I still need a WordPress plugin or custom function that turns on comments for any posts appearing in On This Day, and then turns them off after. As interesting old stuff appears in OTD, I’d like for people to be able to comment on them.

Adam Tinworth reacts (on his blog; I refuse to say blogletter) to Ian Silvera declaring (in his newsletter) that the new rise of newsletters is “not the new blogosphere” and focuses in on a couple of important differences.

This is the one critical idea that was central to early blogging that has not (yet) been widely embraced by newsletters: the sense that bloggers were a community and that the discussion was going on between them. Why did this matter? Well, for one it helped define the voice of blogging – more conversational, more discursive that traditional journalism. That seems less striking now, two decades on, because mainstream journalism has largely appropriated that tone of voice for good or (I’d argue) ill.

But the other thing it brought was discovery – the ability to find other blogs worth reading. This was an era before Twitter, Facebook or many of the tools of discovery we use now. Search — and Google in particular — did exist. And it was one way of finding new readers. But a link from another well-read blogger was the real win you hoped for.

I might agree that some mainstream journalism has adopted the conversational tone of blogging, but only in form not so much function. Mainstream reporters don’t spend a lot of time talking to each other in their reporting. Blogging helped remind people that journalism isn’t, in fact, written by some objective, dispassionate observer floating high above the events of the corporeal world, but by people with their own bodies of blood and bone like the rest of us.

Journalism still doesn’t typically include reporters talking to or interrogating each other, however, so there are limits to which “the voice of blogging” has been carried over.

I do wonder to what degree both community and discovery — and I mean this not only for the new newsletters but for both what remains of the old blogosphere and what there is of a new quasi-blogosphere — simply is undercut by social media’s absorption of (and degradation of) that aspect of blogging.

I’d also continue here my own disdain for the degree to which blogging was consumed by “content marketing”, which results in so much of it being preoccupied by brand building. It’s not at all, as Om Malik would have it, that “what matters is constant engagement with your community/audience”.

What matters is that you blog, whether the “audience” is there or not, because you can’t help but do that.

Matthew Bogart touches on differences in getting to know people on bulletin boards versus doing the same on Twitter, and I think that part of the obstacle is that “a community like Twitter” is a phrase that makes no sense. Twitter isn’t a community, although it likely manages to contain various communities which form despite the platform’s actual disinterest in community. The more I think about it, I believe that social media platforms exist at a scale that’s perhaps inherently hostile to hosting community. One of the things that happened in the earlier era of social networking is that communities formed in groups or chats, virtual places you had to reach out to, or for; in the current era of social media it’s all about that single, solitary jumble of a feed. Fundamentally, I don’t think the feed as an organizing principle is compatible with community.

Hey, makers of feed readers: do any of you make use of comments-related (sub)elements in RSS feeds? For example, I notice that my WordPress post feeds, within each item element, have both a comments sub-element linking the comments area of the post, and a namespace-declared wfw:commentRss sub-element linking the RSS feed for that post’s comments. Are there any readers that make use of these in any fashion, or are they ignored? If ignored, why does WordPress bother with them? It seems like there’s some opportunity here to help engagement with blogs, either by simply linking these things inline, or in some part of the reader UI, or even by bringing a post back into the reader as “new” if comments have been added and displaying the comments themselves inline.

Robin Rendle passes along a good idea from Jonnie Hallman: including a “reply” link on posts in your blog’s RSS feed. In their cases, it’s a mailto: link to their respective email addresses, but the thing is: I could have sworn I’d stumbled across a WordPress plugin which would inject a link to the comment form into RSS items but now I can’t seem to find it. Once upon a time, I supported the idea of RSS readers allowing you to authenticate yourself via IndieAuth on your own blog and then reply to posts via webmention, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that replicates the lack of friction on social media platforms. I’d rather have a link to the comment form. That tiny bit of friction, forcing a reader to come to my blog to comment, itself would be a kind of community management.

Three more pieces to join Jillian C. York’s earlier look at what real censorship (as opposed to the complaint of The Letter) looks like: David A. Graham on college funding; Sarah Jeon on the “public intellectual” (via Jason Becker); and Jonathan Myerson Katz on McCarthyism.

Graham:

The president’s message provides an interesting counterpoint to a raging controversy in journalistic and academic circles over the state of liberal (in the nonpartisan sense) debate. If you are lucky (but who is, these days?), or if you are living under a rock (and who isn’t, these days?), and you have avoided Twitter this week, you may have missed it. I won’t weigh in on the debate itself, which you can find amply explored elsewhere, or characterize the views of the (generally) opposing sides, but the dispute is about the culture of speech, and whether there is a healthy forum for openly debating ideas.

Jeon:

Despite the talk about illiberalism and the threat to free speech, the real fear that motivates The Letter becomes obvious in the text itself, right around where its writers are spinning in circles about the obvious contradiction that a pro-speech coalition has come together to ask its critics to shut the fuck up: “It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.” The opinionators are not actually afraid of being silenced. They wish to take up column inches without a pack of nobodies telling them how wrong they are.

Katz:

Though this clique’s interests vary, all are known for their eagerness to defend longstanding, discredited orthodoxies (Hip-hop makes Black people stupid and violent, transgender people are mentally ill) as if they are edgy, threatened speech. Many got their start denouncing students slightly younger than they are for, say, blocking right-wing provocateurs from their God-given right to collect speaking fees. As demands for change move into the streets, certain older people in positions of power, who fear their status or salaries might get lost in the tumult, are turning to these ex-campus cops for backup.

Aside from the fact that Conor Friedersdorf thinks that someone being removed from a listserv is among the terrifying evidence of cancel accountability culture gone shockingly wild, once he set the following words to paper he triggers an automatic dismissal of anything else he might have to say.

But in the stifling, anti-intellectual cultural climate of 2020, where solidarity is preferred to dissent, I hear echoes of a familiar Manichaean logic: Choose a side. You are either an anti-racist or an ally of white supremacy. Are you with us or against us?

Well… shit, man: yes. Yes that’s literally exactly the choice, and it’s not a difficult one. There’s no middle ground there. Whatever (mostly invalid) criticisms there might be about potential overreach in holding people accountable for word and deed, if you’re framing the debate this way in order to dismiss it, you’ve chosen your side.

Yikes.

Bonus read: Jillian C. York on what real censorship looks like in the world. (Hint: it isn’t “losing a job opportunity for having said something insipid, misunderstood, poorly timed, or hateful”.)

Nick Punt, observing that on social media “it is far easier to escalate than it is to de-escalate”, proposes a pretty fantastic new Twitter feature: the Mea Culpa. (I’m sorry; I’ve lost where I found this.)

Twitter Mea Culpa is a way for a poster to flag their tweet as a mistake and de-escalate a situation, using the same action menu that deleting a post uses, and the same visual design as flagged tweets[.]

[…]

By admitting a mistake, the poster stops the runaway train of replies and amplifications of their mistake, and the reputation damage that follows. In other words, Mea Culpas are intentionally designed to favor respectful debate and ability to cool off over maximal information exchange.

The comments experiment is fine, so far. I still mostly just get spam, but I have gotten comments via webmention (most of which are actually replies on Micro.blog) and one comment via a reply on Mastodon. No one comments natively on the blog itself except for me; most of those are “addenda” to my original post.

Naturally, I think even Jill Filipovic overstates the problem but there’s lots in her look at the overblown reaction to cancel accountability culture that’s worth taking some time on. The analysis of weaponizing people’s employment when employers already have too much power is especially interesting, I think; I don’t know that I fully agree but it’s enough to give me pause. It’s worth running the analysis through for yourself, anyway.

Somewhere in Gretchen McCulloch’s recent posts or newsletters was this Wired piece from last year I’d never seen about how at Archive of Our Own they’ve found a middle-ground between free-form and top-down tagging that’s actually much more functional and much more usable.

On AO3, users can put in whatever tags they want. (Autocomplete is there to help, but they don’t have to use it.) Then behind the scenes, human volunteers look up any new tags that no one else has used before and match them with any applicable existing tags, a process known as tag wrangling. Wrangling means that you don’t need to know whether the most popular tag for your new fanfic featuring Sherlock Holmes and John Watson is Johnlock or Sherwatson or John/Sherlock or Sherlock/John or Holmes/Watson or anything else. And you definitely don’t need to tag your fic with all of them just in case. Instead, you pick whichever one you like, the tag wranglers do their work behind the scenes, and readers looking for any of these synonyms will still be able to find you.

AO3’s trick is that it involves humans by design—around 350 volunteer tag wranglers in 2019, up from 160 people in 2012—who each spend a few hours a week deciding whether new tags should be treated as synonyms or subsets of existing tags, or simply left alone. AO3’s Tag Wrangling Chairs estimate that the group is on track to wrangle about 2.7 million never-before-used tags in 2019, up from 2.4 million in 2018.

Although this isn’t about content moderation as you’d think about it in the context, say, of social media, I do think there’s a lesson to be carried over and it’s the same damned lesson community managers teach over and over: programmatic rigidity from above doesn’t work, and free-for-all anarchy doesn’t work. You need actual people in the middle, wrangling.

Will Oremus assembles a shortlist of suggestions to fix social media drawn from answers to a Charlie Warzel tweet, and I just want to address the final one a bit.

(I should note that as usual, I do not synonymize social media and social network, as I believe these are two different things. I see Friendster and MySpace as social networks; Instagram and Twitter as social media. Facebook somewhat sits astride the two forms.)

Oremus’ final shortlisted suggestion is, “Let a field of smaller social networks bloom.” My issue with his framing, however, is that it’s mired in current contexts.

In a world of many smaller sites, he says when listing the upsides of this idea, “Facebook wouldn’t be able to brush off boycotts so easily if users and advertisers had more viable alternatives.” Notice how he’s stuck thinking about social media as avenues for advertising, when that’s not at all inherently required for smaller communities and places on the web.

On the downside, however, Oremus argues that “intense competition might further fuel the battle for engagement and data harvesting” — again showing only that he’s letting himself get stuck in thinking only about smaller versions of what we have now instead of thinking about things we don’t have now. Or even of things we used to have.

Mostly when people talk about smaller sites, people are talking about places rather than platforms, communities rather than feeds. Oremus seems to be thinking only about sites which continue to be platforms of indication and excitation, just on a smaller scale; most people when they talk about smaller — or slower — sites are talking about places of interaction and expression.

Oremus somehow thinks that smaller sites still would be about users instead of about people, and until we stop trying to replicate our current circumstances just in some allegedly more manageable way, we’re never going to get anywhere worth being.