Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 14, 2012 1:38 PM

The Tragedy Of Comments

Is the discourse dying?

Nick Denton - the founder of Gawker - generated a heap-load of comments the other day when he announced at the South by Southwest conference that the way blog comments are published has failed to boost the quality of public discourse or to enhance the opportunity for collaboration between readers and writers. In the AdWeek news item, Nick Denton on the 'Tragedy of the Comments', he says: "For every two comments that are interesting, there will be eight that will be off-topic or toxic." The news item goes on to state: "that some have been so toxic that he's seen comments bring some writers to tears."

What's a Blog to do?

In Gawker's case, they will be launching a new commenting platform that will empower selected commentators to become moderators. People will still be able to post anonymously, but Denton is looking to create layers as a filtering, monitoring and curation middle-play to see if the quality and focus of the comments can improve. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in a world where fewer and fewer people comment on Blogs and even less will take the time to sign-up and leave a comment (which is a massive barrier to building audience). We have to remember, that Gawker is a major media portal and - for years - online newspapers have grappled and struggled with their own comment systems due to a combination of anonymity and people's pre-disposition to rant in those spaces.

Not all Blogs are created equal. 

My personal take is this: a Blog receives the kind of comments it deserves. Beyond this being a highly generalized statement, the Blogs that I tend to follow always have thoughtful, long and salient comments attached to them. Is there an oddball comment that gets through? All of the time, but those comments are usually ignored or shun to the side by both the Blogger and the people adding to the discourse. I struggle with Blog comments here, on this Blog. Sometimes, I'm very active (responding to each and every comment), other times I jump in if there's something to add, and there are instances when it simply slips (like the past few days). That being said, I believe that the quality of the (majority) of the comments on Six Pixels of Separation are a reflection of the content. If people take the time to deep-dive into the content, they're also taking the time to add, question or comment on it in a very helpful way. This didn't happen over night (it has been nearly a decade of Blogging) and it's not something that would happen if the content of this Blog became more superfluous (like: "7 Ways To Rock Twitter" or "The 10 Things Every Marketer Must Know About Facebook").

Comments are a reflection of the content. 

Newspapers and other massive media organizations hate to hear that line, but it's true. If the Blogging is done by a holier-than-thou writer who is simply copying and pasting their articles online and want nothing more than to move on to their next writing assignment, the people reading and consuming that content will feel subservient. They will (naturally) rage against the machine. Go read the Blogs of people like Mark W. Schaefer, Gini Dietrich, Valeria Maltoni, Jay Baer, Avinash Kaushik, Nilofer Merchant and a host of others. What do you see when you read the Blog posts and then the comments? There is no tragedy in those Blog comments. It is a rich trove of information, debate and additions. It makes the post come to life in a three-dimensional way. The content and the comments flow because of the mutual admiration between the Blogger and the people commenting. The quality of the comments is in direct relation to the quality of the content.

Do you think that Blog comments should be a democratic process or is moderation the key to success?

By Mitch Joel