New Comment Experiment

Gerard Magliocca

Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Professor Magliocca is the author of three books and over twenty articles on constitutional law and intellectual property. He received his undergraduate degree from Stanford, his law degree from Yale, and joined the faculty after two years as an attorney at Covington and Burling and one year as a law clerk for Judge Guido Calabresi on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Professor Magliocca has received the Best New Professor Award and the Black Cane (Most Outstanding Professor) from the student body, and in 2008 held the Fulbright-Dow Distinguished Research Chair of the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, The Netherlands. He was elected to the American Law Institute (ALI) in 2013.

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27 Responses

  1. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Well, I think I explained why in the post.

  2. I can understand moderating comments so as to disallow irrelevant remarks or ad hominem attacks (I’ve done this myself on occasion), but not allowing comments rubs me the wrong way. It’s simply a pain in the ass to e-mail bloggers and it makes it too easy for them to avoid responding to comments or questions that are unusually challenging or difficult. I’ve had to close comments occasionally where I blog owing to incessant spam, yet I do so regrettably and am happy when our site is free of such problems so as to allow free commenting. Mirror of Justice recently returned to a policy like this and it helped me decide not to visit their site. Similarly, I rarely look at Balkinization any more as many of the bloggers there also now disallow comments. I perhaps read an inordinate number of blogs, so I suppose disallowing comments provides me with an easy criterion for winnowing that list down to a more reasonable number, and thus for that reason at least I can be grateful for what may be the beginning of a trend.

  3. Shag from Brookline says:

    Is this a sign that you have too much time on your hands and no new bios in the works to keep you busy, other than Justice Sutherland now that Justice Scalia has blessed/cursed that project? {Judge Learned Hand included Sutherland as one of the four “mastiffs” thwarting the New Deal.] Or is this a post-Halloween joke? I think this is a loss leader for the “Chicken CoOp.”

  4. Gerard Magliocca says:

    In part, the answer is that comment threads often turn into battles between the commenters that have nothing to do with the post. I could just delete those, but that’s too time consuming. I would rather try something else that takes a middle ground by providing reader responses in successor posts. If it doesn’t work well, then I’ll probably just go back to what we’ve been doing.

  5. Joe says:

    I have a feeling I took part in these “battles” now and then, but overall agree with Patrick S. O’Donnell. Seems trying to read emails and having successor posts for “replies” is more time consuming than the minimal time it takes to delete. So, think this is more a matter of taste. Oh well.

  6. Igor says:

    I visit this site almost daily, although I don’t comment daily, but I haven’t noticed, firstly, that there are unmanageable amount of comments on average per post; and secondly, I am not sure I ever noticed battles between commenters.
    It seems to me that this policy for this blog is trying to remedy a problem that hardly exists… kind of like voter ID laws are trying to remedy voter fraud that doesn’t exist. And I personally am less interested and less engaged in reading a blog post on which I am unable to comment. Just my 2 cents.

  7. It makes sense to me — comment threads are often full of fare more heat than light. However: you probably need to make it a bit easier for people to find your email address….

  8. Shag from Brookline says:

    So long Gerard and so long Frank. I sense insensitivity, especially on Frank’s part with his often controversial posts at Balkinization that do not allow for comments. What was it Pres. Truman said about the heat in the kitchen?

    I assume Gerard may drop posting at Balkinization or try to introduce censoring there on comments. Gerard, censoring won’t sell books.

  9. Igor says:

    Shag, in fairness, you missed the point. It’s not about sensitivity or taking the heat in the kitchen, it’s to remedy the problem of irrelevant and frankly just stupid comments that many people often make.

    It’s a particular problem on the Internet, because of the type of culture it attracts. And it is especially acute with blogs, many of which are not very nuanced, and tend to reinforce people’s political pre-conceived biases. And especially when comments are not moderated, a real mess can ensue.

    Where I depart, is that I don’t think that this particular blog has this problem. However, I might be wrong, since I am relatively new to it (since about 3 months ago or so). But in principle, I think the idea of having comments go through e-mail first is effective, because it will increase the costs of making stupid and irrelevant comments to certain people, and in that sense works better than moderation.

  10. shg says:

    Regardless of the sincerity of your motives, this experiment certainly emits an unpleasant odor, as if it’s a way to “disappear” uncomfortable commentary, and stifle ongoing dialogue.

    It may well serve the purpose of making things easier for authors, but it will not help with credibility or persuasiveness.

  11. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Adding my two cents as a blogger here:

    (1) I will not be joining in the experiment because

    (2) as I told Gerard and Frank when they suggested it to the bloggers here, I think it is a solution in search of a problem, offers scant benefits, and presents non-trivial costs.

    Coincidentally, I got two comments on a recent post of mine this morning. One went up in the usual way; the other first reached me by email because the comment device was broken for some reason. I corresponded with the author and then coordinated posting of the comment. Both are informed and useful comments on a very controversial topic with at least a degree of criticism. The one took me zero time to handle; the other quite a few minutes. I find those minutes better spent thinking about what the comments said to me than logistics of making them visible.

  12. jimbino says:

    I think you should:

    1. Delete spam.
    2. Toss disagreeable or off-topic comments into a comment bucket.

    That way, readers who don’t want to be distracted from the thread can read on, while those who want to read all comments can check the censored comments bucket, and a reader who convinces you that his comment was valid could have it restored to the thread.

    Furthermore, commenters could check the bucket to see what kind of comments are worthy of censorship.

  13. Litigator says:

    There are two problems with your experiment:

    (1) Removing comments just degrades the experience. The product at Concurring Opinions isn’t just your post. It’s your post *plus* the comments. In other words, the comments often add value for many readers.

    For example, I find Frank’s posts to be polemical and tendentious. However, I read on because I know there will be productive pushback in the comments. I will make it a point not to do so moving forward.

    (2) Moreover, it creates the impression that you don’t want to engage. With Frank, I suspect this is largely true. He has a tendency to write inflammatory opening posts and fail to defend his position when pressed. The internet is criticized for creating an echo chamber, and removing comments you don’t like furthers that perception.

    Finally, it’s trivially easy to skip over comments that are worthless. So it’s not clear what value is added by suppressing comments.

  14. Bruce Boyden says:

    I appreciate the time you all put into blogging, and so however you want to manage comments is just fine with me. You could have no comments at all if you wanted. I would think an announced policy of heavily moderated comments would achieve exactly what you are doing with less cost to commenters, but I just throw that out there for your consideration.

  15. Frank says:

    Well, Litigator, I’m happy to respond to your points above if you email me. I’m not willing to respond to an anonymous critic. I have no idea who you are, what your motives are, if you’re being funded by someone, etc. There’s a basic asymmetry here, as Farhad Manjoo explains:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/03/troll_reveal_thyself.html

    You say that “The product at Concurring Opinions isn’t just your post. It’s your post *plus* the comments.” I think that’s a decision to be made by the partners who jointly govern the blog. If they, as a majority, force comments back on, I’ll respect their decision. If they fail to, I hope you’ll respect their decision.

  16. Igor says:

    To summarize my concluding remarks, largely in agreement with Litigator and Lawrence, I just don’t think that this particular blog has the types of problems that other blogs experience.

    This blog already attracts a more educated and less inflammatory audience to begin with, and at least most of the comments are thoughtful and relevant. So I agree with Lawrence that “it is a solution in search of a problem”.

    And to the extent that there are some unhelpful and irrelevant comments, just delete them. No offense, but this blog is just not that popular and attracts relatively few readers, and there aren’t that many comments. So, it seems to me that dealing with bad comments by deleting them is a better policy, rather than adding on unnecessary filters.

  17. cornelius mccracken says:

    “I don’t think that this particular blog has this problem.”

    This.

    “I think it is a solution in search of a problem, offers scant benefits, and presents non-trivial costs.”

    And this.

    Comments here are usually pretty good, even when critical. Probably not as polite as you’d get in a faculty lounge, and if that’s your measure for comfort, well it’s your blog. You’ve never been shy about smacking the trolls. You’ve never even been shy about smacking the comments that may, in a certain light if you squint a little and are very sensitive, have a slight resemblance to trollishness. Which is to say, the bathwater is being taken care of. Why risk the baby?

    Further, Sullivan’s hypothetical comment section would be unmanageable and as a result would add very little value. Comparing his blog to this one is not terribly relevant and pretty immodest.

  18. Joe says:

    “I’m not willing to respond to an anonymous critic.”

    That’s your choice, but there are a range of reasons why people are anonymous online, and they manage repeatedly to provide a lot to the conversation. This is actually a major good overall to the online experience.

    I wonder if that was the rule back in the day — did people not respond to those who used aliases? We still don’t know exactly who wrote a few things.

    But, your choice as is a blog post with no comments, which to me is an inferior animal, including since the feedback is often a major addition to the experience and it also can serve as a check on the author. Even if the replies do not want everyone reading to know their real name for personal, professional or other reasons.

  19. Brett Bellmore says:

    I wouldn’t say this blog is *entirely* devoid of the sort of comments you complain of, (Though the sources of them would never recognize themselves as the problem!) but the total volume of comments here is remarkably low, this is probably the longest comment thread in months.

    Still, your sandbox, your rules. I’m fine with emailing comments.

  20. mls says:

    I guess I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I can certainly understand why anyone would want to avoid the kind of threads that often occur at Balkinization, particularly in response to Sandy Levinson’s posts, which resemble arguments at a bar that never closes. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem as though this happens very often at Concurring Opinions.

    Perhaps one should begin by asking what the purpose of the original post is. If the author is trying to have a serious discussion of a specific issue, then I would think an open comments policy is going to be frustrating. There are just too many ways in which the thread can be “hijacked,” intentionally or otherwise, by people who aren’t interested in the issue raised, or who don’t know that much about it, or who just want to show off how witty they are. Yeah, yeah, I may have done this once or twice myself.

    Not all posts are of this nature, but I think Gerard’s often are. So his experiment seems worthwhile to me.

  21. AYY says:

    Gerard,
    Following Andrew Sullivan’s lead is not always the wisest thing to do.
    I’m surprised that you’d be doing this. I’m going to have to disagree with mls, because many of your posts aren’t (to me at least) particularly controversial (except maybe your basketball posts). Nor have I seen the comment threads for your posts were being hijacked or devolving into personal attacks, but then maybe I missed something.
    Besides how can you possibly paraphrase Patrick? Even though I usually disagree with him, he often comes up with something to ponder. You can’t always get the full flavor of what he’s saying unless you read him in the original.

    Frank,
    “I’m not willing to respond to an anonymous critic. I have no idea who you are, what your motives are, if you’re being funded by someone, etc”

    We’re not anonymous. Some use their real names. Many of us who use pseudonyms have been here for a while. We use the same pseudonyms we’ve been using for years, so in that sense you know who we are. Some of us can’t use our real names because there’s a potential for retaliation, or because we are identified with an institution, and using our real names might suggest we’re speaking for the institution rather than for ourselves.

    As for motives, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can assure you my motives are pure. As for being funded by someone, heh, I only wish that were that case.

    But what if someone’s motives weren’t pure or what if someone was being funded by someone you didn’t approve of. It wouldn’t make the criticisms any more or less worthy of response. And besides, doesn’t one of the guest bloggers have a history of working for or with a Soros funded institution. If an agenda driven funding source doesn’t disqualify a guest blogger from blogging, why should it disqualify a commenter from commenting?

  22. mls says:

    To be clear, I wasn’t saying Gerard’s posts were controversial, I was suggesting that they often are addressed to a relatively narrow issue, and he therefore may prefer that responses be limited to those with serious and knowledgeable contributions on that specific issue.

  23. Ken Rhodes says:

    I am in total agreement with Igor in his comments number 7 and 17 about the non-problem, as well as Lawrence Cunningham’s term “solution in search of a problem.” This blog is not Kevin Drum on Mother Jones, where a moderate and thoughtful post is often greeted with a firestorm of highly partisan and contentious arguing, name calling, and general b.s. The comments on this blog, to the contrary, are *mostly* congenial, well thought out, and informative. I find, for example, that when I occasionally engage in disagreement with Brett Bellmore, our exchanges are always polite and informative, not partisan political polemics.

    I wish Frank and Gerard would revisit their decision by reviewing the log of a large number of their posts and the ensuing threads, and noting (I hope they would see it my way) that the comment threads are frequently a valuable addition to the content of ConOp blog, and that on balance they may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  24. Brett Bellmore says:

    Frank, joining this experiment really ought to involve making your email address a bit more accessible. That link under authors is misdirected, and searching the site at the end of it for you resulted in me finding an address which is, apparently, dead.

    Now, pardon me, I feel the urge to take a swim in that Scrooge McDuck gold swimming pool Kaminska imagines I have…

  25. Frank says:

    Sure, it is my firstname.lastname@gmail.com. And I apologize for the dead link.

    By the way, here’s a great estimate of Scrooge McDuck’s wealth: $31 billion: http://thebillfold.com/2012/04/how-much-money-you-need-to-realistically-recreate-the-scrooge-mcduck-gold-coin-swim/

  26. Orin Kerr says:

    Whether to allow comments is the choice of each blogger, of course. But sometimes posts really miss the mark, and comment threads can point out why. Given that, I think comment threads make the blog more valuable than they would be otherwise. My 2 cents, anyway.