Friday, April 30, 2004

Some Musings on the Blogboard...

I remember asking my friend Jay months ago whether having both a comment feature and a message board at his blog was redundant.

A friend of his replied saying that the two had two different functions-- one dealt with responses to individual posts while the message board was for general, catch-all responses. At that time, I posted my feeling about having a feedback mechanism around here as something I wasn't really going to get into.

Later on, I found this blog (I forgot where I picked this up) detailing some thoughts on whether or not to add a message feature to your online journal:

On comments and weblogs

posted January 22, 2004 at 02:06 PM

I've thought a lot about comments on weblogs over the years, and for a mailing list I'm on, I finally summarized some of my thoughts. Since it might be useful for others, I'm reposting them here. They're a few questions I ask myself related to enabling comments on weblogs posts I make. With the proliferation of commenting-ability in today's weblog tools, it might make sense for people to think a bit before blindly turning on comments, whether for an individual or group blog.

1. Do I want feedback on what I'm writing?
I never turn on comments on megnut unless I specifically want feedback, and I'd encourage people to think about this when they're posting to their sites as well. Are you writing about something that can engender a discussion? And do you want to have a discussion about it? Not everything needs a discussion, and if it doesn't, think about disabling comments for a post, if only to avoid spammers and trolls.

2. Do I have time to manage a conversation right now?
It's easy to turn on comments, it takes work to host a discussion. Especially when the post is controversial or inflammatory, the poster needs to be prepared to stay on top of the thread. Do you have the time to nurture that discussion and keep on top of it, delete the trolls, refocus the discussion when it gets derailed, etc.? If not, perhaps posting, or turning on comments, isn't such a good idea. I know I try and help out if I see a thread going awry but I believe it's the poster's responsibility to make sure her thread stays on target and remains as civil as possible.

3. Is this conversation over?
There comes a point in every thread when the conversation is done, either because posts have petered out or because it's gotten so out of control and unpleasant that it needs to end. Either way, the poster should go back in and set comments to "Closed." This will prevent people/spammers/trolls from posting in old threads, and keep the discussions alive and active on "current" posts.

Rather than just having a blanket rule -- whether that's "comments on" or "comments off" -- it would be nice if we could consider these questions before posting. Turning on comments is an opportunity and a responsibility.

Now recently I've found some wonderful reading in the discussion threads of other people's blogs (really long discussion threads in Making Light, Electrolite and WHATEVER). Sometimes, I'd get so caught up reading these discussion threads, I'd forget to do my work at the office-- the arguments, debates, snipings, jokes are that compelling.

Because of this, this post and discussion thread from Electrolite caught my eye:

The persistence of lunchmeat.

Now here’s an interesting new comment on an Electrolite thread from last month:

Tastes differ. I can’t agree with you, sorry… Anyway I like your writing. I find it sad that people have sunk into such intellectual decay as to find fault with a difference of opinion.

Following the text of the comment is a URL for the homepage of an “air ambulance” company.

As you can see, the comment itself looks for all the world like a typical entry in an ongoing online argument, complete with familiar elements such as the Defensively Self-Justifying Tone and the Pissy Parting Shot. What’s interesting is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion into which it was posted—nor has the poster ever been seen in Electrolite before.

What a surprise: the IP address from which the comment was posted turns out to be in Belarus.

All in all, a pretty artful piece of work. I wonder how many such comments this operation will manage to parachute into less suspiciously-minded weblogs. I wonder if as time goes on we’ll see even greater sophistication, as spammers devise ways to simulate entire typical online personalities, using elaborate algorithms designed to emulate not just random weblog trolls but entire ongoing interactive personae. All in pursuit of that ever-desirable bloggy Googlejuice.

Indeed, are we sure it isn’t already happening right now? I mean, I know I’m real, but where did all you zombies come from—?

Interesting, no? Creepy too. Next thing you know, you'll be questioning your existence in the blogworld like something out of a Philip K. Dick story.

As one poster in the discussion thread that followed said, I think you are pretty accurate in describing the evolutionary process that is taking place.

Or as another put it:

Despite what Jeremy says, in his very judicious and proper tone, I do insist and concur with Avram and others: this is evolution in the best sense:
spambots create garbled test, which we delete.
More spambots come, v1.2, that create slightly less garbled test and on-topic posts. We delete.
Spambots v3.4 attack with their witty and accurate vision of the blogosphere, having traversed it all, and are able to debate our points and make a coherent argument.
We are deleted.

You doubt? Have you seen the subject headers of those virus and spam mail you get in your email? You ever wonder if those were automated or manual?

In the end, maybe this is the future of blogging. Maybe this is the future, PERIOD.

Food for thought...

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