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Caught this over at Lilia's, but would have eventually arrived at it myself. Mark Bernstein's got a thoughtful post on how the presence of comments and trackbacks exacerbated and/or enflamed both the recent Six Apart price scheme and the weblogs.com implosion. He writes:

In both cases, a ringing chorus of abuse questioned the motives, the abilities, and even the sanity of the very people who had done the most to create weblogs. In both cases, cooler heads eventually prevailed -- but not, I expect, before lasting damage was done to the relationship between the blogosphere and the very people on whom it most depend.

And, in both cases, it seems to me, the real culprit were comments and trackbacks -- technologies which allowed and encouraged flaming.

On the one hand, I think he's right about this. It's one of the reasons I have a 24-hour rule in the courses I teach. When I turn papers back, I ask students to wait 24 hours before they come to speak with me about the grade that disappoints them. I ask them to collect their thoughts, and to try to make a compelling case for why they see a difference between their perception of an essay's value and my own. Doesn't always work, but it's the same principle at work here. Our initial response to something, particularly when that response is negative, is much more likely to be a "violent reaction." Mark speaks in favor of the time delay involved with fully blogged conversations (as opposed to those taking place in comments):

Weblog comments incite duels. Duels are bad for society. We should all forego comments and return to carefully blogging responses -- including responses we disagree with, but excluding responses we cannot tolerate.

I think there's a flip side to this as well, though, one that Mark doesn't fully account for. When I first saw the 6A price scheme, and considered how it would affect my ability to use MT for courses, I was certainly a little steamed. I found this info pretty early in the cycle, but there were already 30-40 trackbacks at Mena's site, almost all of them outraged and nasty. For me, that had the opposite effect, though. My own post, when I reread it, sounds a little disappointed, but I like to think that my tone is more moderate than it would otherwise have been. In fact, my post proved to be the rough draft for the email that I sent to 6A, which led to a month's worth of correspondence, which in turn played some small role in the much-revised, much-more-friendly educational pricing that they now offer.

And so I guess the flip side is this: just as there are those who like duels, who want to be confrontational, there are those of us who don't, who may pull back from our own extreme reactions when faced with other people who are even more extreme. Occasionally I get a kick out of reading the 100-comment threads on MetaFilter, for instance, but most of the time, I read them knowing that that's not the kind of discussion that really gets my critical juices flowing. Seeing others' reactions often prompts me to question my own, to ask myself if I really want to take a particular tone or if I want to give myself a 24-hour pause before responding.

It's easy for me to minimize the "lasting damage" that Mark cites, I know, because it didn't happen to me, but I'd like to hope that the damage isn't as lasting as Mark suggests. I'd like to think that most of us who were disappointed in 6A have taken the time to go back and look at their revised price scales, which seem pretty fair to me, and I'd like to think that part of the reason that there wasn't as much kerfuffle over the weblogs.com thing was that people listened to Dave Winer's audio explanation of it ahead of time. And I suppose I'd like to think that there's some value in the immediacy of comments, even as I recognize that it fans the flames more often than it should...

Update: and as demonstration of the fact that it's not just comments that produces bad behavior, I submit the following, from the belated CBS coverage of the weblogs.com shutdown:

Still, bloggers who relied on Weblogs.com were furious, saying they should have been warned about the cutoff. Their anger spread to other bloggers, too, including Elisabeth Riba of Melrose, Mass., who called Winer "an egomaniacal blowhard with his head in the clouds. So much for his vision of blogtopia."

I don't know much about Winer, but I do know he's not universally loved. Even so, all I can say is wow. And that from someone, the story implies, who wasn't herself affected by the shutdown.