I frequently complain about people responding to my posts on Twitter rather than in comments. Literally everything about Twitter militates against good conversation — space constraints (made worse if including multiple @-handles), inadequate threading, near-impossibility of finding conversations later, near-impossibility of following them unless you are involved “in the moment,” etc., etc. Yet time and time again people insist on commenting on Twitter and often get angry at me for suggesting they do otherwise.
This is undeniably a systemic problem, and systemic problems have systemic causes. I have two possible causes in mind, which have been suggested to me by multiple sources in my frequent complaints about this phenomenon:
- Technological obstacles tied to the hegemony of cell phones: Despite the difficulties surrounding Twitter as a conversational tool, it is nevertheless much easier to post a tweet from your phone than to leave a blog comment. Working with online forms in the phone browser is cumbersome and error-prone, and the multiplicity of blog services makes it difficult to imagine a single app that could solve this problem. In other words, an obviously inadequate format like Twitter could only triumph because the problematic nature of blog-commenting on a phone makes it the least-bad option.
- Changing expectations about online space: Tools like Twitter and Facebook allow us to experience the Internet as increasingly “our own” space, cultivated and curated according to our own preferences. A blog, by contrast, is the author’s own space, where you don’t have control over the content posted (it could be deleted, for instance) nor over who you will be in dialogue with. Hence there is a natural bias in favor of keeping the conversation on your own terms, which in many online circles is strengthened by explicit attention to the power dynamics at work when the less-privileged enter into spaces controlled by the privileged (for instance, a white guy’s blog comments).
I have resigned myself to the secular decline in blog commenting, only insisting on blog comments vs. Twitter responses if it’s something where I want a ready reference (primarily book recommendations). Blog comments do seem to me to have obvious advantages over Twitter especially, and even over Facebook — greater public accessibility, for instance, and easier categorization for later reference. (And here I’ll admit that my principled refusal to use Facebook — I only signed up for an account in order to gain access to Spotify and never check it — may be artificially biasing me toward blog comments as the natural alternative to Twitter, even though Facebook is also free of Twitter’s space constraints.)
As a blogging veteran of over a decade, however, I have to admit to the sad truth that blog comment conversations are seldom good enough that the availability of easy archiving and public access is a significant consideration. In all too many cases, it may even be advantageous for the discussions to be lost in the sands of time! In any case, it’s clear that those unique qualities of blog comments, which are well-known to most online discussants, are insufficient to overcome the other disadvantages (technological, habitual, political) that blog comments bring with them in our current situation.
And so, in a possible performative contradiction, I ask you readers: can blog commenting be revived? Should we even want to?