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Should We Promote Commenting?

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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6 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    I think your post is really dumb. Of course comments are better, stupid. If you would take your head out of your own ass, you would see the wisdom of allowing comments.

    Mahmoud Ahmaninejad has a blog (http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/). Commenter John Jacobs from the USA left the following comment: “I hate you. you are retarted. that simple mentally retarted” (sic).

    Now, come on… how can you object to comments when faced with that?

  2. Promote has two meanings, of course. One can promote by encouraging. Or one promote by recognition. Such should be done with the comment above; it should be in a place of its own, a “hall of fame” for Concurring Opinions comments (naturally to be called “Dissenting Opinions.”) It would be a model for all to follow, or better, aspire to, and thus in that sense, it promote as per the first meaning.

    The clarity of reasoning and deft use of language demonstrates why lawyers have the reputation they do these days. This 2L at USFCA uses his “learned hand” in striking to the heart of matter. His admonition for you to remove your head from your hindside may be shocking; it is language heard in few places outside the United States Senate. But it is a simple feint; the author then reveals that his true weapon is irony; after all, the ignorant (and ignorable) taunting of the Iranian President by an apparent American citizen-commenter (a diplomatic level above a University President) has not had the effect or warming relations between the two nation.

    This response was so mindblowing that not one chararcter witness has dared step forth to testify as to their observation that Professor Hoffman’s head is, in fact, on his shoulders, and has always been there.

    I myself was going to venture forth an opinion on the nature of comments, and of the effect of information architecture design on encouraging conversations, but felt that I could not possibly surpass the words above. There has been such a chill among the commentariat here that it looks like the main conversations these days are the CoOp authors talking amongst themselves. I only pray that the other readers are able to gather their wits and carry on here in the shadow of such linguistic mastery.

  3. dave hoffman says:

    I feel like I can’t participate in this thread, because I’m certainly going to bring down the general level of conversation.

    So, I’ll just pop my head up briefly (from wherever it was) and say that if all it takes to bring good commentators out of the woodwork is to suggest that open architecture inevitably leads to useless discussions, bad arguments, and racism, well, then, you can expect many more posts on this issue in the future.

  4. In all seriousness– I’m happy to help. I’ve had some conversations with some of the other CoOp authors on this, but given how many things you guys regularly deal with (classes and real students, for one), I can understand how it’s hard to dedicate time to the publishing end.

    My first sense is that it may be the case that certain blogs that espouse a libertarian/free-speech-absolutism attract fellow travelers, and as as there’s no shortage of them on the net (just ask Ron Paul), those sort of numbers help them buiild a community (or echo chamber).

    That said, one would think that a more communitarian/balanced-free-speech approach (which I think is the general, though not uniform, disposition here) *ought* to be able to be more community-minded.

    But some things work against it. One, there’s been a lot of posts lately, and the effect is there’s less comments to go around. My sense is that at some point it would help to loosen the automatic reverse-chronological orthodoxy of blogs and find a way to keep popular converations stuck on the front page somehow.

    Also, this 1,200-word post I wrote 2 years ago to the Online News Association list may be instructive. We’d been discussing the comment-storm which erupted on WashingtonPost.com, which was in part fanned by the newspaper’s lack of interest in validating names. While Dan’s book hadn’t existed at the time, it was well known amongst the online media community that online comment systems were a veritable tinderbox with the combination of high volume, partisan fury, and untraceable accounts.

    So I argued that online news sites had a choice between open-endedness and purposeful (which I call constructive). Blogs are a lottle more purposeful than what came before (forums), but they are still open-ended enough to stay highly popular. There aren’t many sites that do constructive very well.

    If you think about that, I would suggest you try do a constructive exercise each week: pose a question at the start of the week, carry it on, and, at the close of the week, provide a summary. It may not draw in the wild crowds, but it would be innovative, and different, and perhaps help push forward a sense of open scholarship.

  5. Dave says:

    Irony? As far as I know, irony died after 9/11. But apparently it is alive and well in Cambridge.

    And while my hand may be learned, at least it is visible.

    As for my own attempt at seriousness: There was really nothing too deep in my comment there. I suppose if I were to engage in a little ex-post deconstruction, I might say that my point was that comments lend themselves more to zingers than to reasoned analysis. The nature of such zinging, along with the perceived anonymity of the internets can lead to a bit of crudity. I myself have gone there more than once, and unfortunately with no irony intended.

    But that would be reading too much into what I wrote. The truth is that I blabbered off the first thing that came to my head, which is what I think most commenters do. And, I wanted to provide some recognition to one of my own favorite comments. Thank you, John Jacobs! (Should you have a dearth of things to do, you can read my larger comment on the Ahmadinejad blog here: http://traditionalnotions.blogspot.com/2007/11/my-new-blog-buddy.html)

    My limited commenting at CoOp has been delightful. I have been particularly impressed with Frank Pasquale’s engagement with me as a reader, including forwarding info by email and commenting on my blogposts elsewhere.

    BTW, Jon, I partially grew up in White Plains myself.

  6. Dave (commenter) –

    Glad to connect on this.

    To Dave Hoffman’s point, I think he’s without solid evidence here. I believe that there’s clear anecdotal evidence that more comments bring more readers, due to cascade effects. And I suppose that a quality of comments is also self-reinforcing. But I don’t think that comment quality has much of an effect on readership. If I encounter a pattern of trite comments on a blog, I stop reading the comments (and if I encounter a pattern of trite posts, I stop reading the blog…)

    (see data from alexa comparing the usual suspects.)

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