I’ve been kicking around an idea that comments–public feedback systems in general–are not helpful to the development of social systems. The scope of my thinking is fairly limited to online media like blogs, social networks, and media sharing, but it may hold some truth beyond the digital boundaries as well.

When you read something noteworthy online, what drives you to interact with it? I have identified a few triggers that are related to the original content and not to another comment:

  • I want to show my appreciation for the post
  • I want to show my disagreement with the post
  • I want to add my own opinion on the topic in the post
  • I want to correct something in the post
  • I want to make a joke

Are my reasons for commenting oriented toward the author or do I want to add my voice for everyone else to see? Am I trying to start a discussion?

When a comment isn’t for the author this is where things fall apart. The comment is an attempt to hijack attention from the original content and turn it into something else. There is no true ownership anymore. We also find the typical trouble with anonymity creep into existence.

What would the internet look like without comments? We’d have a swath of creators out there working in their own little space. If you have feedback for them or a correction or anything else from that list above then you reach out via email with your message. It is intended for the author primarily.

Perhaps you have something you want to share with the world? Well now you have a choice. You can email the author with your comment and ask that she update her post with your information. Or, you could write your own post and reference hers as the original. Or, you could author your own post and email her to notify her of your thoughts, giving her the ability to add a link to the follow-up discussion.

In all these situations the conversations are personal. There is an inherited respect of the medium of communication. There’s an opportunity for actual dialogue, not just pile-ons.

That’s my old-man rant for the day. What do you think about it? Have something you agree with or disagree with in my post above? Want to add to the conversation? Have a silly joke? How will you engage with me?

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