Engagement isn’t about attending every argument you’re invited to

Last Tuesday on Clr. Buck’s blog I was accused of saying one thing (applauding those "that engage in debate of town issues ) and doing another (refusing to allow comments on this site without registration).

An anonymous poster somehow reached the conclusion that these two things are mutually exclusive so I engaged the poster in an attempt to clear up some of their misunderstandings as to how I operate my site. You can rewind to that post here: http://evelynmbuck.blogspot.ca/2014/08/ask-and-you-shall-not-receive.html

Returning from a family outing this weekend I loaded up Clr. Buck’s blog to catch-up and I found that I have earned additional scorn from this anonymous troll, enough it seems to warrant another post: http://evelynmbuck.blogspot.ca/2014/08/theres-room-for-difference.html

I have touched on the topic of commenting in several previous posts, a few of which can be found here: https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/moose-or-squirrel/ here: https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/no-comment/ and here: https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/commenting-crap-stir-it-or-flush-it/

As interest remains I will continue the debate that said anonymous poster perceives I am somehow "depriving" him/her of.

The Content Management System I use does indeed allow ‘Guest’ comments.

I will explain below why I have not enabled such an option and have no plans to do so in the foreseeable future.

Let’s start with answering the question: "Don’t you want anyone countering your criticisms or parrying your pronouncements?"

Anyone wants to counter criticisms, parry pronouncements or advance any other alliterations they are more than welcome. Several exchanges have taken place in the comment section of the blog and on other sites (Clr. Buck’s blog, The Aurora Citizen site when it was active).

It was suggested that readers "are deprived of reading comments from his readers to what he writes." and that "a substantial weakness lies in the fact that my readers never comment on what I write."

Not true.

The blog has comments. Comments also propagate through other social channels that are connected to the side.

Engagement transcends the site entirely into real-life provoking conversations when bumping into people in town.

It is the next statement that puts the anonymous poster’s ignorance out in full display:
"For someone always banging on about ‘engagement,’ you certainly don’t encourage it."

Not all engagement is equal.

Reducing "engagement" to nothing more than a pissing match over number of comments on a blog post fails to acknowledge the myriad of ways people engage with content.

Back in January 2011 I touched on the 90-9-1 rule of participation inequality here: https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/i-dont-believe-in-that-no-comment-business-i-always-have-a-comment/

Adam Felder, associate director of digital analytics at Atlantic Media wrote a piece in The Atlantic back in June that explored the relation between engagement and comments policy:

Felder cites an example of National Journal whose user engagement has increased since they adopted a comment policy to eliminate comments on most stories. Pages views per visit increased by more than 10 percent. Page views per unique visitor increased 14 percent. Return visits climbed by more than 20 percent. Visits of only a single page decreased, while visits of two pages or more increased by almost 20 percent.

The theory is that by cutting out comments, the site is better able to draw attention to its most deserving content—the articles themselves.

Maria Konnikova, who has a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University provides her perspective in a piece titled The Psychology of Online Comments published in the New Yorker back in October of last year:

Her piece is worth reading in totality, but specifically she touches on motivation, engagement and shared reality:

"Removing comments also affects the reading experience itself: it may take away the motivation to engage with a topic more deeply, and to share it with a wider group of readers. In a phenomenon known as shared reality, our experience of something is affected by whether or not we will share it socially. Take away comments entirely, and you take away some of that shared reality, which is why we often want to share or comment in the first place. We want to believe that others will read and react to our ideas."

Sharing is key, which is why I have not removed commenting from my site. Comments are moderated, but for some (or one) this is not acceptable and we continue to hear the moaning: "you don’t want any feedback unless you can vet the commenter before any approval to publish."

Mic Wright sums up my feelings brilliantly in his September 2012 piece in The Telegraph: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/micwright/100007520/comments-are-the-radioactive-waste-of-the-web/

Wright is blunt: "The sanctity of the right of anyone to comment on anything isn’t shared by the entire web". He continues "I believe fundamentally in the importance of debate and the rights of readers to attack my words. But the idea that websites are obliged to host those comments and spend huge amounts of resources weeding out the barmy and the bigoted is wrong. Ask yourself: how often have you genuinely learned something valuable from a comment section? If we can’t have a decent debate, is that debate worth having to begin with?"

In another post on the subject I commented on Dan Gilmor’s take: https://wattstrending.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/arguing-with-nobodies/

Gilmor is the author of MEDIACTIVE and I agree with him when he says that "Ultimately, conveners of online conversations need to provide better tools for the people having the conversations."

This is being put into practice by Julie Zhuo, a product manager at Facebook.

In a piece titled "Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt" that ran in the New York Times back in November 2010 Julie delves into tools such as Disqus:

She believes that "raising barriers to posting bad comments is still a smart first step. Well-designed commenting systems should also aim to highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions while letting trollish ones sink into oblivion. Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation."

The theme here is not just addressing the rules of engagement but the quality of said engagement.

I’m happy with how my site is functioning and the engagement I receive from it. Including now two exchanges with an obviously frustrated commentor.

It is the feeling of frustration that is described in a piece titled "Trolling for influence: Impotence at the roots of online vitriol" that ran in the Globe & Mail last year:

We read "In the face of the cacophony, pace and volume of web commentary communication, it is easy to feel like you don’t matter…………..What that means is that maybe the flood of hate-filled, simplistic comments aren’t actually representative of people’s views or personalities. Instead, they may actually be a very understandable human response to the fact that the comment box is a strange, frustrating kind of double bind: a chance to speak your mind, but a reminder that no one is listening."

The same frustration that shows through in the troll’s simplistic statement: "I reserve serious reactions for serious matters; perusing the Internet doesn’t count."

If this poor deprived impotent troll isn’t going to take the internet seriously then why get so butt-hurt about having to login to comment on a website?

Engagement is a two way street on which I believe I have traveled more than half way. It is obvious by this question: "I don’t have a blog, which means we’re pretty well at the same level of engagement, doesn’t it?" that the troll doesn’t share this belief and prefers a life of obscurity and perpetual frustration.

I’m not stooping to their level.


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