Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Talkback: John August's blog comment holiday - bad idea?

I see that over on his site, John August has turned off comments on new posts and has hidden comments on all old posts.  He says he wants to experiment and see if it makes a difference in how the site feels to readers and him.  Already, I feel a difference.  I think one of the great things about the net is the interactions we can have and the discussions that can take place when reasonable people share their insight, knowledge and advice.

Note that I said "reasonable people."  I consider myself pretty lucky that the people who comment here are, by and large, a fairly civil group of people who know how to express themselves maturely.  I've run this blog for nearly three years and only once have I deleted someone's comment.  (And in that case, it was not because of trolling so much as it contained information of a privileged nature that I didn't feel was necessary to post.)  I've not had to censor anyone and on the rare instances that a dickhead or two shows up, they're usually swatted down swiftly.

I understand some other bloggers aren't as fortunate.  I've seen plenty of comments elsewhere that are petty, mean, trolling and go out of their way to be belligerent.  It's nice we don't deal with that here much, and to be honest, it seems rare that August's site gets plagued by those morons either.  I like the conversations that result over on John's site.  To me, it's an asset that there isn't just one point of view and we can see why some people agree or disagree with John.

It's fun for me to watch you guys comment on my posts and either agree with me or challenge the views.  It's even more fun to watch you talk amongst yourselves, spurred on by something I said.  Even when I don't contribute in the comments, it's really satisfying to see some of you discussing and forming your own opinions in reaction to something I've posted.  This is particularly true when I put something up with the intent of getting a reaction and also getting you to look below the surface and perhaps understanding your own reactions to a particular stimulus.

Basically, blogging is a two-way street.  Or at least that's the way I see it.  Does a blogger even exist if there's no tangible audience reacting to them?  Do they continue to thrive, or do they die like an applause-deprived Tinkerbell?  For now, I think it's our loss that we can't contribute to John's blog and interact with other readers there - but not as much as it's John's loss


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  2. Screw it, post deleted. I'm not going to bash August -- he's done an enormous amount of good work for screenwriters. Suffice it to say that I think his latest series of posts are misguided.

  3. I too am grateful to Mr. August for the wealth of knowledge and opinion on his site. His stated rationale for turning off comments makes little sense to me.

    He said it's "not because of any particular post," right after he said "In eight years... I’ve never experienced the kind of patronizing sneer that came from this weekend’s [post]."

    He said he was "amused by the outrage," but then turned off the source of his amusement.

    He said it's "just to see what happens.... Will it change how the site feels to readers? Will it change how the site feels to me?" Aren't the answers to these questions obvious? He won't wake up to patronizing sneer on his own generous and wise site.

    He said "I’ve been questioning whether hosting comments on my site adds to discussion or hinders it by walling it off from the wider world. If someone has something to say, shouldn’t she say it on her own forum?" Ahem, comments can provide links to other forums. Turning off comments destroys the gateway to this wider world.

    In his place, I would say: Ouch, guys, that hurt. I don't want to be attacked like that on my own site. Knock it off, and if you want to write a long comment, do it elsewhere and provide a link. Now onward with the mission of being a generous and wise human being.

  4. What Peter said. :)

    One of the appealing aspects of John August's site is that he often responds to comments - people feel connected. By shutting of his comments, he probably risks losing some readers. But hell, I'll still go for the great posts.

  5. You should have Emily Blake comment on this - she has faced down some mean commenters on Bamboo Killers.

  6. I was instantly bummed by the lack of comments on John August's website, but I understood the impulse behind the decision.

    Two or three times a day, I hit a comment thread that is so contentious, petty and stupid that I stop reading and move on, but not before I've wasted 5 to 10 minutes realizing that there's nothing of value there.

    I had that experience with the Trombones thread on JA's website, along with the thought: These people aren't even responding to what he said in his post, they're just satisfying some deep biological need to attack a perceived threat. I stopped reading, and hoped the next post would restore the usual level of conversation.

    Who knows if turning out the comments will have any effect, or if there's a specific effect John's hoping for, if that will be the outcome, but I think it's entirely sane to read some comments, decide that commenting has become a source of stress in your life and turn it off.

  7. @Eric - Actually, I'd almost bet money that one of the biggest trolls on Emily's site is one of the guys who really kept stirring the pot on August's site too.

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  9. John August's site is different without the comments. It no longer provides the community aspect that made it feel like a conversation. Now, there's a lack of urgency I feel to keep up with the posts. I did not comment often, but the community (there, said it again) I felt in following the posts and commentsand knowing I could participate is what made the site a must-read.

    The "No Trombones" post that led to the current moratorium on comments was definitely fodder for high emotions. The tone was defintitely passionate from John's POV, and I think had he taken his more usual approach, the comments would have reflected more civil responses. I get what he meant, but those opening sentences and the post title were certainly controversial in tone. It got attention but I think the wrong kind. The points John made could have been made with cooler thinking, less attention-grabbing words. But then, would he have gotten the traffic?

    I hope he will reopen comments in January. Maybe he should have a 24hour waiting period on posts. Like what "they" say about impassioned emails, write them but don't hit that send button for a day so you can cool off and consider your words before they are set free in the universe.

  10. I saw no problem with the trombones comments. It is, of course, proof than familiarity breeds contempt.
    The problem is not whether to interact with the world, but whether one should expect not attracting those kind of people if doing it regularly through a specific forum. This is why people shop in malls instead of in main street, right? To avoid the undesirable without thought.