This post is provided in unedited Merlin Mann-vision, for your pleasure.
For no good god damned reason I can give, I was awake at one in the morning last night and read Chris Brogan’s post, “Are We Addicted To Giving Our Own Opinions?” – and found the comments closed. I’m used to this – I read Seth Godin’s TypePad blog all the time… But not from Chris. So it was, in honesty, a bit jarring (I later found out it was an accident, but I’ll stick with it being intentional because that has so many more bloghard points in Chris’ favour). I’m not posting there, on purpose. I’ll treat it as the dirty pool I thought it was when I read it.
The point Chris is getting it, is that so many times people don’t actually have conversations, so much as they wait for their turn to speak. This is an important behaviour to recognise, not just in business or social settings, but internally, when censoring yourself. Remind me one of these days to go into detail about the idea of the first, second and third filters – but it amounts to this: your second filter prevents you from making comments when speaking that don’t have any relative join-up point with what was just said to you. It essentially prevents non-sequitur. This is a good thing, because no one wants to respond to “How are you doing?” with “It does, actually.”
There are a variety of theories on commentary. It’s been going on for a long time, as Mark Dykeman says in his video post response (be kind, it’s his first time. We all have those.) – well, something along the lines of letters to the editor being old timey comments sections. I mention this specifically because commentary – of any kind – is in a lot of cases necessary scrutiny of an idea. Challenging a claim is a good thing, in my books. It ensures that charlatans don’t spend too much time getting ahead, as well as bringing attention – and proof of attention – to good ideas. All press is good press.
Or is it?
One of the things that really gets my goat isn’t flames. I love trolls, they keep us in line. It’s seeing a post from Brogan, or Mitch, or half the crap on ProBlogger, Copy Blogger, even design blogs like CSS-Tricks and Tutorial 9 and Soh Tanaka’s design blog get bogged with eighty to a hundred comments that read something to the effect of:
Great post, [insert guru name here]! I’ll use this advice every day, it’s the best I’ve seen in years. Hey, by the way, I run a website that talks about this kind of hunkydunk all the time, but it’s so much less cool than yours. Maybe if I pimp myself out to the max, I’ll one day enjoy the carefree life of awesome you embody!
Your willing bodyservant, [idiot]. Follow me on Twitter, I’m @soandso!
The core of why I hate this bullpucky is that it adds nothing to the conversation. Positive comments have merit, I make them, I’m sure you do too. But self-promotion is idiocy and unproductive at best. What comments sections are useful for is either challenge or improvement of the original idea, sort of like conversation, so on this hand I agree with Chris. The trouble I have with Chris’ post is that he seems to ignore his own question of opinion versus conversation and shift to asking:
… are we “starting conversations” or are we inviting commentary? And what’s the difference? To me, one is an exchange of knowledge, whereas the other is more of an end product. Make sense? Commenting and giving opinions becomes an “object” or “artifact” or “creation” of its own. See where I’m going?
Sorry, dude, for once I have no idea where exactly your personal train is headed. Totally different question, with a totally different answer. Blogging at all generates a call for opinion, whether you’ve got a firm call-to-action post, or if you’re just kvetching about the exact shade of green your green tea happens to be. It’s how you respond to the opinions you get that turns them into a conversation. How we decide what to answer speaks a little about us as people – which comments we respond to, what we moderate, what we leave in. I’ll agree with Mark that it becomes a problem of scale, and yes, I’ll mention that Mitch Joel just tossed up a post about personal brands being un-scalable – which is a proper, appropriate point. Once you hit two or three hundred comments per post, if you’re posting every day, you do not have TIME to create conversation OUT OF opinion. You are NOT scalable.
Turning opinion into conversation is a difficult task, but it’s necessary to a certain point. I think Chris is missing out on part of the work in this the same way the 40-year-veteran butcher has no idea how he knows he just sliced 2.5lbs of pastrami – he just knows how it works, most of the time, and when asked to explain, there’s a failure of connection. Building community and connection is easy in person. Thirty seconds, a handshake, a real comment beyond There’s an easy way to shrug off positive commentary. Spout comments about not believing your own press. On its face, this is a good approach, because it allows us to do our work without worrying about hype – and hype is always a bad decision. But the part about comments I think needs work, and this is all around the web, not just in media blogs, is that people spend so much time being praise-full of big blogs in order to get any traffic they can out of the crosslinking, and not enough time husbanding their dissent with blogs they dislike.
Now, I’m not calling for a fire sale on trolling here – that would be awesome irresponsible of me. But think about this, for a second. I comment all the friggin time on Brogan’s blog – and on half a dozen others – because they are worth my time to invite conversation with. I usually don’t flame, or praise, but try to expand on their ideas in order that I can be sure I understand properly, or maybe get an angle they don’t, and want to add it to their thoughts. I also allow comments on my blog, and refuse to moderate down anything I get (someone comment please? I so lonely…) because I believe in conversation. I have the freedom to do this because my biggest spike on daily traffic was just under twenty people. So anyway, according to Disqus, Brogan’s my most active site. Does he respond? No. Do I give a shit? No. It’s his sandbox. I’m just borrowing a shovel. It’d be nice, but it would probably ruin my worldview.
Now, contrast this with say Seth Godin, who disallows comments on everything. He’s closed off all avenues of discussion, be it hype, opinion, praise or dissent. This is a fairly egalitarian theory on conversation, even if it does make him seem to sit on a bit of a high horse. But it’s still not a bad idea, even if it is polar opposite to the let-anyone-say-anything formula I’ve found on other blogs. Godin does it consistently, though, which is a statement in and of itself. Either he’s actively discouraging discussion of his ideas, or he’s demanding that people use their own venues instead of his. I prefer to believe it’s the latter, because its more purple cow of him.
I haven’t made a link in a few paragraphs. I’d better reference another blog post by yet another author I found by Twitter – right here.
Social media needs to be social. We can’t all scream at brick walls, or comment on blogs and expect no response to our words. That would be lame. But at the same time, we’ve got to understand the venues we’re choosing; I’m free to bitch about just about anything I want here, in my own space. I really can’t get mad at the big names not having time to answer my emails or my comments – believing they owe me any response just because they left comments on or don’t want my input because they close them off is incredibly narcissistic and silly.
Your opinion, once offered, not turning into a conversation doesn’t mean someone has actively rejected you. Maybe it just means they’re leaving well enough alone. Or maybe, if the only space in your opinion and how it’s stated is for praise, you should start thinking about how you’re stating those opinions.
After all, if you’re limiting the ways in which you make your commentary available to evolution from opinion to conversation, how can you blame us for treating you like a blowhard bloghard?