Freedom to be obnoxious?

Nobody knows how it happened, but Stephen Fry was declared sometime last year the King of the Internet. However, His Royal Tweetness seems to have lost some of the vibrant love for all things participatory. During a social networking conference, he is quoted as saying:

“I don’t know about you but whenever I read a blog I do not let my eye drop below half the screen in case I accidentally hit the bit where the comments reside. Of all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet those comments on blogs are the most unbearable, almost beyond imagining”.

Strong words, but not without merit. I am fond of The Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF), the range of opinions and the quality of most commentary is usually a treat for anyone interested in online debate. However, any trip down the Comment section in each article can be trying. There seems to be a cultivated smugness in some commenters that I personally find off-putting.

However, peer participation is undoubtedly one of the strengths of blogging. While I understand why people despair at the animosity and rudeness displayed in some websites, it is important to point out that this depends entirely on the forum. CiF is what I usually call a battleground forum, where large numbers of people with opposing views clash. The Guardian is a progressive newspaper, but it attracts surprising numbers of right-wing posters, perhaps because American websites tend to be divided starkly between ideological lines, visit FreeRepublic and you will not find a single liberal post. CiF is also home to heated religious discussion. While these topics can produce interesting threads, they can also quickly degenerate into shouting contests where the meanest and most vocal obsessives can direct the level of the debate.

Needless to say, when one is located further down the blogging food chain, discussion is always most welcome 🙂

Comments 6

  1. One of the reasons I like Livejournal is the sense of community it fosters, and that people _do_ comment and have conversations in the comments.

    I believe that this comes from:

    1) People having usernames, so you can learn to recognise who you're talking to.

    2) Strong tools for posters to control who can post on their journal.

    3) Threaded comments, so that many conversations can take place without getting in each other's way.

    and 4) email notifications when someone responds to your comment.

    all combine to cause a thriving comment culture. I tend to think that any post that doesn't have comments on it has failed in some way.

  2. Here, on the other hand, nobody can respond directly to my comment (all comments are to the post), anyone can be as anonymous as they like (you don't even have OpenID set up) and there's no way to tell if you've responded to my comment, so I have to bookmark this page and return to it at some point in the future to check. That's hardly encouraging people to leave comments :->

  3. Hi Andrew,

    LiveJournal is a different thing altogether, it is more like a forum than a blog. LJ works best as a community, it is practically built with forum-like characteristics, such as threading and identities. While it has a large user base, it IS a closed community. My impression is that LJ is not growing. Although it has been around for 10 years, it only has 1 million active users (users who have been active last month):

    I have never been tempted to join LJ because while I think that it is a great community, my aspiration is for a wider audience, even if this detracts from participation.

    Good idea about OpenID, will look for a plugin.

    1. It is somewhat isolated, I agree – but there are a fair number of bloggers who use it.

      If you look at (for instance) what you have is clearly a blog.

      It's sad that it's ceased growing though. Too many owners that haven't known what to do with it. Although getting The Independent to use it as their commenting solution was a stroke of genius.

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