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Post #465 • January 29, 2005, 12:51 AM • 8 Comments

If it seems like I've agonized a bit regarding the format of and its possible abuses, it's because good designers think about worst-case scenarios. We're now hitting some community-busting ones here: threats, nastiness, the outing of pseudonymous writers by other pseudonymous writers. If I were truly a good designer, I would have developed back-up systems for when this came to pass. But I haven't, partly because I've been at a loss about how to decide some central issues.

When I first started this blog, I thought about doing it anonymously, so that I could say whatever scathing remark I wanted without worrying about reprisals. I frequently go after the museums, but I wanted to have a show with them if I was ever asked. I decided that that was hypocritical. If I disagreed with them enough to state my disagreement publically, I should accept the consequences of doing so. I'm glad that I decided to put my name on it. Living on your principles is its own reward.

But I have allowed people to come here and comment anonymously, because that creates the most open sort of forum, and the forum has made me a better thinker. All sorts have come through here over the last twenty months, and I have learned how to interact with them in a better way than the one I had in 2002 when I started The Sunburn.

My policy thus far has been to delete advertisements - spam or otherwise - and non-sequitur posts (specifically, posts from the subsection of the peanut gallery that mouths off incoherent thoughts or that weird art-talk posturing that some people get off on, for some reason). Everything else has stayed up. It has worked pretty well.

I think. I'm not worried about the folks who can't hack it - good riddance to them. But occasionally, intelligent people read some of the vituperation that goes on here and say, sheesh, who wants to get into this? A dozen people have told me that they're afraid to get on and say something. That may just be stage fright, but I wonder. Some of them may be intelligent writers who don't like verbal combat.

I wonder enough about it that I'm considering moving to a moderated forum. Basically, the idea is that your comment goes into a holding cell until I wave it through. To get through:

  • It must be on topic.
  • Criticisms of other comments must be directed at the content of the post, not at the writer, even slightly.

Two rules. That's it. The moderated format would slow down the conversation considerably and I'll miss some of the combat, but frankly, I've hit headache-level difficulty trying to nudge the conversation towards civility, protect the identities of people who have good reason to keep them hidden, and quell the vitriol. I'll admit it - when I first started this, I wasn't all that civil, and I see less progress in myself than I would like to see. But as you know, I think about quality a lot. I facilitated a 292-comment thread and regularly get far more comments than other art blogs. Now I'm interested in quality over quantity. I'd like to find out if moderation would allow new voices to become part of the conversation, and whether that conversation would improve.

If you think this is a bad idea, you have until 6pm Sunday to convince me. If you think it's a good idea, now's the time to say so. I have shut down comments, so you will have to contact me by e-mail. I have a challenge-response spam filter, so be sure to respond to the challenge if you haven't e-mailed me before.




January 31, 2005, 7:26 AM

for the record, the e-mail I sent to Franklin re the above:


I think shutting down comments temporarily is a good idea; it sends the message that comments are serious, which, in itself should be a step in the right direction. Ultimately, I don't think moderated comments are a good idea. I'm going to argue why I think moderation would discourage comments, why it wouldn't help encourage new posters, and I'm going to suggest a simple alternative solution to nastiness.

Let's say an offending comment gets posted under the current system. If you're still getting an e-mail on post, the time lag before you delete it would usually be between a few minutes to a few hours. Under a moderated system, there would be a similar lag between comments being "submitted" and posting.

What you loose, then, is a sense of immediacy. I would argue that that immediacy is one of the main factors that encourages comments (the public nature of the comments is the other biggie, of course). I have nothing to go on here but my own intuition, but there is something very satisfying about hitting 'refresh' and seeing your comment in the thread right away. I suspect that the same holds for lots of others.

Artblog is rapidly becoming the forum-of-record of the Miami art scene. I think the open comments section contributes to that. You have a sort of deity-like status, even in the comments section, but I would think that is not a perception to be encouraged, which moderation would do.

I've spoken to people who are intimidated to post, too (I've convinced some of them to jump in). I think what drives their fear is NOT something that a Franklin-filter would fix. They're not worried about being personally insulted. They're worried about about being disagreed with by a large group of people that are perceived as having a homogenous understanding of art, and a formidable command of language. What will convince these people to join the conversation? A larger pool of opinions would help, and I think that's already been happening.

(Furthermore, I wonder how you would decide what to "wave through" to the comment board. I suspect you would end up agonizing over some of the decisions (who needs THAT stress?). But, really, how do you make the decision? What about the case of some semi-nastiness lumped in with with an intelligent comment? Deciding where to draw the line is difficult because there is a significant overlap between useful comments and nasty comments.)

I think the way to deal with inappropriate comments that do not meet the delete threshold is a public rebuke from you. If someone is attacked by someone else and you subsequently say you thought the attack was inappropriate, I think the attacked person is going to feel pretty vindicated. But it would quickly discourage attacks even before they happen. Who wants to piss off Franklin (remember what I said about the deity status)? (By the way, I think even a little of that would go a long way.)

Let's say that I spoof Jack's name. If you make it public that *I* did it, my credibility suffers. If I KNOW it's going to happen, I'm much less likely to engage in the abuse to begin with. Of course this only works on regular posters who use a consistent name. I would think that with anyone OTHER then that group you would be more inclined towards using the big red 'delete' key.

Still, comment registration may be necessary in some form. I'd be against that, too, but less so. By the way, a line somewhere on each page that said something like "X number of comments" deleted would be useful, and add transparency to the whole process.

There's my thoughts. Your blog is a great public service, and you should do as you see fit with it. Ultimately, your writing is what keeps people coming back. Keep up with the good work.

See you tonight.




January 31, 2005, 8:03 PM

I don't get this supposed "fear of posting" that keeps being mentioned. Anybody can post anonymously, for one thing. What's the big deal? It's not as if disagreeing with or getting into an argument with Franklin or "one of the regulars" is going to hurt anybody's career or cause anybody to be run out of town. Artblog is not the establishment or the power crowd (virtually all of whom are conspicuous by their absence from the blog, though they must know about it, assuming they're really plugged in). If someone really has something to say and really wants to say it, s/he'll post to that effect, even if it's anonynously. If not, I don't see any need for wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. The blog is not the problem.



January 31, 2005, 9:22 PM

Remember that guy Phil Isteen? He seemed like a pretty smart fella who showed up around the time of Ammendment 8, posted a few times, and dissapeared. I still wonder if he was a MAM insider.

A suprising number of "important" people read the blog. Maybe they post anonymously?


J.T. Kirkland

January 31, 2005, 9:27 PM

Of course, there's no risk to posting anonymously unless you are outed by the blog owner, who gets off on using IP addresses to uncover the names of the posters.

Here ( I posted under an assumed name (what happened) in defense of James Bailey. It's a long story, but the assumed name was necessary to the overall project Bailey was conducting. I'm glad that Franklin, nor any other blog owner that I've seen, has chosen to "out" an anonymous poster. Frankly, I think it's ridiculous to do such a thing and I would never do it on Thinking About Art.

Of course, I'm not shocked that Caryn would do such a thing...

I appreciate Franklin's stance on this.



February 1, 2005, 12:14 AM

"A suprising number of 'important' people read the blog. Maybe they post anonymously?"

It's possible, but I doubt they post, though they may well read the blog (whether they'll admit to it is another matter). We're not exactly establishment-friendly here (despite some exceptions), and it's easier for establishment types to act as if we don't exist and/or don't matter. By not acknowledging the blog they don't have to deal with it or respond to it. It's safer--no muss, no fuss.



February 2, 2005, 9:01 PM

To be fair to Caryn, it seemed at the time that the reason that J.T. was posting anonymously was because he was being a bit of a jackass. Or rather, "what happened" was posting somewhat jackass-ish comments, which would have been no problem if "what happened" was just an anonymous commenter; but as it was anonymous but rather pseudonymous posting—and at the blog host's expense—Caryn's decision struck me as right.



February 2, 2005, 9:09 PM

Whether Caryn made the right decision is kind of up to her, but I will say that the ensuing nastiness over at would have surprised me if it weren't for the fact that we just had a couple of commenters on all but threatening to beat the shit out each other. So much trouble in the world, as Rabbi Marley used to say.



February 2, 2005, 9:23 PM

You're right, of course, that the rightfulness of Caryn's decision is up to Caryn. It seems reasonable enough. Once or twice I've had a nasty comment come by my site, and I've searched the site to see whether they've commented previously. If I discovered that a commenter was disguising his name in order to post vitriolic comments with impunity, I would call him on it.

I write sometimes (or used to, really) on politics and see a fair share of fights on that topic. But if my comments section ever got as bilious as some, I wouldn't hesitate to shut it down.



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