I want to state in no uncertain terms that the following post is not aimed at any single individual, any specific group of people, or any one particular web-blog. I will reference one or two of them only because I am familiar enough to make a credible observation, and because I need to do so to make my case. /Disclaimer .
For quite some time, I have been mulling over the practice of allowing un-moderated comments on certain types of web- blogs. This isn’t some knee jerk response to some slight, I really have been trying to think this through. Here is where I came out…
I think that the act of turning a personal web-blog into an open forum should carry with it some responsibilities, beyond those related to content and applicable laws. What I mean is, ultimately, I feel that once you seek out regular readers and invite them into your virtual space, you should create an environment that encourages civility and respect for other opinions. Were I to have a group of acquaintances gather in my living room, I think I would feel obligated to enforce boundaries if I observe an infringement of some sort. Obviously, the obnoxious drunk guy at the party should be dealt with by the host, if possible, right? What if you knew that he would be there on your next visit, and that he was obnoxious every time? You would eventually stop going, right? Sometimes, in fact,, all too often, certain web-blogs are like parties where at least half of the guests are obnoxious drunk guys.
If I may extend the clumsy metaphor I chose, (sigh) I actually prefer parties where the guests are a bit spirited. I certainly don’t want to hang where uptight rules the day, where the pithy, well placed jab isn’t appreciated, and I get that sometimes you have to put up with people who talk loud and/or stand too close. Here, I think, is where the host is key. The smart host finds a good mix of people, and sets the rules by example. Because I want to make another case here today, let me cut to the chase: I think web-blogs that allow comments should moderate comments, and delete those that derail the discussion thread, or that seek only to belittle other commenter’s. Set the guidelines whereever you like, but set them and enforce them. Allowing comments means the author wants input on what he has shared, whether for validation or clarification, and a comment thread full of off-topic ad hominems doesn’t offer either.
If you are in the business of blogging, that is, you are trying to drive traffic to your site for money, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t strictly moderate your comment area. Lets, for example, take one of the last remaining local aggregators here in Nashville, Post Politics. Kleinheider looks for posts that stir the pot, and will often editorialize by crafting just the right headline. He is good at it, and I believe he works hard to develop credible tipsters. It is a political site, so, right off the bat, the readers are split around 50/50 on any given issue. I began hanging out over at ACK’s place recently, long enough to pretty accurately guess which posts will attract comments, and by whom. Often, I am deeply saddened that certain posts receive no comments, because though I may not feel strongly enough about the subject to comment, I am still keen to know what other people think. There isn’t much one can do about that. Or, is there?
I’m of the opinion that there are is a significant number of Readers up for grabs out there. Not just drive bys…, or those looking for a fight, but I mean people looking to establish connections locally, and people who like and appreciate lively debate. I believe both Nashville is Talking and Music City Bloggers had pretty decent numbers, hit wise, but I think both sites suffered when the same group of “regulars” began to dominate every thread. Accusations of clique-y-ness were made, and were not always unfounded. Again, not much one can do about that, and maybe the existence of cliques isn’t bad in itself, but, if you’re looking to expand your stable of regulars, moderation seems like an invaluable tool.
I saw a television show once that mentioned the existence of “power-buyers.” Or Mega-Consumers. I forget which. But the executive making the case for smarter content bolstered her argument by pointing out the demographic that wanted it….those with disposal income to spend, and a propensity to do so. Conspicuous consumption is their thing. Now, I’m extrapolating here…I assume, armed with this info, the executive intended, then, to aim for niche brand advertisers, think Yazoo not Anheuser Busch. Or perhaps more accurately, think Michelob, not Bud. Patron, not Jose Cuervo. (I’m suddenly troubled that each of my examples are related to alcohol consumption.)
I mean, I’m no marketer, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Amazon and Google and some others Internet giants seek to do, isn’t it? Don’t they use keywords and search terms to tailor ads to web surfers, based upon their surfing habits? Don’t the trendy restaurants advertise locally in The Scene, not the Tennessean? Sure, part of that is cost, but, why would would an upscale joint on West End want to pay rates that included coverage in Robertson County?
I know I’m pointing out the obvious….but I submit that since there are real costs associated with attracting Readers, it seems myopic to forget about them once they click over. Yes, I am aware that I may be projecting a little. Maybe the constant noise isn’t driving away readers. Maybe, in the end, an entity may spend more time defending against charges of censorship than is reasonable. I’m not sure how to field-test this theory, but I am truly interested in what others think about this.
The only absolute in all of this for me? Newspapers, under no circumstances, should allow unmoderated comments. I have never seen a healthy discussion even get started in any newspapers’s comments area. I think they should publish the well thought out LTE, and any subsequent well thought out rebuttals.
Of course, a polite, well informed reader/commenter could get me to change my position…