In praise of... newspaper website comments
As I mentioned the other day, whilst at the Green Man Festival I was completely offline for four days, and so was relying solely on the sponsored Guardian & Observer stand for my news.
Something struck me whilst reading the technology pages in The Observer on Sunday. John Naughton’s “Networker” article was a follow up to the Wired’s ‘Web is dead’ linkbait. As a summary of the ding-dong debate the original piece had caused, it was a very good write-up.
It occurred to me, though, that online, the article could pretty much have been rendered as “Read this. Read this. Discuss”. But it wasn’t that the piece was a weekend write-up of things that I had already read online earlier in the week that I noticed. It was how flat a technology piece seemed without reader’s comments on the end.
It genuinely felt like the article had finished prematurely.
Online there was discussion about whether Naughton’s point about Condé Nast having a vested interest in the success of paid for apps was an ‘ad hominem’ attack or not:
“The author was implying that we have reason to doubt the truth of the Wired article because of the motivations of the authors/owners. However, this does not address in any way the soundness of their argument. Even if they have a commercial agenda in printing the article, that doesn’t make their argument invalid or the premises of the argument false.”
There were some people making the point that Apps did not begin and end with the Apple iTunes infrastructure, and several people arguing for and against the strength of Android's position in the market.
And more than one person patently left their angry or sarcastic comment without reading the article. In the original piece, paragraph 5 opens:
“No sooner had the Anderson-Wolff thesis hit the net than numerate sceptics began to dissect it. Over at BoingBoing, for example, Rob Beschizza decided to have a closer look.”
About ten user comments in, John Naughton was told:
“Boing boing debunked the Wired article last tuesday http://www.boingboing.net/2010/08/17/is-the-web-really-de.html - Wake up at the back, John. ;-)”
Maybe not the journalist who needs to wake up after all, eh?
There is a lot of debate about whether comment threads on news sites, and the constant sniping, flaming and bickering that seems to go with them, add anything to the user experience. But, being in the middle of a weekend where I could only have print news, I was astonished at how much I missed the ‘below the line’ banter.