I’ve always hated walled gardens. Before I started blogging in 2004, I had a point of view that was driven from my desire to share interesting information with my friends and colleagues. Since I’m a big reader, I run across a lot of stuff and have always enjoyed sharing, going back to the late 1980’s when I used to cut articles out of magazines and mail them to people.
When I started blogging, I gained an entirely new perspective. As a writer, I was proud when people referenced things I wrote. I loved the debate and discussion around topics that were controversial. I’ve always been comfortable expressing my opinion and having people express a different opinion, as I almost always learn something as long as there is a real discussion.
Over the weekend, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Why Comments Matter. Fred and I had a discussion about comments several years ago shortly after Intense Debate and Disqus appeared on the scene. Fred went on to invest in Disqus (WordPress acquired Intense Debate) and Fred has demonstrated that he’s a master at building a community that really engages with his blog (167 comments so far on Why Comments Matter – a little recursive, but proves the point.) Fred ends his post (well worth reading) with:
“So my advice to the world of journalism is to ignore Douglas Bailey’s advice and keep the comment threads at the end of news stories. But doing that is not enough. You need to use the best comment systems out there and they are usually from third parties like Disqus, not from your CMS vendor. And you need to have your journalists participate actively in the discussions. If you do all of that, you can host great discussions at the end of your news stories and who wouldn’t want that?”
I was pondering the last sentence as I read Sam Harris’ Op-Ed titled Science Is in the Details in the New York Times this morning. It’s a sharply written op-ed about Obama’s nomination of Francis Collins as the next director of the National Institutes of Health. Harris – a well known atheist who recently wrote Letter to a Christian Nation – dissects a recent presentation by Collins which scared the shit out of me. As I worked my way through the article, I was looking forward to the comments (which I expected would be strongly polarized) and noticed that – voila – there were no comments.
I then decided to tweet the article. As this is the NYT, I remembered that if I just used the base URL, then anyone who came across it would be forced to register for the NYT to read the article that I had just shared (dumb). But – there’s a solution – using the NYT “E-mail” option I emailed the article to myself and then tweeted that URL (after running it through awe.sm to shorten it). I thought about this some more and realized that I could have chosen the “Share” option on the NYT site (instead of the “E-mail” option) which gives me a “permalink” for the article.
“To link to this article from your blog, copy and paste the url below into your blog or homepage. Using this link will ensure access to the article, even after it becomes part of the NYT archive.”
For a few minutes, I thought I was really clever to figure out the “email to myself” thing. Then I realized I wasn’t actually clever at all; instead, the NYT was being obtuse by making this hard to figure out. Most people don’t know what a permalink is – they are just going to forward the article around using the “Send Link” feature in their browser.
Sam Harris should just get a blog and follow Fred’s lead. Oh wait – he has one. Sam – turn your comments on! Like so many things, the debate is the most interesting and important part.