Long-time readers of Xark (and yes, my web analytics indicate you're still out there) will have noticed a number of changes over the years, but I'd say none have been more profound than my relatively recent decision to remove the option to comment on posts here. It's an indication of how the world has changed, but also how Xark's position in the blogosphere has diminished, that this decision generated not a single response.
But here's why I did it.
I was an early pro-comment partisan in the news business, and given the 2005-era mood of American newsrooms that put me on a very small island. Since I had a web-related job at the paper, I spent a good amount of time studying the issues and trying to come up with solutions. Along the way I found great examples of smart community moderating policies and technologies, and purchased the CMS that offered the most-evolved comment management tools. I believed then, as I believe now, that the ability to comment and share across horizontal, informal networks is the killer app for the 21st century.
Which sounds nice.
Unfortunately, newspaper and other traditional-media websites, for all their hand-wringing concerns about libel and civility circa 2005, are typically the worst offenders when it comes to building quality comment cultures. We've taught users bad habits and turned comment sections into troll ghettos.
The thing we're slow to understand is just how rapidly the culture surrounding the Web is adapting to the tools we use for creating and connecting to content. Because in the end, the quality of your comments is really a reflection of your online community, not the snazziness of your comment control dashboard. I think Xark's experiment in creating a community that wasn't focused on one topic was great while it lasted, but the new model of that kind of general engagement is a well-cultivated list of friends and follows on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
What really changed between 2005 and 2009 was that regular people left blogging for social media platforms that far better suited their purposes. Blogs, once known for short blurbs and links that fit the emerging TLDNR attention span of modern readers, became the place where actual writers went to compose longer thoughts.
In that context, Xark stopped being a community of readers and writers between 2007 and 2008. Instead of fighting that, I embraced it. One of the things that came out of writing about that openly was that it revealed what I already expected: The last truly engaged members of the original Xark communities were its trolls, and I blocked them. They howled elsewhere, and then were silent.
Once a community stops functioning, its comments turn to spam. And I mean that literally. Most of the open-comments moderation I did here in 2010-11 was deleting spambots. Turning on "moderator approved" comments just meant that I did the same thing, only less frequently. And the human comments often weren't much better.
Last year I wrote an essay here and did what I normally do in today's media ecosystem: I posted it to Facebook and Twitter, where I can follow much of the conversation about my ideas, though not as fully as I can via on-post comments. And a day or so later, someone left a comment for moderation that I considered nothing more than a hateful turd deposited atop work I wanted to share with others.
In 2005-09, I'd have not only left that comment on the site, but responded to it, because that was the ethos that meant something at the time. But in 2012 I stared at that isolated piece of ignorant hate mail from some anonymous jerk and hit the delete button. There's no conversation going on here. The conversation moved. And I'm not about to let stupid strangers smear shit all over work I value based on nothing more than an outdated principle.
Still, I hung on for a while, unwilling to apply my new understanding of Xark's place in the new world. Call it nostalgia.
But as my kids say, you have to get with the now. And now this is the place where I come to write. You're free to talk about it someplace else.
So if you like that, great. If you don't, so what? It's a big internet.