India Uncut

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

On comments, and blogs

Patrix, Dina and Charu have all put up posts recently that argue for the enabling of comments in posts, and have taken friendly aim at me for not doing so. I had stated my reasons in an earlier post (“No comments”), but it would be unfair of me not to respond to some of the points they raise. So here goes.

One, Dina does me an injustice when she says that I “have not really recognised the magic in conversations”. I understand that magic, and I crave to be able to have some of it on this blog. Indeed, in a piece I’d written for the Indian Express in January (“Blogs – The New Journalism”), I had described such conversations as being “often intelligent, informative and enlightening, with the readers adding enormous value to what the blogger has to say”.

Why then do I not have comments enabled? The reasons I had given here hold. Once your traffic goes beyond a certain point, the number of loonies who abuse you go up beyond what you can reasonably take, and that affects me and my peace of mind. Some bloggers might be mentally tough enough to say, “I will ignore it, it reflects on the person leaving the comment more than on me.” But I find it hard to do so, and refuse to have my pages sullied by boorish abuse.

It is not as if I alone have this problem. All high-traffic blogs do, and it is no surprise that most of the biggies in the blogosphere – like Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Boing Boing and Kausfiles – do not have comments enabled. My traffic is nowhere near these guys, but it’s still beyond the point when the crap is tolerable. Gaurav Sabnis, whose blog is among the more popular Indian ones, shut down his comments recently as well, and told me last weekend how relaxed he felt after having done so. I actually noticed the conversations on his blog go from being intelligent and thought-provoking to abusive and ranty (to improvise a verb), and I understood exactly how he felt.

Now, there have been some comments made about how blogs should have comments enabled, and can’t be called “blogs” if they are not. I find those arguments ludicrous. The blogosphere is not a socialist or a statist space where a central politburo will decide on what is a blog and what isn’t, and everyone must conform. It runs, as I articulated in my post, “The libertarian internet”, like a perfectly functioning free market. Instapundit and Boing Boing are perhaps the most popular blogs on the net, and therefore the ones that bring value to the most readers – and they don’t have comments.

They have been validated by the hundreds of thousands of readers who visit them every day, and by the tens and thousands of fellow bloggers who refer to them as blogs. In other words, it falls not unto individuals to define blogs, but for the blogosphere to do so, collectively, with mouseclicks and blogrolls. And the blogosphere has spoken: comments not necessary.

While I’m on the subject, let me speak about another feature that I don’t consider necessary: hyperlinks. Now, I link to other sites and blogs more voraciously and frequently than most Indian bloggers, but I don’t view them as a mandatory requirement for blogs. (Yes, I know “blogs” began as “weblogs”, but they evolved and so did the nomenclature.) I say that because journalists, while reporting on their blogs, often don’t have the time, or the need, to place links. The most satisfying blogging I have done came when I was on the move and reporting events as they happened; first, in the aftermath of the tsunami, in Tamil Nadu (those posts archived here); second, while covering the India-Pakistan cricket series for the Guardian. In both cases, as I’ve explained here, my blogging gave a new dimension to my reporting. (Some big bloggers agreed.) There were hardly any links in those posts.

So what, in my opinion, defines a blog? Two things:

One, dated posts.

Two, the distinctive voice of a writer – or group, in case of groupblogs – speaking directly to the reader without the artifice involved in writing for a magazine or newspaper.

But that’s just my opinion, and I refuse to insist that others should feel the same way.

Update: I have cross-posted this on a group blog begun by Peter Griffin to discuss just such matters, and if you wish to, ahem, comment, you will find that you can do so there.
amit varma, 1:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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