Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Quick Comments on Comments

For quite some time, a great number of people have told me that I should turn commenting back on for this blog. Some made it sound like I needed to turn commenting on. That the world would be destroyed in 2012 and it would be my fault for not turning on commenting. And the Mayans. Don't forget the Mayans and their stupid calendar.

But seriously, I listened and I responded. I turned the comments back on and guess what happened?


That’s right. Almost no comments. Talk about feeling unloved. Worse yet, many people didn’t even realize they were back on. What’s horrible about that is that I wrote a blog entry on it. That probably means that no one is reading my blog. Sigh…

It’s like having to come to terms with your mortality. It leaves you with a sense of your insignificance in the universe. This is the problem I see with commenting. You either are inundated with flaming chaff or deadening silence. The great democratic community of rational thought that Internet commenting was supposed to create has never really materialized. It didn’t happen when the action was on forums and news lists. It didn’t happen in AOL chat rooms. Other action happened in AOL chat rooms but we don’t need to go there.

I have a theory as to why this is. It has three parts.

  1. People only want to have in depth conversations with people in person. Over the phone or even through IM, but not in an anonymous forum or comment page. It’s too impersonal.
  2. Humans are social creatures who need real interactions with people they know. You want to know the people you interact with. We want to talk with Joe Smith not weirdtechguy25. A Twitter feed or a blog is a form of publishing. The one talking to the many. When it’s one to one or a small group like commenting is supposed to emulate, you want to know the people you are dealing with. Otherwise how can you judge what they are saying. The context is wrong.
  3. The jerks, flamers, spammers, and other social misfits do not follow the rules of polite society. They are the Internet equivalent of the guy standing in the middle of Times Square shouting gibberish at his hand. We instinctively move away. When this happens in comment pages and forums, the rest of the population moves away from them and they are all that’s left. Yelling gibberish at their virtual hand. Not pretty. The meek may inherit the Earth but the weird will inherit the comment page.

This, by the way, shows the genius of Facebook. Whether Zuckerman and crew realized it at the time they had hit upon the real way we want to interact with people in cyberspace – just like we do in real life. We only want to converse and share pictures with people that we know and like. Not anonymous strangers but folks we know on some level. In that environment, not unlike in person, social pressures keep people from acting like asses. We don’t mind inviting a friend of a friend either. But someone has to vouch for them and their behavior.

So there you have the problem with comments and forums. Once you remove the need to adhere to social norms, once you eliminate the need to act like a civilized person, some number of people will revert back to animals. It’s like pulling the control rods out of the reactor. Soon or later, things get out of control and BOOM!

Here’s my solution (listening Blogger?) – let bloggers have to “friend” people before they can comment. Let us toss them if they act out of line. Don’t moderate the comments, moderate the people. Only let people into the party if they have an invitation.

With that in place, comments will be something worth having. Of course, that assumes that anyone is reading the blog in the first place. I can dream.

One quick note to my international readers. If you want to post comments, please do it in English. I know that is terribly provincial of me but if I can’t read something it is summarily dismissed. Sorry, but that’s the way it has to be. Thanks for understanding.