The question of Facebook comments disguises a number of deeper issues, but is also in and of itself interesting. Many have reported that the number of blog comments has gone down with the introduction of Facebook comments on various well-trafficked blogs. This may be a good thing, reintroducing social scale to forums that had grown too large, and as a consequence had seen a decrease in civility.
Mathew Ingram notes that involvement trumps numbers in comments:
Mathew Ingram, Why Facebook Is Not the Cure For Bad Comments
[…] the reality is that when it comes to improving blog comments, anonymity really isn’t the issue — the biggest single factor that determines the quality of comments is whether the authors of a blog take part in them.
Working at a pioneering blog network in 2004, I coined the term ‘the Conversational Index’ which we discovered as a means of predicting the future success of blogs. It was defined as
Conversational Index = (comments + trackbacks) / posts
I guess nowadays we’d have to include references from Twitter and Facebook, but you get the idea. Successful blogs generated a lot of commentary, and they did so from almost the very start.
And it wasn’t a function of publicy: there was no effort involved to have people use their legal names. It was a function of involvement on the part of the authors.
Regarding the deeper issues underlying comments, Robert Scoble went apeshit yesterday, after reading Steve Cheny’s piece, How Facebook is Killing Your Authenticity, that I also commented on (see The Facebooking Of Identity). Here’s some of what Robert wrote:
Robert Scoble, The Real Authenticity Killer
These “authenticity is dead” people are cowards.
See, where I ONLY post opinions I’m willing to sign my name to, lots of people are actually cowards and just not willing to sign their names to their mealy-mouthed attacks.
Don’t give me that horseshit that you won’t be able to whistle blow at work.
It is hard to summarize Scoble’s rant, but in essence he is making the case that the web’s natural structure channels each of us toward using a single identity — for example in comments, or blog posts — and we should embrace that, and not attempt to subvert it.
I think this is a bit simplistic, at the least; principally because it leads to overtly conservative strictures on discourse, and not just for whistle blowers.
How many people have been fired in recent years for blogging, for example? And how many untold thousands have held their tongue or suppressed their own potentially unpopular opinions for fear of various sorts of retribution, or just being left out of the discussion?
Lastly, we are moving into a new era, principally opened by the rise of web culture, where a post-modern identity is a possibility. We can potentially involve ourselves with very different social scenes, with different ground rules, different purposes, and starkly different values, all at the same time.
Through involvement with such diverse groups we grow and learn very different perspectives. In a sense, we can shift from a unitary identity to a network of identities, where the various nodes connect with each other in asymmetric and uneven ways: we may even have elements in a multiphrenic personality that are in conflict with each other.
This infuriates a lot of people, and whenever I present this concept there are fireworks. Some argue that such an identity is immature, illegitimate, and possibly immoral. I have been accused of inciting others to have false identities, when in fact I am really just observing a shift in societal mores.
Just as our society, politics, and business benefit from increased diversity — different views that possibly conflict — I think the same is true for post-modern identity.
Who among us is certain about everything? Who has no doubts? Who never wonders about choices made, or paths not taken? Who never sees multiple sides to an argument?
Scoble obviously has no doubts about identity: you are the you that the most open social context says you are, and that’s that. You should accept it, and if you don’t you are a coward, or so Scoble says.
But I have a different perspective, one that is more accepting of our search for self and the relativity of identity, and less demanding of certainty in an uncertain and rapidly evolving world.