In the late ’90s, early bloggers expected the level of discourse to be high. In fact, intelligent commenting was seen as a path to gaining respect in the blogging community. At the beginning of 1999, there were only about two dozen blogs (which were mainly lists of interesting Web sites), but as the number exploded, it became hard for bloggers to follow the fragmenting conversations. In 2000, the blog service Blogger introduced permalinks, which allowed each blog entry to have its own URL, and in 2002, Moveable Type implemented the TrackBack, which automatically alerted an author that a permalink from his blog had been posted elsewhere. The TrackBack was meant, at least in part, to blur the lines between commenters and writers; the conversation surrounding one blog post no longer needed to be relegated to the comments section, but could be sprinkled across disparate blogs with the TrackBack as its link. That was great, in theory. But while conversations were the model for interactions, the technology couldn’t sustain what real conversations required.
I think some of the diaspora of commentary on blog posts happened because blog comment threads are to a first approximation cesspools of stupid hate. As Scalzi says in his post, the phrase “Don’t Read The Comments” is widely used for a reason. It’s partly because moderating comments is work, and partly because people give inexplicable latitude to vandals whose sole intent is to piss all over your living room rug. Meanwhile? On Facebook? If you post a link to an outside blog post and make a comment on it, and someone replies by insulting you, you have moderation powers. That’s not a bad thing: it’s a democratization of the ability to enforce respectful discourse.
Anyway. What had been a more coherent commentariat for many mid-sized to large blogs has splintered. A provocative blog post might now spawn conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Google+, and a handful of other major venues. With a very few exceptions, I think mainly constituting large blogs that offer their commenters a distinct sense of community, the comment diaspora has happened and I don’t think we’ll be going back to 2005.
My secret to ensuring intelligent discourse in the comments is to have very limited appeal. I’ve never enjoyed trying to have a conversation in a boisterous crowd; why would it be any different in a text-based medium? As the mawkish poet James Kavanaugh wrote, I do not like many people, love; they bore me, or attack me, or talk too much when there is nothing to say. QFT. The less people who stick around to become regulars, the better the chance of conversing with them as individuals rather than two-dimensional ideological symbols, and the easier it is to feel patient and considerate when they persist in arguing wrongheadedly against your superior wisdom. I know Internet currency consists of pageviews, retweets and likes, and by such standards I’m a po’ boy indeed, but at least I’ve had my fair share of good conversations here.