Sunday, August 22, 2010

If you don't discuss a blog post at the post itself, then where should you discuss it? (Dave Winer's blog comments proposal)

From the outset, I should note that a comparison of my blogging experience with Dave Winer's blogging experience is by definition a faulty comparison. I have been blogging since 2003; Winer has been blogging for a longer period. And Winer's readership is, to put it mildly, larger than my readership. So therefore I have not really encountered the problems that Winer has had with blog comments, as described in his post "Proposal: A new kind of blog comment system."

Once the blogosphere had grown sufficiently that the central role played was largely forgotten, I brought comments back. I've been mostly satisfied with them, but certain subjects evoke predictable and futile "arguments" in response and unless moderation is applied, they will spiral into a flamy back and forth that you can find in any of thousands of different places in the blogosphere.

Hence, Winer's proposal:

So all this has led me to an idea that comments could work quite a bit differently and remove the incentives to replay old arguments, and keep the comments focused on the ideas being responded to. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

1. A fixed commenting period for each post of 24 hours....

2. Until the period expires, none of the comments would be visible to other commenters....

3. You could edit and refine your comments during the period....

4. There would be a length limit of 1000 characters to keep people from using comments in place of a blog post. No one is going to read a blog post in a comment....

5. After the commenting period is over, the comments would become visible, and no further comments would be permitted....

Ironically, Steven Hodson's WinExtra blog is going in the opposite direction, and is actually encouraging people to write comments that can be promoted to blog post status. (And if I ever have a truly profound thought on Windows, I'll get involved in that.)

But the major ramification of Winer's proposal is that it removes the interaction between commenters. Winer acknowledges this:

I know some people think that blogs are conversations, but I don't. I think they're publications. And I think the role of comments is to add value to the posts. If you want to rebut a post, then you can create your own blog and post your rebuttal there.

In essence, this is consistent with Winer's "let a thousand blogs bloom" decentralized philosophy. Rather than going to teacher's site and putting your comments there, set up your own danged site. Or, to put it another way, comment fragmentation in the extreme. Perhaps Winer's ideal blog post won't reap the benefits of the discussion (or, if Winer advertised, the advertising dollars), but the entire Internet will be better off with a decentralized discussion.

And to prove the point, Winer ended his post as follows:

I've disabled comments for this post to give a brief demo of what it might feel like to find other outlets for your ideas, or to allow you more time to consider your response.

And I guess it worked - I'm writing here, aren't I?

While noting that I have only had to rarely moderate comments on my blogs, I clearly have a different view of the most effective ways to post my reactions to a blog post. While sometimes I will write my own blog post in response (especially if the original blog post does not accept comments, or requires you to register to post comments), more often than not I will respond with a comment at the blog post itself, or respond via another avenue such as a Google Reader note or a FriendFeed comment.

One reason that I do this is because of the comment fragmentation mentioned earlier. If you have 1,000 blog posts responding to a Dave Winer post, the chances are that no one, including Winer himself, will see all of them. And this will make it difficult to encourage the cross-pollination of ideas that can happen when all of the items related to a particular topic are gathered together. Granted, a truly motivated person can find all the relevant conversations, but this makes the cross-pollination that much harder.

And with that, I'm heading over to Livefyre and to other places.
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