Saturday, November 05, 2005

Anti-Social Social Media

Why is it that our local newspaper's blogs don't have a feature for comments? Recently Greg Tulonen, who posts on a political "blog" titled The Fray, popped in to help sort out the political parties of the candidates for the Chicopee mayoral race (since I wasn't able to readily discern those parties from the candidate's promotional materials.)

I wanted to be polite, go over to The Fray, and thank Greg for leaving that comment--try to build a little sense of community between myself, the Grassrootser and The Man--but comments cannot be posted to the blogs.

What's up with that? From all my blog-education, blogging is a social activity. Its mode of communication is meant to be horizontal--peer to peer. If I cannot go back and establish dialogue with Greg, and thus extend not only my own community, but also the Masslive/Republican community then what's the point??

If I can go in and establish horizontal communication with Jeff Jarvis, who, from what I know, helped to set up blogging for papers like The Republican when he was with Conde-Nast (the Republican's parent company), and thus facilitate a face-to-face meeting with Jeff, why can't I have the same sort of communcation with Greg Tulonen?

What has ended up happening between myself and Greg is a top-down, old media communication style--something Jarvis preaches against and other newspaper editors, like Lex Alexander also try not to continue. I really appreciated the heads up from Greg (it spared me some additional embarassment and if I gaffed again, I'd welcome another heads up), but I don't like the sense of pulling rank.

So, I am puzzled and want to know why the Masslive/Republican blogs do not allow comments. Is it that many of the folks running them are somehow connected to the paper and don't have the time to be social? Or is it that, with their particular format, The Forums are meant to be the social medium and not the blogs?

Forums, however are one kind of social media, while blogs are another. Both build community, but do it slightly differently. And while there are some notable blogs where the Comments sections end up functioning like unmoderated Forums, blogs in general aren't meant to function like unmoderated Forums.

Or, more insidiously, is it the fear that an outside blogger might post a link which may not express the opinions of the parent company??

That's shouldn't even be a point, but just might be part of the answer.

Blogs are, for the most part, a means for the blogger to interact with the world around him/herself. They are a means of disseminating information (political, personal, tech, whatever) and thus establishing connection with others not only within one's own community but with the wider world. Blogs, for the most part, are meant to break down barriers not only between nations but between people and institutions. Some bloggers may choose to disallow comments, but for an entire group of blogs, clustered under the umbrella of a local newspaper, to completely disallow comments is not just anti-social but in a sense defeats the idea of blogs as social media.

I would like to run into someone from the Masslive/Republican blogs at the Symposium on Social Archetecture on 11/14-15, but I doubt that will happen. If they can't be social within their own sphere of influence, what makes me think they'd want to be part of a social architecture symposium?

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

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Jeff Jarvis said...

Well, Tish, I can't speak for them anymore since I left in June. But the plan when I was there was to get up blogs and then look at adding comments. One thing you need to keep in mind for any large site interactivity costs money (and doesn't bring in ad dollars, for which I blame advertisers and ad sales people). But it's a fact of life. To keep happy communities, you need the cops to chase out the criminals. That system works well at Advance because the people send in alerts to bad posts on forums. There is always a critical mass of people in forums to do that. But in blog comments, you could end up with a stinking turd in an old post that goes uncleaned. So it's not as easy as it appears. Rest assured that Advance loves interactivity; we were, I'm proud to say, the most interactive newspaper-related online company out there. While others feared forums and the people in them, we exploded them. Rather than assuming they're deaf why not try to, uh, interact yourself: Send them an email and ask.

Tish Grier said...

Hi Jeff...

Thanks for the comment and explanation.

My intention, with this particular post, was to test the waters to see if there was even any desire on the parts of the Powers that Be to interact with the blogging community outside of I felt that giving them the opportunity to begin dialogue--not just benign correction-- outside of their terrain by snarking about the lack of ability to interact on *their* terrain might get them to move.

Then again, there are times when even milk of magnesia doesn't get things to move.

There are simple ways to clean up bad posts--get an email function that lets you know when posts come in, then immediately go in and edit them. Remove the offenders. So, fear of a stinking turd of a post really isn't a legit excuse.

The only understandable excuse would be lack of funds necessary to hire someone who could monitor the blogs (if those authoring them couldn't monitor them personally.) There ain't alot of money out here in general. When there are towns with 100 year old elementary schools...well...kind of speaks for itself...

Perhaps you can argue that it's easier--and maybe more cost effective-- to monitor forums rather than blogs. However, what's to say that the blogs on a paper like are going to attract the same types of individual that would normally post on their forums? Indeed, I have mentioned that some big-time blogs end up looking like badly moderated usenet newsgroups, but that *might not* be the case here. I tend to think that the blogs that end up like forums end up that way for more than one singe reason. But, having been part of forums, I know this: Forums are forums--some people are far more comfortable on forums than they are on blogs and won't veture into blog territory.

Opening up communication on blogs could open up communication with a different constiutency than what wanders around on the forums. It might actually bring up the level of conversation that, right now on the forums, is pretty lowbrow.

It might also teach the general public what blogging is--because, right now, from this blogger's perspective, they're not helping individuals understand what blogging can possibly be.

What can it be? A civil forum for neighbors to interact. A place to share information, express opionions, form coalitions. Maybe, though, that's not what their blogging is about.

As for email--well, there's no really good way to email anyone over at I have an editor's email addy, but, other than that one person, no one else can be emailed directly. That, in itself, is off-putting. I don't like my email going into the ether.

At least if they interacted with me, on my turf, they know they'll get thru. I have no assurance of that if I use their email function.

Once again, there's a sense of distrust, even fear, on the part of the Powers that Be with regards to interacting with the public. That, IMO, is what needs to change. Blogs can change that. But only if it is a two-way interaction.

Oh, and it was, strangely, my intention to screw up the parties in my post a couple of days ago. I wanted to see who, if anyone, was paying attention. I'd hoped it would be a candidate, but, sadly, no. Oh well.

Dawno said...

"The only understandable excuse would be lack of funds necessary to hire someone who could monitor the blogs (if those authoring them couldn't monitor them personally.)"

This is what interns are for. "Wanna learn the business of journalism, kid? Here, keep an eye on the comments."

I believe that any blog - personal or business - without comments to continue the conversation and seed new ones is half dead.

Jeff Jarvis said...

Interns gotta eat, too.

Jon Garfunkel said...

Tish-- excellent reporting here. What is the essence of this is you have a guy who's spent so much effort this year talking and writing and confabbing to get more old media organizations to join the blogging revolution-- yet the sites he had overseen have come up short.

And I never heard him say "interactivity costs money" or work through some of the real-world challenges that media organizations face. The one time I brought this up on buzzmachine-- asking about the decrepit forum technology on, he responded, "I can't talk about my day job here."

Maybe there's new leadership in the organization who can spend the time working out the kinks.

"Send them an email yourself." Duh. The whole point of having a blog or self-publishing platform is that you *can* "Shoot First, Ask Questions Later" as a way of forcing the issue. And Jarvis knows that more than anyone.

Jon Garfunkel said...

Note that there is a Weblogs Forum on the website. But this is completely the wrong architecture. Comments detached from content will not be read with the same attention that comments attached to content are.

So it's not like MassLive isn't doing interactivity, or hasn't set up a policing policy. They have. It's that they're doing it wrong.

Tish Grier said...

Hmm...I always thought the point of internships was to starve for one's art, so to say;-)

Although it may indeed be a good idea to have interns get a whiff of the power of interactive technology and social media by actually handling it. Many students already use livejournal, but, as I've discovered from conversing with some of them, many don't get that there is a larger blog community beyond livejournal and how that community works. By having young people serve as interns they will understand far better how the technology works and will integrate their established community building skills within a much broader community and framework.

and Jon, you're very right about the disconnect between the blogs and the forums--and about architecutre. I wonder how blogs are seen from a budgetary perspective within, and if the various papers that are involved with Advance are willing to have, or even want, the techonlogy developed to support blog comments. Or are they simply happy with what's there and have an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it attitude" about the architecture.

If the latter is the case, then they are doing a massive disservice to the community and are perpetuating a bad blog structure.

Yet there is still the question of fear of the general public having the ability to comment on the blogs--which might indeed be part of it. Even if the architecture was in place, and the forum people began to comment on the blogs, the blogs would only end up being like Daily Kos and such.

Is that such a bad thing? Well, from the perspective of the blogger's involvement in the discussions--yes. It could mean overwork. From the perspective of reader/commenters--probably no.

So, it makes me wonder if the "bloggers" of, many who already work for the paper (like Greg) are simply doing too much. Perhaps it's time for newspapers to consider bloggers in the manner that Laurel Touby of Mediabistro does--as independent but integral to what the site is about. Perhaps rather than just asking overworked members of the community-at-large or overworked members of the staff to blog, they should get people who are passionate about blogging, pay them for what they do, and have them interact with the community. The way blogs are supposed to.

Rather than worrying about whether or not interns eat, Jeff, it might behoove the Powers that Be to worry about whether or not people who enjoy blogging, who understand the media and how to interact within it, could be paid for doing what they love--writing *and* interacting.

Or am I just asking for too much from people who can't think outside the box??

Jon Garfunkel said...

Hmm. That's what Jeff has advocated before-- see this Washington Post article from a year ago. Plainly it didn't all work out.

The task, as always, is to simply find out what works, and how to communicate that to the software writers and the software implementors. I think that's our challenge going forth.

Tish Grier said...

J...that's definitely one of the challenges.

I think where you think about software, I think about what a thing is and try to simplify the concept of what it is so that people can understand it better. When I see blogs that don't interact, where you see an engineering problem, I see a conceptualiztion problem. Do those using the thing have an understanding of what it is? If I see blogs that don't have comments, I see something that's not working on a concept level--and thus see something that misrepresents a whole. I end up thinking, too, how that translates out to the wider world and to people who aren't necessarily on the cutting edge as some of us here are (Dawno might laugh at that one, but face it, girl, you're doing it!)

There are lots and lots of people, even educated tech industry and web development people, who don't "get" blogging--and it then becomes their misconception and fears of it that the rest of us will have to overcome if The People are going to have the capacity and ability to maximize this stuff to their abilities.

Anonymous said...

Tish, thanks for your remarks. I'll admit that my first thought when reading your post was: Great. Now whenever someone Googles my name, this is going to come up.

Comments are in the process of being added to our weblogs -- not quickly enough for my taste, but they are coming.

Dawno said...

WooT!!1!! I'm cutting edge. Yes, there is giggling going on here.

This is worth repeating: "There are lots and lots of people, even educated tech industry and web development people, who don't "get" blogging--and it then becomes their misconception and fears of it that the rest of us will have to overcome if The People are going to have the capacity and ability to maximize this stuff to their abilities."

I was talking to my colleages in a staff meeting about putting a blog feature on our website (internal) where we could post some best practices or tips and hints about our programs out to the IT users. We're a team of 4 that has to support a huge global IT department in an area that the IT managers are completely out of their depth and we're the experts. Consulting to these managers is our #1 role. As I'm always saying to folks who are trying to drain me of my last drop of enthusiasm for my work, "There's only so much Dawno to go around."

I stressed the fact that this was a way to increase our "bandwidth" since we're a small group and can't get out to every one of our users but this would be the next best thing. It took off like a lead balloon. And I work for one of the largest technical companies in Silicon Valley. *sigh* You are dead on the spot, Tish.

Meanwhile, and completely OT, I've gone and gotten the My Blog link tracker I see on your site. It's cool!

Tish Grier said...! well, same thing happens to Jeff Jarvis if he googles himself, so you're in good company. and I'm glad to hear that the blogs over there will be getting comments. It's more important than some people think!


thanks for validating my intuition! so, I'm not going nuts over here when I think I'm getting the Evil Eye from all those web design and consulting firms that pepper the Pioneer Valley. I really *am* getting the Evil Eye because, well, I'm the enemy! But I hear one more person mention podcasting who can't explain it properly and I'm going to have a fit like Kruschev!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tish! I am a Masslive blogger who doesn't work at Masslive. I have been asking for comments for a long time now. I sometimes feel like I am blogging in a vacuum. I have no idea how much readership I have. Comments would give me more of clue who is reading. By the way, you can email any of us bloggers through the link near the top right sides of our blogs. I do get the occasional email from a reader, but it is not the same kind of interactivity that you get from a comments-enabled blog.

Nice blog, by the way! I will start reading regularly.

-Jennifer A

Dawno said...

Why don't people just look stuff up? Podcasting:

I love how the article uses the word "portmanteau" and hyperlinks *that* so you can learn what portmanteau means. I'm embarassed to admit I thought it was somekind of a suitcase. *shrug* never too old to learn something new!

Tish Grier said...

Hi Jen...I don't know if I'd still be blogging if I didn't have comments and link to others, as well as have a sitementer and technorati account. These tools give you a basic idea if your blogging is worth it or not.

There really is nothing worse than feeling like you're simply typing blog entries to keep up your typing speed.

Dawno...people NEVER want to look stuff up. Faking it with buzzwords is the way some people always choose to go--and it's horifically annoying! sheesh! even if you only read half the info out there about something, when you talk about it, you'll have it half right and then, hopefully, other people can give you more of a clue.

I just don't get some folk's pride in being clueless. Eventually, someone will catch you in it and they might not be nice about it either.

Anonymous said...

i think this is an excellent topic here. and i just wanted to add support to the idea that the problem here is not one of technology. the architecture of blogs has existed for a while, and it has long included comments. the fact that a site like masslive can go so long without comments on their blogs, in my opinion, points to one, or both, of two things: a cost issue with adding features, or a lack of understanding of the importance of such features to community web sites such as blogs.

based on comments here, it doesn't seem like it's the latter, at least not entirely. if it's a cost issue, then i think it brings up larger questions about the architecture advance is using. adding comments is not highly complex programming, unless the underlying architecture is poorly designed, perhaps old, such that it is difficult to extend. from my experience with masslive i would guess this is part of the problem. the site overall seems ill-conceived in some areas, and just hard to use in many places. some of this is simply ui design, some maybe platform issues. but every time i visit masslive i think "overhaul!" they sorely need to rethink the whole architecture of their site. just the forum structure--frames-based, list-format posts, etc, is quite awkward. navigation on the site is difficult, and perhaps they have tailored things a bit for ie, because in firefox and safari it often seems that things don't quite fit together as they should.

i mention all this not to harsh on masslive, but instead to suggest that there is an underlying issue in terms of architecture and usibility issues. these things are not simply important for web geeks or people who care about standards, but they make the web work better, which means people will enjoy the experience more, which means they come back. so i encourage advance to go deeper than comments on blogs, though that's a much-needed feature, and re-evaluate their sites from a usibility perspective.

Tish Grier said...

thanks rvr really great, thoughtful comments.

From what people are saying here, and from the scuttlebutt I'm picking up from the "weblogs forum" (which is a beast to leave a post on--can't see the thread you're posting to) I think it's a combination of factors--some of it having to do with Advance, some of it possibly having to do with an unknown factor...

What is striking me most, though, is how commenters in the forums are saying things that are tatamount to "blogs suck. who cares?" wow. apparently, there are far too many people posting to the forums whose knowledge of blogging could fill a thimble. And, if whether or not blogs get comments on is contingent on popular opinion, and the popular opinion is taken from the Weblogs Forums...well, you've got a seriously bad precedent going on--a bunch of people who don't blog determining the value of blogs.

as we'd say in 'Jersey "oy, vey!"

It's like using the number of links a site has to measure its perceived 'authority' (sorry Technorati)...but that's another rant :-)

Tish Grier said...

money, and fear of The People, seem to be as much part of the comments problem as the "we can't get the software to work" thing....and are probably the more plausable reasons...

Seth Finkelstein said...

I'd suggest that "Fear Of The People" is a bad way of putting it, since that feeds into the sense of chattering as The Movement. Rather, a better rendering of a common reason is "Don't Want To Deal With The Goddamn Trolls".

Remember, crime is a social activity too!

Jon Garfunkel said...

Again, I just want to point out that the hesitancy towards comments was not conceded by some stuffy "old media" editor, but by the media-blogging movement's chief pitchman.

Check out the discussion at an online community I participate in, Chris Lydon's Radio Open Source program broadcast out of Boston (soon Lowell). The website is referred to as a blog, and it does have comments-- but just about all of the respondents wish for the website to stop trying to be a "blog" and instead focus on, as rvr writes, "the rearchitecture of the entire site."

There's lots of interactive formats. With all due respect, people who come into their own using a particular breed of social software tend to rally around that and scoff at other things. I have documented people on the now-defunct abuzz, on forums, who do this with respect to blogs.

This would be my suggestion to MassLive: make every piece of content an anchor for discussion. Require registration for comment. One would be tempted to say that the whole site would be "like a blog," but of course it would not share commonly-associated values of blogging.

Now, when this happens, I'm sure Jarvis's response will be something like "it's all good." But it will be somebody else by then who would have solved the hard challenges.

Dawno said...

Jon, thank you for the link in your post. I just became a moderator for a blogging forum on a larger writing board and I made sure to put your site up for interested parties to read. Very insightful.

Tish Grier said...

Jon sez: With all due respect, people who come into their own using a particular breed of social software tend to rally around that and scoff at other things.

Until someone explains the new social software and they try it.

We all tend to be luddites--we like what's comfortable. I used to be a denizen of the New York Times Film Forums, but, frankly, I dislike the anonymity of forums. Blogging, as it is evolving, is less anonymous and, is probably a good thing. I don't like conversing with a witty screen name who I can't tell is male of female.

I think what one prefers in social software is contingent on one's social needs. If one cannot afford to be open, one will choose something where anonymity is paramount. Those of us who don't fear openness, or believe we have something to gain from being more "above ground" won't have a problem being non-anonymous.

Frankly, I think that's more the issue than simple techological comfort.