Subscribe to this blog by RSS Follow me on Twitter
Subscribe to this blog by RSS

The Value of Commenters

Posted by Malevica on September - 14 - 2011

Someone is wrong on the internet!

A thought occurred to me this evening while responding to comments on my gimmicks post: I write some of my best material in comments, rather in the posts themselves.

It seems odd to me. I mean, I typically draft and redraft posts, sit on them for days, remove great swathes and so on, all with the aim of hitting “Publish” on a piece of (hopefully) well-formed and well-reasoned prose. When replying to comments, on the other hand, I tend to let my thoughts flow more freely and don’t usually spend too much time on editing.

I think the reason why I personally feel I write better in comments is that I’m responding to something specific, which focuses my mind and forces me to really examine my thoughts and opinions in one particular light. When I’m writing the initial post I can find myself trying to corral multiple thoughts on a given subject down into some sort of coherent whole, sometimes in quite a short space of time, and sometimes there are inconsistencies and things I’m not 100% settled on that make it through.

Commenters are very good at spotting those, as well as throwing new thoughts into the mix that help crystallise things for me. Comments can make you ask “Did I mean to say that?”‘ or “How could I express that more clearly?”, as well as thinking “I really hadn’t considered that side of it before”. All of which makes for a better blogger.

Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of saying to blog readers that their comments are extremely valued, much appreciated and a hugely important part of the process, and to bloggers to embrace the dialogue that you can have with commenters even if they don’t share your point of view.

Possibly Related Posts:

Categories: Blog Stuff

3 Responses so far.

  1. Minstrel says:

    as well as thinking “I really hadn’t considered that side of it before”.

    I think that this may be the crucial point. When you comment, especially after various others have, you’ve seen multiple sides to the argument, so you’re in a better place to form a position that considers all angles.

    A friend of mine and I recently had a discussion about whether we (or people, in general), in effect, “out-source” too much of our position-creating work by first reading all these experts contradicting each other on complex issues (like, for example, economics) before coming to a position ourselves…rather than trying to think through the issue on our own and find the important angles ourselves.

    It may be true that we lose something not going through the entire process, from soup to nuts,, ourselves…but I think ultimately we hold more robust positions when we’ve factored in what lots of other informed people think. We have more “angles” shaping our position.

    When we write a post, it’s informed only by the angles we thought of…when we write a comment to a post, it’s informed both by what we thought of but also by what the original writer thought of (and perhaps what any other commenters before you thought of). It’s a different exercise, but the second probably yields slightly more sophisticated opinions.

    A long-winded way to say, I guess, that I agree with you. 😉 But it just so happened this idea was recently on my mind due to that aforementioned discussion, so I had to comment!

    • Malevica says:

      Ooh, now you’ve got me thinking! I’m going to go off at a bit of a tangent related to your second paragraph.

      I tend to self-identify as a critical thinker, a sceptic if you prefer, and I can understand a concern about being too influenced by other people’s opinions than by one’s own introspection and original research. However I think that in this day and age when there is so much more information available to us, orders of magnitude more than was available even a few short decades ago, the skills that are becoming most important are those critical thinking skills.

      Using the economics example, we simply can’t hope to understand the world’s economy in the detail required to have an original and properly-informed opinion on macro-economic policy, perhaps only a few dozen people in the whole world can, but we’re expected to vote for a government based on a party’s stance on the issue. The same goes for many other complex issues: foreign relations, environmental policy, educational theory, you name it. But we’re constantly encouraged to have opinions, and increasingly we feel that we should have a say. (Personally, I have a habit of raging at vox pops on the news where Joe Bloggs on a random High Street shares his entirely uninformed opinion on one of these issues. I just want to scream “How can you possibly know? Just be honest and say ‘I don’t know, I’m not qualified to answer that question. Have you tried asking an economist?’ “).

      So anyway, being able to find a lot of wide-ranging perspectives on a given issue, assess the arguments logically and rationally before coming to your own informed conclusion is, as far as I can see, the best way to navigate your way to taking a position on these sorts of questions. And then you have to be open minded enough to assimilate new perspectives as they come in, which is another common stumbling block! I think you’re spot on when you say “we hold more robust positions when we’ve factored in what lots of other informed people think. We have more “angles” shaping our position”, simply because I don’t feel, in many cases, that it’s practical for us to become sufficiently well informed for ourselves. As long as you’re evaluating those positions properly (which sadly many people fail to do), I think that’s an acceptable way to reach a position.

      Pretty much what you said!

      • Minstrel says:

        It’s funny, you pretty much took the same view as I did in that discussion I had with my friend. As I see it, my friend had a valid point that there’s a skill involved in constructing the framework of the issue yourself. However, I’m unconvinced that it’s a key skill for *most* of us to have. I think we can compare it to the standard opportunity-cost evaluation of learning things: is there value to, for example, knowing how to build a house yourself? Undeniably, there’s some value to that knowledge for anyone…any skill is better than not having it, in a vacuum. Where the cost comes in is that you could have spent that time learning something else. We can’t learn to do everything.

        I think we can look at mental resources the same way. We don’t have time to learn to construct entire frameworks in every issue that matters to us…so we “out-source” that to experts. Just as we “out-source” literal construction to experts like architects and construction workers. We can evaluate finished houses and decide what works for us and what we’ll inhabit. Similarly, we can evaluate well-formed opinions from issue experts and decide what works for us and which positions we’ll inhabit. 😉

        It still requires critical thinking, but with the wealth of information available, the form our critical thinking takes is going to evolve over time.

        So…pretty much what you said! 🙂

Leave a Reply