Sunday, February 11, 2007

A change in the blogosphere?

When I first took up blogging in October 2005 I had already learned, from extensive reading around, that posting a comment without having first read right through the thread was pretty much universally regarded, at least by those people whose opinion one might reasonably respect, as naff and non-U.

There were obvious good reasons for this. The great virtue of the comments threads is the way they develop a narrative of debate; the way they work through the various possible positions and objections; the way people build on and develop each others' ideas and arguments. (And jokes.)

It might just be me, and it might just be the blogs I read -- but lately, over the last month or so, I have noticed a considerable increase in the number of people who jump in when they have clearly not read through the thread. They ask questions that have been answered two days back; they put forth cases that other people have already made; they cite sources that were discredited on the thread a week ago.

(I should make it clear before I go on that I'm mainly talking about the big group blogs.)

When called on it, these people tend to say loftily 'I was commenting on the original post' or 'I haven't got time to read the whole thread!' (Implication: 'All these comments are crap, except of course for mine.') I'm deliberately not putting illustrative links here because I don't want to cause needless irritation, vendetta responses, blind bloggy hatred and so on. All sorts of different people have started to say/do this kind of thing.

So many blogs, so little time, and indeed there often is a longer thread than one has the time to wade through. Fine: don't comment, then. Surely if one has not read the thread then one is in no position to be commenting, because actually it's not possible to comment effectively on 'the original post' if you're doing it in splendid isolation. It seems to me that the ever-changing Gestalt of a blog entry is not just the post itself but the sum of its commenty parts, and to jump in and comment without reading the thread is to disrupt the flow of argument, bore and annoy everyone who has been following the thread properly, and make a dill of yourself into the bargain.

I've never really bought the argument that the comments and discussions are the main thing that makes blogs wonderful. It depends entirely on the blog, and any comments thread full of trolls and barking nutters really is a complete waste of your reading time. And now, with comments threads being tangled up by people who aren't following the discussion, there's even more reason not to read all the comments threads automatically.

So I'm in a lot of sympathy with other people who don't read them either. The difference is that, not having read them, I wouldn't dream of chucking my two cents' worth into a discussion that I haven't followed from the beginning.


hasarder said...

actually it's not possible to comment effectively on 'the original post' if you're doing it in splendid isolation

So I shouldn't leave a comment now then?

Only joking, just couldn't pass up the opportunity of being first.

I agree with what you've said here. Generally, I don't comment if I don't have time to read the previous comments. But it does depend on the post.

I just sent an email to Ampersand with a question about a post- then immediately found the answer one entry back on her blog.

Why couldn't you have posted this an hour ago? You could have saved me looking like a dill.

Red said...

I know what you mean, pc. Perhaps it is more about the immediacy of the online world, where one can write a 'fast and dirty' comment, based on that first impulsive response to a post, hit the publish button, and there it is ...

Perhaps a variation on the standard good advice about never sending an email when you're angry, would be to think first and post later.

Meredith said...

Hear hear. People who butt in and post a comment when they haven't read the thread are like students who don't say a word in class, then corner you when everyone's left and all you want to do is rest your head on a desk.

Fyodor said...

Not sure there's anything new about this phenomenon, PC. Just a flare up of a recurring feature that you happened to notice over at LP.

[curmudgeonly condescension]Things were MUCH worse in Teh Olden Days of...oh, um...2004. They had PROPER comment threads back THEN.[/curmudgeonly condescension]

Aside from those too lazy or pressed for time to read preceding comments, there will always be people more intent on speaking than listening. It's a bad habit, but fairly common IRL so we shouldn't be too surprised to see the same phenomenon in blogging.

I'm tempted to say it's a bloke thing, but I have seen women do it also.

The more I think on it, the more it occurs to me that there is an obvious - if not stark - distinction between commenters who have a "relaxed" or conversational style and those who put some thought into the form of their blogging comment, and their commenting in general. IMO the latter tend not to make the mistake of blindly jumping into threads. It's a distinction that is (obviously) not possible to discern to the same degree IRL, and it's one of the aspects of blogging that makes it so interesting to those of a literary bent: the medium allows one to be as formal or contrived as one wishes [e.g.], in a way that would be considered bizarre within the crushing confines of Real Life.

Which reminds me: please see "Stranger than Fiction". I am moderately desperate to read your views on the moofy, and I think you will enjoy it muchly.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Meredith -- love the teaching analogy. That is indeed very much what it's like.

No doubt this is one of those moments when what irritates one most in others is in fact a projection of one's own most unattractive traits. I am a chronic interrupter IRL myself. Perhaps the reason I'd rather write than talk, on the whole, is that it makes me so much more polite.

Fyodor, thanks for the perspective from 2004. I should have known it wasn't new. FWIW, and this is indeed counter-intuitive, I haven't noticed a gender agenda either -- both sexes do it.

Funny you should mention Stranger Than Fiction -- I was reading about it just last night and thinking 'I really must see that. I will try hard to write a decent post about it.

Damien Eldridge said...

PC, I don't agree with you on this one. Blogs are not academic publications. They are more like conversations or newspapers (with the post being an article and the comments being letters to the editor). There is no need for someone to be familiar with the entire discussion to make a valuable point. If a point is repeated occassionally, so what? Other commenters can either ignore it or refer back to the previous discussion of it if they don't wish to respond in detail again. The fact of the matter is that time is scarce. It is quite possible that people do not always have time to read long threads in their entirety.

Anonymous said...

'Curmudgeon' is not a word I normally associate with women but, dearie, you are becoming the exception.

And LP has become entirely boring: a dinosaur of a blog these days, and probably going the same way as that animal did.

lucy tartan said...

Ignore that gutless wonder, won't you, Dr Cat, whoops I mean 'dearie'?

Commenting is part of what makes blogging fun but I think even the best artists of the comment form would agree that reading is of at least equal importance. If the pendulum swings too far in the commenting direction we lose the distinction between a blog and a forum or bulletin board. That's not a value judgement, just an observation that the two things are in fact different.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Damien, fair enough. Thank you for your courteous tone; what a pity that Anon, of whose identity I have a fair idea, didn't emulate it (but then, s/he so rarely does).

No, of course blogs aren't academic publications. God forbid. But I still want them to be thoughtful and witty and high quality reads -- posts and comments alike -- even when entirely frivolous. All that means is I need to pick my blogs carefully.

I agree, and indeed I said, that of course there's not always time to read all the threads, and that one very often would not want to. The fact that life's too short is exactly my point, in a way; speaking as somebody who gives (as per Laura's very subtle point) equal weight to reading and writing when blogging, my ideal blog is one where everybody else does as well. Life may be too short to read long threads, but it is also too short to read ill-advised and non-integrated comments.

Anon, ducks, if you don't like it then you are very, very welcome to leave. Nobody here has mentioned LP except for Fyodor, very briefly, in passing. Take your grudges somewhere else. And I can't think what else I've posted on this rather too Pollyanna-ish blog that would make me a curmudgeon ... unless of course it's a little criticism here and there of the ruling class...? And of course, as we all know, women are supposed to be, like, rooly nice, and not criticise anyone too much.

But if not wanting to be bored and annoyed by brash and usually not very interesting (or even fully literate) thread-interrupters makes me a curmudgeon, then I will wear that badge with pride.

Chris said...

PC, I think you make a very interesting point. There are otherwise-interesting blogs I've started to avoid because of the inane or downright irritating comments they attract (does anyone else find the quality of comments inversely proportional to how many there are? Probably an extension of the "haven't read the other comments" problem).

On the other hand, there a few blogs where the comments add greatly to the whole -- norightturn is one, and I think I'd also include the group of blogs that you and your regular commenters seem to be part of.

I do try and drop the odd comment on blogs that I visit regularly, just so the authors feel loved.

Damien Eldridge said...

No need to thank me for being polite PC. This is something that should be expected!!!

In an ideal world, I would agree with you that comments should be read. However, there is a downside to the principle on not commenting unless you have the entire thread to that point in time. While this may reduce repetition, it might also mean that you miss out on some interesting insights from people who do not have time to read the entire thread.

Unfortunately, there are occassionally comments threads that contain both polite comments and unnecessarily abusive ones. In these circumstances, I think it is reasonable to ignore the abusive comments, even if there might be a point hidden somewhere in the bile. My personal view is that discussions and debates ought to folow that old football adage: Play the ball, not the man. (Sorry for the gender-biased language, but the expression does relate to football!!!)

R H said...

I've never been anonymous, but I have been called a curmudgeon -by Miss Brownie, and had to go and look it up.

There's speech, and there's written speech. I knew a bloke who always spoke formal, he was a school teacher, and a recluse outside class hours, shutting himself in a room. The police speak formal, except when fitting you up.

Most people make adjustments for writing, but a few don't bother, talking straight into their keyboard, and good for them. On the other hand I've seen "Umm..." used in comments, by people who edit.

I try to read every comment, you can make a fool of yourself if you don't. And there's stupendous blog conflict if you want it, some postings make you want to yell a comment straight away, but I avoid them now, I avoid those blogs altogether. I've got just a few blogpals, people I comment with. And they're real alright. This whole thing is real

R H said...

Miss Lucy once complained that I was putting more on her blog than she was, and I laughed like mad, because it was true.

Cellobella said...

In principle I agree but in practice I read a blog, get inspired and want to write my comment before it disappears from the top of my brain.

How many go back and see if their comment is commented on I wonder?