Just People Talking

Jeff Jarvis' Buzz Machine continues to impress me. Jarvis is a blog-evangelist, without question, and his focus is always on the future. But he's not overly impressed with himself, nor does he pump up the blog phenomenon to be more than it really is. In a post yesterday, he reports that some of the early, innovative bloggers he admires have become disappointed in the form.

Specifically, Matt Welch, an early and much-admired blogger who now works on the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, might have set his expectations a bit too high when he started his blog shortly after 9/11 — which started a genre that was called "warblogging." Jarvis quotes Welch from a recent Reason essay:

“What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?” I enthused. “I’d say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s…a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.”

Man, was I wrong….

To which Jarvis replies:

I think the problem starts when people get big enough to think that they speak for others… just like newspaper editorial pages. The real blogger speaks only for himself or herself. It’s just people talking.

It's hard not to get excited when you're at the forefront of a new communications media, as Jarvis and Welch both were. But while bloggers serve as sources of news and opinion for their readers, what makes this media truly unique is the way communities form around them–communities of people talking.

That's why I don't understand bloggers who refuse to allow comments on their posts. Too many of the most popular bloggers, especially those associated with the right, apparently are repulsed by the inane and obscene chatter that fills up comment areas on left-wing blogs, and fear that the left-wingers will clog their sites with the same angry bleats.

So? Make rules.

My favorite site, DodgerThoughts, has rules. Jon Weisman won't tolerate any four-letter words, and if one commenter attacks another personally, the comments are removed. If you want to post, just play by those rules.

The site flourishes. On Easter Sunday, about 600 comments were posted before, during and after the day's game. The comments Jon gets are disproportionately witty, informed and interesting –and some of them are stupid. But I think a reverse Gresham's Law works on his site and others like it — the good comments drive out the bad. People like their online community, and work with the site's owner to protect the conversation space they've created. Commenters will state a certain comment is out of line even before Jon notices it. What's really fun to see is when some of the regulars gang up on a nasty interloper, and drive them into submission through clever mockery–like Cyrano de Bergerac.

Jarvis says the blog-conversation takes place across different blogs, and that's certainly true too. Some of the comment-less blogs do a lot of linking, and respond to what's been said about their own posts. Fair enough, but not a good reason to block comments. A blog without comments is an incomplete experience — like a movie without music.


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