Monday, 8 September 2008

Thoughts for the day

It's a rare thing for this particular blogger to be asked a question that has posting relevance and which requires an actual response from her readers; but today is such a day, and I hope you all (to steal an Americanism) step up to the plate and deliver your answers boldly.

This weekend I met up with eminent Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland, whom I had first met some months ago. Amongst the many topics of conversation, the subject of the blog came up. Kathryn has recently co-authored a book on new forms of media, a chapter of which was devoted to blogs. She confessed herself disappointed, seeing in them only lazy writing and a group of readers who all indulged in the 'group hug' form of commenting. There was, she felt, no room for improvement in this style of writing. If no one was using the commenting tool for constructive criticism, then the writing would just stay dull and bad.

She had, I said, evidently been looking in the wrong place (which is, of course, not hard to do considering there are over one hundred million blogs out there, 15 million of which are active, and no guarantee of quality).

So, readers of my blog, here are some questions to contemplate and comment on:

- Can there be too much of a good thing in commenting in a supportive way on the blogs you read?
- Do you only comment if you have something positive to say?
- Does writing a blog allow you to be actively hard on yourself and your writing style?

I'd be really pleased if I got some feedback from this. I've realised that I have far more readers than commentators, and I wonder if this is because the readers don't have anything good to say about my posts, or simply that I've not written anything that they can use as a connector to a comment.

This is the time to make your views known!


Teresa said...

Hmmm...this really is something to think about. I know that when I read and comment on blogs, I'm not usually looking to give constructive criticism. My profession is copyediting, and I make it a point to take off my editing cap when I read and comment on blogs.
I try to only comment on a post when I have something substantive to add: a question to ask, a different book to recommend, a related experience to share, even a different or conflicting point of view to voice. I think this kind of commenting goes beyond "group hugs." And these are the kinds of comments I most enjoy getting.

Does blogging allow me to be hard on myself and my writing? Well, given that I am a copyeditor, I'm already a writing perfectionist. If anything, blogging allows me to loosen up and experiment. And improvement comes from reading other blogs, seeing what I like, and challenging myself to do likewise. I don't assume that the most popular or commented on bloggers (or posts) are the best, and I don't always comment on the blogs I most enjoy reading.

oxford-reader said...

Thanks for those interesting thoughts Teresa. It's really interesting to hear the view of someone who is in a literary profession.
I'd agree that the nature of a blog allows you a greater freedom and more room for experimentation, it's one of the reasons I love it.

Peta said...

For some reason I thought I had already commented on this one but then returned to discover that I had not! Doh.

I only tend to comment on a post if I feel it's relevant to the topic or I have something to contribute. I don't think that I "group hug" however I will try to comment if I think a particular post is really good or raises an interesting topic so perhaps I do...

I probably would not comment in a deliberately negative way unless on a "paid blog" as I don't see the point in upsetting someone who is presumably blogging for pleasure. If it's a case of me strongly disagreeing with an ethical stance someone has taken then I would probably decide just not to read that blog any more rather than enter a flame war.

Sadly, writing my own blog does not result in me being "hard" on my writing style or use of grammar. This is probably clear to anyone who drops in! :D

oxford-reader said...

Thanks for that Peta. It's always interesting to see the routes people take in their commenting.
What you say about not entering a flame war is interesting too - would you still refuse to read the blog if it was written by someone you knew really well? I tend to put my point across in comments, and sometimes the ensuing argument actually ends up bringing other posts out of it ... (this doesn't mean I'm constantly arguing with people by the way!)

Peta said...

Interesting question. If I knew the person really well then they would probably be very aware that I disagreed with their stance on whatever this topic is. I'd probably read their blog because I'd have already had that dialogue. With an internet "stranger" it's so much easier not to make the effort!

If a comment debate was going on and I felt strongly I'd contribute however I'd probably avoid being the person who said "what a load of tosh - here's why!" as I'm far too English/reserved/polite!

oxford-reader said...

Ha ha ha! Usually I would fall into that category too, but sometimes I am so riled that I have to make a comment!

Also, if someone I know quite well has made a statement that I never thought would enter their head, I will challenge them on it.

Interesting though, your thoughts on whether the blogger is known to us in the 'real' world and how it makes us respond!

GeraniumCat said...

I thought your post was very interesting and raised some questions I've pondered myself. I have at times been a little disappointed at a lack of follow-up to an interesting post in comments: someone comments, blogger replies and then - nothing. Of course there are exceptions, and I have to admit to being terribly lazy myself sometimes, but I would like a little more conversation occasionally. And while I don't think that that sort of commenting will necessarily improve bad writing, it might just have an effect on bad argument and, heaven knows, there is plenty of that!

Having said that, I generally only comment when I feel that I have something pertinent to say, and if there's a lot of group hug going on already I probably won't comment at all, except sometimes to express sympathy if I know that someone is having a hard time - there are quite a lot of us who have reached the stage in our lives where people get sick, or die (and there are all those computer failures as well, you've got to commiserate over them!), but only if it's someone I "know".

A new-found pleasure over the past year has been the process of writing my blog. If you'd asked me when I was at school, I'd have said of course I was going to be a writer. All kinds of thing intervened and the only kind of sustained writing I did for years was as a mature student or compiling grant applications. When I started blogging it was like using wasted muscles, but over the year it has grown easier and more satisfying (mostly). No, I'm not hard on myself but, while I don't regard myself as a particularly good or interesting writer, I try not to simply express unfounded opinions, and I'd rather save a post to finish another day than rush it.

A last thought - when it comes to commenting my online self is a painfully shy and wary of intruding as my everyday one. Do other people feel like that, or is it just me?

oxford-reader said...

Wow! That's an epic comment! You've certainly given me a lot to think about here!

I have to confess myself disappointed by the lack of comments I get on some of my posts. Fair enough, I don't suppose I'm being particularly challenging, but I do hope I'm saying something worthwhile which might make people offer other things for contemplating. As you say though, it can be tiring just reading blogs, never mind commenting on them, and sometimes people leave it too late - or think they do - and so don't comment when actually there was something they wanted to say.

It is interesting about how many people will only comment if they actually have a point to make. I think it differs between blogs myself. I have another one that is very much a friendship community - I started it so people I'd not seen in a while would know what I was doing, and it's fed into my facebook. This one, however, is much more a book blog, and I think the people who read it reflect that. Most of my readers have never met me, so won't comment if I'm just waffling!

I have to say that my blog self is a bit more forthcoming ... there are times in the 'real' world when I don't want to push myself forward, whereas here, I go in, gung ho like, and comment. I can be a bit pushy, but then again, I havn't commented on blogs for a while and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I feel I don't know all these people who write such wonderful blogs. In a strange way I feel a bit like I'm intruding!

Is that odd?

GeraniumCat said...

It was embarrassingly long! I think you are right about the variability - some blogs encourage longer and more serious comments than others, and the Sunday Salon has a degree of thoughtfulness that I like (but shouldn't join in, Sundays have other commitments).

My sons don't blog but do join in with online discussions, where people are much ruder and more opinionated than we book bloggers tend to be. I prefer our more genteel world, even if I risk missing something really thoght-provoking occasionally.

Teresa said...

I'm much more forthcoming in the blog world than in the real world, too! But then, I'm much more forthcoming in writing than I am in speaking in general.

Interesting point about the different blogging and online cultures. I've noticed the same thing myself. I had thought for years about starting a blog but most of the blogs I read early on (usually on theology or film) had a commenting culture that didn't appeal to me. Too argumentative and nit-picky and sometimes overpopulated with not very welcoming insiders.

When I started reading more book blogs, I appreciated the tone of the comments. I don't mind a good argument, but I really don't want to pick nits. Even when book bloggers disagree, it's usually treated as a simple difference of opinion, and I've rarely seen anyone treated as if they were stupid for holding a divergent opinion. (The passionate disagreements about Story of a Marriage a month or so ago come to mind here.)

oxford-reader said...

Geranium - I agree that forums and the like are much more antagonistic, but I think that's the nature of the beast ... they are there for people to express opinions and disagree with lots of others. Blogs are a different, calmer, form of expression - at least some are!

Teresa -- Yes, I do think this particular set of bloggers are more courteous. Perhaps it's because we're discussing books, and a person's tastes are very much unique. You can try to persuade people to like a book you love, but in the end, if they don't there's not much to do about it.