From Boing Boing, this is offered as “the most accurate analogy” on the subject of comments “ever”:
Weingarten, preach it : “I basically like ‘comments,’ though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It’s as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots.”
That is one god-awful ugly image, but is it really that accurate? While I’m certainly not in league with the big boys on the subject of comments, I can’t agree that the situation is that bad.
Comments can be a nightmare, between the spam, the stupid, the angry and the nutjobs. It is, without a doubt, a burden that few readers appreciate to keep the comments on topic and reasonably worth reading. But it’s part of the gig. One quickly learns that the internet is a very big place, with people of all points of view, often firmly held and with need to burst out at every opportunity. Touch on a hot button subject and a swarm of interested folks will descend like locusts and make certain that everyone knows their position.
The vast majority of these comments reflect relatively well-conceived thoughts. A significant minority reflect no thought at all, but see comments as a soap box from which to scream to anyone who will listen. Some of these are just people suffering from Dunning-Kruger, while others suffer from more pathological problems. As I said, it’s a big internet.
To call them maggots, however, is over the top. There is certainly a dearth of well-reasoned rants, and a surplus of conspiracy-theorists and generalized haters, but to a large extent, these positions are all derived honestly and held dearly. People may lack the degree of thought, nuance, focus and comprehension that one might want to have in a discussion about the issues raised, but interesting ideas still come out.
Even the spammers, the bane of a blawger’s existence, are understandable. While the rationalization that our offering the opportunity for them to spam away by dint of our merely being here may be utter nonsense, if one views the blawgosphere as merely a marketing opportunity (as many lawyers do), then the spammers’ view of snatching their piece of someone else’s pie isn’t entirely insane. It’s a nightmare, but one that makes some sense from their warped perspective.
Of course, there are the trolls, those who post comments for no better purpose than wreaking havoc with others, insulting and attacking to compensate for their incredibly small genitalia and lack of a real life. I try to keep a hand on the delete button so that they don’t have their way here. On the other hand, a commenter isn’t a troll merely because she disagrees with a position or, as happens from time to time, thinks I’m a blithering idiot. There’s room for disagreement, though I expect commenters to remember that this is my soap box, not theirs.
I’ve struggled with comments since the beginning, often growing disillusioned with the nature of the comments and the lack of understanding of my purposes in posting. It grows incredibly tiresome having to read my thoughts as filtered through the eyes of others, particularly when they project their own lack of experience and understanding onto me. I’m irked when someone characterized what I’ve said in a way that significantly misapprehends my point. But then, someone posts a comment that’s incisive, illuminating, maybe even brilliant, and I remember why we’re having the discussion in the first place.
So maggots? No, it’s not the best analogy, or even a good analogy. Readers come at will, with the full spectrum of experiences and intelligence, motives, fears and needs. I can neither make someone read nor stop them. I can remind them not to post links, especially to themselves, and to keep on topic even though they believe their story is the most fascinating one ever. But it’s the price one pays for the flashes of brilliance that appear in the comments, the ones that make it worth my time to deal with comments in the first place.
If the great comments are an aged Sirloin, then the bad ones are a steak poorly cooked. When I send it back to the kitchen and tell the cook that his comment doesn’t meet my expectations, some will get angry with me and tell me that I’m the meanest, worst, stupidest, most awful person in the world. After all, it’s all about them. Others will understand that this is my blawg and, should they care to read and comment, cook the steak a little better.
That doesn’t mean that I’m right, either about the substance of my posts or my taste in steaks. It just means that this is my blawg and that entitles me to decide how I want my comments cooked.