Why do you comment on Savage Minds. Or why don’t you comment on Savage Minds? Are the comments good? Do they suck? Do you even care? Can internet comments save the future of the human species? These were some of the questions we tried to answer with our reader survey earlier this year. Ok, well, we didn’t actually ask that last one about saving the human species–that was just to see if you’re still paying attention and not frittering away on Twitter while “reading” Savage Minds. I know you’re out there! Anyway, here are some of the answers to this riveting survey. Bonus: Star Wars reference if you reach the end. How can you resist reading this post now? Answer: Don’t even try.
About twelve percent of you never read the comments, period. The majority, about 73 percent, said they read our comments “sometimes.” About fifteen percent said they always read them.
But when it comes to posting comments, about 95 percent of people said they never or very rarely leave comments. Nearly five percent said they comment occasionally. Only 0.2% (one person out of 430 responses) said they comment regularly.
Less than one percent of you regularly posts comments! What’s up with that?
When it comes to rating our comments, about one percent of you said that ours are worse than average. Another 51% percent chose the middle ground option between “worse than average” and “better than average.” I guess that can either mean they are satisfied or don’t really care–hard to tell. But I’m not picking up a ton of enthusiasm there. A final 46.7% said that our comments are better than average.
When we asked you what you like about our comments, more than 3/4 (76%) said it was because of the “informed contributions.” Almost fifty percent noted the “thoughtful questions.” Another 46% percent said it was the “lively debate.” About 20 percent chose “funny repartee” as the reason why they like the comments. A final 12% said they like the comments because of the strict enforcement of our comment policy.
So what do our readers dislike about the comments? About fifty percent said it’s all the “pointless debate” going on. Another 46% said it’s the ill-informed contributions. About 20% said the bad jokes are a turn off. And nearly 14% said it’s all the stupid questions. A final 3.6% said it’s the strict comment policies that turn them off. A final 18.7% chose “other.” It’s hard not to wonder what that could mean. Don’t you wish you knew? I do.
Ok, so that was the basic rundown. We also asked how we could improve our comments. Your answers were all over the map. Lots of people said everything’s fine and we’re doing a great job. Many others said they simply don’t read the comments. Others shared the popular sentiment most comments on blogs are a waste of time, like this reader who said “All blogs should eliminate comments.” Along similar lines, another reader wrote:
Is there anything that can be done about comments on any internet site? If you can fix the problem of inanity, trolling, soapboxes, etc. then you win the internet. I think SM’s comments are about the best you can hope for. So maybe anthropologists win the internet.
Have we won the internets?!? Maybe.
We definitely have our pessimists, optimists–and nihilists–when it comes to the comments. Here’s one of our happy optimists:
I love reading the comments almost as much as the articles themselves. It feels to me like we have a good community here, which I appreciate even more now that I am not explicitly working in the field, (or am I really “in the field”? Hmm. ) and have limited contact with other anthropologists.
We did have many readers say that they appreciate the new comment policies and enforcement. One reader wrote, “I think the revised commenting standards/increased moderation (about one year ago-give or take) were a wise choice. I’d like to see these standards upheld with a bit more rigor at times. Particularly on topics that draw folks in from all corners of the web.”
Another added, “I thought clarifying the comments policy a few months ago actually improve the readability of the comments quite a bit.” In a similar vein, one person wrote:
Generally speaking comments sections on Savage Minds tend to be pretty interesting. The only time my eyes glaze over or start rolling is when SM authors start pissing on each other … or commenters engage in some serious self ego stroking with really transparent attempts at looking like the smartest kid in the room (lots of jargon and lots me, my and I). Otherwise – seriously the comments sections are pretty good – and thankfully – oh so very thankfully SM really does seem to both attract a better quality of comments and strive hard to keep the environment collegial and non-toxic – so thanks for that.
Yet others seemed to want something a little different, such as a scoring system that allowed the readers themselves to vote comments up or down. Other readers suggested some kind of scoring system like you see on other sites. As one reader put it, they’d like to see a “peer review of comments.”
A number of you mentioned the lack of comments. For example, one person wrote:
I agree that before the strict enforcement of comments policy there was a tendency for the some commenters to be excessive, however now the trend is that no one comments, there is very little debate. I find it interesting that the most heated comment section since the policy change was an article about a Tibetan sect of foreigners disagreement with the Dalai Lama. It became a political thread and had very little to do with anthropology … The balance between good comment control and a free flowing arena of ideas is not easy, but the current policy has been a detriment to the site in my opinion. If you don’t like what people say, ignore it.
Along similar lines, another reader wrote:
I suppose SM is primarily a blog by academics for academics, so no one really wants to stick their neck out. Everyone is too focused on tone and politeness and not on being right, and that’s a very strange thing for an academic blog. The point of the academy isn’t to find a career and get ahead. It’s to find out about the world and communicate that understanding to others. If you can’t scrap about ideas and claims on a blog, where else can you do it? In a seminar? Not really – people have too much to lose.
I can respect David Graeber because he’s willing to get into the kind of arguments that people can learn from. I think some of what he says is wrong, but he’s willing to get out there and defend his ideas. He doesn’t play it safe and doesn’t hedge. I would like to see more of that in the SM comments section. I realise how unpopular that view is, though.
Yet another reader expressed a desire for more “lively commentary”:
I have no idea how to encourage this, except to say that I have noticed that Savage Minds posts tend not to have a lively commentary associated with them and that’s something I desire. I think if the comment section were more active I would be more inclined to contribute, as I am a long-time and fairly dedicated reader of the site.
Several people said there isn’t much we can do about improving the comments, since it’s mostly a matter of what the readers chose to do: “I don’t think you can [improve the comments], since they are made by others, and you can’t control that. But by moderating them they are far better than what you might see on other webpages.” Yet another reader agreed, adding “I don’t know that there is much to do. It is more about community engagement than about SM crew.”
The community engagement angle is intriguing. One reader suggested we could ask “stimulating questions for discussion could help promote productive comments sections.” Yet another person said that “a format more like Reddit would be shocking and fun.” One wrote that we could “Feature content that draws in a more diverse group of anthropologists as readers, who will then bring a wider range of perspectives to the comments section.” Here was another idea:
It would be cool to have the authors’ on board to do Q&A sessions on their pieces, so the reader could leave questions and you’d know responses and maybe discussion (if that was relevant) would be coming. One of the reasons I don’t often comment is that it feels like a waste of time if you’re not going to have your question answered or comment responded to.
Several other readers shared a very simple, elegant suggestion for encouraging comments: “Explicitly inviting readers to comment by posing an open question at the end of articles, for instance.”
Duly noted. Not a bad idea. So here goes. This one goes out to the 95% of you who never or rarely comment: So what’s your (anthropological) take on internet comment sections? Wretched hives of scum and villainy–or a rowdy, democratic hope for the future?