We Minds wanted to take a pause for a bit and request some feedback from readers about a quandry we’ve been facing lately, so please read this and leave some comments below, or email us or me personally We are concerned that the comments sections of our posts have changed in ways that we are not entirely comfortable with. The two big issues as we see it are 1) churlishness and 2) kudzu.
The issue of churlishness raises its head in posts that tackle political issues, particularly HTS and race. Its not surprising really — churlishness is a regular feature of the blogosphere these days, and of course some of this wider attitude will begin seeping into Savage Minds, and of course we understand that many of the topics that we discuss mean a lot to people, and thus evoke strong emotions. However, please remember that we imagine this blog to be the bar at the academic conference — a place of convivial companionship. And, as people who have been blogging for a decade (!) we remember a more cordial time in the blogosphere, and we are looking to get back to that day. In sum, we think there are lots of topics that reasonable people can disagree on, and we’d like to make sure that SM stays a place where that kind of measured disagreement can occur, both out of anthropological and academic impulses to relativism, tolerance, and civility.
The second issue is what we’ve come to call kudzu: the spread of comment threads from a small number of commenters that are dozens of entries in length and thousands of words long. We are glad to have a such a lively community and we appreciate the time that people take to read and think about our posts, however, we fear kudzu for two reasons.
First, kudzu has a chilling effect on conversation, and keeps a wide range of people from participating in the comments. Sure, its technically true that people can still log on and leave comments on threads no matter who has been talking. But in practice it turns people off — and the goal of SM is to turn people on.
Second, the goal if SM is to turn people on — one of the reasons that we started the site was to promote discussion of anthropology across the Internet, up to and including creating new sites. While we’re happy for people to think of SM as a living room they can stroll into and sit down a spell, we don’t want it to be so attractive that people never start their own blogs and websites because ours is so comfy. If people find they have 5,000 words to say on a topic then they should start their own blog! We feel like if we’ve inspired people to write but have not inspired them to do it on their own, then we have failed as bloggers.
Now, we don’t want to blame any particular people for the state of the comments section — except perhaps ourselves. Between travel and personal lives, we have not had a lot of time to do more than produce posts. Additionally, we have a tendency to scroll around comment threads that don’t interest us. However, we know from feedback we’ve received that not everyone feels that way. So we think the first way we can get our community humming is for us to reengage with the comments on this blog.
The second thing to do is… well, there are several options. After mulling over a large number of possible changes we decided a good first step was just to share with you all what we have been thinking. Perhaps this will encourage people who are too talkative on this blog to consider giving a bit of space to others, and help those who are ready to flame to take a step back and consider chilling out.
We’ve been considering a number of technical changes to the forums: for instance, a way for people to flag posts that they consider inflammatory. We might also install a system where people can vote parts of comment threads up and down in popularity, making some more visible than others and letting people go to town in the less visible threads where they are not intruding on anyone. We might also limit the length of posts, or close comments on a post after a particular period of time, or even make people register as users before they post on the blog. We might be more active yanking comments, or fudding people who behave churlishly.
There are lots of options. We welcome feedback about any of these options — and we’d be especially interested to hear more general comments about the state of SM’s commenting community. So… let us know what you think and… thanks!