October 28, 2008

How I learned to stop worrying and love my commenters

Don't get me wrong -- 99 percent of the readers who comment on my posts are totally cool, on-topic, and insightful. It's that stubborn 1 percent -- the spiteful, badly spelled, poorly constructed, and irredeemably churlish comments -- that drives me around the bend, sometimes making me want to pack it in altogether and go back to fact checking.

But just because they're trolls (the stubborn 1 percent, that is) doesn't mean that they're wrong.

I got to thinking about my prickly commenters after reading Michael Arrington's diatribe on TechCrunch. I read the list of common, "least favorite" comments, nodded my head, mumbled "yeah, man" under my my breath, and felt a comforting tug of solidarity.

Just one problem, though: Almost every time I find myself on the bottom of a comment dog pile, there's a good reason for it.

For example: When readers sarcastically ask me, "Slow news day?" -- as in, "You couldn't think of anything better to write?" -- I've often been forced to admit that yes, it was a slow news day, and I couldn't think of anything better to write about.

Or this one (from the TC article): "Nice journalism ... where's the balance?" Now, it's true that as bloggers (versus, say, reporters writing for the news section), we have the freedom to express our opinion -- as we should. But when I get dinged with the "You're biased!" thing, looking back ... I've sometimes seen that yes, I did fail to at least present the other side, even if I don't agree with it -- either that, or my arguments were so weak that I invited the criticism. (When readers smell blood, i.e. that you're not confident in your argument, or you're hedging, believe me -- they pounce.)

Another one: "How can you review a product that you haven't even seen?" Dozens of readers attacked me for this after a recent preview post on an upcoming phone -- one that, indeed, I had yet to see in person (a fact noted early on in the post). At first, I was surprised and annoyed -- I never said it was a review! And I clearly stated that I hadn't seen the phone! But in re-reading the post, a few key sentences set up the expectation of hands-on impressions ("So, how does the keypad feel?") -- and when I didn't satisfy those expectations ("Well, I haven't tried it yet"), readers were pissed.

I've tried my best to learn from even the angriest, most nonsensical comments; for example, after the "You reviewed a phone you never saw?" debacle, I carefully calibrated my next hands-off preview post (making damn sure not to promise anything I couldn't deliver), and guess what? No one complained.

So, yes -- I may have resisted at first, but eventually, I learned to stop worrying and love my commenters. In fact, I'd say that all of them -- yeah, even the guy who called me an "ass clown" the other day -- have helped me become a better writer.

No, thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:00 PM

    let me be the first to comment about people who comment...

    i think you're a great writer
    so keep on writing and we'll keep on complaining - it's our pleasure ;-)