Saturday, January 28, 2006

Courting Community and Comments: "You Can Pick Your Friends... And You Can Pick Your Comments..."

Cruising around for commentary on Wednesday'sWaPo on-line panel on Interactivity Ethics , I came across the National Review Media Blog's commentary (thanks to Insta)....and as I read thru both WaPo and Media Blog commentaries, it becomes evident that how a blogger handles his/her comments has an awful lot to do with who makes up an individual blogger's reading/commenting community.

Let's start with Jay Rosen's admonition of Reynolds regarding interactivity:
I have comments at my blog, and they are completely open. I not only monitor them carefully, I'm an active presence in comment threads and I argue a lot with readers. I get mad at them too. A great many users have told me that while I write good posts, what they really like is the range of reactions from others in comments. For some, that discussion is a primary, not a second-order good on offer at PressThink.

Jay's blog, though, is very different in content and in structure to Glenn's. Jay's content isn't going to appeal to the majority of blog readers out there--and there are probably a lot of folks who read Glenn who aren't familiar with Jay. Jay is incredibly smart, and writes a blog where the arguments and dialogue take time to cogitate. Glenn, as equally smart, presents his opinions quite differently, in very different language. Even though the two men are most likely intellectual equals, Jay's content is not as accessible as Glenn's. Therefore many of the people who comment on Jay's blog are going to be thinking before they write and are going to fashion their responses quite differently. Even when people disagree with Jay, the disagreements don't usually get reduced to attacks on Jay's appearance, nor on his political leanings, nor are they threats to "knock his block off" (even if they're thinking it.) On Glen's blog, where the posts are a mixed bag, it's easy to see where comments could get personal very easily.

What does this say about the ideal of peer-to-peer communication that is supposed to exist on blogs? It can then be said that accessibility of a blogger's content can effect who ends up in the blogger's community. If you are blogging in a way that is accessible to most people (quick reads), and are following the old rules of information blogging (a few words with a link), your readership will be different from the person who posts long and wordy. The blogger, then, ends up soliciting a particular peer group by blog style as much as through demonstrated opinion.

As a blogger, you choose a particular communication style. You then, in a sense, pick your friends--audience, community, peer group--thru that style as much as with your political views, general commentary, personality, or celebrity status.

And, as I now know, if you're going to solicit a certain kind of interaction, there must be a strategy to deal with it. Bloggers can take Jay's route, or Glenn's, or any route that works for them.

But the real question at WaPo appears to be more about how an entity like a media outlet should handle invectives, not how bloggers with large readerships-- who are individuals choosing their peer groups--handle invectives. On that front, I don't believe that any one individual blogger, no matter how well-read, has the perfect answer for big media. Big media, with its top-down communication style, will have to continue to make blunders, take the heat, and discuss the issue again and again before an adequate strategy is worked out. And the strategy may be, in a manner concurrent with individual bloggers, contingent on who the big media outlet wants its peer group-community-audience to be and how it solicits that audience. When that is figured out, the solution to handling comments--free for all, moderation, or nothing--will become evident (even if not perfected--it's a process.)

An quick aside: a couple of friends told me that G.R. chose my comment on the WaPo dialogue. I figured, because of its level of invective, that it'd get passed over. Who knew? Now seeing it, in black and white for myself, I understand his point. Duly noted, Prof. Thanks for the heads up.