Episode 7 – A Post-Comment World

February 10th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab:

It’s time for another episode of the Critical Distance Confab. Before we get into it, a little background information. Right around the last podcast a debate sprung up over Ben’s refusal to allow comments on his personal blog, finding them not worth worth the time and effort. This had been his policy since starting his new blog, but after reading his post Rhetorical Questions many wanted to engage with the post and found they couldn’t. The discussion/argument moved to twitter, as it often does, and became one about the nature and usefulness of comments.

This episode sees the two sides come head to head to tackle this point in person. (Okay, not quite in person, but you know what I mean.) Do we live in a post comment world or a post-comment world?

A note: the audio sounds strange at certain points (aka every time I try to say something) because of a recording error. All other audio was unaffected and I managed to get most of what I said unwarped and pieced back together. I left an untouched segment of my voice after the closing music to give you a taste of what I fixed.


Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Ben Abraham: i am Ben Abraham

Ian Miles Cheong: Stillgray

Adrian Forest: Three Parts Theory


Rhetorical Questions

Why Daring Fireball is Comment Free

Derek Powazek on Comments

Rock, Paper, Shotgun, And Why We Need To Make Publications Into Homes OR Maybe Just Local Pubs

Direct Download

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

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11 Responses

  • Krishna Kumar says:

    I was hoping someone would bring up books to come up in the discussion. It would have been interesting to see how the success of books given their comment-free nature would have influenced your conversation.

  • Chr156r33n says:

    I’ve listened to many podcasts recently but none have inspired me to post a reply more than this one, which is rather ironic, I know. It strikes me that the removal of blog commenting is linked to (in some part) time/”can’t be arsed” factor in involved in reading and moderating comments. I can understand that, it’s fair. Although as echoed many times in the podcast, the value of that one good comment will far surpass the effort it involves to weed out the bad ones.

    The other part of the removal of comments is inspired by an elitist and slightly indulgent approach to blogging. Forbidding the word of the people on your blog based on the fact you may not like what they say is controlling, but it also misses the point of the blog. Of writing something which will then become part of the blog sphere and thus a part of a community it is part of a forum, an engagement with those for which it may be relevant. Writing for yourself is fine, but what is the use of publishing them to the world if you don’t want to receive feedback on them? It’s the digital equivalent of placing your fingers in your ears and refusing to hear the responses, whether good or bad.

    What makes blogging so great is the fact that it belongs to no one, an idea is offered up and then it develops and evolves. Sometimes nothing happens with a post, it gets ignored, or in some rare examples (for the smaller blogs) gets a useless comment or a good trolling. Shit happens though. I’ve only been blogging for a year or so and nothing that I’ve written gets all that much attention, when I do get a comment which is relevant to the post I’m delighted, yet when there isn’t a comment, I don’t mind. I think if you can’t stand blogging with the knowledge that no one is bothering to comment then you really need to address why you do. Okay, a piece which doesn’t get a comment because you don’t allow them may be a relief, some need for validation may be eased, but what good is that doing everyone?

    I mean ultimately it is up to the individual as to whether you allow comments or not and really that view cannot be wrong, there is no right answer to this in the first place! However, if you will post something provocative at least facilitate the discussion rather than inhibit it, it’s totally self-defeating.

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  • Ben Abraham’s arguments are very well defended, with a more stringent logic w.r.t his opponents. A flat list of comments does not give a way to evaluate their content. I recently proposed: “Which is the best way to support discussions on game design?” on Quora:


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  • Dilyan says:

    The “peanut gallery” gets a bashing a couple of times during the podcast for consisting of noisy people who above all else desire to have their voice heard.

    I have a couple of issues with that.

    Firstly, how is that in any way different than what the author is doing? If somebody is writing something private, then why post it on the internet if not for a desire to make one’s voice heard? Whoever made the point that once something is out it no longer belongs to the author, had it right. Writing is not about sharing: but publishing is.

    Secondly, it smacks of arrogance. I’m sorry, I don’t know the speakers and it was not always easy to keep track of who is saying what. Yet, guy who was talking about the peanut gallery, is that really what you think of the people who read your blog (or any blog for that matter)? From the rest of what you said, you don’t seem to really believe this.

    Also, Ben, I think the notion that “this is my blog and I will do whatever I want” is complete bullshit. A blog is public. It is not you private diary. If you wanted to keep one, you shouldn’t have published it on the internet for everybody to see. If you don’t want to know what people think about your rhetorical questions, then don’t put it where they can see it.

    People are going to have an opinion whether you allow comments or not. Chr156r33n is quite correct to note that what you are doing is “the digital equivalent of placing your fingers in your ears and refusing to hear the responses”.

    The podcasters mentioned magazines as a platform that does not allow for comments and is not blamed for that. The analogy is flawed. The equivalent of comments in a magazine are the letters from the readers. Whether those are published or not is part of each magazine’s policies; but they do not go unheeded. If a magazine gets swamped with letters telling it it is shit, and decides to ignore them for aesthetic or conceptual reasons, then I’d wager that that magazine will not be very long-lived.

    Does a blog owner have the right to turn off comments? By all means. Is it a blog, if people are not allowed to comment? I don’t think so.

    PS I blogged about the place of turning off comments in the wider blogging picture here: http://dilyandamyanov.tumblr.com/post/3742292229/the-people-whove-recently-come-to-be-known-as

    • The more I think about it, the more I like “Is it a blog, if people are not allowed to comment? I don’t think so.” I’m not particularly interested in fighting over the proper use of the term “blog”, but of course you’re right that “blog-like website with comments” and “blog-like website without comments” are different in an important way. I’ve been interested over the last year about the surprising variety of niches of online publishing, so I appreciate having another distinction and potential source of niches pointed out.

    • The “peanut gallery” comment was from Ian and I have to defend it. There is a qualitative difference between criticism, even loud criticism shouted from the back of the theater and the type of noise he is talking about. Think of it this way. In large stadiums from ancient Rome to the present, all the players can hear is this roar. There is no distinguishable comments, opinions or words. Now take that sound and imagine an individual hearing that and wanting to contribute to that sound for the sake of contributing to the sound. However, he has nothing to say so he makes an indistinguishable roar since that is all he can make out. The “peanut gallery” comment is talking about the digital equivalent.

      As for the your opinion on Ben’s decision regarding his blog that he owns, it comes back to the Death of the Author argument all over again, which I call bullshit on. Regardless of what you think of it, regardless of what I think of it or what anyone thinks of it that will not change the fact that he does not allow comments. If he does not want to we cannot change that. That is an authorial decision. The discussion was the reasoning and the implications of such a decision. If he wants to publish a private diary on the internet that is his right.

      You do not own the blog or the words or the space, you only own your experience of reading it, because that is what he affords his audience. I disagree with his position, not because of some ideology about internet space, but because I personally find a lot of value in discussion of my writing, ideas and concepts. I learn best from debate, so I keep debate open on my site.

      I think the magazine analogy holds up, because yes there are letters to the editor that give a person’s opinion and can be published for people to see. It is not the same as a blog’s comment section. There is no debate going on between author and reader or reader and reader. The magazine format is a one way delivery of information and then another one way delivery of information and that’s it. There is no back and forth. Comments are more analogous to talking around a table or, if you will, a Skype chat. The bigger the site, the bigger the table.

      @David Carlton Yes, it’s very zen like isn’t it?

  • Dilyan says:

    @David Carlton I think comments are part and parcel of blogging. If it’s a blog, people expect there will be comments. Particularly when the blog is named after its author because that makes it even more likely that the content is not part of some artistic concept but just one person’s opinions.

    The blog owner has every right to turn off comments. But he or she should be aware of how that will be perceived by people and should be prepared that there will be a backlash.

    Say I’m playing World of Warcraft or another multiplayer RPG. There are certain roles that players expect from characters to fulfill. Usually, a party will need a tank to bear the brunt of the enemies’ beating, a damage dealer to kill the mobs and a healer to keep tanks and damage dealers alive.

    This being a role-playing game, suppose that a player decided to play the part of a cowardly warrior who prefers to stay away from combat. Instead of tanking, this imaginary warrior would prefer to be a ranged damage dealer. He won’t be very good at it, but that’s just who he is.

    Nobody will want to play together with that character.

    The creator of the character has every right to imbue him with whatever qualities and shortcomings they fancy, but that doesn’t change the fact that people will be frustrated when their expectations are subverted.

    A blogger who decides to turn off comments should expect a backlash and cannot act surprised when that happens.

    @TheGameCritique Comments can indeed get noise-polluted and I like your analogy with the roar sportsmen and -women here when they are on the field. Kotaku was mentioned a couple of times during the podcast and I think it is a suitable example of that happening. I just can’t imagine the author of a piece engaging in a meaningful way with hundreds of commentors.

    I can see where Ian is coming from with his “peanut gallery” comment and I agree that there are many people who don’t care about the discussion but just want to troll. I think it is a fit description for a lot of commentors, but I just don’t think it can be applied so universally.

    And, if we continue that analogy, can you imagine Shakespeare forbidding the sale of cheap tickets to his plays?

    My opinion has nothing to do with the Death of the Author argument. I think the author and their circumstances are critical to the text. If the essays on iam.benabraham.net were written by somebody else, they would be completely different texts. (And let me just add that I like those essays.)

    Yet, I do believe that by publishing something, the author is opening it up to comments and reactions that are going to happen independently from the author’s desire or intent. If the published work is a piece of art, then the author may very well want to remain oblivious to other people’s reactions or comments. The work of art is a manifestation of the creator’s vision and ability. It doesn’t matter what others think of it.

    I don’t think the same applies to critical essays though. What critic eschews debate and explicitly says they are not interested in other opinions? I respect every blog owner’s rights to style their blog however they see fit. However I think Ben Abraham is putting himself in a very tight position by publishing texts that are meant to provoke some thinking and then limiting the ways people can express their thoughts. I’m not saying he has no right to do that and I’m not saying he has to like, or agree with, the comments he may get. But I do think his reasons to do so are weak in the sense that they make his position vulnerable and open to attack on the grounds that it all boils down not to a concept or principle but to his ego.

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