Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oh, Canada! The Radical Overcomes

So for the last few days I have been in a Far Northern City at a Legal History Conference. I was invited there to be on a panel organized by Princeton History department newbie Margot Canaday (whose book, by the way, is coming out in the spring -- keep your eyes peeled.) It was a great panel, and since I had never been to a meeting of this particular society before, actually a Different Experience (always nice to know you can have one, after almost 25 years of being an academic, isn't it?) Lots of the people attending were legal scholars, some were historians of the law, and others (like me) were kibitzers who stomp all over the field while we write a book that is sort of about the law. I spent time with two dear friends who I hadn't expected to see; a third, also a kibitzing historian, ran up to me at registration on Friday, and said: "Thank God I know someone here!" Folks in the law definitely live better than we in history or American Studies departments: the meeting was held at the Fairmount Laurier, named after a distant relative in the Canadian branch of the Radical family, Sir Wilfred Laurier, once Prime Minister of Canada.

You can see how much I have had to overcome to become the Radical.

Anyway, the beds were soft, the conversation sparkling, and the money large and clunky when it wasn't just odd colors with pictures of that nice old lady on it. I don't know how Canadians deal with the bags full of loonies they get as change every day, except to give them away to the homeless so their pockets don't fall apart. Which they probably do, being Canadian. As one of many delightful activities at the meeting, I attended a dinner last night organized by Mary Dudziac (and also attended by Dan Ernst) of Legal History Blog. Mary, Dan and I held court on the blogosphere: it seems like everywhere you go nowadays people want to know how blogging works, how you got into it, and how you know what to do once you get to the blogosphere. The answers to these questions, almost uniformly among bloggers, are:

1. Easy-peasy (sometimes follows a discussion on the merits of Blogspot versus Wordpress);
2. By accident and because I like to write; and
3. You figure it out as you go along.

Since there were a lot of lawyers around I also asked a number of anxious questions about fair use, since blogging often entails theft and re-printing.

Mary, and an unpleasant flame skirmish on the previous post which I have since erased, have almost persuaded me to stop taking anonymous comments and/or to use moderation. The down side -- and it's a real down side for a blog like this -- is that very few people comment when you make it even slightly cumbersome to do so. But, as Mary pointed out, having people write anything they want about you and circulate it on your own blog is unpleasant too.

I'm not sure which is worse about being flamed (pick one):

1. Someone I don't know writing something nasty and completely ignoring what I wrote in the post so that s/he can elaborate on how much s/he dislikes me or what an idiot I am.
2. Said person dropping hairpins that s/he is someone I know, so that I don't know whether said commenter is a sock puppet of a known commenter, someone I truly do not know, someone I sort of or used to know, or someone I work with every day who is actually a sick f***k using my own blog to pick on me.
3. Losing my temper and flaming back, and hence revealing myself as a person whose poise can be temporarily disabled.
4. Having said commenter respond to being attacked in an equally nasty way by writing in a hurt, disingenuous tone, "Gee, I (sniff) just wanted you to engage my ideas," when in fact there were no ideas to engage -- just an accusation that I am an idiot or a hypocrite or a power-mad Peronista.

As the ever-fabulous Robert Self of Brown had noted at dinner the night previous (and I paraphrase), it isn't clear that more communication on the internet is actually better communication. What we do know is that people who take the trouble to comment are a very small proportion of those who read: I would say on this blog fewer than 1% of readers are commenters, and I bet that is even true of very popular blogs who get two or three times the hits I get every day. Thus, those who comment are, as the pollsters say, motivated. What this means, in my view, is that they are either truly interested in the post or truly interested in making contact with the blogger, and in the latter case, negativity is probably as much a motivator as admiration, if not more so.

And as if I haven't been tested enough in the blogosphere in the last 24 hours -- presto! I just discovered that I was in danger of being bumped from my flight. Why? Because I didn't pay extra to guarantee that I would not be bumped from my flight. Isn't the free market wonderful?


Anonymous said...

This is what has worked for me: no comments moderation, but I posted a set of "rules for commenting" that has worked quite nicely. When people appear to be commenting just to provoke or insult me or other commenters, I point them to the comments policy. If they persist in violating the rules, I ban them. (I have done this only twice in the past 6 months since posting my comments policy.) Simple, easy, and fun!

See my rules for commenting here:

See the comments thread that inspired me formulating these rules here:

My biggest problem is your biggest problem (at least so far as I have seen here), which is that one commenter in particular thought that I should turn my blog into a space for his rants on his issues. (That, and leaving increasingly longer and patronizing comments in his own blood when no one would come out to play.)

Ahistoricality said...

Shorter Comment Policy: It's my blog. Aside from spam, which I don't consider a comment so much as a bit of random pollution, I've only decided to delete two comments, I think, in the blog's entire run. But I don't attract as much attention as you do....

Blogger has made it a lot easier to give up on anonymous comments: since you can now sign in with a variety of systems, almost anyone with a blog or account elsewhere can comment. I don't know that moderation would stop anyone from commenting, but it does slow down the process: you're going to get less back-and-forth and more people all making the same point because they don't realize someone else's similar comment is in the moderation queue. That is, unless you are a fairly frequent (neurotic helps) moderator.

GayProf said...

I only recently initiated a comment policy. In the end, though, there was no reasoning with some trolls. When an individual clearly doesn't read the blog content, won't take correction when they are flat wrong (or telling untruths), and only wants to rant about his/her pet obsessions on my blog, I am left with the conclusion that they really aren't adding anything to the conversation. Plus, as you pointed out in an earlier post, trolls also scare off other commentators because they fear being followed "home" to their own blogs. While I value free speech (a lot), it doesn't include the right to harass nor does it guarantee a venue in all contexts.

In terms of comment quantity, at the height of my blog's readership, it seemed like one comment roughly equaled ten readers. The less frequently one posts, the fewer comments one receives as well (even if readers still come back).

Susan said...

I want to know more about the way in which the airlines are screwing more money out of us: paying money NOT to be bumped? I thought that was what a ticket was. So it's now a possible option on a seat, but you bid on the day?
The market is indeed a wonderful thing!

Ahistoricality said...

trolls also scare off other commentators because they fear being followed "home" to their own blogs.

Very true: one troll actually attacked me on another blog with comments I'd made here several months previous, with no contact between us in the intervening time, as far as I know. Long memories, these trolls.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, Claire, I would have bookmarked your blog even *without* you calling me fabulous! But now that you have....blushing! And I've already forwarded the job letter post to my graduate students, who will benefit enormously from your advice. Keep the knowledge and the radicalism flowin' baby!

BTW, not to tell you your business (hee hee), but a post on the whole Prop 8 black vote thing might be in order. Have you seen the viral outcry against Dan Savage? The "black voters ruined this" message is still very much out there.

Hey, I like this....I think of a topic that needs comment, and then I ask you to do it!!


Debrah said...

"Very true: one troll actually attacked me on another blog with comments I'd made here several months previous, with no contact between us in the intervening time, as far as I know. Long memories, these trolls."

And just who would that be?

Allow me to give you a tip "ahistoricality":

Cease flaming and no one will respond.

You whined here months ago about the tenure process.

I found that quite unattractive coming from someone who can appear rather aggressive and opinionated around a flock of agreeable kibitzers.

And again, please learn the meaning of the word cyber "troll".

If you ever do begin to understand the meaning, you will also understand that you---as you meander about blogging---are a troll because you do not use your real name as many of us do.

Who's the troll?

Perhaps you require more lessons on blogging and flaming.

You attack.

Others respond.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! This was interesting.

Jimmy James George Fred

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