July 21st, 2006

ozarque figure

Blogging weather....

In response to my "wrap-up" on the emotional weather discussion, Doug posted an interesting comment, and I'd like to respond briefly here to some parts of it.

1. "To begin with, readers attracted to this blog are likely to be favorably disposed towards Suzette. That by itself limits the diversity of opinion among the readership."

If this is correct -- and I realize that it may be -- it's a horrible thought. If I can't write well enough, and can't choose topics interesting enough, to attract readers who aren't favorably disposed towards me personally, I'm in the wrong line of work. There's no way I can know whether that's the case; if it is, by my standards it represents a dismal failure on my part.

I could put together a representative collection of comments that have been posted here in the past by people who've said quite openly that they find me (or what I've written, or both) infuriating, or guilty of inadequate evidence, or insufferably naive, or in violation of LJ norms, or irrational, or illogical, or (generically) snarky, or unfair to other commenters, or too left-wing ... and so on far into the night. I won't do that, because it would be boring to read, just as a representative collection of positive comments would be boring to read. But I do keep all those comments, both negative and positive, and I review them regularly -- wearing my linguist hat -- in an effort to learn from them. And I have tried to make it clear that I'm always willing to consider readers' proposals and suggestions for topics to be discussed and questions to be explored, even if it means being disagreed with.

2. "Here, Suzette is, in effect, both moderator and participant. This gives her what might be perceived as an unfair advantage, and people could be discouraged from arguing against her."

This is true, and if you readers were a captive audience -- if I were someone you depended on for a grade in a course, or a promotion in a job, or if you had to take a test over my posts to get required continuing education credits, for example -- it would be an unfair advantage. However, everyone who stops by here is free to leave at any time, and to never come back again if that's their preference. (I can't even see you get up and walk out, as I could if we were somewhere in the "real world.") It seems to me that that levels the playing field.

3. "Related to that, there's the day-by-day structure of this blog. It seems to me that Suzette can just ignore any dissenting comment into oblivion. If you post something disagreeable on Monday, all Suzette has to do is post something that ignores your comment on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday. By that time, probably, almost no one is scrolling back to Monday to read your comment and argue with it. Any sub-thread that Suzette doesn't pick up just fades away into oblivion. There's not much point in arguing when it's such an uphill struggle. It's unrewarding."

This is absolutely true. So far as I can tell, it's built into the structure of LiveJournal and is something I have no power to change. However, there's a difference between "dissenting" and "disagreeable." I make an effort to respond to comments that fall into the "dissenting" class. Sometimes I ask for clarification. Sometimes I thank the commenter and suggest that we agree to disagree. Sometimes I try to offer a rebuttal to the dissent. Sometimes I agree with the dissenter and apologize. Sometimes I quote from the comment in a post of my own and try to intiate a discussion. When -- as sometimes happens -- the sub-thread is an argument that's going on between two or more of you and isn't really anything that involves me, I stay out of the way.... not because I'm ignoring the dissent but because it's none of my business.

Comments in the "disagreeable" class are a different matter. It's true that I can ignore them into oblivion here, and that does give me an unfair advantage; again, that's built into the LiveJournal structure. I try very hard never to give in to the temptation to respond to comments that are overtly rude, and/or overtly insulting. If you're interested in my reasons for that, I'm willing to explain, but I'm reasonably certain that those reasons must be obvious.

4. "This even limits my non-disagreeable comments. It often happens that by the time I catch up on reading this blog and find something I'd like to respond to, I'm a day or two behind, and I figure there's no point commenting, because no one will be going through the comments attached to Suzette's posts of two days ago."

This is true, and is built in to the LiveJournal structure. I don't know a graceful way to get around it. However, it seems to me that in the same way that ordinary spoken English has mechanisms for changing the subject, LJ has similar mechanisms. For example, it's always possible to post a comment that returns to an earlier post, as long as it's labeled "off-topic." It's always possible to post a comment labeled "off-topic" that says "I'm still waiting for an answer to my question/response to my comment" with the question or comment repeated so that I don't have to go hunting for it. I do lose track of things sometimes, partly because I'm elderly, partly because I'm busy, partly because I'm human; fortunately the "off-topic" mechanism is always available to remind me of things, and I don't mind being reminded.

My thanks to Doug for raising these issues. They seem to me to be directly relevant to the questions that interest me so deeply about how Internet communities (using that as a cover term) are built, how and why they succeed or fail, how they resemble or differ from offline communities (using that as a cover term as well), and many other questions of the same kind.
ozarque figure

Blogging weather, continued....

whatifoundthere commented:
"I have never seen Suzette comment in other people's journals, and sometimes that makes me a bit sad. As much as I love the conversations here in ozarque, I sometimes wistfully wish that Suzette would spread the wealth.

Suzette has not added me to her friendslist, though I have been an active participant here in her journal for a year now. No doubt she has her own reasons for that, which are none of my business, but again it makes me a bit sad sometimes. I would like to think that it is not only the discussions in her own journal that are interesting to her, but the discussions going on elsewhere as well.

That said, I've never seen a comment from her in anyone else's journal at all, including those who are on her friendslist."

I am so glad to have this comment, and so grateful to whatifoundthere for posting it. I can't tell you how glad I am that it didn't arrive while I was away at Conestoga next weekend and just sit here for days without an answer. I'm moving it into a post of my own so that I can be reasonably sure that all of you will see my response.

The "friending" thing. This topic was discussed in this journal long ago, and I explained what was happening; when people have asked me to friend them since that time, I've explained again. Here's the explanation I've been posting: "When you read the LJ information, it tells you that the upper limit for friends is 750. However, once you get past about 500 names, the software for adding people to your list goes berserk. When you try to add additional names the page tells you that the person is already on your list." But for whatifoundthere or anyone else to have seen that original explanation or any of the more recent ones would just be blind luck. Furthermore, I am guilty of not having checked on this in months -- it happened so often that I finally gave up -- and it may be that it's been fixed. Hang on, please, while I go try to find out....

Yes -- it has been fixed! Thank goodness. The first thing I did was add whatifoundthere to my list, which I would have been delighted to do long ago if I'd realized that it was possible. And then I started adding more names. I got to the end of the Ls before the error page came up telling me I'd hit the 750-friend limit. For the record: The one and only reason I haven't added the names from M-Z to my friends list is that LJ won't let me.

About my never commenting in other people's journals. It's not true, but it's very close to being true. I have two hours a day in my schedule for working on Live Journal. It often takes me almost an hour to read the comments that have come in by e-mail, and then it takes me a while to write a post and put it up. Posting responses to comments at my journal takes a while -- I never have enough time to do nearly as much of that as I would like. And then, in whatever time is left, I read as many of the posts on my friends list as I possibly can. I do sometimes post a comment .... my word on it. But again, for whatifoundthere to have come across one of those comments would be blind luck.

I agree that it would be far better if I'd join the discussions going on elsewhere; I absolutely do agree. It's not that I'm not interested -- I just can't figure out any way to fit it into my work schedule. And if any one of you can tell me how I could acomplish it, you'd find me very grateful.

So... Would you rather I posted only once a week, and spent my two daily LJ hours responding to comments and participating in discussions in your journals? I can do that, if it's your preference. Just let me know.