The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 2, 2007

A Commentary Lapse of Reason

Filed under: Culture, Technology — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:56 am

As I mentioned briefly in my iPhone post, one of my major stumbling blocks with Apple products has to do with the inherent fanaticism of many of their users.  With the release of the iPhone and the massive tidal wave of hype that has accompanied it, the Apple users have been whipped into a froth.  In my opinion, it remains to be seen whether all of the hype is truly justified (If you haven’t already, see my previous post for my first impressions from messing around with a demo unit) but regardless of the actual merits of the product itself, it seems that the hype, from both the users and Apple itself, isn’t going away anytime soon.

As an example, I will point to this thread over at Engadget, which deals with a PDA phone with absolutely no connection to the iPhone.  For the most part, the discussion remains on the topic at hand, but as seems to be the case with most threads on anything over there lately, a number of users have to throw in “why bother, just get an iPhone” comments.  Other comments serve no useful purpose at all besides hurling insults at nobody in particular.  The comment ranking  system that Engadget employs (such as it is) shows most of the iPhone comments ranked down significantly, with a couple of the higher ranked comments being ad hominem attacks directed at the iPhone comments.  Repeat this scenario 30-40 times a day, and you’ve got a typical gadget blog.

 I have to admit that I have a bad habit of wading through Blog comments (particularly the frequent PS3\Xbox 360\Wii  “fanboy war” threads on Joystiq and Kotaku) although I’m not sure why I bother with such things.   I suppse the standard “trainwreck” analogy can be made here, but to be honest, I couldn’t tell you how I manage to put up with the stuff.  There isn’t any useful information to be gained, much less civilized discussion.  In fact, after about six or seven posts most of these threads end up devolving into endless ad hominem.  Little to no useful information can be derived from this, and all you end up with is a headache and a lingering distaste for humanity.  What exactly does anyone hope to accomplish through their participation in these things anyway?  There’s pretty much no chance you’re going to change anybody’s opinion by telling them how much their chosen platform sucks.  Somewhere along the line, you’ve probably heard the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar.  The state of commentary on the Internet these days seems more indicative of using squirtguns full of hydrochloric acid.  And that’s just the stuff that ultimately has nothing to do with anything important.  I think when you get into the political Blogs they start using firehoses and napalm.

Of course, this is nothing new, and has been going on for as long as USENET has been around.  It’s just that the instant aggregation of information and comments that Blogs provide makes it a lot more obvious, and adds a much larger audience of anonymous commenters, a combination with predictable results (language warning on the link, but it does a better job of explaining the situation than I ever could.)  A major aggregator blog like Gizmodo, Engadget, Joystiq or Kotaku also provides a seemingly endless stream of new topics to chew on (or chew out, as the case may be.)  In spite of the massive readership that these major aggregator sites (as well as other somewhat less popular sites like Autoblog) have managed to build up, there is one thing that in my opinion they haven’t ever really succeded in:  building a community out of those users.

 In part, I think this is a limitation of the medium they work in.  The industries that these Blogs cover never stop moving, and this means that the Blogs need people to pretty much keep blogging around the clock in order to keep up with everything.  Although this means that they can cover their subject matter broadly, it also means they rarely have time to go into much depth on any one topic, which means that oftentimes when I read Blogs in the morning, a site like Engadget or Joystiq has at least three pages worth of new posts to go through.  This is great for an information junkie such as myself, but not so great for someone who actually wants to get in-depth discussion of the subject at hand.  And with the ongoing flood of posts, about the only way for any particular user to get anyone to notice them as anything besides just another faceless comment poster is to make inflammatory comments on a regular basis, which isn’t exactly conducive to building community.

That’s not to say that Blog comments are a bad thing.  In spite of the signal to noise ratio, the comment sections of a lot of Blog posts provide plenty of interesting information that might not have come through in the original post, and if you can wade through the mess, you can often find some very insightful content.  It would be nice if it wasn’t necessary to dig through so much crud while I was trying to find them though…

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