24 Sep

Popular science to turn off comments

Is this the start of a movement?

“Comments can be bad for science. That’s why, here at PopularScience.com, we’re shutting them off.

It wasn’t a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.

That is not to suggest that we are the only website in the world that attracts vexing commenters. Far from it. Nor is it to suggest that all, or even close to all, of our commenters are shrill, boorish specimens of the lower internet phyla. We have many delightful, thought-provoking commenters.

But even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story, recent research suggests.”

(Via Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments | Popular Science.)

Come to the dark side. It has less spam and flaming.

05 Apr

Blog content, a brief look at the new direction this blog is going

You can blame Cory Doctorow.

Back in 2008, at Tools of Change, I was wondering whether a personal blog with a high rate of fire was even feasible anymore. Whether slow, deep content was not better. I felt the window of opportunity had passed, and that people had fetched up in the readership piles for the existing high speed blogs that pointed out links of interest.

I was also burning out, at that point, from dealing with commenters and drama. My own health had me pulling back.

I was living less in public, putting less of myself out there, and hardening my shell and hunkering down.

It was in part self protection. I didn’t perceive talking about my health issues in public to be a good thing (some can do it, I get negative, mopey, and I didn’t want to just bring people down). I was angry, frustrated, losing the momentum of my career. People were treating me differently. It was a tough road all around.

I also had less energy.

Cory pushed back at me, pointing out that it’s a big world. There’s room for all sort of interesting stuff. Both occasional blogs that are long and thoughtful, or high output snippet styled ones. There’s no one way.

He was right, I think.

One thing that happened was that a lot of short link-oriented blogging moved to twitter and tumblr and Facebook. The formal blog began to be a place reserved for longer pieces.

But as I mentioned as I redesigned this site, I think keeping my blog as the center of my social spiderweb is something I needed to return to. For control, for one.

You’ve probably already noticed the result these last few weeks. Short snippets and quotes, all tagged and then sorted into a series of categories.

While the tags I use are to help me find stories later, or to let readers run down other related stories, the categories help me figure out what the different things I was doing with this blog were, and helped me visualize the various streams that made up the potential torrent.

They are:

Brain Salad. Previously links to things I would have previously linked on twitter, but now with a nice quote of meat of the article that I found interesting. This is the core of what I used to think wasn’t useful on blogs, but five of my favorite blogs are set up to mostly be Brain Salad. I’ve come around to enjoying posting and linking these quickly as I spot them, not worrying about trying to dive deep into them but share them, tag them, and put them out there.

Writing. I’d slowed down on pointing out writing related stuff, as I was trying to focus on the futurist-related stuff I found interesting. But I am a writer, and the industry and craft still interest me. Why should I hold back? There is something of a narrowing of your audience if you only talk about writing (you start to reach mainly people who want to be writers and other writers, limiting potential), but as one stream in the big thing, I can certainly roll with it.

Life Log. Again, I was relying on Facebook and Twitter for too much of this, and am moving it back to the blog. Pictures of life as I experience it, random anecdotes of things that happened to me. Daddy blogging. I realized that I was struggling to easily find some of the things I was tweeting about my kids and life, that they were getting lost to social media.

Dig Deeper. Longer form blog posts, more along the lines of what I had been trying to focus on doing for the blog. Dig deeper now tends to be a secondary category added to the above.

Announcements. Telling you all about my works of fiction and big deals. Tagging this as a category lets me display it on a sidebar, and let me display it as needed.

The blog had previously been moving toward just Dig Deeper and Announcements, and certainly withering. Turning off comments helped me jump off into writing whatever I wanted, and increased my blogging.

Thinking about the blog in terms of its core components, and categorizing them as such, let me figure out how to turn it into something much more dynamic. I’d been using categories more like I needed to use tags, but breaking it down into these five core concepts help me understand what it was I really wanted to do.

I’m not sure where it will lead, but I’ve certainly been having a lot of fun. Early indications are that traffic is certainly picking up (one way to see if it is going well) and the other is that people who told me increased blogging on my part would probably turn them away have emailed to say that, actually, hey, they’re enjoying the Brain Salad pieces a ton after all!

Cory talks about putting being dandelions and tossing seeds out into the wind, and I think doing it here via the blog, then feeding that out to wherever, lets me do that more effectively.

21 Mar

A website’s your best bet

Jeremiah Tolbert speaks truth here. I see more and more people falling back on almost exclusively using social media platforms. But what happens when they fall out of favor, fragment, go away, lock down, or fuck you over? Remember when everyone had to be on Myspace (I remember authors who bet everything on their Myspace presence).

It’s true, to some extent, that if you’re amazing enough all you need is to write. That’s the core.

But if you are putting your thoughts up online somewhere for people to read, to connect, then consider the long term consequences.

With your own website, you can easily add links to other things people can check out if they’re digging your words. You can build the traffic up and always keep it there, your own castle. And with RSS, you can beam out into Livejournal, tumblr, twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else. It’s the core of your spiderweb.

“A web­site (and thus your RSS feed) is some­thing you own and con­trol, for the most part (let’s not get into seman­tics about own­ing domain names and so forth).  It’s an out­post on that wild, untamed open web, a place where the rules are a lot thin­ner than Facebook and Twitter.  It seems safer to stay within their lit­tle ecosys­tems, and they’ve done a great job of mak­ing it seem easy and close to free;  but you’re not the cus­tomer there; you are the prod­uct, as Charlie Stross (and per­haps oth­ers?) famously pointed out.”

(Via Why a Website (and RSS) Is Still Your Best Bet | JeremiahTolbert.com.)

To this end I’ve actually changed a number of my behaviors. I’ve been testing out better ways to blog short snippets and thoughts while mobile and from my phone (instead of just going straight to twitter).

You can expect to see a lot more stuff just going straight to this blog first, and then from there everywhere else. It’ll mean more blogging, shorter blogging, and so forth. But with it all here, it will allow me to easily come back and find it (via tags and categories, and my blog’s search engine). So it serves as an outboard brain. And no matter what hiccups come with social media, I will be secure.

20 Nov

ZOMG, No Comments? For reals?

Update, you can see the results of what has happened due to this here here

Over the last few months I’ve been toying with an idea, one that I’ve broached a few times over beers with friends: turning off the comments on my blog.

Among people with lesser trafficked blogs or who believe that every writer has to have a twitterfacebookblogweb2.0presenceandplatform the reaction is usually “ZOMG everyone will stop reading you & traffic will plummet & you won’t be loved anymore & how could you even think about it & it will destroy your writing career & everyone loves comments.”

And among my friends who blog professionally or have a lot of traffic the reaction is usually “yeah, hard call to make, I understand your issues no matter what direction you go.”

Here’s the straight dope: I used to have open comments. Anyone right away could plunge on in. I was a lesser known person, struggling my way up through the publishing food chain. I knew most of the commenters on my blog personally. Then, over time, more and more people started showing up who I didn’t know. Most were great, awesome (like you reading this right now. Yeah, you), and some were not.

In fact, some people were kind dickish.

So WordPress launched this awesomely cool new future that put comments by anyone who’d never commented before into moderation. Yay. I could screen comments, because people who’d been around on the blog long enough were usually pretty cool.

But moderating new comments took energy. And back in the day, it was no problem. I could spend that time reading comments, approving them, deleting the crazy ones that wandered in. But after 2009, it cost. It cost me mental effort. I always wondered: was I being fair? Was I reacting to someone critiquing my point, or just being crazy? For each comment.

Nowadays I only get so many golden hours a day where my mind is quick, sharp, and I’m physically full of energy. Do I want to spend that time creating new worlds, writing new words, or weighing the pros and cons of a comment to death?

I’ve tried to reboot this blog into my regular multiple-post-per-day place where I share a bit of my self with the world. Lived on the wire. As I did throughout the early 2000s. But I found myself often thinking ‘this would be a great post,’ and then after a paragraph, imagining the usual replies that I’d have to vet, and feeling… tired.

It wasn’t that my ego would be battered. My peers keep me humble. I don’t think I’m the last word on any situation. I don’t mind being wrong. I live a fairly public life. I’m often wrong. It’s part of learning (I’d still love to launch a blog called ‘Things I Thought I Knew’ devoted to letters from random people about things they were wrong about). But it was just that the idea of losing precious energy to cultivating the comments was becoming a brake.

It’s a sign that I chose Twitter to brainstorm the pros and cons of turning off blog comments, and not this blog.

What are the cons? That people will cease to come. That there will be less of a feel of a ‘community’ here. And I’m sensitive to that. When I fell sick, 330+ people felt compelled to comment. When we discussed Amazon and eBooks, the comments were lively and interesting.


On the upside, maybe I’ll feel compelled to post more.

Maybe I’ll write things I never would have written before.

And besides, my email is always up on the website there for you to contact me, and I’ll remain on twitter.

I was reading about a blog I really enjoy, Daring Fireball, here, where many of the same arguments were made. They resonate strongly with me.

So, for the next couple months, I’ll be turning the comments off. What will come out of that, I’m not sure. If I’m happy with the results of the experiment, I’ll make it permanent, if I’m not, maybe I’ll look for a way to bring back comments (find a moderator, or just allow comments without moderation so I don’t have to curate). We shall see.

Whatever happens, it’s always worth trying new things, testing your assumptions, and not just blindly doing what you’ve done because it is what you’ve done.

And I hope you’ll continue reading, even without comments.