For a while, the big question was whether it was appropriate for someone to write a comment when they were too frightened to put their name to it. Ah, the good old days. Then it was a question of the government gaining access to whatever it is you said, whether for its own account or on behalf of the person whose tush was hurting a bit. Good times.
Quietly, however, we are doing to ourselves what no person, no government, could do to us. Because of my lack of computer savvy, it took me a while to realize what was happening. For those who know less about how this works than I, blogs (including blawgs) exist on a platform, a program created by someone else that makes the stuff we write show up looking cool (or not) on the internet.
These programs include the part that allows a reader to comment, with whatever requirements the programmer decides ought to be included in there. Some programs allow the blogger to control the requirements, adding or deleting the information and/or verification needed of a commenter, or adding in some outside gizmo in place of whatever the program uses as its default.
As a reader of a few blawgs, I occasionally feel inclined to add a comment or two to what someone else has written. In the old days, I could use my commenter name of choice, which has been my initials “shg” since pretty much the beginning, plus email and this URL. Sometimes there was a “captcha” requirement to keep bots away and limit spam, a problem far more troubling than most readers know. You didn’t have to hear me curse as I deleted thousands of spam comments every morning.
Recently, this has started changing, with blogs refusing to allow me to comment unless I signed in through a service, such as a Facebook, Twitter or WordPress account. The happy idea was that I could then broadcast the fact that I commented (Hey, everybody, look at me and my comment!!! How cool am I!!! Add me to your social network and follow me!!! K+ me and I’ll K+ you back!!!) across my “social network.”
This meant a few things, that my “name” as a commenter would be whatever name I used on the social platform on which I signed in, that my comments were aggregated via the social platform and that there was no easy way to be anonymous, if that was my intent. But at least I realized that something stunk when I had to “sign in” to comment. Signing in is a dead giveaway.
There was a more nefarious scheme afoot, however. Kevin O’Keefe exalts its virtues.
Disqus is a commenting service for blogs, news sites, and online communities. Founded in 2007 by Daniel Ha (@danielha) and Jason Yan (@jasonyan), the platform includes various features, such as social integration, social networking, user profiles, spam and moderation tools, analytics, email notifications, and mobile commenting.
We’re using Disqus on all LexBlog blogs which have upgraded to WordPress, mine included. One, because it works pretty well (with some WordPress integration bugs) and two, because of our building an online network of lawyers from around the world (LXBN), which could be done in part through tracking comments and profiles through Disqus.
What he’s saying is that for those of you trying to create a unified marketing presence on the internet, where your every happy word and smiling face is available at a click for anyone to find, Disqus magically makes it happen. After all, why comment in the blawgosphere, or really anywhere on the internet, if not for the purpose of adding to your carefully crafted internet persona so that other people can find you and love you?
Here’s my profile on Disqus. You’ll reach the profile when you click on my mug next to any comment I’ve left on LexBlog blogs which have been upgraded to WordPress as well on other blogs and news sites around the net.
So you can not only see what Kevin had to say on his own blog (RLHB), but all the other blogs that use Disqus as well. One stop shopping for every comment you’ve written, regardless of whether you used your real name to comment or called yourself something else, like, say, Publius, Anon or Guest.
Not only are you unable to hide your identity on a comment, but you have provided carte blanche to every other blog at which you’ve commented and every word you’ve ever typed into the square comment block. And you’ve given it away to everyone on the interwebz.
For some, with varied interests that bring them to different websites or blogs that have nothing to do with one another, and whose participants really have no reason to know about your various distinct interests, you now have no secrets. Say you comment on legal blogs and happen to be a fan of My Little Pony (a/k/a a brony). Perhaps you would prefer other lawyers and judges not being aware of your brony side, or any other peccadilloes that don’t involve them. Tough.
For others, the idea that comments taken out of context (since clicking on our smiling face shows only our comments, not the post to which they’re directed or the other comments to provide context) could produce some unpleasant assumptions about us by those who may disagree with our comments or hate our guts. Worse still, should we become the object of a nutjob, they could be copied and plastered across the internet with images of naked people. Never underestimate the damage a true nutjob can cause.
Whether you like it or not, you are now social, part of the grand and happy social network that promoters of the internet for purpose of marketing and selling believe will launch a billion businesses. In their eyes, this should make you happy, and happy people whose existence in the social sphere makes them want everyone to know and appreciate their internet existence and their every happy utterance, will love the new reality that anyone can find out anything they want about you because you have chosen to let a program like Disqus put it all in one place and make it all accessible to the world.
No government could compel you to give it up so readily, and yet we do so willingly because it’s the only way to get our little sliver of brilliance into the comment section of a blog. If I don’t comment at your blog anymore, it may not be because your post wasn’t thoughtful and interesting. I just don’t plan to leave tracks everywhere I go.