Friday, July 09, 2004

Of Blogs and Comments

John Gallagher writes:

Apparently this is a hot topic in the blogosphere.

From Crooked Timber:

Allowing Comments on Blogs

Posted by Eszter
The recent discussion of blogs and their democratic characteristics (or lack thereof) prompted by Laura's comments at Apt 11D in response to critiques of her blog study's survey instrument has gotten me thinking about the comments option on blogs yet again. It is a question I have pondered numerous times already, probably ever since I started reading blogs and certainly since I decided to start my own.

For me, the question of whether a site that calls itself a blog has comments option turned on is actually quite directly related to what constitutes a blog in the first place. I realize this is a question that is probably impossible to answer in a way that would satisfy everybody, but it is one still worth asking especially if one is to do research on the topic (as I am doing now) where a definition would be helpful.

One of Laura's concerns is that the blogosphere is not very democratic.

BV: Compared to what? Arguably, the blogosphere is the most democratic sector in media land. Any Tom, Dick, or Mary can set up a weblog, and on Blogspot and other providers it is absolutely free. Anyone can publish his or her thoughts to the world, for whatever that is worth.

That's true (she mentions some reasons and others have discussed this point at length elsewhere as well). However, blogs can have a democratic component: Comments. Why is it that certain bloggers decide to go without comments? And what makes their Web site a blog in that case? (Clearly I am showing my bias here in that I believe comments are an essential part of a blog. That said, I do realize and accept blogs as blogs even when they do not have comments turned on.. but do so mostly because the community has decided to consider them blogs. You know which ones I mean.)

BV: I wonder if the writer knows that he is contradicting himself. If it is essential to a blog that it accept comments, then a site that does not accept comments is not a blog. But then he tells us that such a site is a blog.

The interchangeable terms 'weblog' and 'blog' as currently used cover both sites that accept comments and those that do not. So if a blog accepts comments, then that is an accidental (as opposed to an essential) feature of it.

Laura herself does not have comments on her Web site. This makes her blog more undemocratic than many other blogs. The only way someone can comment on an entry posted on a non-commentable blog is by posting an entry on their own blog.

BV: This is obviously false. Send the blogger an e-mail message. Write something polite and intelligent, and chances are good your letter will be posted.

This already excludes those numerous readers who do not have blogs of their own, but more importantly, it also leaves the original post untouched by critical response.

BV: False again, for the reason given.

And that makes blogs less interesting in my view. And certainly less democratic.

BV: It would be interesting to hear what the writer understands by 'democratic,' and why he thinks being democratic is so important. Are all opinions equally valuable? If scurrilous, pointless, or stupid comments are disallowed or deleted, does that show a lack of 'democracy'?

Of course, I understand some of the reasons why people may not allow for comments. It can be an extra burden on the blogger. If one doesn't want certain types of material present on a site then one must constantly monitor comments. This can become tedious in the case of blogs that attract a lot of attention and response. But comments can add a very interesting and important component to blogs. Crooked Timber would be quite different without the insightful and witty (although in some cases very frustrating) contributions of our readers. I wouldn't have it any other way (here I only speak for myself and not the entire CT crew, but I suspect many would agree). A reader can always decide to skip reading the comments (which, of course, underscores the fact that commentators do not have the same level of input as the posters), but those who are most engaged with and interested in a post likely do read the responses from other readers. (Perhaps that idea needs to be tested, but I think it's a reasonable assumption.)

I certainly do not mean to glorify comments too much. There are excellent and very valuable blogs that do have comments turned on yet receive little response. That does not mean that they are not being read nor that people do not have reactions to what is said on the blog. It seems to take several thousand readers to produce a few dozen comments so only a few blogs will receive lots of comments. Nonetheless, the issue here is the option to comment.

So bloggers, why no comments? And readers, do you care? (I realize it's a bit problematic to ask that question here, but this is just for discussion, it's obviously not a scientific poll of any sort.)

Posted on July 8, 2004 02:57 PM UTC