"Whatever one thinks about the structure of the internet as a whole," writes Jacobs, "it is becoming increasingly clear that the particular architecture of the blogosphere is the chief impediment to its becoming a place where new ideas can be deployed, tested, and developed."
He points to the nature of comments as one contributor to the decline of serious disucssion.
The industry-standard blog architecture calls for something like this: a main area on the page where the blogger's own posts are presented, with the newest post at the top of the page; then, at the left or right or both, various supplements: links to other sites, personal information about the blogger, and so on. At the bottom of each post will be the hyperlinked word "comments," usually followed by a parenthesis indicating the number of responses to the post: click on the word and you get to see all those comments. That's where the real conversation is supposed to take place. And sometimes it does; but often it doesn't—or rather, the conversation just gets started and then peters out before it can really become productive. And this happens not because of inertia, but largely because the anatomy of a blog makes a serious conversation all but impossible.
Imagine this scenario: one Thursday morning you read an interesting post on a political blog about the torture of suspected terrorists by U.S. soldiers. You agree with the main thrust of the post, but think the writer has overlooked an important point, so you post a comment that says so. You then wait to see what response your idea elicits. The next few comments are by people who think that anyone who criticizes the government on this point longs for the return of Saddam Hussein to power and rejoices in the destruction of the World Trade Center, and by other people who think the height of incisive political commentary is the coinage "Bushitler." You expect this sort of thing, you have learned to scan right past it in search of genuine reflection. Eventually someone—maybe the author of the original post, maybe someone else—responds to your claim, negatively let's say. You quickly defend your position, explaining it in more detail because more detail reveals that your view is not subject to the criticism that has been offered; but now you have to go to work, or pick up the kids from school; you'll check back later to see what further response you have elicited.
But life is busy. You can't check back until Saturday morning, and by that time the comment thread has died out. Maybe you did get a second response, maybe you didn't, but in any case you note that the last comment in the thread was posted on Friday afternoon. On many blogs the comments to a given post are "closed" after a few days—no one is allowed to make further comments—usually because that helps to prevent the accumulation of comment spam, but also because so many threads degenerate into name-calling that the blog administrator has to shoo the belligerents along to another venue. And in any case both the blogger and the commenters have moved along to other posts, other ideas, other conversations.
I dunno. Jacobs may be expecting much more from the blogosphere than it can deliver 90 percent of the time. I for one don't want to engage in "important" discussions all the time. Occasionally, yes. But most of the time I want to keep it light. I'm all for serious escapism in the blogosphere.
Maybe you have a comment on Jacobs' comments about comments. If so, leave a comment in my comments, and I'll try to comment on your comments.