There have been two discussions on this blog that have tallied an absurd amount of comments. The first was “Ecclesiology of Starbucks” from September 21st that currently sits at seventy-four comments. The second was “Finally, Consistent Complementarianism” from October 14th that currently has one hundred and sixty comments. While it is exciting to see that much interaction one major flaw of the medium of blogging was exposed. The direction of both discussions became (a) a bit incoherent and (b) almost totally detached from the original subject.
I don’t think it is necessarily bad when a discussion evolves (devolves?) into something else, but I do think this is something that should be problematic at times. These two posts are good examples of when it becomes problematic. If someone arrived a couple days later hoping to engage the original subject they would quickly realize that everyone had in essence “moved on” and I am not sure this is what I want to happen.
Craig Benno made a wise suggestion on this blog the other day (see here). He suggested that one of the “unspoken rules” of commenting on another’s blog is that you continue to address the subject of the original post. This is easier said than done because who is to say what is a naturally evolving conversation compared to a derailed one. While this may be more art than science let us say we can never go wrong to try to keep on topic.
Likewise, one should try to engage the blogger on the blogger’s terms. For instance, if you think the blogger said something that sounds like something N.T. Wright, or Gordon D. Fee, or Karl Barth, or Augustine said, but this person is not quoted, don’t attack Wright, Fee, Barth, or Augustine. If the blogger quotes one of these people it is fair game because the discussion revolves around the idea of the name theologians. If not, then keep the discussion where it belongs.
Another thing we should keep in mind is the intent of a post. For example, if a post is intended for humor, and you see “humor” as the tag, it hardly makes sense to prepare to go to war. It was intended as a joke. If you find the joke offensive you can say so but let it be on those grounds, not on the grounds that you took something intended to be funny as something intended to be serious.
We put a commenting policy in place not to long ago in order to help give this blog some stability. I don’t plan on making these ideas into additional points but rather just suggestions. The worst thing for the medium of blogging is to derail a conversation that could have been kept on track.
I’m not a fan of getting too far off topic. I try to keep things pretty focused and when I feel they’re veering too far in a wrong direction then I try my best to bring them back. But at the end of the day it’s my blog so I can do what I want with the comments. If that means banning someone then so be it. If it means closing the comments then oh well.
Sadly, I am one of those who rarely likes to let something remain unanswered so I often get dragged off topic easily. I need to work on that.
Tertullian said that discipline is an index to doctrine. I shall try to discipline myself in doctrinal thought as I blog. We must seek to stay on truth, and also be men or people of truth. But this is also both objective & subjective. Not always easy!
Indeed, I think that blogs provide us with the opportunity to be sloppy. In the first conversation that I mentioned James K.A. Smith appealed to peer reviewed journals as a better place to hash out that conversation than a blog. He was interpreted to mean that he thought academia was above blogs but I don’t think this is the case at all. He has a blog! What he was saying is if his opponents wanted to challenge him they should do it somewhere with structure, and rules, and not mass chaos. Sadly, blogs often becomes chaos (this one has had that problem).
But I think blogs provide us with the opportunity to develop a discipline of listening and responding in context. If we do this we can salvage the blog as a medium of serious conversation. If not, it could go the way of message boards and chat rooms!
Brian, it is difficult to wrangle a blog once it’s gone off track. Couple of ways of doing it is to pipe in and try to steer back on track, or just ignore them if you don’t feel that it is out of control. Sometimes a side topic so long as it is related is not all bad. I review blogs about once a week, and often by the time I get there they have gone off track, it’s become a polemic debate about two opposing views. Typically by time I don’t even bother posting a comment.
But I seriously doubt that any rules will help, I think it’s the nature of blogging. In some ways it’s something that we have to live with. Some comments don’t deserve a response, at least that’s has how I feel. I’m very busy so I don’t have the time to respond to off track comments.
Just read it this morning Proverbs 18:2
2 A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions” HCSB.
I agree with your assessment of the blog, and blogging. Too much control looses the open forum aspect, and the spontaneous aspect. The only way a blog really works, is with this openness. All other is mere control. And the statements of idiocy can and should be ignored.
A fine set of observations, Brian! Really, what you articulate above is nothing but common courtesy and common sense — but it so happens that neither is particularly common in comboxes on the blogosphere.
I’ve only had comments get out of control two or three times; only once was it so bad that have I closed the comments, and I have banned only one person. On the other occasions, I simply ignored the discussion and moved on. I have thought about putting up some sort of comment policy, but then I have always been of the mind (since I started using the Internet in the early ’90s, back when SysOps had real and tyrannical power that they freely exercised) that a BBS, a newsgroup, a listserv or e-list, and now a board or blog, absolutely and unreservedly belongs to whoever administrates it, and that this person has the prerogative to call absolutely all of the shots — and that, if you don’t like it, you can take your business elsewhere. These days, anyone can create a blog in about 5 minutes; if you have something to say — an agenda to push, a point to drive, or an unsolicited lesson you’re itching to teach — then create your own space for it, and please get the gehenna off my lawn.
I had to close the comments on the posts I had a while ago on Genesis – they didn’t really get out of control as they just went on and on and on and all we did was talk past each other. I didn’t have time or the interest to keep going – so I saw an opportunity and shut it all down – much to my relief.
This never happens. I don’t know what you are talking about.
Now, back to the original point – the gifts of the Spirit do not exist today!
Robert: In example A the approach I took was to walk away. I think it was a healthy conversation for those involved, but it was far from where I was going with that post. In fact, I think it only provided a new battle ground for a debate that had been taking place elsewhere. I was fine with it because it resulted in a better conversation that what I had intended but not the one that I had intended! In example B I should have tried to realign it but I didn’t.
Esteban: I agree completely. The owner of a blog can do with said blog whatever that person so wills!
Scott: Stay on topic! 🙂
Sorry to get off topic, but we really need to get back on topic.
Is this a test? OK, let me see…. Bring it back to the main topic JohnDave, or I’ll block you from commenting!!!
How’d I do? 🙂
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