In November 2006 I sold San Diego Blog. I started it in 2003, SanDiegoBlog.com, and had a good run I think. But by 2006, I had moved away from its namesake city and was dealing with other issues. I could no longer maintain the site and. I initially didn’t want to sell. What I looked for was another person who would take the site on with a passion. But that’s not how it works. People do labors of love because they’re in love with them. You can’t just give away a labor of love. Well, you can give away the final product of a labor of love, but people have non-paying obsessions of their own.
So I got an offer, and we negotiated, and I took it. And it was good thing, a blessing even. It was cash at the right time and helped a great deal.
The site had not made much money, basically it paid for its hosting. I could not pay writers, but I have generous friends who contributed sporadically.
One of those friends is JeSais. The other day she got sick of old posts of hers notifying her of new comments, often spam. She did some stuff about it. I was a bit saddened, because I still sort of believe urls should live forever. Something about posterity I think — and also something I had read in 1998: Pages Must Live Forever.
But I understood JeSais’ actions. I still get some of the same notifications about comments on old posts. They continue and gather comments, beacons stuck in high positions in search engines. They are there and gather communities around them, partly because at some point I had installed the WordPress plugin subscribe-to-comments.
The one with the most comments by far, 240, is “PSA Crash in 1978” was written in 2004. It’s been gathering comments for four years, including some rather heartfelt remembrances, some from folks claiming to be witnesses and rescuers. I’m reminded of a passage in Philip Greenspun’s book Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing, from 1999. The part where he talks about having gotten feedback on a photo of his remains moving to me. To read it scroll down to “What happens if you take all of these steps? Sometimes magic.” in Chapter 1: Envisioning a Site That Won’t Be Featured In suck.com.
Nine years later and the majority of comments on web pages stink. They’re full of bile and anger and poor spelling. There’s so much on some sites that we build tools so we can avoid them.
But not all sites are just crap. I get some rather nice comments on my own blog. Ironic, since for years, I did not want comments. I’m still ambivalent about the need of comments. But I know there can be great value in them. Look at Metafilter. They manage to have a strong community, and get some great comments. Perhaps part of the reason is that the gardeners of that site actively promote the best comments. And if you’re a member, you get to flag a comment or mark it as a favorite:
Members are more involved with the site, they read the comments and give feedback about what they like, and with each of those flaggings or favoritings, something social is happening. Membership is reinforced, and even casual visitors benefit by seeing indicators good comments as they scroll. Some comments are even highlighted on the main page of MetaFilter.
Leah gets some good comments on her blog, though over on Real Mental there are even better comments, but then, comments are moderated over there because of the sensitivity of the topic. The community there understands, and it works well. It’s a great blog I’m proud to have hosted on my servers. When I think web pages are dead I think about blogs like RealMental and all the corners of the web where people’s conversations are social and kind and thoughtful and enrich the lives of the participants. This is where the spirit of those old pages has gone, I think. A smaller world, but so much richer.
I love Citizen of the Month, but he makes me cringe sometimes. Not when he writes about his foibles, that stuff is great. He can be ribald and hilarious and his voice is wonderful. No, the thing that makes me cringe is when he worries and wonders about how to increase traffic to his blog–how to get more comments. An amount of comments is a poor measure of value.
I was talking with Oh, The Joys at BlogHer. I had never met her, never read her biog, but we casually started talking and there was a “click” as she talked about commenting on blogs. She said something that hit me strongly, and I understood completely: “I don’t comment on people’s blogs anymore because my friends were worrying about whether I was commenting on their blogs or my other friends blogs and keeping score — I don’t need the drama so I just stopped. I still read them, but I don’t comment anymore.” I’m paraphrasing.
I don’t have the same drama of commenting, but I get it. It’s part of the mix of what can go wrong with blogging and commenting and the social structure of el blogosphero.
A few weeks ago Matt Haughey wrote a post called Becoming an old (blogging) man that I identified with strongly. I didn’t comment. It’s stuck with me though, this problem of comments. At DrupalCampLA this past weekend I saw a presentation by Steven Chan. I’ve spent a lot of time programming in the past few years, and not thinking very hard about community anymore.
I’ve got the bug again. It may pass. It probably will pass, but in the meantime I’m thinking about the web more seriously than I have in ages. And not just the web, all this mediated communication we have.
I see my kids more in text messages and MySpace and Facebook and twitter and email than I do in person. They’re advancing in age rapidly, all 4 in High School or beyond. Devon has moved into a place with roommates, Alexandra will graduate from High School in the Spring. Tyler will be able to drive on his own in a few weeks. Tony just started High School.
Aside: I have mixed feelings proofreading that last paragraph. See that word, “kids.” That word is funny. The full disclosure is that they’re my stepkids. Also, they’re scarcely kids anymore. They’re teens. Young adults. Stepchildren? StepYoungAdults? StepTeenagers? Whatever they are, they’re family and I love them and want the best for them.
But having limited time with them, and thus limited to mediated communication helps me appreciate “IN REAL LIFE” time. Not just with them, but with fellow nerds too. It’s been great attending the cocktail parties part of BlogHer with Leah, DrupalCamp this past weekend, a local Linux user group a few weeks ago, and occasional Geek Dinners down in L.A. I get a lot out of the social part of these online communities. I’m not as aggressively social as I was in San Diego, but even low-key-social is great.
Some part of my recent community activity is affecting how I view the web and its comments. This post was formed out of these experiences. I frankly have no idea where my current thoughts are leading me, but I do feel led. There’s something essential in the way I see the web that’s changing. I hope for the better. I hope it will inform my work, professional and even my labors of love.