What makes a good blog comment?

Published December 1, 2011 by justicewg

My list of the hierarchy of blog comments.

A. Comments by individuals who are the subject of the blog post. If a post was about a council move to bring the chickens back up for consideration, the best comments would come from the council members who are pushing the issue in council. Comments from other council members who will be deciding the issue are almost up there in the A level, call them A- comments. These sort of comments are sadly very rare. I occasional was able to get some Grandview board and council members to respond to my emailed questions on my old blog, but they were not very revealing. The nature of a politician is to be careful and non-controversial, unfortunately that sort of commentary reveals little of the emotion that can be driving members in their votes.

B. Comments by folks who use source material from the people who are the topic of the post. If the post is about a board motion to cut teachers, the best comments quote board members in past board meetings, votes they have made, things they said to reporters, personal conversations they have had with the public. Links to this material, where possible, helps. Producing this sort of research requires work, something I find too rarely in comment sections of blogs.

C. Comments which use links to authoritative material on the web. If the discussion is about the effect of 2011 property reappraisal by the auditor, a link to the reappraisal FAQ on the county website would be appropriate. Links to highly partisan political websites or sketchy conspiracy sites are “D” level and can only be given a half-grade increase if the bias in these links is noted by the commenter.

D. Your opinion, unsupported by links or reasoning. Comments that can be summarized to “this sucks” lose a half point.

F. Trolling, name calling, thread flooding, unfunny snark. See me after class, you have a attitude problem.

Much of the commenting posted on the web is in the D level of comments. It doesn’t add to the discussion when you jump up with a “this is cool!” or “sucks”. Maybe if you were an authoritative voice in the subject under discussion I would care when you give a quick thumbs up, but I would also expect a person who is familiar with the subject to give an insightful reason for the “cool post” comment.

A number of website have the ability to click a button that gives a “+1”, or to “Like” a post (including this wordpress blog). Please use that button. And when you do post, bring it up above the “D” noise level.

Less noise

The internet was created by visionaries who hoped to see it used by individuals who could uplift society with the free expression of good ideas and insightful criticism. Too often it gets used as a depository for people’s paranoia, anger, and discrimination. Even if those angry comments are honest reactions, they don’t help inform us about the details of complex issues, or solutions to problems. They are noise, and they are the kind of noise that if left unregulated lower the quality of the forum. See the online comment sections of a lot of newspapers for examples of how angry and stupid comments dominate discussions. After the racists and fascists post comments, they generate angry replies, and comment threads degenerate into shouting matches.

Deleting the low quality comments inevitably brings accusations of censorship. Technically, censorship can only be done by government, you are free to find another blog or create your own if you are banned by a private blog. Practically, deleting bad comments is required to keep them from driving away the good comments.

There is such a thing as being too restrictive in banning comments, and it has created another problem – websites where a small range of opinions are tolerated. You can find websites where your own political biases are supported, and never have to see a conflicting argument. It comforts people, and it leads to the kind of political polarization we have in the country.

A conceptual framework for blog commenting

As long as I’m “fixing the internet”, let me propose a small change in the conceptual framework that blog visitors use to post comments.

People read blog posts, open up the comment section, and the mental image they have is of a group of people at a party, all in one large room, chatting about the issue in the blog post. When a new post is published on a blog, they envision the discussion in the large room changing. When the topic of the blog post offends them, or bores them, they feel free to express their displeasure. They want the discussion to follow their own biases.

The key conceptual mistake is the “one large room” view of blog discussions. In reality, each thread is isolated from others on the blog.

The correct mental image is of wandering through different rooms at a party, each room with groups of people discussing issues. If the discussion is boring, or above your head, or even offensive, you have the option of moving on to another room where the discussion fits your interests.

When you read a post, the question to ask yourself is, “is this subject something that I know about and I can improve the discussion with my comments?” When you open the discussion section, and read the comments, ask yourself “do I belong here?”. If the answer to either of these questions is no, move on.

Previously – What makes a good blog post?

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