City blogging and comments, thoughts from barcampseattle

Metblogs,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 1:15 pm
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Why city blogging sucks and other wonderful things. That was the title of Dylan‘s talk at this weekend’s BarCampSeattle. Dylan of course writes for Seattle Metblogs and I’ve gotten to know him a little bit over the last month while I’ve been back and forth to the city. Josh and Beth were also in the audience and chimed in from time to time. As you might suspect this was one of my favorite sessions of the weekend if only because the topic is something I think about on a regular basis. Daily, hourly even. Here’s a few pics I took if you want to check them out for some reference.

The talk started off with a few topics that city bloggers are well aware of, and people who don’t write city blogs might not be – how local is too local, or what isn’t local enough (city, neighborhood, block, bedroom), and what are people really coming to the sites to read? In Seattle the number one most read post, by a long shot, is one about horsesex. No, really. I wish I was joking but it’s the truth. People on the internet are weird. And while this initially started off talking about the bloggers, it wasn’t too long before the topic shifted to readers, and specifically commenters. This is where things got really interesting I think, and yes even more interesting than horsesex.

Having seen Dan Savage talk the night before I knew comments were a hot topic at the moment because of something that had just gone down on the Slog. For backstory read this and this, but the long and short of it is a lot of people on the internet are assholes, and some people deal with that better than others. We know from the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory that sometimes even normal people turn into total assclowns online, as seen here:


So basically on the Slog a new author wasn’t used to people being massive douchetards in the comments and quit, publically, because of the constant negative flow of comments. We’ve had the same thing happen at metblogs and I’m sure we will again, the fact is some people are just better at ignoring bullshit than others. So be it. This situation at the Slog was local and had recently been discussed on Seattle Metblogs so it only made sense that in a session about local blogging, and things sucking, we’d end up there. This is where the audience started chiming in a bunch as well which as far as I’m concerned is where things got really interesting.

The question of comments is actually more of a discussion and one that is on going. We all know they are valuable, but they come with a price and it’s a daily weigh out between how to keep the balance in place. At Metblogs used to have a completely open, unmoderated, anything goes comment policy similar to what they use currently at the Slog. A few months back we switched to a policy that is still unmoderated and anything goes, but requires you to create a user account before posting a comment. This does two big things – it makes it easier to see, over a period of time, the kind of comments a person leaves, but also makes that person somewhat accountable for what they say. The biggest change we saw after implementing this was comment count degreased, but overall qulaity went way up. People still disagree and argue in the comments, but rather than just throwing around insults, people seem to try to back up their statements to proove how much smarter they are than you. For example – here are a few comments from the “I quit” post on the Slog:

 “Oh, you poor thing. Run along now.”

“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out… So fuck you too, bitch. And the horse you rode in on.”

“Mmmm! Attention! I feed on attention! Preaze! More! MORE!!!”

That goes on an on, sometimes they get even nastier and pretty sexist in places too. Conversely here’s two from the Seattle Metblogs post about this situation:

“Good post wesa. Seattle Metblogs is a lot less snarky then just about any other blog in Seattle! It’s one of the reasons I read and comment here. I’ve been involved with a couple of comment wars that always seem to end decently. While everyone may or may not agree on an issue it’s nice to know that it doesn’t just degenerate to assholery.”

“That’s the thing I positively can’t stand about the Seattle LJ community. Yet I can’t unsubscribe from it for some reason. Usually, I just read the posts but skip the comments.”

 And sure while you could argue a post about commenters causing problems could be begging for commenters to be better mannered than usual, check out this post about Seattle Cyclists and look at the comments. There’s 27 of them so it’s clearly a heated discussion, but people aren’t resulting to name calling, and are generally trying to be polite even if they think the other person is dead wrong.

These examples were talked about in the session and several people in the audience spoke up stating that they refuse to even look at comments now because generally they are just people calling each other names. One person noted that on slashdot he won’t look at anything with a ranking of less than 5 because it’s a safe assumption that anything under that bar is crap. There was some talk about how while there can certainly be some value to anonymous comments, the clusterfuck that goes along with them is far from worth it. We switched to the registration for many reasons, not the least of which was entire cities worth of our bloggers saying they were going to quit if we didn’t do something to protect them from the abuse they were getting in the comments. Flipping on registration solved that problem over night and while not everone loved it, there was a noticable increase in quality of comments acorss the board.

Quality isn’t the only thing to think about, from a blogger perspective sometimes it’s more rewarding to make a post with 10 comments even if those don’t provide any real value just because it’s direct feedback that people are reading. Two well thought out comments are nice, but leave some people thinking “wow, only 2 people cared enough to make a comment.” I asked the bloggers and audience about this at the session and suggested a system that would do two things – require you to log in to post a comment or allow you to post one anonymously but with the knowing function that people can choose to browse the site with anonymous comments made invisible – meaning if you post anonymously you should be aware that there’s a chance no one will ever see the comment. People seemed to think that might be a good idea and a happy medium – when asked how many people would choose to turn off the anonymous comments, everyone in the room said they would.

Of course these aren’t new topics but this is clearly a discussion that needs to keep happening. Which is better – 200 comments of people insulting each other and none with any substance, or 10 comments with people actually trying to have a thoughtful discussion? What is the point of allowing comments that no one will ever read? Whose egos are we trying to stroke? Which is more valuable to bloggers, knowing people are reading, or knowing people hate your guts? Which is more valuable to readers, seeing massive shit storms, or actually insightful discussions? Or does none of this really matter at all, and people realy just want more posts about horsesex?






  1. I am so scared to click on the horsesex link.

    Comment by Annika — June 16, 2008 @ 1:42 pm
  2. It’s a safe link to click, it was a pretty nationally covered story and that’s just the Seattle Metblogs post about it.

    Comment by Sean Bonner — June 16, 2008 @ 2:05 pm
  3. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we want more horse sex and we like substantive comments. Speaking of horse sex I recently watched the documentary about that story, it was fascinating and also difficult to watch.

    Comment by will — June 16, 2008 @ 2:15 pm
  4. It’s really neat to read your summary of the talk- I know this is stuff you must just be constantly thinking about, and what a fun topic to talk about. I kind of wish the session hadn’t been right after lunch- I think we missed out on a bunch of interesting folks who were dawdling in Fremont… but it was still really good. I just want to talk about it *more* … perhaps at the next Seattle Metblogs meetup…

    Comment by Beth — June 16, 2008 @ 2:58 pm
  5. Well, not bad for a hastily-created talk (15 minutes, half the time of the talk!) with an even more hastily-created title. I may try to revive it down the road (hello, SXSW?) with a real slide deck.

    I’ve always found the community-creating aspects of blogs to be the most interesting thing about them. So I was, in a sense, trying to understand why cityblogging creates or impedes community-building.

    I’m kinda in-between on the anonymous comment on/off switch. I think it still gives the drive-by trollers their outlet to be assholes, but it does limit their audience considerably.

    But hey, thanks for listening. I’m such a perfectionist I always walk off the podium thinking, “that was a crappy talk.” I hope people come away thinking about the issues and not about the horse sex.

    Comment by dw — June 16, 2008 @ 5:08 pm
  6. Interesting post and look at commenters behavior.

    At first I wasn’t too sure about what would happen by requiring people to make a profile and registered. Pretty quick we saw a drop off with the amount of trolls. That was good.

    Over at the FCBlog where I get to post it is still open for anonymous and it is not uncommon to see 100+ comments (some posts with 200). That blog tends to focus very narrowly on politics in the Foothill Cities of the SGV which is a good way to stir up a comment war.

    I think if you want intelligent conversation registering is a way to cut down on the trolls and flamers. If all you are interested in is wild conversation and a lot of hits then you go the no registering route. I prefer the former as you do get a better debate most of the time.

    Comment by frazgo — June 17, 2008 @ 8:38 am
  7. Oh, I clicked it–I was just scared.

    Comment by Annika — June 17, 2008 @ 9:07 am
  8. I always prefer quality over quantity when it comes to audience and art. And I’m also a fan of not judging the quality of a post by how many comments it has.

    Comment by jm — June 18, 2008 @ 12:14 pm
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