On the deterioration of commenting quality…

I had a conversation with a major player in one of Northern Ireland’s main political parties recently. He mentioned that he thought Slugger had gone downhill in recent times. I perhaps dismissed it too offhandedly, arguing that the viewer stats have gone up and stayed up through the summer (a season when they usually tail off). But considering the proportion of posts to comments, and the general drop in quality in the latter, I’m beginning to think this may have been at the back of his mind. Although Slugger is not unique in having this problem.

I’ll try to make this brief.

One thing that keeps (good) bloggers in check is the thought that if you get things wrong your credibility will go south. With commenters, there is no such disincentive for gilding the lily or being economical with the truth. The speed with which people disown or ignore their own illogical inconsistencies is, at times, embarrassing.

As a blogger you know people won’t return if your writing is not concise, useful and even entertaining. You cannot overestimate your own incisive off-the-cuff genius. The core value is journalistic. You make your point, and then you get off the pot. All too often, these values are missing from the comments we get.

In a liberal environment like Slugger’s comment zone, there are endless opportunities to veer off the point; especially when your opponent puts a case you’d rather not deal with. However, such evasion makes for dull, disjunctured reading.

Despite our brave attempts to get people to address the substance of an argument with some degree of civility, too many succumb to the temptation to slap their opponents up a bit. Unfortunately what gets sacrificed in the fracas that follows is their own contribution’s intended point!

Judicious editing by an moderator can demonstrate the benefit of keeping posts light and to the point. When I’ve done this in the past, the results have been revelatory for individual commenters.

I’m not berating people, nor am I singling individuals out. Indeed I wish I could offer an editing/moderation service as a matter of course. But my rates aren’t cheap! 😉

Multiple (and contending) viewpoints arise from the best threads. It usually indicates that people are actually thinking about what their opponents are saying and are allowing their own arguments to be tested in the process.

We’ve got some quality people here who have some challenging and thought provoking views. But the bottom line is, I’ve had enough of the vituperative faction fighting. So, if don’t want to find youself clipped (or worse), then just play the game!

  • David Vance

    Interesting Mick.

    We have found that our proportion of comments to posts has been on the rise over the summer. Maybe our anti-liberal environment attracts opinion? And our values are anti-journalist -we clean up the pot after they’ve been on it.

  • Mick Fealty

    David,

    If you read the link above, you’ll see they note there may be a drop in the quality of comments as the readership rises. I’m not suggesting all our threads are crap. Indeed the thread to the DI story on poverty today has drawn in some decent diverse expert opinion.

    Re journalistic Slugger vs anti-journalistic ATW – just don’t start! 😉

  • looking in

    major player

    one of Northern Ireland’s main political parties

    condratiction in terms surely?

    I have to say that to expect this little piece of internet space to be free of vituperative faction fighting when the whole topic is NI, with a strapline as advertised, is surely a triumph of hope over reality?

    …and a damn site better that people use their keyboard to vent steam that what we have witnessed since saturday…

  • Thomas from Texas

    For whatever it’s worth, I find the comments posted here very informative, and fascinating. However, maybe that’s because I’m Texan (please note mah humbleness.) I’m not really sure what is meant by “quality of comments,” but it seems most commenters who post here are very knowledgeable, albeit interjecting their personal opinions. But isn’t that what blogs are all about? I say, carry on fine people of Slugger O’Toole!

  • David Vance

    Mick,

    Yeah, don’t start me talking, I could talk all night….

    And whilst I’m in the mood for quoting…just remember that….

    “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” ~Thomas Jefferson

    Of course blogs are totally different, aren’t they? 😉

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think with popularity comes a generally lower quality. It’s true of the entire internet. Look at Usenet now – 8-10 years ago the quality held it’s own, now the kooks rule the roost. The only answer is moderation, and I think quality discussion sites will come to be known by the standard of their moderation rather than by their lack of it.

    Anyway, I blame Hugh Orde and the Parades Commission.

  • PaddyCanuck

    Major Player? Which major player?

    Maybe we could analyse his\her recent performance, there are not many major players in the main political parties that would rate a big score in terms of performance(unless we are talking about Paul Berry).

    You should maybe demand that commentators must at least demonstrate that they have a degree, preferably in English Lit, before they are allowed to comment.

    That way you could confine Slugger to being a smug, middle class, pedantic and pretentious talking shop (maybe Davros would come back, where is he anyway, and PMcL).

    The thing is about Norn Iron Society, politics, and culture is that it includes everyone, its called democracy, if you want to exclude people then you should change your banner.

    I thought blogs and the internet were meant to be a democratising phenomenon, were every one could air there views, uncensored.

    Obviously not on Slugger: Spides need not apply.

  • Keith M

    I agree with Comrade Stalin here, it’s very difficult to have quality and quantity on an opinion site. Sometimes you’re better with lower hits, if it maintains a higher standard. I certainly think that’s a case to be made for keeping threads on topic by moderation if necessary.

    “Anyway, I blame Hugh Orde…” You’re not the only one, my cat had kittens last month and one them has a very smug face and tends to be a bit isolated from the rest.

  • Thomas from Texas

    PaddyCanuck,

    That “Norn Iron” bit kills me with auditory delight. I was saying it all day yesterday, it so reminds me of my travels through Norn Iron, and the blank stare I would reflect upon the kind people there everytime the Scottish-Irish accent would be thrust into my ears. Yes, I’m that easy to please, plus shiny things work also.

  • Elvis the dog

    On the commenting thing, I’d love to post more, but I’d be inevitably posting along the lines of ‘man, this is depressing stuff’. Whether it’s the story itself or, in the rare event of a positive story, the inevitable begrudgery from one side in the comments section, Slugger is just gloom, gloom, gloom.

    Maybe it’s all in the nature of the subject matter – unequivocal good news is thin on the ground, and objective commentators even harder to come by. Or maybe most of the people who remain interested in N. Ireland politics are just plain idiots. Of course, I keep reading anyway, interestedly….:)

    On the plus side, hey, at least it’s not A Tangled Web.

  • Whatabout

    Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Increased popularity has led to increasingly inane posting and, IMO, detracted from the strapline objective. I have deliberately not been contributing lately, fed up with wading through the mire to find the more interesting stuff. Mick, it’s your blog, and moderation is the only way to keep all on thread. With democracy comes responsibility and ‘moderation’.

  • D’Oracle

    I’m with those why havnt noticed an overly marked recent improvement in the politicians contributions to anything much. That said, there is a lot of off-thread stuff about the place but the problem Mick is that, often times, these cul de sacs are the best bits.

    Wouldnt worry though- the evidence for the claim made is not clear and, anyway, too much introspection can probably cause very bad headaches

  • Anonymous

    Mick,

    I broadly agree with ‘Whatabout’. The level of blogging has increased and quality/content has seemed on occasions to have dipped to meet a perceived reader demand. IMO.

    The same arguments about popularity, quality and quantity are easily transferable to the blog end of the site?

    It’s still a great site, just with that bit more muck to sift for nuggets.

    Mark.

  • looking in

    That way you could confine Slugger to being a smug, middle class, pedantic and pretentious talking shop

    Albeit, one with a fair few people who are dab hands at Cntl+C Cntl+V for facts/knowledge from sites/blogs the’ve just googled.

    If that is superior to increasingly inane posting then give me the inane, but frequently honest and passionate. If you want to heavily moderate then why not set up a subscription-only peer-reviewed blog that slowly dissappears up its own arse of self importance..?

  • Antrim Springfarm

    This is a great forum for bringing together a fusion of varying beliefs and opinions.

    I have however been subjected to childless name-calling by those who disagree with my points which is a wee bit sad but there you go.

    I think most unionists would initially think that the url meant that the website was about a certain SF ex mayor’s sporting past! 😉

    But the admin seem to be really impartial – something which is rare in Ulster as we are all suffers of the cultural-cancer which is sectarianism; which includes myself. But hopefully here I will be enlightened to the ‘other side’s’ POV.

  • Plum Duff

    Why not a simple banner up top – ‘No Riff-Raff’.

  • Henry94

    I can think of about a dozen posters (from all sides of the house) whose opinions I take seriously. A lot of the rubbish turns up under names I don’t recognise and who don’t stay long.

    Maybe some guidelines for good debate should be introduced to which peoples attention could be drawn if they stay from the standard required.

    A few suggestions

    – If you lose your temper you are probably losing the argument.

    – Anecdotes are not evidence

    – If you have to change your username to make a point then it’s probably not worth making.

    – You are not objective

    – If you think everything is the fault of the other side then congratulations you no longer need to debate.

    – The standard of debate is never as good as you think it used to be. And it never was.

  • mwk

    PaddyC said: I thought blogs and the internet were meant to be a democratising phenomenon, were every one could air there views, uncensored.

    Obviously not on Slugger: Spides need not apply.

    That is *so* far from being true. Slugger (extrapolate out yourself) is run by individuals, bandwidth is paid for by them. There is no freedom of speech here. Your rights are not denied if you are banned/censored/ridiculed. How can there be freedom of speech/right to reply? What gives you the right to turn up on someone else’s patch and expect to have whatever idiotic idea you have aired?

    Mick’s site. Mick allows you to use the comment part of the software. He doesn’t have to. Deal with it. If you can’t, set up your own site where you can bemoan being denied your freedom of speech elsewhere. Sheesh.

  • mwk

    Whoops. Premature em-ing. But youse all can spot that, I am sure.

  • David Vance

    Elvis the Dog,

    Good point – and the other plus point you omitted is that on ATW we don’t suffer from enduring squawking from the likes of yourself! In peace, man.

  • spirit-level

    It has gone downhill.
    I’m only sorry that we can’t have more psychology on the site and pure maths; as attempts to get behind the politics, and look at models of human behaviour in conflict resolution scenarios. Particularly predictive analysis.Everyone just chucks in their tuppeny,hapennys worth, and as none of this is based on any kind of theoretical models, that I can say argue with… its all just opinion and blah blah blah. Round in circles. If we want to have any rigour we should start with discussing Mick’s paper on the long peace.

  • slug

    Henry is right to say that the name of the person is important.

    I look at the name and don’t read the comment if I have formed a negative view of the poster’s integrity.

    (The previous two sentences imply a corollory for what I think of Henry94).

  • spirit-level

    The truth is “we are not discussing the truth”.
    We are just bobbing around on the surface, swept along by events, tides and currents, political calendars, seasons.
    We ought to be looking at things like Fear. Purely abstract to begin with. Examine the fight/flight responses. Asking ourselves, for example: What is the terror? the absolute horror, that unionists feel about even the “idea” of talking to nationalists?
    Face to face.
    What does this say? what does this mean? etc etc. Then we might start proving a few things, and so understand the game better.

  • smcgiff

    Sorry to burst bubbles, and obviously only speaking with the weight of my own opinion, but the reason I read slugger is BECAUSE of the comments, which generally speaking are very interesting.

    I read slugger to get the vox pop. Not sure how unique I am in that respect, but quite often the original blog is the least interesting aspect of the thread.

    I imagine Slugger’s popularity is mainly due to the commenting. A test of this would be the halting of all comment for a set period of time. I’d imagine the hits would dramatically fall away.

    If blogging is the skeleton of Slugger then commenting is its lifeblood.

  • fair_deal

    I don’t think there has necessarily been a decline in the debate. Debate involves listening as well as responsding but I think there has just been a decline in willingness to listen to other points of view. Views and positions seem to have become more entrenched post Christmas.

  • Mick

    A quick response to points made so far.

    – Mwk has expressed the bottom line of the ‘deal’ better than I could.

    – Read Henry’s guidelines. They are fairly solid all the way through.

    – re Riff Raff comment. There are no bars on entry to Slugger. But the quality bar should be as high as possible.

    – That does not make it worthy and middle class. Some of the most effective interventions have come from one off contributions from people actually on the ground.

    – Good conversation needs people to aspire towards the best standards in their own outputs. That in turn will draw in better players, and make the comment zone more competitive and rewarding for all.

    – Increasing the level of moderation is key. We (the moderation team) probably need to cut contributions in order to strengthen an individual’s argument rather than simply look to cut out the worst excesses.

  • George

    Questions like this always make me ask what is quality?

    My favourite definition:

    Quality is that point where subjectivity and objectivity meet (from Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance).

    As things have changed, Slugger has either got more subjective or more objective in recent months, thus unsettling the previous quality harmony in the eyes of some.

    Others will think the quality has improved because the debate has moved into their subjective/objective spectrum.

    If slugger is now more desirable, and more hits could imply this, then it can be argued that it has greater quality.

    This is of course if you follow common business practise and decide that it is for the visitor (customer) to decide on whether Slugger is a quality product, not the person who runs the site (producer).

    However, if we take it that it is for Mick to decide, and he feels the greater quantity fails to meet the stated needs of Slugger then it can be argued that there is less quality.

    Which leads to the question what are Slugger’s needs? What is Slugger’s mission statement so to speak and are expectations being met?

    Enough quality management from me.

  • Animus

    How postmodern is this thread? A series of comments made upon comments made on a blog about the blog?

    Popularity and quality are not the same thing. Pop music proves it, fashion proves it, reality TV proves it, even football proves it.

  • peteb

    Mick,

    On the point of

    The moderating team are NOT editors.

    With the volume of comments that sometimes occur the only rule the moderating team can be expected to apply is that

    Comments either pass over the moderating bar or not.

  • slug

    Peteb

    Keep the bar higher than the UTV news moderators – please!

  • maca

    I’d be with smcgiff on this. I come to Slugger for the comments. It’s the debate which interests me and getting to discuss with other people from a different backgrounds.
    I don’t think the standards have necessarily dropped here recently, it’s always been pretty much a roller coaster anyway. Unfortunatly though, some of the good folk have either disappeared or just post less than before (Howard, IJP, Dav etc etc)

  • El Matador @ El Blogador

    Mick,

    I think part of the problem reflects the broader political points scoring ‘system’ in the public arena. People may make off-the-cuff comments, but others often leap on this and deride the commenter not on the content or intended aim of their comments, but simply as an excuse to undermine their credibility.

    Of course, it’s impossible to stop this in such a liberal and open forum. You can’t force a sense of humour or restraint on people!

    Ultimately people will always use such blogs as Slugger not simply for debate, but as a way of ‘laying into’ the opposition. Ruthless enforcement of the ‘ball not man’ rule, although perhaps illiberal in that it curtails free speech, is maybe the only way of encouraging rogue commenters to stick to the debate and stop bringing personal attacks into the equation.

  • TAFKABO

    “Popularity and quality are not the same thing. Pop music proves it, fashion proves it, reality TV proves it, even football proves it.”

    It depends.
    I’d say that the Beatles prove that popularity and quality are possible, just as drams like the Soprannos or a soap like coronation street.

    Slugger just has to work hard at being the Beatles, and not Busted.

  • Animus

    Yes, that’s my point, it cannot be implied that quality and quantity are necessarily related (though the Beatles aren’t the best example to prove it imho)

  • maca

    Spice Girls … popular? quality?

  • Dandyman

    Can’t really compare Slugger now to slugger in times past ‘cos I only started reading Slugger recently and that was all thanks to Newton Emerson’s PDN site (letters page), God Bless ‘im. Slugger will probably never fill the void in my life that was left by the passing of the PDN, but it’s still one of the more interseting sites on my favourites list.

    Most of the threads on slugger (especially in the last week) seem to be reactionary, to things/events that have already happened or articles which have been printed expressing one view point or another. And of course every incident that occurs in NI is blown up out of all proportion and seized on by a hysterical media. People really need to understand (& I’m sure most of the bloggers on Slugger DO understand this)when dealing with the media, that most of the rest of the world looking in are just rubbernecking. But at least the arguments put forward on Slugger are usually rational and calm-voiced enough. The real tragedy for NI in my view is that if peace reigned, everybody really could have it BOTH ways. If there were REAL peace, and people could come and go where and when they liked without fear of violence or death, NI could have a strong union by consent, but we (i.e. everyone on the Island) would also have a de facto UI, in that people from the south would have no difficulty criss-crossing the border (and of course vice-versa) for weekends, holidays, shopping trips, day-trips, and an understanding that in the future, if it did come down to an electoral choice between the UK union/United Ireland, it would make very little real difference which way people decided to vote, as their lifestyles would remain as good as they chose to make them..think about it, is there ANY REAL difference between ROI and UK these days, apart from the obvious badges/symbols of sovereignty like currency,flags etc.

    As a southerner with a broadly nationalist outlook, I honestly care very little about these things, the real tragedy for everyone North & South is the thought that there are no-go areas anywhere on this Island…and to be honest, in an era when relations between Ireland and the UK are better have been steadily improving over the last 15-20 years, are better now than they have ever been, and will only get stronger and stronger into the future, the ‘sitchee-ayshinn’ in NI now seems more pointless than it ever did.

    Until the day when there are no more ‘no-go’ areas, or any areas where any person on this Island would feel unwelcome/unsafe to visit because of the history of the North, then no-one in Ireland is truly free.