Some follow-up on some recent things regarding online commenting

Rian van der Merwe was kind enough to respond to an email I sent him in response to some of his reflections on commenting:

He even updated his post to address my email.

However, when you ask people long questions, with multiple parts, they often end up answering the parts that were least interesting to you. Here’s the full email I sent him:

In your recent post about “finding voice”

You say: ”So forget about comments – it doesn’t matter whether you have them turned on or not. The real question is which one of the many available options you’re going to choose to start writing and owning your voice.”

What’s so important about finding our own voice? Comments and discussion can lead to arriving at some place you want to go. Do we care about the “voices” that led to the UN Declaration of Human of Rights, or the final document that was finally produced?

We want to get to the best ideas and thoughts and plans, but what does that have to do with individual voices? Writing on your own blog can bring you away from the discussion, pushing us all into little silos. I personally felt just that drive with my own blog.

I read a piece by John Battelle

and then chose to engage him in the comments. I was unsatisfied with his answer and chose to write a longer opinion about the problems with his piece on my own site

I’m not sure that this method really achieves very much OTHER than helping me to find my own voice. But in my opinion the important thing is that John is exposed to the flaw in his argument and others looking to talk about it (where else would they naturally go to talk about it other than his comments section?) would see this issue. That way they would be forced to think about it and wouldn’t waste time writing the same criticism. If someone goes to write that on their page, how is that helping things? Will I go to all the trackback sites? Should I? How do sites writing independently engage in discussion with each other and not duplicate the same arguments.

I’ve been writing tons of posts about this, and not publishing them, but there’s a little bit if you’re interested.

Rian’s response was

“What’s so important about finding our own voice?” To answer, I’d like to quote Clive Thompson in The Art of Public Thinking:

The process of writing exposes your own ignorance and half-baked assumptions: When I’m writing a Wired article, I often don’t realize what I don’t know until I’ve started writing, at which point my unanswered questions and lazy, autofill thinking becomes obvious. Then I freak out and panic and push myself way harder, because the article is soon going before two publics: First my editors, then eventually my readers. Blogging (or tumbling or posterousing or even, in a smaller way, tweeting) forces a similar clarity of mental purpose for me. As with Wired, I’m going before a public. I’m no longer just muttering to myself in a quiet room. It scarcely matters whether two or ten or a thousand people are going to read the blog post; the transition from nonpublic and public is nonlinear and powerful.

To me, this is the least interesting aspect of my question. It wasn’t even really a question I was asking, more just of a rhetorical question to suggest individual voice isn’t that important. I’m interested in the issue of separating discussion from content. It affects not only the readership, looking to engage in discussion:

So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that most people will put two and two together and will find responses to your posts on other weblogs. It isn’t going to happen for most. Period.

but also the author of the work:

It’s true, as Siegler and others argue, that readers can find other ways to comment: they can post a remark on Twitter with a link, they can do the same on Facebook or Google+, they can send an e-mail, or they can write a response on their own blog. But doesn’t that make it even harder for a blogger to find and respond to all of the thoughtful comments, since they will have to check all of those other sources? I think in most cases, bloggers who shut down comments don’t do this — they simply don’t respond.

If you’re interested in more on this, I’ve quoted these last two pieces in a recent, longer entry on commenting: