Monday, September 28, 2009

No, Comment

I've been thinking and talking a lot with other bloggers lately about commenting on web sites. It's such an odd thing. You can read something someone else has written, often about something very close to his or her heart, and they provide you, perhaps a total stranger, with space to say whatever you want about it. Who thought that up? Seems like a spectacularly bad idea, does it not? On the other hand I've met a lot of really stellar people this way so why am I knocking it?

There's a commenter on another site I write for who delights in playing the devil's advocate. Were she doing so while adding something substantive to the conversation I might be both more tolerant and more interested in her. As it is she commented on one of my pieces last week with words that could only have been more clear if she's written *derisive snort*. What is that? It's nothing. If you derisively snorted at me in conversation I'd absolutely call you on it and ask you to pony up some actual conversational material. Having seen this particular woman in action with other bloggers I didn't waste my time.

Reading another blog-friends site a few weeks ago I noticed a haughty and dismissive comment. She'd written about a book she loved and the commenter, someone she knows well, took time out of her day to write a multiple paragraph comment about how she'd tried the book but found it lacking and really the whole genre was beneath her but, for the sake of her friend, she'd tried it and, of course, been proved right. Seriously? You took time out of your day to read about something your friend holds dear and then took more time to shit all over it in space she provided you? Well, that's delightful, your compassion and time management totally make me want to be your friend now.

These things, though, are relatively mild. People become down right mean in comments. At Heather Champ's inspiration Heather Armstrong has started a whole site to take advantage of her plethora of cruel commenters. John Scalzi (the moderator of one of the most spirited yet most civil comments sections on the internet) wrote a book about it. It's not going away. I read some real estate/local news sites for my area and without fail these sites draw the ugliest comments I've ever seen. No piece of fluff human interest post or lightly tossed salad of a real estate listing is safe from vitriol. There will always be something negative that DownWithGentrification1393475465 just can't keep inside and then HatesHomeowners93745023 simply cannot let pass without rejoinder.

A lot of people say that it's the anonymity of the internet that allows, nay encourages, people to say such things. I don't know, the local area sites I mention have strict identity policies on their sites and people seem to go out of their way to create identities with which to administer their anger. So for one you can't stop it and for two I don't know. Some people are known round and about for being trolls and don't seem to mind. They perhaps abide by the law of "There's no such thing as bad publicity." I fear the Derisive Snort Lady will swing by here which will mean she'll have jumped through two other blogs to get to me, never changing her name, and snort all over my breakfast. I know how to get her IP address. I know where to find her. She doesn't care.

It all really makes me wonder why we comment. I'm a moderate to rare commenter. I feel as though a blogger is providing space for discussion and, especially if it's a larger readership, I need to really step up the level of my commentary in order to bother. If I'm not going to say something clever or interesting then why should I waste anyone's time? You know how a lot of people go to popular sites and comment "First!" when they think they've gotten first comment? I think that's weird. If someone is writing about a traumatic or difficult time in their lives I waffle about commenting. On the one hand 100 people just chimed in with "So sorry. Thinking of you." and that's all I've really got but on the other hand that's all that's really called for, too, and it would be well appreciated. If I know a blogger in real life I'm more inclined to toss in a "Me too." or a "Right on" or whatever, because I know they know me and know what I mean and that even a couple of words mean something to our friendship. Occasionally something just moves me right out of my seat, makes me angry or happy or sad or makes me really, really think and I can't help but respond immediately. Those are sometimes my favorite comments and sometimes my illest-advised. As time has gone by I've tried to train myself to have that reaction, think of my comment then walk away. If I'm still crafting that comment in my head an hour later I'll swing back around and type it up. You're supposed to comment on other sites. It's what bloggers live for and it builds readership and community and it's fun gosh darn it! But, like any form of social interaction, it's fraught with unspoken rules and potholes, no? I know why I do it but I remain baffled about the reasons of others.

Why do you comment? What stops you? What do you think about commenting in general? Tell me more because the more I talk about it the less I understand, clearly more study is required.


  1. I'm sorry. I'm to be a jackass today. And so it is written.
    I only comment in four places...four friends.
    For me I feel it is much more an extension of a conversation than a commentary.

  2. Actually that made me laugh. And we all know I need a fucking laugh these days. So thanks for that.

  3. Sometimes I comment to just let you know I've read what you've written. In case you were taking attendance. :-) When I write, I enjoy the comments that continue the conversation, or to sometimes validate what I'm working through in the blog, or just to say hello. I very rarely comment on a "famous" blog. I figure my comment gets lost in the thousands anyway. If I do comment there, it's because I have something specific to say.

    Oh, and that FIRST! thing? Makes me nutsy.

  4. I, too, comment to let my authors know that I'm out here, reading. Sometimes, that's all I'll say - "I'm here, and I read this."

    Oftentimes, though, it's to reinforce what someone has to say, or to admire how someone says something (I'm STILL geeking out about your postcard post).

    More than anything else, though, I comment because I want that connection - not only with the author, but with other commenters. I thrive on the interaction, and I'll often return to the scene of a comment to see what other people have to say about what *I* had to say....

  5. I don't always comment, but I read a lot. When I do comment, I try to either add something meaningful to a discussion or compliment someone for something they shared (such as photographs). Most of the time, the thing that holds me back is fear of having my remarks be misunderstood.

    Boy, are you correct about those local news comment sections. Good lord, those comments are freakish sometimes.

  6. I used to comment more because I read fewer blogs...I felt like it was the right thing to do, sort of like not showing up at someone's house for dinner empty handed(southern thing). Now I find I comment if I really have something to say. I can count on one hand the number of times I've left a negative comment. If I don't like someone's post, I just move on and wait for the next one. We can't all be 100% awesome every day. Like you, the mean comments have been wearing me down of late. Maybe the planets are in a funky alignment. September has been a raw month. I'll check out your links.

  7. Of course, now i am self-conscious about commenting about...commenting.

    I comment if I think that I have something to say. If a post has really motivated an emotion.

    I also comment - and this is a paradoxical opposite of the paragraph above - as a matter of etiquette - that is, if someone has commented about my post and I've never visited them before, I feel compelled to visit them and comment in return. It's only polite - its like saying, "And how are you?" in return. But usually it's because whatever comment they made on my blog deepened the impression I have of them when I visit theirs.

    sometimes I am inhibited and can't comment, because someone's post is so brilliant, or so complex, or so wonderful that I feel like a dork saying, "Cool" or "good" or whatever.

    I think I seldom post negative comments - if it's a new blog I don't post at all if I don't like it, but if it's a blog I have visited before and I see a post I disagree with I try to do a "on the one hand on the other hand" kind of comment. If I feel compelled to comment at all.

    Cool discussion, Kizz.

  8. I'm a notorious lurker. Most often, someone has already left a comment that expresses my thoughts or reaction, so it's already been said. When I do comment, it is usually because the post resonated a bit more deeply or personally. One time I deliberately left a comment that I knew would get someone's goat and it sparked quite a lively exchange there. I didn't use ugly language or anything hateful, but I could just as well have said nothing instead of stirring the pot. I think I was feeling particularly snarky that day.

  9. We seem to have a lot of similar reasons to comment. Probably why comments here are generally pretty civil.

    ~annie, it's funny for me to hear to say you're a lurker for two reasons. First you've been so generous here with the dialogue, thank you. Secondly I was poking around the Colony in some older posts and got sucked into a really controversial one about parenting. You managed to keep a level and peace-keeping head when many about you were losing theirs. You were kind of my commenting hero over there!

  10. As I said, when it resonates, I respond. Also when my dander is up... But I try to be careful with that. The Colony post you are referring to was actually the one time I knowingly tossed out some bait. I still feel a little bad about it. But thanks for your take on it. I did work hard on keeping an even keel.

  11. It breaks my heart when I write a post and no one comments, so I try to comment fairly regularly, just to say "I'm listening." To me, the brilliance of blogs is the two-way conversation and the friendships that are formed through doing that. I love to spend time IRL with people I have met through blogging.