Web pages are dead. Long live web pages. (If they’re made of people)

Here’s how San Diego Blog looks today, not bad, and certainly better than it’s looked in a while:

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.

We’ll see.


eleven comments so far...

It wasn’t so much that there was external drama. It was more that commenting became unsustainable. To reciprocate comments on every blog from which I was receiving comments as well as leave comments for other blogs that I also wanted to read started to mean reading and commenting on upwards of 200 blogs per day. I couldn’t figure out how to choose which ones to eliminate without worrying that I would hurt someone’s feelings. Loathe to do that, to single any one blog out, I went mostly quiet on the commenting front. My own comments have gone down dramatically as a consequence, but my site visits/ page views has not decreased. The blogosphere – particularly in the mommy blog genre – is a real community. It’s important to me that everyone feel welcome and included. I didn’t want to be a part of making anyone feel shut out. That said, my lack of commenting probably doesn’t make new people feel welcome. I need to figure out some sort of balance.

@Oh, The Joys, thanks so much for the clarification on my misremembrance of what you said. 🙂 The problem of sustaining the feeling of a community across blogs is definitely an interesting one. I wish you well in finding that balance.

When you emailed me the other day and said, “definitely hits
me like nails on chalkboard. Thinking of you deleting content you made feels so violent to me….” I felt just awful. I know sandiegoblog was your baby and I hadn’t thought out how my actions might make you feel, so I sincerely apologize. Please know it was not directed at you.

I do kinda regret what I did, not because I think web pages should live on forever, but because I believe in the community aspect of the internet. And while the sandiegoblog community is dead, in my opinion, I could have left the evidence of my participation in it.

On comments. I like comments because it mimics face to face interaction in a lot of ways. You know someone is out there and hears what you’re saying. And let’s be honest, we wouldn’t be blogging if we didn’t feel we had something to say.

thanks for making me think….

The biggest issue with deleting content from posts and not the posts themselves is that pages still exist, visitors find them via search, and then feel jilted when they click and now end up on a page that has nothing on it. Not a big deal for a few pages, but it is substantial when you’re talking nearly 100 pages.

I find it ironic that me not reaching out email by email to authors on San Diego Blog was disturbing to you, yet you did not find it worthwhile to reach out to me to express your concern with ads or the impending deletion of all the content you contributed. Do note that when I took over and redesigned the site I asked for feedback. My hope was to generate enough revenue to hire a part time blogger to maintain the site and be active in the community. Sadly $2-3/day doesn’t accomplish that. So, as you can see we’ve released a new design and ads in there, in there more rightful places, and I’m spending $250/mo to pay a few writers to add decent content.

Further, if you simply didn’t want comments… you could have just changed the author or deleted your email from your user account.

Oh, and correct me if I’m wrong… but couldn’t you just have turned comments off? “Both comments and pings are currently closed.”

Not only do I freely delete my own content whenever I feel like it, I often resist posting it in the first place. I just had my Yelp account removed including over 100 reviews because, well I was just over it and it was time to turn it off. I’m increasingly becoming more concerned about privacy, because there are just too many crackpots in the “heavy web user” demographic.

Not sure where this altruism about web content comes from. It’s your words and if anyone really cared, they’ll remember what you said. The ephemeral nature of the web is a big part of what makes it unique.

SanDiegoBlog.com was most definitely, for a short time, a labor of love for me as well. In fact, it was the first project that made me realize that blogging could be much more than personal public diaries. I remember at the time feeling that it was so difficult to find anyone interested in San Diego’s history or culture. The community of bloggers and commenters on SanDiegoBlog changed that. They made me realize how little I knew about the city myself and inspired me to research more.

Eventually I realized that I was curious about much more than just San Diego. But I have a feeling that one of these years I’ll get tired of all this roaming around and I’ll look for the right community with the right sense of community. And, of course, I’ll look for that community’s version of SanDiegoBlog.com. In the meantime, it’s pretty cool to see that Jenn and Sassy are still blogging. And Sassy is a dad. Crazy. Long live web pages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.