I struggle to remember, but I don’t think I’d ever written a comment before this blog. It’s kind of shocking, considering how much content I read online. I guess I’m more of a comment reader than a comment writer. But since my blog got its very first comment I feel like I’m finally in the game! Like customers in a restaurant, I think comments attract more comments. And my mother would never sit in a restaurant with no customers… Is this analogy working?
Web guru Tim O’Reilly describes the blogosphere as an online “conversational watering hole”. Robert Scoble, who used to blog for Microsoft, says “cross-site conversations” are a key element to popular blogs (Lovink, p. 4). Two-way communication is clearly an important aspect, whether or not it’s in the form of comments.
Geert Lovink says that blogs “are characterized by a culture of desired affiliation” (p. 2). You can definitely see that in the realm of food blogging. The comments on one my favourite cooking sites, Smitten Kitchen, are relentlessly positive. There’s an atmosphere of sharing and general pleasantness. Maybe it’s the subject of delicious food that quells nastiness. Whatever it is, I’ve never seen a negative comment on the site. Of course, rude or inappropriate comments might just be deleted by the blogger. As Lovink points out, freedom of discussion on blogs is limited (p. 21). There’s always someone in control, who can allow or disallow comments. That’s one reason people often post responses on their own blogs instead of commenting (Lovink, p. 21). Referencing the work of Florian Cramer, Lovink says:
“The original posting of the blog owner is not equal to the answer of the respondents… Users are guests” (p. 20).
And being a good guest means remembering your “netiquette”. According to Wikipedia- I wasn’t just being lazy, I thought Wiki’s description would reveal the general consensus- basic netiquette means avoiding flamewars and spam (Wikipedia). All too often basic etiquette seems to go right out the window when people start commenting, whether it’s on YouTube or on news sites. During the recent violence in Thailand I was reading news about it on CNN.com. I found the comments as upsetting as the article I read. They were rife with hostility, insults, and extreme assertions. A painful few displayed open-mindedness and attempts at understanding both sides.
Unlike articles about politics and religion, food blogs are far less likely to create controversy. ‘Weird food’ blogs can be slightly more prone to flamewars, since there are huge cultural differences about what’s acceptable as food. Posts or comments can be culturally insensitive. Heated arguments can break out about the ethics of eating meat, which is what happened on the blog Weird Meat. It usually gets about 10 comments per post, but the post ‘Dog Meat’ got an astounding 220 comments. Debate and sharing perspectives seems like a good thing, but there were clear examples of bad netiquette, like suggestions that dog-eaters should “burn in hell”. Lovink says that blogs “create communities of like-minded people” (p. 21). In this case, not so much. Here’s a sample of the flamewar (these comments were both written anonymously):
There are some, like Claire E. Write, who believe “the essence of a blog is not the interactivity of the medium” (Lovink, p. 28). Flamewars aside, I disagree. A blog may not be defined by interactivity, but I think it’s what’s created the massive blogosphere. Without the communicative aspect, blogs would be stuck at the personal homepage stage. I also think that being able to instantly respond to or communicate with the writer is what often makes blogs more appealing than print media. Not only are you imparted the writer’s views and experiences, but you can join in on that conversation, potentially (emphasis on potentially) enriching the public sphere. Which is why I allow comments on my blog. I’m not the authority on weird food. I’m only sharing what I discover, and I’m happy to learn from visitors as well. Plus, it’s nice to know that my blog gets more than split-second and accidental views.
And as long as my blog is newborn and lost somewhere in the long tail, I think I’ll handle the comments as they come.
Geert Lovink (2007) ‘Blogging, the Nihilist Impluse’, pp. 1-38 in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London: Routledge.
Tim O’Reilly (2005) ‘What Is Web 2.0’