mercredi 26 juin 2013

Why I write comments (and where you can find them)

When I decided, in 2009, to re-establish an online presence after a couple of years off, I made a couple of decisions whose effects persist to this day. Firstly, I decided to play with being anonymous, and Julius Beezer was the character I invented to represent me on the internet.§ As does happen, this representation has now spilled over into real life: my modest translation and editing business is entitled "Cabinet Beezer," and I write this from my cabinet, a real place, for which I pay rent.
To pay the rent I accept translation and editing tasks that fit with my interests, but much of the time I find myself on what I call "general internet patrol": engaging with my longstanding interest in the medium of internet communication generally, and specifically free software and open access scholarly publishing. Although my degree was in medicine, and I practised for many years as a GP in east London, my translation activity has pulled my centre of interest into the humanities: languages, belles lettres, philosophy, and history. I consider myself fortunate that my interest in these subjects has developed in the age of the internet.


Although I maintain several blogs in the spirit that rights that are not exercised are lost, and do indeed use them as a convenient place to publish a bit of text when the moment strikes,* I no longer primarily consider myself as a "blogger"; indeed, I find the term in contradiction with my longing for the overturn of Gramsci's observation that "all men are intellectuals but not all men have the public function of intellectuals." In other words, everyone should blog, when they feel like it, and hopefully that'll be helpful.
But what I really want to do is change peoples' minds. Whatever I write, I write primarily for the satisfaction of being able to reread it and say "Yep, that guy's nailed it. At least there's someone on the planet I totally agree with!" It struck me that one of the conventions of blogging—the replies function—is undervalued, and I decided to explore it as a participant-observer.  I've enjoyed reading reading blog comments since the early days of Slashdot, and the BMJ's rapid responses, back in the day when it was unpaywalled: there's a new kind of truth there that wasn't possible before. And new problems of course.
I found, when I looked recently, for example, that I have left 72k words at the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' site over the last four years.† But the Guardian is unsatisfying for several reasons, and now that I have a well-populated RSS stream, I prefer the roads less travelled away from the mainstream.
I collate this activity as a set of public bookmarks along the way, which enables a chronological listing of the comments as I left with them, using two tags dccomments and jbcomments. I also maintain a list of tagged bookmarks relating to the activity of commenting itself.
All this was just by way of diving in. But my theoretical knowledge is growing, and maybe one day I'll write something solid about commenting, and attention, and democracy, and the internet, but in the meantime, I'll just have to leave it to your imaginations and this lousy blogpost.
[update: 27/8/14] *Particularly, it must be noted, when a comment composed for another online venue is rejected. Examples: twitterblocking, cycle apartheid, France24 rejection, screening for terrorists, HuffPo atheists.]
[update: 30/11/15] §This conceit was formally abandoned on 28/06/14
[update: 22/01/16] †Fixed busted link to juliuzbeezer public profile at The Guardian's site. That word count is out of date now, though I effuse there much less frequently than I once did.