April 11, 2011

The Different Types Of Comments People Leave

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What is the issue?

The internet is widely perceived to be a ‘content democracy.’ whereby an equal-opportunity platform places all contributors on the same footing. Most are under the impression there is no longer much perceptible difference between an ‘online publication’ and a ‘blog,’ which is something anyone can start and which an increasing number of individuals operate or have considered beginning to operate. Most are under the impression that any opinion is a qualified opinion and that, moreover, one should express one’s opinion, qualified or otherwise, at any possible juncture as they have a platform by which to do so that is equal or near-equal in relevance and credibility to the platform once dominated by ‘the traditional media.’

In an environment wherein the perceived value of content is lower due to its plentitude and the number of people who would like to be heard and thus serve and/or aggregate content for free, it is crucial that in order to continue to gather traffic, websites offer their users the ability to contribute by commenting. Commenting appears to make users feel empowered, like they are ‘part of the conversation,’ and increases their engagement with the content being served by a given website.

Some of the time, the content contribution by users of a ‘comments section’ expands upon the article’s original idea, offers a useful counter-argument, provides constructive and supported feedback on the quality of the content under discussion, or is otherwise interesting to the author of the article or to the surrounding community.

However, a significant portion of the time, users leave comments that are purposeless, annoying, inexplicable or destructive in a way that makes all readers of a given article feel that their collective intelligence is being somehow demeaned. To exacerbate the problem, these useless comments are fairly predictable and formulaic, a fact that seems to escape their militant deliverers. The following are the most common among useless comments:

The Person Who Delivers An Ad-Hominem Attack. This user disliked the article and feels compelled to personally fault the author, and extrapolate from their reasons from disliking a piece a personal conclusion about the individual who wrote it. Common assumptions include calling the writer ‘sad’ ‘ugly’ ‘bitter’ and other such adjectives – while failing to note the irony in the fact they read it anyway and are the kind of person who will take the further time and effort of expressing themselves (often behind the cowardice of anonymity) in a fruitlessly negative way on a topic they believe was a waste of their time to begin with, thus ensuring the adjectives are more likely to apply to them than to the author.

The Person Who Believes They Are Disputing The Article’s Point While Enforcing It. This type of comment is most commonly delivered as ‘Great article, but I disagree. I think the cause for [thing being discussed in the article] is actually [thing to which the article factually attributed it] and not [completely unrelated idea that may have been touched upon briefly].’ This commenter generally has a forcefulness of opinion that is disproportionate to his or her reading comprehension skills.

The Person Who Is A Sycophant. This person will not contribute to the conversation, merely leave gushing praise in appreciation of the website, the article or the author. It is important to note that this sort of comment goes beyond a simple and more socially-acceptable ‘thank you’ or ‘really enjoyed this’ or ‘I always like his articles,’ but rather devotes several paragraphs to expressing their enthusiasm until it becomes clear that they believe that the article’s author makes their living on positive reinforcement rather than money for having done their job, or that they are single-handedly responsible for the author’s self-esteem. They are likely to use emoticons such as the ‘winky smiley face.’

The Person Who Wants To Talk About Something Else Entirely. This individual typically devotes several paragraphs to a personal anecdote tangentially related to a sentence or two in the article. For example, the article may be a review of a form of media that contrasts it favorably with another similar entry in that medium, and this user will discuss the briefly-noted comparison product at length, likely including a personal anecdote. They seem oblivious to the fact that they are spiraling off into their own universe.

The Person Who Wants To Be Heard Despite Admitting To Not Having Finished The Article. This person typically begins their comment with “I did not read the whole thing, but I think…” They complain about the length of the article tersely; alternatively, they may openly confess to not reading the article and begin discussing only its first half, failing to realize that their opinion was positively reinforced in the article’s second half.

The Person Who Spends Time Informing Others That They Feel The Article Wasted Their Time. Despite the fact that the internet does not obligate anyone to read any single item of content hosted thereupon, these individuals enjoy suffering. They will read articles by authors they hate on topics they hate and then post comments about how much they hated it or how they feel more stupid for having read the article in its entirety, for example. It seems likely that refusing to read the article or simply closing the window in which it appears is much more time-efficient than reading the article, logging in to post a snarky comment, typing the comment, and waiting for the article to update to reflect their comment, but they appear unconcerned with such temporal logic. Further, this individual is, despite all logic, to return to the article to engage in argument with people who note they are being needlessly spiteful, posting further comment and spending more time on the article they so highly resent for having wasted their time. TC mark

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