Comments On Comments

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When I first started out blogging and was young and innocent, I avidly awaited my first comments. I desperately wanted to know somebody was actually reading what I had written. I was naïve enough to think that people would respond to what I was writing about and give me their opinions of the topic at hand.

For as long as I kept slogging away on my own at my personal site, the only comments I received were from friends I had pestered to read what I had written by sending them links via email to my articles. Beyond that I felt that I might as well be writing in a vacuum.

It wasn’t until I joined up with blog sites that I began to receive my first glimpse of real comments from people I didn’t know. The first site I went to, Blogger provided room for onsite comments, but it meant going and checking the site on a regular basis, because it did not have an email notification system. It wasn’t until I began posting at that comments became more a part of my blogging experience.

The best part was that I could set up my account with Blogcritics so that my comments were sent to an email client of my choice. This was great; every day I could open my Yahoo account and see if anybody responded to my pearls of wisdom. Oh the anticipation each morning of opening my mail, and oh the disappointment of seeing a big “0” besides new messages.

Of course I eventually started to receive comments, and I loved them all. From the ones that accused me of being a sinner and a traitor (since I’m not an American and always try to make that clear when I talk about issues affecting that country, I have to assume that by writing about the United States I am somehow betraying Canada) to the ones who agreed with me, they were all balm to my ego. Someone is reading what I write.

I couldn’t care less what anybody thought about me; at least they were reading what I wrote. To a neophyte writer sometimes that’s more important than anything else. I have an audience. Yippee.

My favourite comments have been the ones where people have written to say they had never really thought about a situation in the way I had described, and it was making them rethink their opinions. My next favourite are the people who disagree with me with comments that are intelligent enough that I have to rethink what I have said. I have even gone back and edited a post or two based on what somebody has said in a comment because it made more sense than my original idea.

After a while though I began to notice something that started to bother me; people were commenting on the subject without reading what I had written. Or they would latch on to one sentence and think that was the whole point of the article, and block out anything else that had been said.

It started to make me wonder about their reasons for posting a comment. If, as it appeared, they weren’t reading the whole article, were they just taking this opportunity to post their own opinion without having to write anything? Or was it because they were so desperate to discredit the idea that as long as they found one thing they could disagree with they were happy?

This was most irksome in instances where the situation wasn’t black and white, but the commentator insisted that there could only be two answers; his or the wrong one. Those comments are the most disturbing because to me it shows a complete indifference to the fact that there are a variety of ways to look at the world, and that it is possible for there to be more than one correct answer.

I’ve also noticed how people take pride in what they call hijacking a thread to their own agenda. Instead of talking about the topic under discussion they manage to get it switched over to something they want to talk about. If what they have to say is so important than they should write their own post about it, and try to show a little respect to the person who has written about something that was important to them.

I’ve noticed this happens to a lot of posts, friends take them over to use as personal message boards where they can talk about what ever they feel like. I have even read people boasting about this, like it’s some great accomplishment. It’s a sad thing when being rude and ignorant is considered an accomplishment.

I guess the only thing worse than that is when a comment thread turns into a personal insult match between two third-party commentators who had nothing to do with the original post. Sometimes they seem to be carrying on an argument that they had been having in a previous thread, and neither of them want to give the other the privilege of having the last word. They should just get a motel room and get it over with!

I guess the comments sections of places like Blogcritics and other similar sites epitomize both the best and worst features of the Internet. On one hand it is a venue for the free expression of ideas and opinions, on the other hand it is a venue for the free expression of ideas and opinions.

I’ve taken to doing what is the oldest form of censorship in the world; I just choose not to read the majority of comments generated by my articles any more. If it’s an address I’ve never seen before I’ll read it, or if it is one I recognise as being someone who has something insightful to say I’ll read it too, otherwise they don’t even get opened.

I find it sort of sad that in a few short months I’ve gone from anticipating with pleasure comments being sent to my e-mail’s inbox to my current thinking of them as almost equivalent to spam. But when there are upwards of 80 a day sometimes I just don’t see the point in wading through somebody else’s conversation that has nothing to do with me, or anything I have written.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site He has been writing for since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Boo frickin hoo. Someone call the waaambulance.

    I know what you were trying to say with this, Gypsyman, but I bet you wish you had this one back:

    “I guess the comments sections of places like Blogcritics and other similar sites epitomize both the best ant worst features of the Internet. On one hand it is a venue for the free expression of ideas and opinions, on the other hand it is a venue for the free expression of ideas and opinions.”

    Fascism’s not hot.

    I think you’ve written stuff I liked before, but this post came off whiny.

    That is all.

  • I know the feeling, G-Man — but somewhere between “I’ve got MAIL!” and “Oh, shit, Mail…” is the pleasure that comes when a post sparks a real conversation. One that actually is triggered by your post.

    You can increase the chances of that happening by being responsive to the initial comments, I’ve found. Don’t “feed the trolls” but DO feed the discourse.

    My best example lately was the amazingly long legs on my piece on Old River Control, “Katrina could alter Louisiana geography, Mississippi river flow.” With few exceptions, people wrote thoughtful comments, asked genuine questions, and behaved like adults.

    If a piece gets hijacked in comments, then it’s time to abandon it. But give it a chance to thrive before you do. You might be surprised.

  • Gypsy: You used the one word that perfectly describes comments: indifference. Most blog/post/comment because they want to be heard. For some, that entails an acceptance of their absolute ignorance towards what others wrote original, or in debate.

    Even when it does stay on topic, people are really just stroking themselves by professing their own opinion. Look, I’m doing it right now! You can slap me with the cold mackerel of guilt too. So it goes.

    A better way to see it: It’s nothing personal, just blogness. Carry on.

  • RogerMDillion

    And just think how much time people have wasted on Katrina victims when you have it so rough.

    Seriously, I don’t understand what you were hoping to accomplish with this. Are the people who hijack and insult going to stop after reading this post?

    If it’s so bad, stop blogging.

  • So how’s the weather where everyone is?

    It’s beautiful and summery this afternoon in Chicago. I reckon it can’t stay like this much longer.

    That is all.

  • RogerMDillion

    Brilliant, Bob.

    By the way, how come Bush didn’t say how he was going to finance the NO reconstruction or who the greatest guitarist of all time is?

  • I think Bush is a Steve Miller Band kind of guy. He claims to like mainstream country, but I know better.

    That is all.

  • Roger, you are SO missing the point of Gypsyman’s post. Not that I’ve asked him, but I sincerely doubt he is dismissing the hurricane victims or assuming his issues with commments is more important than other current events. I’m sure Roger, that you don’t expect everyone’s post here to relate to whatever current misery is going on in the world.

    I think he brings up some real valid stuff. It’s disheartening to work very hard on a post, and to then read a comment that either dosn’t relate at all to the post, or just craps all over what was posted, simply because the commenter has different opinion.

    I guess some of my comments have gone off on other tangents other than the original post. I never meant to offend the poster, just having a little fun.

    I’ve also seen my posts treated the same way, jokes made at the expense of the post, or comments that soared off into entirely different directions.

    Personally I suppose I take more offense to the first kind of comments. When someone seems like they havn’t even read the post all the way through, they just throw out their opinion as if it’s the only valid one.

  • And now I’ll commit the crime again. (Sorry Gypysman!::ducking::) : )

    Mark- You don’t need a cold mackeral, you need a cold shower! (teasing)

  • Bob says:

    I know what you were trying to say with this, Gypsyman, but I bet you wish you had this one back:

    “I guess the comments sections of places like Blogcritics and other similar sites epitomize both the best ant worst features of the Internet. On one hand it is a venue for the free expression of ideas and opinions, on the other hand it is a venue for the free expression of ideas and opinions.”

    Why would he want to take this back? ‘cept for the wee typo (ant=and) – it sums up what many of us feel. It’s great that we can do the free speech thing, but obviously it can go to far.

  • He was trying to be clever, but it was poorly worded. There’s no connotation of “free expression of ideas and opinions” which could be negative, so it’s poorly written and implies some sort of antipathy to open dialogue.

    If it had been a different phrase, that might have worked a little better but not much.

    That is all.

  • RogerMDillion


    You are missing my point. This post is a tad narcissitic and self-absorbed. I don’t expect everyone’s post to relate to current events, but let’s get a little perspective.

    Again, I don’t understand the point of this post. I usually enjoy gypsy’s posts, but I think what he’s writing about is rather obvious. It boils down to that he doesn’t always like what commenters say. Really, who does? And it obviously wasn’t persuasive since you commit one of his complaints in a comment immediately after defending his position.

    It fits into the bad genre of art about art, detailing the struggles of creativity which is rarely compelling. Books about authors are usually bad. Films about filmmakers are usually bad. Plays about actors are usually bad. And of course, we now have bloggers talking about the struggles of blogging. Oh, the humanity!

    If Gypsy wants to stop reading my comments, he’s certainly entitled, but if this is going to be a topic that he writes about, he won’t have to worry about my comments because I won’t be reading his posts.

  • If I might steer the commentary back to gypsyman’s very valid feelings…

    Gypsy: what helps me deal with some of the things you mention is to keep in mind that 90-95% of the people who read your work NEVER comment. So people who do take the time to comment fall under a broad spectrum of personalities.

    Also keep in mind that the sheer number of comments you get rarely, if ever, relates to the quality of your work. Many people will tell you the pieces that you work the hardest on, that you’re the most proud of… get the fewest number of comments.

  • Eric B says:

    “Many people will tell you the pieces that you work the hardest on, that you’re the most proud of… get the fewest number of comments. ”

    Actually, that is true.

  • Bob says:

    “If it had been a different phrase, that might have worked a little better but not much.”

    I see your point.

  • Seems like people are commenting on the “Comments on Comments” piece.

    Anybody up for writing the “Comments on the ‘Comments on Comments’ comments” post?

  • Roger says:

    “And it obviously wasn’t persuasive since you commit one of his complaints in a comment immediately after defending his position.”

    I know I did the very thing he complained about, I admitted it at the start of my comment. But, I’m sorry if I offended Gypsyman (or Mark)

    Honestly though, I don’t think Gypsyman’s post was necessarily self-absorbed. I have noticed the same thing on many other posts, and I now I”m not even referring to my own or his — but to others in general.

    Anyway, I certainly don’t want to contribute to any bad feelings about comments, posts or anything else, so..that’s it for now!

  • Sorry, Suss, there’s only so much recursion I can handle without a Cray…

  • Ah, recursion! We curse, and then we curse again. That’s what comes from thinking too much about what other people should do. Worrying when people do what we think people “shouldn’t” do is a bottomless mine of disappointment.

    It’s inaccurate to accuse Gypsysman of being self-absorbed here. In a way, the trouble he’s having comes from not being self-absorbed enough. All of us could use more focus on our own actions, if we find ourselves getting bent out of shape over minor and largely imaginary breaches of netiquette.

    We don’t have to brood and glower over the rude and crude things people say in their comments on our posts. We could all enjoy life far more if we embrace the oddly unexpected things people do as surprising, creative, and entertaining.

  • Baronius

    If I may (slightly) change the subject, what about people who change the subject? I’ve seen a tremendous range of behaviour, from single replies to organic conversation to best buddies who aren’t interested in the topic or any other commentors. Also a big difference in boards’ regulation of behaviour. Some sites will knock you down if you follow up on a point. Others don’t care if the board degenerates to three guys posting happy faces to each other.

    Or is this all a legitimate difference of opinion on what “organic conversation” is?

  • You know, for a real picture of what hijacking can be, check out the CD Review: B5 by B5 post. 270-plus comments, some of them by people who can spell, obsessing over, preening for, and talking trash about –the subject of the post–, like the author (Sterfish) doesn’t exist.

  • Gypsy,

    Nice post! I read every word, by the way. I can relate to some of the things you say here. I have seen comments for my posts sometimes become a spawning ground for blogger battles and issues that have nothing to do with my post.

    Still, I have also been pleased to see that the majority of the comments are on target. Whether I agree or disagree with them, the commentators have read my post and are reacting to it. I can’t ask for anything more than that.

  • Shark

    Gypsy, I couldn’t finish your entire post, but I do have a comment:

    Um, edit, man.

    Whatever you said (?) could have been said in a paragraph, or better yet — one or two lines.

    Think brevity. You’ll get many more readers.


    PS: I think blogging (in general) is a pathetic attempt (as ChelseaLou often accuses me of doing) of saying “Look at me! Look at me!”

    99.999% of everything ‘blogged’ is not only mindless crap, but it goes UNREAD out there in the vacuum of cyberspace.

    To keep a perspective, one should constantly remind oneself that in the Greater Scheme of Things, blogging is equivalent to picking one’s nose while at a stop-light in traffic.


    “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it.” — John Cage & Shark

    “My audience is me.” — Shark

  • How’d I manage to miss Eric Berlin’s comment 13? Very well stated, and I can only emphasize it with a related observation.

    People who comment on your post are, in a very real sense, keeping it alive. It doesn’t really matter, at all, whether their comments are relevant to your post.

    Even if all they do is viciously attack you for offending the builders of the pyramids on Mars (or whatever), every comment gives your post an extra few minutes of visibility on the right-hand sidebar, during which time many people might get to read and appreciate your words while ignoring the loony commenters.

  • Richard, as Blogcritics Comments Editor, nobody knows better than I the rich stew of comments we get on the site. We’ve just passed the 350,000 mark by the way and I’ve now “read” over 100,000 remarks of the public’s wit and wisdom.

    It’s true there is a lot of nonsense sometimes but there are also comments that can really light up my day. Personally I love the open ended nature of the blog format and think any conversation is better than none.

    It’s also really amazing to see the most unlikely friendships being forged here on the site through the sometimes fierce debates that go on.

    That’s absolutely priceless so hats off to Messrs Berlin/Olsen/Winn for the sometimes unruly but all embracing house of fun they have created here.

  • Chris:

    I almost had an anurism when I saw another comment being reported at this post, and then to my joy I saw it was a real one. As you can tell this post was written sometime ago, and I have slightly mollified my opinions on the subject, although I can still live without the spam and the abuse.