Internet person Rex Sorgatz put the pieces together-the New York story on the mean Brownstoner commenter, the Times story on commenters running the asylums, and finally last week's Time piece that was kinda-sorta in defense of anonymous nastiness. Commenters are a trend! Everyone is basically terrified of them! And this weekend, former blog entrepreneur Jason Calacanis up and quit the internet. Or, at least, he quit blogging. And started a private email list! Which is basically the definitive proof that the War is Over and the Commenters Won.
Back when Calacanis' Weblogs Inc was competing for traffic and attention with Gawker Media, Jason basically led to the creation of Gawker Comments. Our publisher, Nick Denton, never cared for comments. Too much noise. Too many amateurs. Spam. But Calacanis' Engadget had comments, and they helped that site's traffic. "A blog is not a blog without comments," Jason used to say. Now, though?
Why should we all build our homes and give residence to the trolls under them? Comments on blogs inevitably implode, and we all accept it under the belief that "open is better!" Open is not better. Running a blog is like letting a virtuoso play for 90 minutes are Carnegie Hall, and then seconds after their performance you run to the back Alley and grab the most inebriated homeless person drag them on stage and ask them what they think of the performance they overheard in the Alley. They then take a piss on the stage and say "F-you" to the people who just had a wonderful experience for 90 or 92 minutes. That's openness for you... my how far we've come! We've put the wisdom of the deranged on the same level as the wisdom of the wise.
Hah. An about-face! Look what YOU ANIMALS did to him! Jason Calacanis is gone off the net, like so many others before him, because commenters are mean. And also homeless and drunk. From the wisdom of crowds to, as Jason later says: "For the record, crowds are really frackin' stupid and to put your stock in crowds is about as bright as putting your faith in a dictator." Harsh! But definitely in tune with the current internet zeitgeist.
But the personal blog comment-retreat comes too late, as most professional outlets, like print magazines and newspapers, now allow comments everywhere. And they're nearly all terrible! Even when they're heavily moderated, as they are at the New York Times, the signal-to-noise ratio seems to get worse every day. What the hell is to be done? Some Gawker Media editors semi-regularly express their barely hidden desire to BAN EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU and go back to the glorious olde days of undemocratic blogging-as-broadcasting, not as conversation. We're sure that sentiment exists at every media outlet that currently hosts the unhinged rantings of conspiracists and cranks.
But the genie's out of the bottle. Commenters are here. And the internet does seem, these days, to belong to them. Treat her kindly. We'll just keep posting funny pictures for you to riff on.