The Art of Commenting

king of comments
Image credit: Not in HD

In DS106 one of the things that I have been pushing harder than anything else is commenting on each other’s work. I want it to be honest, plentiful, and sustained. In fact, I have the same expectations of commenting as I do of blogging, and, as Alan Levine notes, “Commenting is sharing, and its easy. We all need to spend more time commenting.” (And we all know the cogdog practices what he preaches.) That is absolutely right, and the value and importance of commenting is so greatly underrated in the larger discussions of blogging and social media in higher ed. What’s more, a lack of concern with absence of commenting when using blogs in a course is often a sign that what you are trying to accomplish with “social media” and “networked learning,” could probably be achieved with any old media.

In my mind commenting is key to such an experiment as DS106, it’s a sign of both engagement, distributed sharing, and relationships outside of some central discourse of learning. With every comment, there is the possibility of a whole new conversation. It’s not lways the case, and not all comments are equal, but the expectation has to be established immediately in my mind. Be part of the community, even if somewhat forced and arbitrary as we often find in any given class at the beginning. We all have to move beyond the impulse to remain unengaged and do the minimum, without the willingness to to explore and discover how we learn out in the open you can not truly be a part of this course. The whole enterprise requires that we feed off each other’s ideas, we think hard about how we create for others, and both offer and respond to feedback regularly.

There have been very few of the over 7000 comments on my blog that I have not appreciated. In fact, comments have been, and remain, the lifeblood of my blog. And when they start going, or I am failing to get them, it tells me something. It tells me is that I am not commenting enough on other people’s work, I am not reading widely enough, I am not linking to other people’s work enough. Because comments are born out of a reciprocal sense of interaction, community, and respect. A relationship with an audience that is both present and mindful of your wok, and ready and willing to push you to more, by way of links, ideas, thoughts, and criticisms. All important, and all part of what makes this space more than simply “journaling.” It’s conversation, it’s relationships, and it’s a sense of community born through a holy trinity of characteristics the best blogs exude: personality, honesty, and thoughtfulness.

And this is exactly what I said to the ds106 internauts this evening: if you aren’t getting comments, than you aren’t commenting on the work of others enough. if you aren’t getting comments, than you aren’t linking to the work of others enough. And if you aren’t getting comments, than you aren’t engaging your audience enough. And I have no qualms with saying any of it, it’s part of what I expect of this class. Understand you are engaging an audience, understand you are part of a conversation, and understand you have to take responsibility for that fact. I can and will not comment for you, but I will engage you once you do.

One of the many things I have learned from ds106 thus far this semester is that comments are key. And the fewer you have on your blog, the fewer you’ve made on the blogs of others. And it has proven to be absolutely right when looking at the 28 blogs I am following regularly for this class. Those who comment get comments, those who don’t, don’t. and for me, that tells the tale better than anything else has thus far this semester.

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13 Responses to The Art of Commenting

  1. Sam says:

    A Politics of Desire

    Comments are an integral part of the conversation. And in having them, you carry the conversation forward. However, I have been noticing something, in that in the greater scheme of things all we do is express our desires and commenting and conversations are no diffeent. Even when we are talking about “facts”, there is an element of wanting to believe in the ideas that we are presented as being facts or at the very least true; we essentially want validation for our desires not to feel alone. In that sense, all that we do is present rhetoric rather than a “truth”. The function of this rhetoric is to first express our desire, and second to get some sort of agreement or inform other people that this is a desire that they should adopt; in another words convince them of our desires, perhaps to reach a sort of consensus. In doing that we reproduce our desires and the hope then is that if we reproduce the desire in enough people we will change the world ™.

    Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work this way. The reason is that there are people with much more power that have different desires from the desires that we have. They essentially make the decisions and more or less inform us of their desires constantly. We may adopt their desires and neo liberal economics is in effect this exact process, of dismantling the government so that only their desires, the desires of the rich, conservative, private interests can be manifested in the space of politics. The justification being that it’s more efficient and will produce more good for society, more or less in material terms. Why? Because it’s not going to be the broke masses who are going to gain from this sort of change, they are too busy doing work to deal with this sort of reality. We often justify and validate their desires as our own and often paint ourselves in their terms, in their overton window.

    That capitalism brings more options, despite the fact that I don’t have any cash in the bank and I have no options. The hope perhaps being that in the future I will have cash, and will get all the women and have this great life because we believe in capitalism and not socialism. The underlying idea being that everyone should work hard for their money, this perhaps was a good industrial understanding of reality, but in the virtual world it makes less and less sense. There is an idea in the United States that socialism is inherently evil. Even if you can give them examples where it does work well, it is still evil in a dogmatic sort of way. So much so, that you will get shouted down in certain venues and harassed by perfectly decent people for being a socialist. This then starts seeming like a religion; a religion of Americanism. And that’s because religion uses the exact same mechanism by eliciting imaginary desires. This then is a sort of belief in material salvation… through the graces of capitalism; very similar to the salvation in religion.

    The point I wanted to make is having conversations is great. And more comments does spell yet more conversation and create a sense of community. The point of the community then is to express desires, and to reach some sort of consensus on those desires and then attempt to implement those desires in real politics and in order to do this the space must be democratic and open to some sort of change and often I find these days the doors to any sort of change are closed. They have been closed for some time, but it is more pronounced now and more problematic as well. Just like we feared that there was corruption in government, so government can’t be trusted; now there is corruption in private enterprise that borders on robbery and the state is too weak to reign in the criminals or is run by them. Private interest, especially financial, but others too like Enron or Madoff, have become too inefficient and corrupt. And yet, there are more arguments that government should be dismantled more… and that libertarian interests should prevail. It’s sort of funny, while things are going from bad to worse, the same people who brought you to the bad advocate for continuing down the same path to the worse. They create all sorts of rhetoric, which like I said is an expression of their desires, to justify this sort of behaviour when any clown can see that it’s not working. The dress this up in the rhetoric of fixing the economy and bringing peace to the world. They tell the developed world, you have had your turn, now let us move all this capital to the developing world so they can have their turn.

    Ultimately, desires can only be manifest through collective action, as Marx said the point of philosophy is to change things. In a world of consumerism and capitalism, not to mention inverted totalitarianism, the only choice that one has is in what to purchase with the little money that they have. It is not voter apathy, but the lack of political choice in representative democracy itself and exceeding amounts of corruption from private interest appropriating money from the system to feed its personal greed. Instead of choice, it’s a massive show so those with money and power can figure out how they can manipulate the masses more to meet their desires, which are often petty and without rhyme or reason rather than the enlightened self-interest that Hegel talked about.

    So in such an arena what is the point of commenting or discussing or expressing your views or opinions. The only functional purpose that they serve is so the surveillance and control system can keep an eye on you… and if you actually try to take collective action, shut you down faster than you can say police state. So really, all of this commenting gives me a headache and feelings of anxiety and helplessness rather than giving me a chance at manifesting any sort of desires in the system, feeling more connected, and contributing to making reality.

    If you buy my description of what the point of all of this is, and my diagnosis of the problem, then you may also buy that commenting and having a conversation is a waste of time. The only desires that we are allowed to chase by our benevolent leaders are material, consumerist desires… anything else is not possible unless there is a fundamental change in the functioning of the system. That fundamental change can again only be brought through collective action. That change will not happen online or other systems that are surveillance and control mechanisms. But rather, in real life, with real systems and real people. The web will not liberate us. The revolution will not be televised… or possibly ever happen.

  2. As with any kind of “group work” even if it is distributed and virtual – the skills desired must be taught. This is one of the pitfalls I used to see when working with student teachers – they would group students together and say “go” and expect collaborative work to magically happen without doing the prep work required to teach the students what was expected of them within the group – cooperation, constructive feedback, sharing of ideas, questioning, consensus building to a final product, etc.

    In this same idea, if we want a distributed blogged class working with each other via comments on blogs – this is a skill set we may need to teach at the start of a class. Not just teach how to access RSS feed readers, but how to play Devil’s adovate, ask open ended questions, do more than just a drive by “I agree” comments, add substance to the conversation – in essence – extend or challenge the original blog post. Students need to know it’s important to click the little “notify by email” for follow up to stay with the conversation as it builds.

    All of these skills can’t be assumed to be understood because they just aren’t intuitive to new bloggers – and if the first experience goes badly or is boring, there won’t be a second.

  3. I like this topic, by the way. Nobody blogs like the Bava…nobody!

  4. Reverend says:

    Sam and Lisa,

    You both make my case for me.

    Sam,

    I am gonna have to have my morning cup of coffee before I get to your tome of a comment. Wow!

  5. Deep thoughts, folks. Great post and of course, great comments!

  6. Very true — and I will link this to David’s excellent post yesterday on screw production, let’s talk about adoption — we have to get over this idea that’s there’s a pyramid of participation and that the goal is to be on top of that pyramid.

    Screw the pyramid. There is no pyramid. We keep talking about this ecosystem we’re building, but we’re still obsessed with making every kid a T. Rex.

    And it’s rotten to the core, really — as David points out we are 10 years or so into OCW, and guess what — every institution is more interested in producing it than using it. Every one wants to be the blogger, no one wants to comment. No one even wants to read!

    I cover the same problem here:

    http://mikecaulfield.com/2010/09/24/taking-oer-beyond-the-oer-community-part-i/

    We were supposed to be breaking down the producer/consumer hierarchy. Somewhere along the line we got it into our heads that meant everybody had to be BOTH a consumer and producer.

    No, no, no, no, no.

    Those terms are meaningless. They are the problem. Commenters are producers. SO ARE READERS. That is the point. Stop mapping conversation onto the terms of scarcity economies. Start hanging out.

    And sorry for adding another link, but additionally, this:

    http://mikecaulfield.com/2010/08/13/its-not-consumer-and-producers-its-creators-and-receivers/

    FIRED UP! MAY BLOG!!!!!

  7. DogBlogCog says:

    Hi there, I just needed to state how interesting I find this blog! Thanks for this amazing article! I will definitely have to implement this in my blog! I have added this blog to my news reader and will return often. Keep up the good writing.

    Ih-oh, who wrote that? Not me…

    Thanks for bringing the sermon. I too need a bit more coffee to drink in Sam’s remarks above. I can see on some contexts of expression opinions or ideas his ominous view fits. But here I am looking at a student sharing what they have learned and others giving feedback and am struggling to find the concerns over surveillance and control.

    Lacking theories and philosophical underpinnings, I have only experience and observation. For someone new to blogging or expressing themselves, NOTHING feeds the lather, rinse, repeat cycle is getting confirmation that their ideas have been heard. It validates, it energizes, it creates as the Bava describes, a virtuous circle.

    Pre-blog days, if I shared something like that online, I likely would have included my e-mail address on the item (it was the care free days pre-spam). And if someone had something to comment, they would send it directly to me, a 1:1 communications channel. Even pre-internet, we would reach for the phone, or write a letter, and send a private communication.

    In this comment box, it may take me the same time to compose the same message as I would send in a direct communication, but because it is published publicly, it potentially can generate many more connections because it is visible to others. The same effort, can reach more people, and then the ripple effects grow geometrically rather than arithmetically

    Jim’s example here, and the kinds of things people like Alec Couros does for people new to this, builds the ecosystem perfectly. People create their own space, ideas in public online spaces like a blog.and twitter serves as an amplifier, and augmentation device.

  8. Lana Rings says:

    So, Jim, food for thought.

    My question: I’m having students reflect on readings every week in a blog. These are graduate students, and every week their ideas are getting better at zeroing in on the issues. I feel their ideas are very “sharable.” However, every week I require them to read, reflect, write this blog, and also prepare a teaching lesson of about 5 to 10 minutes. And, somehow, I think that is enough quantity. However, am I mistaken? If I teach this course again, is an added assignment not too much? Do I require that they comment on each others’ blogs? If so, how do they do so?

    Maybe you’ve already addressed this. If so, then don’t bother to. I’ll look back over your blogs.
    Lana

  9. Reverend says:

    Lana,

    The question of loading up on work is a big one. And while there is no one prescription, what I tend to do is ask they blog regularly, but just as crucial is to comment on each others work regularly. Now my course is really located within the blog as a place where all there work is being done, and blogging and commenting is key to the entire course, it is the glue. So, I think pushing them to comment on each others work regularly. Now, I wonder how your pushing them to comment on each others work might very well make the zeroing in, and sharing between lesson plans and ideas that much more apparent, and spark that much more community between and amongst posts.

    Let me ask you, are they all blogging on the same blog? there own blogs? Do they subscribe to each others work? Is commenting pushed to any degree?

  10. Sam says:

    Alan… the ominous part is not in part 1, in that part there is only surveillance. The ominous part happens with part 1, 2, 3 are put together to achieve goal G at which point the control mechanism kicks in.

    So to the casual observer the illusion of freedom is maintained, for the actual participant the system cracks down hard and prevents any sort of progress. Often using evidence from part 1, 2, 3 against them… and if that doesn’t work invoking some sort of ridiculous laws just passed.

    Also, my comment in some ways was ironic, I hope you got the irony.

  11. Seth says:

    Bava,

    I appreciate your post. I don’t do any personal blogging (though I contribute to a blog in a very impersonal way). Instead, I’ve tried making comments on blogs. While the process of making comments can be rewarding at times, there can also be a lot of frustrations. Bloggers can often ignore or belittle your comments. You either need an ego to believe that your comments are really that special, or really trust the blog you are commenting on.

    Commenting often has a shorter window than blog posts themselves (because you never know when the next one is going to drop). As a result, commentors often find themselves pressed to say something quickly before the conversation moves on. That can often lead to comments that can seem unduly harsh (I’ve been known to grief Scott Leslie on occasion).

    I made a few comments on a blog, only to see the blogger cynically refer to the low-quality of comments of comments on the their blog later in a tweet. So for me, the conversation isn’t about getting comments on your blog, but cultivating relationships and trust so that the comments can be freely expressed. And when a comment falls flat, the commenter is encouraged to try again.

  12. Sadie says:

    I think commenting it the spice of life– really the heartbeat of blogging. Sure, a blogger does so to release their own thoughts and creativity, sometimes even scholarship, and that is personally rewarding. So is getting through playing a piano sonata, but getting a little applause never hurt to enhance that feeling of accomplishment.

    To get something out there that is personally relevant is one thing. Knowing that it somehow strikes a chord with someone else takes it to a new level. It is the connecting and the discussing that makes this world of the internet so human. The element of dialogue keeps one engaged not only in their own topic, but also in other bloggers’s.

    As a blogger I feel like one issue I haven’t dealt with well is how to respond to comments. Do you go to their blog and refer back to the comment they left on yours. Do you not address the comment on your blog and just put in an “i owe you” so that the next time you visit their blog you make an insightful comment on their topic? Do you say “thanks” It’s almost as awkward to me as deciding if I should send a thank you note for a gift given to me to express thanks.

    I don’t want my commenters to feel ignored or unappreciated, but for those of you more adept in all things web etiquette, how do you go about addressing your readership?

  13. Lana says:

    Thanks for the comment, Jim.

    The students each have their own blogs, and they are linked together on my blog, but this semester I’m using that blog only as a linking blog. (In the past I’ve done things differently.)

    I think I would like to change things up so that they do indeed comment on each others’ work, because they could indeed gain such insight (both in terms of writing, as well as ideas) from each other. The logistics are somewhat problematic to me. In the past I required commenting and went through a rather nightmarish logistical grading system, and I don’t want to do that again — looking for each student’s comments on everyone else’s blog.

    So — without being a tyrant, how do you get students to comment on each other’s blogs?

    Thanks in advance.
    Lana

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