Should We Promote Commenting?

Cockfighting_dsc01729.jpgAt our annual state-of-the-blog lunch at this year’s AALS meeting, members of CoOp discussed whether, and how, to develop the blog’s interactive side. I generally have supported interactive content generation, as a part of a bigger project to solve the flat legal blogosophere problem. But we haven’t done much in this direction, cautioned, I think, by our lacking a unified vision of what legal blogs should do, and should look like, in the future.

Reading the comments to a recent post by Orin Kerr at Volokh, I think I can appreciate the arguments against encouraging audience participation at a more visceral level. Orin posted a video of MLJ’s “I Have a Dream” speech without further comment. The thread (very quickly) moved into a discussion of affirmative action. Here are a few examples of the anti- side:

The prejudice and stereotype in this case [a hypothetical “resume with a stereotypically black name on it is vastly less likely to get a call for an interview than an identical resume with a name few black people”] is that the probably-black candidate is likely to be a total incompetent who’s been scocially promoted” his whole life by organizations who need to keep their AA numbers up.

Many posters here will be fighting to keep my children out of the best schools bacause of their race over the next two decades. I believe many will continue to call my children racist for wanting fair treatment. The race hucksters of today differ little from those who enacted Jim Crow.

What frustrates me as an academic is that there is a marked tendency for college faculty to decide their department needs a black person. So they add an AA line. Which is fine.

Implicit in today’s affirmative action is the notion that the Black man isn’t equal to the White man so we have to have different standards for him. The proponents of AA also see it as necessary to demonize an entire race as born oppressors. It would be interesting to run psychological tests on this group similar to the ones done on Black children back in the 50s who were subject to Jim Crow.

All that shows that the process of creating the holiday was deceitful, and we shouldn’t have a holiday for him at all. The supposed reason for creating the holiday was to honor his opposition to racism, not his adherence to left-wing causes. We’re better off *without* a holiday used to promote raising taxes and opposing the military. If those things are such an inseparable part of his legacy that it’s impossible to honor him without promoting those causes, then his legacy is a horrible one and neither he nor it deserve to be honored.

Such disparate reactions to King’s speech are as predictable as they are sad. But they don’t suggest to me that encouraging more comments on our threads, or more generally moving toward a diary-based system, would necessarily lead to better content.

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6 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    I think your post is really dumb. Of course comments are better, stupid. If you would take your head out of your own ass, you would see the wisdom of allowing comments.

    Mahmoud Ahmaninejad has a blog (http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/). Commenter John Jacobs from the USA left the following comment: “I hate you. you are retarted. that simple mentally retarted” (sic).

    Now, come on… how can you object to comments when faced with that?

  2. Promote has two meanings, of course. One can promote by encouraging. Or one promote by recognition. Such should be done with the comment above; it should be in a place of its own, a “hall of fame” for Concurring Opinions comments (naturally to be called “Dissenting Opinions.”) It would be a model for all to follow, or better, aspire to, and thus in that sense, it promote as per the first meaning.

    The clarity of reasoning and deft use of language demonstrates why lawyers have the reputation they do these days. This 2L at USFCA uses his “learned hand” in striking to the heart of matter. His admonition for you to remove your head from your hindside may be shocking; it is language heard in few places outside the United States Senate. But it is a simple feint; the author then reveals that his true weapon is irony; after all, the ignorant (and ignorable) taunting of the Iranian President by an apparent American citizen-commenter (a diplomatic level above a University President) has not had the effect or warming relations between the two nation.

    This response was so mindblowing that not one chararcter witness has dared step forth to testify as to their observation that Professor Hoffman’s head is, in fact, on his shoulders, and has always been there.

    I myself was going to venture forth an opinion on the nature of comments, and of the effect of information architecture design on encouraging conversations, but felt that I could not possibly surpass the words above. There has been such a chill among the commentariat here that it looks like the main conversations these days are the CoOp authors talking amongst themselves. I only pray that the other readers are able to gather their wits and carry on here in the shadow of such linguistic mastery.

  3. dave hoffman says:

    I feel like I can’t participate in this thread, because I’m certainly going to bring down the general level of conversation.

    So, I’ll just pop my head up briefly (from wherever it was) and say that if all it takes to bring good commentators out of the woodwork is to suggest that open architecture inevitably leads to useless discussions, bad arguments, and racism, well, then, you can expect many more posts on this issue in the future.

  4. In all seriousness– I’m happy to help. I’ve had some conversations with some of the other CoOp authors on this, but given how many things you guys regularly deal with (classes and real students, for one), I can understand how it’s hard to dedicate time to the publishing end.

    My first sense is that it may be the case that certain blogs that espouse a libertarian/free-speech-absolutism attract fellow travelers, and as as there’s no shortage of them on the net (just ask Ron Paul), those sort of numbers help them buiild a community (or echo chamber).

    That said, one would think that a more communitarian/balanced-free-speech approach (which I think is the general, though not uniform, disposition here) *ought* to be able to be more community-minded.

    But some things work against it. One, there’s been a lot of posts lately, and the effect is there’s less comments to go around. My sense is that at some point it would help to loosen the automatic reverse-chronological orthodoxy of blogs and find a way to keep popular converations stuck on the front page somehow.

    Also, this 1,200-word post I wrote 2 years ago to the Online News Association list may be instructive. We’d been discussing the comment-storm which erupted on WashingtonPost.com, which was in part fanned by the newspaper’s lack of interest in validating names. While Dan’s book hadn’t existed at the time, it was well known amongst the online media community that online comment systems were a veritable tinderbox with the combination of high volume, partisan fury, and untraceable accounts.

    So I argued that online news sites had a choice between open-endedness and purposeful (which I call constructive). Blogs are a lottle more purposeful than what came before (forums), but they are still open-ended enough to stay highly popular. There aren’t many sites that do constructive very well.

    If you think about that, I would suggest you try do a constructive exercise each week: pose a question at the start of the week, carry it on, and, at the close of the week, provide a summary. It may not draw in the wild crowds, but it would be innovative, and different, and perhaps help push forward a sense of open scholarship.

  5. Dave says:

    Irony? As far as I know, irony died after 9/11. But apparently it is alive and well in Cambridge.

    And while my hand may be learned, at least it is visible.

    As for my own attempt at seriousness: There was really nothing too deep in my comment there. I suppose if I were to engage in a little ex-post deconstruction, I might say that my point was that comments lend themselves more to zingers than to reasoned analysis. The nature of such zinging, along with the perceived anonymity of the internets can lead to a bit of crudity. I myself have gone there more than once, and unfortunately with no irony intended.

    But that would be reading too much into what I wrote. The truth is that I blabbered off the first thing that came to my head, which is what I think most commenters do. And, I wanted to provide some recognition to one of my own favorite comments. Thank you, John Jacobs! (Should you have a dearth of things to do, you can read my larger comment on the Ahmadinejad blog here: http://traditionalnotions.blogspot.com/2007/11/my-new-blog-buddy.html)

    My limited commenting at CoOp has been delightful. I have been particularly impressed with Frank Pasquale’s engagement with me as a reader, including forwarding info by email and commenting on my blogposts elsewhere.

    BTW, Jon, I partially grew up in White Plains myself.

  6. Dave (commenter) —

    Glad to connect on this.

    To Dave Hoffman’s point, I think he’s without solid evidence here. I believe that there’s clear anecdotal evidence that more comments bring more readers, due to cascade effects. And I suppose that a quality of comments is also self-reinforcing. But I don’t think that comment quality has much of an effect on readership. If I encounter a pattern of trite comments on a blog, I stop reading the comments (and if I encounter a pattern of trite posts, I stop reading the blog…)

    (see data from alexa comparing the usual suspects.)