes inform our choices, but we do not always realize how often the influence runs the other way.

cubanbob said...

Ann nothing to do with comments but your reference to Weiner above put a mental ear-bug so to speak in my head.
I just can't stop seeing Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles saying " what in the wide, wide world of Weiner is a going on here".

Congrats on your upcoming 4th and thanks for re-opening the comments in the current manner. And the first commenter is right. You are sharper now. I'm not sure how long I have been a reader, at least four years, but its daily read for me and I truly appreciate the talent and effort. Thank you.

Gahrie said...

I saw some hurtful hostility before I gave up.

Wow! What happened? Did someone call you a loser, a whiner or a beta male?

Was someone a poor winner, taking every chance to rub your face in the dirt?

Mark Trade said...

Ever since you've closed comments, I've visited every day. It has felt calmer and nicer. This "darker tone" appears exaggerated or otherwise imaginary.

SBG said...

Isn't there a way of certifying commentors beforehand to screen out the riff raff? I&d be interested in your take on how communicating online reduces the instinctive inhibitions and reserve people have when in eye contact with their interlocutor.

Ann Althouse said...

"Perhaps you might consider the Ricochet.com model. To comment you must subscribe (@ $3.67/mo). That gives you the ability to kick out and refund anyone you think is mucking up the place. How you'd do something like that on trusty old Blogger.com, I have no idea."

I'm afraid the ones who would pay would be the very ones who delight in crapping this place up. There were people who, after I closed the comments, complained, in writing on the internet (elsewhere), that I'd ripped them off by cutting off access when they had paid for it because they used Amazon portal (that is, they used that link which gives me a cut but doesn't cost them anything, and they are buying something they want to buy anyway). I don't know if those complaints were sincere or if it was just more weird bullshit, which kind of demonstrates what the problem is with reading stuff and culling after the fact. You have to read it all, and I was getting hundreds of comments per post, including comments from people who'd comment and comment and comment, seemingly for the purpose of creating work for me and Meade.

One of the things that you can't see, if you look at those last comments thread, is that one person was posting at a rate of about 10 posts a minute, making a game out of keeping us constantly busy deleting.

Remember, my moderation function was broken at the time. It's fixed now. But I had to turn of the comments at that point like you'd shut off the main water valve in your house if a pipe upstairs had burst. It was the only self-defense possible then.

After that, the question was what now? We decided we had to have a comments vacation, see how it went, and decide what to do. During that period, I was able to get the moderation function repaired.

I was also able to see what various people would say, in email and on other websites. This gave me some useful information about the nature of the troll problem, which I had long called the problem of bad faith commenters, that is, not people who were disagreeing with me or writing in a sharp, critical way, which was always find (and why Gahrie, above, is wrong), but people who had the aim of wrecking this place, who wanted to destroy my work and waste my time.

Looking at what some of these people were saying, I felt like someone who was hosting parties that were very popular who overheard some guests saying they don't come to these parties to see me at all, but simply because the house is open, a lot of people are already here, and the bar is well-stocked and the food is free.

Many of them were saying my writing didn't even matter. It was just the equivalent of the maid opening the door. Who cares what I say, the party starts with them? Now, some of those who were saying that were totally bullshitting and trying to make me feel bad, and that sort of thing is their game. They think they are the life of the party whose every word is hilarious and heh, I'm just yanking your chain.

My reaction to that was to try to write sharper material and to reward the people who enjoy my writing. For a long time, I believed that exactly half the traffic was people coming to comment and read the comments (some of them obsessively revisiting to see if anyone had talked to them, so they could then talk back. You'd see this sometimes late at night, when 2 commenters would just go back and forth with each other, saying almost nothing of substance, trading insults or flirting).

I decided, on this comments vacation, that I should write to the half (if that's what it is) who are coming for the front page, and if I lose half the traffic in the process, that's fine. Ideally, the front page would get better and traffic would grow with different readers, but whether it did or not, I'd have a good "live freely in writing" experience doing my part.

Ann Althouse said...

The above comment, written strangely early in the morning, was stream of consciousness, written very quickly, and not proofread.

Raw breakfast.

Ann Althouse said...

Proofreading now

turn of the comments = turn off the comments

which was always find = which was always fine

Jamie Bee said...

As a longtime reader, I hadn't particularly noticed a difference in your writing since you disabled comments, but if there has been a change (in reality or in my perception), I think it has to do mostly with 1(b) on your list above. It was very difficult for me to adjust to the lack of comments at first - not because I'm a frequent commenter or because I thought most of the comments had value (I'm not and they didn't) - but because I found myself missing the witty repartee that could sometimes take place in the first 25 comments and/or between the longtime stalwart commenters.

I remained skeptical of your comment-free position for some time, but I must say that I love what's happening now on the posts on which you choose to enable comments. The quality of comments on some of these posts is incredible! I don't know if it's because you are moderating and separating the wheat from the chaff, or if the mere possibility of moderation is causing everyone to step up their game. But I have been impressed with what I've seen.

One other interesting change that I've noticed due to your comment moderation policy is that it reduces/eliminates that amount of back and forth that the commenters can engage in amongst themselves. The result is that the comments have the quality of seeming to speak directly to you, Ann, instead of to each other. I notice that you also seem more willing to engage with the commenters on your moderated posts, which enhances this perception. I rather enjoy this dynamic, but it does result in a completely different comment-reading experience. It no longer feels like I'm going comment-diving when I venture off the main page.

Charles said...

Why are some posts open to comment and others not? I wanted to comment on the one about why our brains began shrinking 10,000 years ago possibly being connected to the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, but was not able to do that.

FleetUSA said...

I am always thankful for this blog. The Professor gives us daily lessons in analysis and logic. All for the price of our internet connection.

I haven't missed the comments section as much as I thought I would because they became burdensome to me as a reader. Just too much time spent scanning them.

David Carlson said...

Comment systems should require real names, with verified information. I have always found that fact alone cleans up the majority of skubula on a comment board

C Stanley said...

I've followed the blog for a while and I don't see the darker tone. i do see more consistently sharp writing which is good.

I see your perspective on the dustup but at the same time I feel you keep reiterating your side and the hurt you felt while avoiding an examination of why others reacted as they did.

I agree that a lot of those people were the bad party guests you describe, and they didn't appreciate their hostess. But at the same time I feel that you had created that environment and even encouraged it and benefitted from it. It is that which, IMO, made those commenters also feel unappreciated as well. Even your comment here about the grievances over the Amazon portal money gives off that unappreciative vibe. It is true that use of an Amazon portal costs no extra money for the user, except that it does carry an opportunity cost and users are expressing loyalty and appreciation. In turn, you and Meade expressed a reciprocal appreciation at the time but that seems questionable if now you feel that those people did nothing for which you should be grateful.

And that is aside from the deeper issues of what was said, by whom. For a long time your posts which were more cryptic, IMO led people to believe that you were more respectful of social conservatives than you really are. It truly felt to me, and I suspect many others, that you let the mask slip when the DOMA ruling came down and the subsequent posts about gender issues and paternity doubled down on the hostility.

I frankly found it weird that so many people had developed such a tightly knit community and a pseudo intimacy with you. That's what is good and bad about the internet, I suppose. It's also part and parcel with celebrity, and observed your reaction as similar to a star who complains about paparazzi. I totally understand why you might have felt overwhelmed and perhaps intruded upon, but there's a sense of taking the good without accepting the downside of these public interactions.


Personally I see the current situation as a win-win. The rowdy house party has moved elsewhere and you feel freer and more energized in your writiing. It just annoys me that your posts about your decision focus exclusively on your feelings and experiences while ignoring any culpability.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why are some posts open to comment and others not?"

You can email me on the ones that aren't open if you have something important to say.

The current experiment is selecting some posts for commenting. I went without comments, and I'm not going back to completely open comments, so I'm working at discovering a middle ground.

Ann Althouse said...

"... I must say that I love what's happening now on the posts on which you choose to enable comments. The quality of comments on some of these posts is incredible! I don't know if it's because you are moderating and separating the wheat from the chaff, or if the mere possibility of moderation is causing everyone to step up their game. But I have been impressed with what I've seen."

Thanks. I think having moderation is causing people to submit better comments and deterring the junk, though there are some who submit total abuse, I guess because they like to think of me reading it, even though it won't get through.

"One other interesting change that I've noticed due to your comment moderation policy is that it reduces/eliminates that amount of back and forth that the commenters can engage in amongst themselves."

Some of this is the result of the explicit instruction (above the compose window): "Don't make any personal remarks and don't go back-and-forth with another commenter (except at the level of responding to ideas about the topic under discussion)." I think that was good advice, aimed at helping good faith commenters see what they should do to help me make things work.

"The result is that the comments have the quality of seeming to speak directly to you, Ann, instead of to each other. I notice that you also seem more willing to engage with the commenters on your moderated posts, which enhances this perception. I rather enjoy this dynamic, but it does result in a completely different comment-reading experience. It no longer feels like I'm going comment-diving when I venture off the main page."

Yeah, well, I decided I wanted my effort in presenting a topic to matter and not simply be me opening a door to a party that people were attending without caring about me.

Matthew Sablan said...

"I like to be very concise, and I like to assume people see all the implications, but I've been adding a sentence or too."

-- Your faith in mankind is admirable. I always assume people don't see it if it isn't spelled out for them, highlighted in yellow, underlined, circled and in slightly larger font.

Happy Warrior said...

Ann (& Meade) -- Your blog is only one of three daily definite spots that I go to on the web. I find your writing interesting to be sure, but more than that, I find you and Meade interesting. I wish you lived down the street so I could invite you to the neighborhood 'social Saturdays' cookouts we have in the summer. I too like the concept of a classic 'forum of ideas.' However commenting on blog posts is a poor substitute for the face-to-face interchange that Socrates pioneered. I appreciate your intellect, which often takes surprising (to me at least) turns. I appreciate your candor and forthright style of writing and expression (particularly when you are talking to Bob Wright who I find very unaware of his own biases). Thank you for who you are and what you do.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Comment systems should require real names, with verified information. I have always found that fact alone cleans up the majority of skubula on a comment board."

-- Despite using my real name, I can fully understand -why- some people would not like that, even while still posting in good faith. Contentious issues, like politics, might be easier to discuss anonymously.

Just, for example, let's take gay marriage. Imagine trying to have a discussion about that for someone who doesn't want their sexuality out and proud, while still wanting to talk about their personal experience. The Web is one of the few places they -can- do that (discuss personal things while retaining anonymity.) Taking that away from people may make people less nasty (but, judging by Facebook comment threads, it won't), but it will also cause people to be less open.

Bob_R said...

On a variation of #2, you have chosen to a do a new series on your father's record collection. That's nostalgic, and people could perceive that as "darker." (Love the series, by the way.)

Another factor is that by deleting comments you have subtracted humor and levity from the blog. For people like me who skipped the negative comments and went straight to Chip or Beta the blog IS darker. To someone like you, who read all the comments and was oppressed by the negative ones, the blog may seem, on balance, lighter.

Ann Althouse said...

"Your faith in mankind is admirable. I always assume people don't see it if it isn't spelled out for them, highlighted in yellow, underlined, circled and in slightly larger font."

My assumption is not based on people in general, but my writing for the readers I want. One of the problems with the unmoderated comments was that I could plainly see that some people couldn't or wouldn't read even the things that were stated. There were some commenters who'd post at the top of the thread, obviously misreading the post, and I often spent time explaining things to them, correcting them. After I cut off the comments I was quite happy to be rid of that task.

Readers who want sledgehammering should go elsewhere. I don't want to write for them, and if they are haunting my comments asking for a sledgehammering, that's throwing me off my game.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wish you lived down the street so I could invite you to the neighborhood 'social Saturdays' cookouts we have in the summer."

Thanks!

"commenting on blog posts is a poor substitute for the face-to-face interchange that Socrates pioneered. I appreciate your intellect, which often takes surprising (to me at least) turns."

I get a lot of that in life myself, as a lawprof. Also Meade and I are always talking about things. I encourage readers to talk to each other. Feel free to use stuff from here to start in-person life conversations.

"I appreciate your candor and forthright style of writing and expression (particularly when you are talking to Bob Wright who I find very unaware of his own biases)."

I've got a Bloggingheads coming up probably today, with Glenn Loury. Stay tuned!

Stoutcat said...

I wrote when Instapunded opened his comments that when Althouse closes a door, Reynolds opens a window (which you quoted, thank you very much); but as a long-time reader/very infrequent commenter, I was concerned that I might drift away from your blog once comments were closed; I enjoyed your posts, but I also unquestionably enjoyed the give-and-take in the comments section.

I'm glad to say that this has not been the case at all, as it does seem to me that you have either sharpened your pen, or are choosing more stimulating subjects about which to blog (or both).

I definitely like the idea of opening some threads for comments, while leaving others closed. As long as you keep up the compelling posting, I'll keep reading... comments or no comments.

Thank you for your years of providing this blog to the public; may you continue to do so for as long as it pleases you.

Also, happy anniversary to you and Meade!

Tank said...

1. I don't see a darker tone.

2. I am surprised by the absence of (good IMHO) former commenters who are not commenting when you open posts for commenting.

66 said...

What is life without breezy wisecracks? It is stale, dead air interrupted only by dumbcracks. Give me the breezy wisecracks or give me death (to the comments).

Sofa King said...

Tank, perhaps without some of the other less reputable commenters to refute, they don't feel they have anything valuable to contribute.

raf said...

I started reading this blog roughtly forever ago, long before comments. I was drawn to the interesting -- dare I say legalistic? -- analysis of events. When comments started, I thought I saw the inverse of 1a, a reduction in analytical thinking and more of the party hostess or classroom instructor-provocateur, hoping to incite the commenters to develop the analysis. I welcomed the end of comments in anticipation of a return to 1a, and I agree that that has been a result. Somewhat to my surprise, though, I found myself wanting to click on the comment thread to see if someone could expand on the topic. So I really like the moderated comments; the comments are much more on-topic.

I can see how some would miss the repartee that went on among the long-established commenters, but to me that was just a bit uncomfortably reminiscent of standing at the edge of a party, watching the in-crowd socialize and being ignored.

Levi Starks said...

Darker tone?
Maybe more right wing. Which could I think be perceived as darker.
I would say most posters fall into a some kind of category. Decidedly Left/liberal, Decidedly Right/conservative, or Decidedly Libertarian.
Since you've spent the better part of your life living in a left wing fish bowl as it were, it's through reading the the comments posted by "others" on your blog that you've become used to seeing alternate points of view. And of course wanting to be fair you've been forced to speak for the groups that used to speak for themselves in the comments.
While I still read your blog, it's not as fun as it used to be. Even though I didn't post often, it was knowing that I could post if I wanted to that made the blog fun. It was the intellectual act of constructing a response in my head, Even if I chose not to post it.
When the option to respond is removed it guts the thinking process.
Finally, even though I consider myself a conservative, The responses I miss the most are those from Chip, who I perceive was one of your most libertarian readers.
Have a great day.

Jeff Gee said...

I'm not seeing a darker tone. When the comments were shut down, there was a brief shock (at least for me)-- it was like when a party has been going on for days, and you throw everybody out. Until you've spent a couple of days doing the dishing and airing out the sheets, you don't realize how exhausted you were, or even that the party was getting pretty sour towards the end. This is better. Maybe because I comment so seldom, I didn't feel like I'd been kicked out. I felt like I was enjoying the sunlight and the lack of clutter on the breakfast nook table.

Ann Althouse said...

"Another factor is that by deleting comments you have subtracted humor and levity from the blog."

I don't delete humor. Look at the suggestions in the instructions:

1. "you may experience deletion, based on reasons that I can't spend my time explaining, but not — you'll have to take my word for it — viewpoint" = I have my standards, but I'm not explaining specifically what they are, only that it's not for viewpoint.

2. "Express ideas and make good observations." That's a request for quality, which can be done in creative ways.

3. "Don't make any personal remarks and don't go back-and-forth with another commenter." That shows what's not wanted. Basically, the problem could be labeled: clutter. Also: bad faith.

4. Feel free to be creative and to use humor. I like that and believe I do that myself.

Wa St Blogger said...

I agree with a previous commenter in a previous email that you made into a post. Three things I like about Althouse.

1. Posts about things I might never have noticed from my other sources.

2. Thought provoking commentary on important issues

3. A diverse group of commenters that are not of one ideological mindset.

Which brings me to my first sentence. Your posts, often closing with a question, invite a response. I have often enjoyed reading the answers people give and the counters to those. I learn a lot that way that I could not have when left to my more limited experiences.

I am happy for the moderated format though it is more work for you. For that you have my thanks.

Ann Althouse said...

"I am surprised by the absence of (good IMHO) former commenters who are not commenting when you open posts for commenting."

Maybe they feel they were so important and well-established that they should not have to submit for approval. But I don't have levels of access that I can give. Either it's moderated or it isn't. Some have them have said mean things about me elsewhere, and they may fear that they are now on a shit list and will be deleted because of who they are. Interestingly, they do not email and attempt to talk to me, and indeed, when I closed comments I was hurt to see them go elsewhere and insult me instead of talking with me and trying to help me deal with the problems. It kind of looked like a weird dysfunctional relationship. I learned something that was painful to see. Some of the people who, through familiarity, came to seem lovable only liked exploiting the platform I gave them, and not me. I won't specify which former commenters I am talking about here, and I suspect at least one whom I don't mean will think it's him. And some are hoping it's them.

khesanh0802 said...

I agree with those who say that Ann's writing has become more analytical and more solid with the reduction in comments. Nevertheless there were some regular commenters who were educational, fun or both that have now gone missing.

I think that the choice of moderated comments on selected topics is a good one. I read Taranto and Ann daily. I never read Taranto's commenters because he does not really seem to invite comment. I think of him as more an op-ed writer. Ann seems to invite dialog with a lot of her writing. It must be the years of practicing the Socratic method.

Ann Althouse said...

"And that is aside from the deeper issues of what was said, by whom. For a long time your posts which were more cryptic, IMO led people to believe that you were more respectful of social conservatives than you really are. It truly felt to me, and I suspect many others, that you let the mask slip when the DOMA ruling came down and the subsequent posts about gender issues and paternity doubled down on the hostility."

It depends on what "social conservative" means. In my book, it means that marriage is central to human life, and gay people like heterosexual people deserve and should be encouraged to have access to this way of life, and that men who have sex outside of marriage should not be accommodated in their effort to avoid responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

I do disrespect the combination of positions that -- in some travesty of social conservatism -- would exclude gay people from marriage and let fornicating men off the hook if they produce children. That's what the ultimate freakout took place over, my disrespect for people who put those 2 positions together, especially when they acted all righteous about it and attack me using extreme language. I tried to reason and debate with them, but in the end, they deserved a smack down, and I'm happy to have delivered it.

C Stanley said...

It depends on what "social conservative" means. In my book, it means that marriage is central to human life, and gay people like heterosexual people deserve and should be encouraged to have access to this way of life, and that men who have sex outside of marriage should not be accommodated in their effort to avoid responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

noted. However, on an issue like abortion you are able to comprehend the prolife position despite your disagreement with it. And presumably you understand why abortion rights advocates often disrespect prolifers, in the sense that they believe the woman's right to bodily autonomy isn't acknowledged by their opponents. You could, like so many other abortion rights advocates, look at the issue through that lens and presume that the prolife argument had no merits at all, but I have found you to tahe a higher road than that.

On the issue of gay marriage, my view is that there is a religious argument against it and if I am asked to acknowledge the secular argument for it than I will acquiesce as long as there is recognition of the importance of protecting religious freedom and the right of conscience. In other words, my support of gay marriage is limited by my religious beleifs. I can support it in the same way I acknowledge that all sorts of activities that I consider sinful are not illegal, nor do I think they should be. And since homosexuality falls into that category, then monogamous unions among homosexuals probably ought to be sanctioned the same way that heterosexual ones are. I happen to think that civil mariage ought to be more closely tied to the formation of families with children, but I think our society diverged from that view a while back and there is probably no path back to a more child-centric view.

Getting back to my main point though, I simply disagree with your apparent conclusion that there is no respectable opposition to gay marriage, and I have to admit that I was put out by your writing that strongly implied that because I consider myself a respectable opponent of it (albeit one who will reluctantly accept it as civil law.)

Ann Althouse said...

"I am happy for the moderated format though it is more work for you."

It's less work. That's the thing. I had problem commenters that had to be culled before. Deletion had become a full-time job. That was untenable.

Moderation (on selected posts) is much less work.

Henry said...

Taranto has comments? I didn't even know that. Perhaps the UI gets in the way.

I'd like to say in defense of breezy wisecracks that on a good day, maybe a few years ago, the mix of solid comments and breezy wisecracks at Althouse felt like a bunch of friends hanging out on the back porch with a case of beer. Half the time you're riffing on each other's dumb comments, and the other half of the time you're telling stories or getting serious just long enough to take a stand on something.

That is a fine way to spend time.

traditionalguy said...

Rest assured Professor that your Blog's popularity has only increased among my friends.

Since your stopping comments and next moderated a few of them, the pearl of great price that you offer to us in your excellently written and reasoned posts is no longer being drowned out.

A funny thing was that a commenter attacking another commenter meant nothing to me but a waste of my time. It was reading shared experiences of the educated and civil commenters that meant so much to me here, and many of them seemed to be withdrawing because of the rude attitude being let loose by certain self appointed comment moderators.







Bob_R said...

I should not have used the term "deleted." I did not mean to imply that you are deleting humorous comments. You are preventing them (and all types of comments) in some posts.

My point was that the old format often had a post by you; a few breezy, humorous posts; a bunch of serious, on-topic posts; and a collection of personal, poisonous posts. The new format just has a (perhaps longer) post from you. Perception of relative tone of the two formats depends greatly on what one selected to read in the old format. If you are just skimming to find fun parts, there are fewer now. If by inclination or obligation you used to get involved with the crap, the current format is probably "lighter."

C Stanley said...

that men who have sex outside of marriage should not be accommodated in their effort to avoid responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

See, this one makes no sense at all to me if you also believe that women SHOULD be accommodated in their effort to avoid that respomsibility. And that is the essence of what I felt the pushback was. Granted, while some people were making that argument facetiously, just to make the point that the accommodation of women with right-to-abort was wrong, others truly were saying that two wrongs make a right and the latter is repugnant to me.

OmegaPaladin said...

Regarding the absence of former comment posters from the new comment-allowing blog post, I would guess a number of them just left when comments were closed and didn't look back. Meaning no disrespect, Pr. Althouse, but some of them may have decided your blog was not for them and went to other legal blogs that allow comment (Pr. Jacobson's Legal Insurrection, for example) and never bothered to come back. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

MTN said...

As a long-time reader, but very infrequent commenter, I don't miss the open comments. A lot of junk was accumulating in the comments and it was often not worth the time to seek out the pearls. As to Ann's tone, I think that it has changed considerably. It is much more personal now. Early on it was much more apparent that this was a blog presented by a professor. A professional blog, perhaps, although the topics have always been quite diverse. Now it seems more like a personal blog.

Dan from Madison said...

The blog is much more crisp since the commenters have had to go their merry way. I like crisp.

Paddy O said...

I don't think your writing has gotten darker, for what it's worth.

Better writing? Maybe in the short term. But over nine years, there have been lots of different seasons and moods.

Now that you've opened comments again in part, it is a bit like a reboot. So, maybe there's a freshness to the whole place. Blog impossible.

Alex said...

I'm sure the saboteurs have moved on to the next unmoderated blog. Finally the comment section is a place for calm, civilized discussion.

Inga - let's have a fresh start ok?

LarsPorsena said...

A few years ago I read a quote on a law professor's blog that said "the cure for bad speech was more speech".

The Elder said...

I like crisp, too. But we always need more dogs!

Crunchy Frog said...

Okay, I've avoided throwing my own two cents in since I was absent for the big dustup, but I was around for the 2-4 weeks of acrimony leading up to it. I am going to assume good faith on behalf of the blogging duo that this will not be subject to viewpoint moderation.

By way of background, I have been a dedicated reader and moderate (in frequency) commenter since oh, 2007-ish? I arrived here by way of Instapundit, either by reference or one of Ann's guest spots, or combination thereof.

A few thoughts, in no particular order:

Along with Mickey Kaus, I have always considered AA to be one of the few honest liberals around, willing to challenge lefty dogma where it is contradicted by reality.

That said, she does have some blind spots (as do we all) on positions near and dear to her heart. On these, the tendency to ascribe bad faith to those with the temerity to disagree with her has been quite frustrating. We don't need to be "smacked down", Ann. If you reject our arguments, fine. That is to be expected, since we reject some of yours. We can agree to disagree. However, in the month preceding the shutdown, your posts and internal comments suggested a disdain for the honestly held viewpoints of a large percentage of your readership.

I am more than happy to be rid of 300-comment pissing contests between two or three people. To the extent that these can be eliminated while still enabling discussion the blog will be healthier.

On the perceived lack of sympathy for the reasons you shut off comments in the first place: Claims of abuse without documentation (due to heavy comment moderation) are simply unpersuasive. I grew up in the era of "Trust But Verify". Evidence matters. Saying that someone was being mean to you, without a) stating who it was, and b) showing what was said, invites speculation as to just exactly who and what you were talking about, and frankly, whether your response was entirely rational.

Expecting people to email you their commentary and hope that it passes editorial muster to be (perhaps) posted is silly. The context in which it is written is temporal, and a day or two delay in people (other than yourself) reading it stifles the conversation to the point that there is no use in saying anything at all. Even light moderation stills things to a great extent, but some things can't be helped.

I do like that your writing is more concrete, and that you state your point of view, even if I don't agree with it. Those posts scream out for enabled comments, both for those who agree with you, and those that do not. Otherwise you are just spouting off into an echo chamber.

On some posts, you still engage in Socratic questioning, even with comments closed. This, to me at least, is pointless, akin to the same kind of philosophical navel-gazing as is available anywhere on the intertubes. It's not enough to tell us to think about something; we already do, and are prepared to tell you (and each other) what we think, given the opportunity.

Lastly, on the Amazon portal: I have used the Althouse Amazon portal in the past, but have since shifted over to another outlet for Amazon kickback donations (a nonprofit I belong to). I probably should have been doing so anyways, but even if I were not, I would have to think long and hard before supporting the Althouse portal, seeing as I, by imputation, am not necessarily appreciated as the "right kind of commenter".

Even so, Ann, I wish you the best of success, regardless of the direction the blog takes, or if I continue to be part of the readership and commentariat.

I've been Crunchy Frog since before there was an internet, but to prove my own good faith, I will sign using my real life identity.

Best wishes,
Lee Stillman

howzerdo said...

I was a daily visitor & (very) infrequent commenter from 2004 until last Fall, when I stopped reading the blog almost entirely. The reason was solely the comments. Any thread > 100 comments had always been unreadable, but there were often enjoyable posts that attracted < 50 interesting comments. Then, over time, just about all posts starting generating > 100 comments. I told myself not to "click" the comment link, but it was irresistable, like watching a train wreck. So I stopped reading the blog. Yesterday I decided to visit again and was pleasantly surprised. I saw there were no comments links but didn't know why, whether it was temporary or a technical glitch. Today I came back and saw this post. Yay to no comments except moderated ones on select posts.

66 said...

So, I'm not much of a fan of the no comments rule. I don't even really like the moderated comments. Were it my blog, the comments would be a free-for-all. Knock-down drag-out cage match commentary would be encouraged. Weapons would be supplied.

But I also recognize that it's not my blog. AA can allow comments or not allow comments or delete every third comment or only allow comments on alternating Fridays by
one eyed one horned flyin purple people eaters, if she feels the urge. It's her damn blog. Get over it.

Perhaps even enjoy the evolution?

rcommal said...

Hell, I'm the one who got made fun of in an e-mail, or whatever it was, a year before it got posted publicly on your blog, Althouse, as part of your memorializing Meade's and your courtship. Helluva a shock, it was, to learn what Meade and you really thought of and about reader_iam.

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2010/02/something-emailed-to-me-exactly-1-year.html

Talk about being blindsided by the sheer joy of mock on display and the shared yuk-yuk. But I got it. I even sucked it up. Not that doing either of those two latter things mattered a bit, as it turned out.

What I wonder at is why there is so much wonder, now, later.

Regards,

L

aka: reader_iam

Donald Douglas said...

"Without that cream and sugar, the black coffee is bitter."

A nice turn of phrase.

I like the commenting window system you've developed with moderation. Folks who want to comment, to get in on the action, will be checking the blog more frequently.

(And don't worry about the typos. That's called blogging. It happens.)

jr565 said...

I haven't really noticed that much of a darker tone. Much of the same content, and on topic with the news of the day. Wish commenting were back for all posts, but what can you do?

jr565 said...

Redstate has a commenting section and they routinely remove offending posters and their comments from the site, with a concise "blammo" or "bam", sometimes a little too quickly I would say (and often over policy differences and not because the comment was especially vulgar or offensive.

But, if you were to reinstitute comments, couldn't you simply block offending commenters from posting comments? Is that a limitation of running the site through, blogger, as opposed to Wordpress, say?

bpm4532 said...

I don't see it. I like the selective enabling of comments as opposed to having comments on every post. It seems to control the reader contributions. The people who come here looking for an argument go elsewhere.

roesch/voltaire said...

As I read the comments on the no comment policy and your reasons for, I can understand your decision. But I think if the darker tone some may perceive is not about you, but about those posters who did not read the material, or decided to make personal attacks, or rushed to defend a rigid ideology with childish insults. All of this together posted on a blog which encourages thoughtful discussion instead revealed a cultural malaise that seems mirrored in a dysfunctional government. At this point I yearn for crunchy conservatives vs the no knowings we have now.

Shanna said...

I take periodic internet/politics breaks and apparently this happened during one of those so I missed the whole dustup and wondered what had happened. Glad to hear the explanation.

I do miss the comments when they are gone, but it's the internet and I know some of them can get...heated.

Gahrie said...

At this point I yearn for Reagan Democrats vs the low information voters we have now.

Tibore said...

Ahh. I'm a week late, but I see comments have been reopened.

Professor, it's a good thing you've chosen to enable moderation. I don't want this to sound chiding - it's merely an observation, not a criticism - but I feel that many of the problems leading up to your suspension of commentary could have been handled with pre-emptive pruning. Now that it's on, I think things will be a lot more pleasant for both you and all the readers here.

Ann Althouse said...

@Tibore Thanks for the comment, but what you are missing is:

1. My comments moderation function was broken, so all I had was deleting or no comments.

2. We were deleting the problem, which was a handful of truly destructive trolls, whom I cannot publicly describe for reasons that I will not publicly explain.

3. At the point when I gave up and turned off the comments, we were reduced to deleting at a rate of something like 10 comments a minute or more. We had to sit at the computer continually "pruning" as you say.

Now, how can you say I should have done something different? I'm doing something different now after getting the moderation function repaired and after giving the worst trolls a big time out.

Tibore said...

"Now, how can you say I should have done something different? I'm doing something different now after getting the moderation function repaired and after giving the worst trolls a big time out."

Before answering, keep in mind that the intent of my post was to welcome the fact that you're doing it now. Not to keep poking at the wound. I'm happy that you're doing it now, and it's a good thing that you're doing it now.

But to answer your question, couldn't it have been done sooner? I believe bad elements in general were coming around for a very long time, and I don't think the moderation ability was broken that long ago, was it? I can go all the way back to 2008 and possibly beyond for examples that, at the time, were really starting to ruin the experience for me. If it was broken that long ago, then you're right and I'm off base with this, but were the tools truly not working back then?

Furthermore, it took a LOT for you to ban someone. I clearly remember Maxine managing to go on for a little while after she fell off her rocker. I honestly felt you needed to pull that trigger sooner back then.

Also, while it's true that there are ways to get around IP bans, 1. Those send a message that some things aren't tolerated, and 2. IP bans are not the only tool in existence. For example, the "Blog Ban Script" (https://code.google.com/p/blogbanscript/) is also available, and that uses Blogger profile ID, not IP addresses. Regardless, and with respect, my point is that I don't feel you were using all the tools available to you to address the problem. And I also don't know how long ago you were addressing the problem with deletions, but when I was talking about pre-emptive pruning, I really meant a very long time ago - again, around 2008 and perhaps earlier - when I say "pre emptive". Things didn't break down a lot back then, but the first symptoms were around. Weeding before the weeds get established was the point I was trying to make.

But please recognize that I'm trying to be constructive with this. I'm certainly not trying to rip on you, insult you, or imply you were bad in any way. That's not my intent. I'm really of two minds at bringing up stuff from that far back. On the one hand, it's what I saw, and I'm trying to make the point that this wasn't just something that sprung into being in one bad week. But on the other, we're so far past much of that that I wonder if it's truly constructive to cite it. Regardless, I'm citing it anyway because I'm simply trying to illuminate things and give you information you can use while moving forward. Yes, I am cognizant of the fact there's likely a lot I didn't see that was keeping you busy, and I'm aware that it's unfair to ask so much of a single blog host when the audience is so large. But with the goal of helping, I'm saying all this with the hope that it helps shine a light on things.

You don't have to approve this comment for posting if you don't want to. Honestly, I don't want to hinder things moving forward past that ugliness, and I fully admit, this is all dwelling on the past. It's just that I'm just hoping my views here will be of help to you in some small way. If it's not, I'm sorry, but I'm trying to be constructive to make up for not speaking up for civility and calmness before. It seems like every forum I participate in breaks down and goes dysfunctional at some point, and I didn't want to see that happen here. So please, I hope this is of assistance in some way.

Ann Althouse said...

"But to answer your question, couldn't it have been done sooner? I believe bad elements in general were coming around for a very long time, and I don't think the moderation ability was broken that long ago, was it?"

Yes, it was. It was broken for well over a year. It's true that there was a time when I had a very strong free speech policy and I only deleted maybe the N word and people who have a problem that I refuse to talk about on line.

"Furthermore, it took a LOT for you to ban someone. I clearly remember Maxine managing to go on...."

I can't ban anyone. I can only delete. I get that you think I should have done more deleting earlier, but as noted, I had a strong free speech policy, and some of the people who were destructive were also intelligent, funny, and good writers. Maxine is an example of someone who went off the rails on the old policy by attacking individuals who were not in the conversation and saying personal thing about them. I distinguished that from people who were arguing with those who were present in the debate and arguing without dragging in personal information about them that hadn't been brought up by their interlocutors.

"Also, while it's true that there are ways to get a...For example, the "Blog Ban Script" (https://code.google.com/p/blogbanscript/) is also available, and that uses Blogger profile ID, not IP addresses."

There's no tool in Blogger for this. If you're saying I can figure out how to add the code and so forth, I'm not operating on that kind of technical level. I don't even know how to see a person's IP address.

"Regardless, and with respect, my point is that I don't feel you were using all the tools available to you to address the problem."

I'm a writer, not a tech person. I was dealing with a full time job of doing just deletions, and regular commenters were not helping me, they were ganging up, joining in, and making it even more chaotic.

"And I also don't know how long ago you were addressing the problem with deletions, but when I was talking about pre-emptive pruning, I really meant a very long time ago - again, around 2008..."

It's fine to say I should have had a different policy 5 years ago, but that was not my policy choice. You're looking with hindsight. And I really don't have the time to spend the day pruning comments. My work belongs on the front page.

"But please recognize that I'm trying to be constructive with this. I'm certainly not trying to rip on you, insult you, or imply you were bad in any way. That's not my intent..."

I understand that you are trying to be helpful.

"You don't have to approve this comment for posting if you don't want to. Honestly, I don't want to hinder things moving forward past that ugliness, and I fully admit, this is all dwelling on the past. It's just that I'm just hoping my views here will be of help to you in some small way. If it's not, I'm sorry, but I'm trying to be constructive to make up for not speaking up for civility and calmness before. It seems like every forum I participate in breaks down and goes dysfunctional at some point, and I didn't want to see that happen here. So please, I hope this is of assistance in some way."

Thanks.