Go congratulate the Jets Nature Network!

The Nature Network of blogs announced reaching a 50,000 comment milestone today.

Yes, that's right, we've reached the impressive though totally arbitrary milestone of 50,000 comments on the blogs. Congratulations to Richard Grant, who unwittingly tipped the threshold with his remark 'Wintlito? Is that like Wintle Lite?' on this post.

As you know, I'm of the opinion that blogging is mostly about the comments so cheers to them!
A related Twitt from @NatNetNews asked:

Is Nature Network too insular? How would you like us to improve? Have your say in the comment thread: http://bit.ly/8GDI7b

So if you have any opinion on that, go comment.


I tend to chuckle at this a little bit because all up and down NPG they have a tendency to do this sort of thing. To be really keen on the online discussion, throw resources into it and then look back and whine about how the discussion is not better. You see this with respect to commentary on peer reviewed journal articles all the way down, in this case, to the relative unwashed mass of the Nature Network blogs.
I find it funny, because there are plenty of examples of how to generate loads and loads of online participation and commentary. Whether in the political arena or in something that is nominally "science blogging", the evidence is quite clear. The amount of commentary, and freedom of commentary, is directly related to how easy it is for the readership to actually make a comment.
As put by @mrgunn in a post on his blog:

Online participation depends on lowering the barriers to participation, and unlogged anonymous comments lower the bar to the absolute floor.

I totally agree. Everyone knows this. So why does NPG adopt a snoot-raised stance against anonymous commentary (and they are for the most part pretty cheezed about pseudonymous commentary as well)? Dunno. The best one can tell it is because of the following assertion made in this case by commenters on the NN post. (Of course I can't link the comments directly because of the infuriating blog system they use which is a part of their problem too...but I digress.)

Wednesday, 27 Jan uary 2010 - 20:43 UTC
Åsa Karlström said:
Kyrsten> as Cath said. I would never be able to follow up otherwise 😉
General> I think in general I like that you have to register at NN in order to comment. It makes the trolls less abundant and [at least I feel] the conversation/comments a tad bit more on the serious (ok, maybe not the best word)and civil compared some other places/blogs. I guess the "non anonymous" thing makes people behave more like "in a real face to face setting" or maybe that's just me 😉

and

Wednesday, 27 Jan uary 2010 - 21:15 UTC
Mike Fowler said:
It's possible to comment anonymously over on the NN Forums. It's not really my cup of tea though, and few people involved in a discussion on the forum I administerise appreciated it, when one or two contributors started posting anonymously. It really has a strong effect on the tone, as it's much more difficult to interpret posts when you suspect someone has something to hide. They may not have ulterior motives, but it's just harder to judge how to read things.

and

Wednesday, 27 Jan uary 2010 - 21:18 UTC
Cath Ennis said:
I don't like anonymous comments. Pseudonyms are a different matter; at least a unique pseudonym lets you recognise repeat commenters, which helps a great deal with interpretation of their comments.

Right. These are reflective of the general culture over there which is to prefer to only permit online discussion from people using real-world identities. That's fine and all but it is going to reduce comment and produce a self-reflecting small circle of discussants. One might say an insular blog product.
Of course, this just brings up the related difficulty they seem to have. Problem? What problem?

Wednesday, 27 Jan uary 2010 - 16:00 UTC
Maxine Clarke said:
I have commented several times on Sabine's blog in the past couple of years, and often tell people at Nature what a good blog I think it is.
I also feel sure I have picked up NN posts via google searches...but I don't always remember how I stumble across things on the internet. I would certainly not agree with Bora and others who call NN "isolated", based on what I read out and about on the internet.

sigh.
It is a natural problem of blog collectives like Sb, Nature Network and Discover Magazine that they get a little insular. They read each other and talk to each other preferentially over external privateer blogs, smaller networks or even each other. The only saving grace is the Venn space of shared topic interest (geoblogosphere, prof-bloggers, arghmateyosphere, New Atheism) or prior association. It is inevitable. To minimize insularity requires an active effort to combat the tendency.
Indignantly claiming that your collective does not suffer from insularity is just silly. More importantly this stance gets in the way of achieving your goal.
This latter is the part that drives me crazy, particularly when people from the Tribe of Science are involved. Isn't a significant feature of our world view the capability we have to look at a problem, review the evidence dispassionately and to figure out how best to accomplish our aims?

41 responses so far

  • I agree there are problems, and that allowing pseudonymous comments would help. I think I'm somewhat unusual on NN in maintaining an outside blog that's typically more active than my NN blog, an activity that keeps me more engaged in the non-NN world. I get the impression that many NNers rarely, if ever, venture off the NN home page.
    Now, if only there was an easy way for me to follow the comments that will ensue on this post 🙂

  • Follow-up thought: it's A Good Thing that there are different types of blog communities, for people with different personal preferences to enjoy. But if your preferences are only shared by a certain percentage of readers, you can't maintain your preferred type of community AND increase participation in it above that percentage. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think I'm somewhat unusual on NN in maintaining an outside blog that's typically more active than my NN blog, an activity that keeps me more engaged in the non-NN world.
    You know, I notice this funny thing about my blogroll.... 🙂

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    It's the old trope about how Real Names make people more civil. The internet is not fucking civil. Åsa is worried about trolls. The internet is full of trolls, 4chan, 2G1C, timecube, and horrors beyond even my twisted imagination (search those words at your own risk). It's more than a little likely that the insularity is, intentionally or not, preferred by some people there, as it shields them somewhat from the internet at large. It allows them to claim "We're not like those people at Slashdot or Reddit. We have nice civil conversations, and although we're scientists and like to talk about how nerdy we are, we're not greasy-haired, basement-dwelling IT geeks."
    I hang out with a fairly studious crowd and I'm generally somewhat polite. However, I know that there's a inchoate sea of madness just clicks away, and that's what makes the internet the internet. Without this boiling sea of craziness, the depths of it could be plumbed and mapped, and the mystery would be lost. The Loch Ness monster would be found, and Bigfoot would have nowhere to hide.
    So don't expect Nature Network to open up to anonymous comments anytime soon. The barriers they've created are there for a reason. It just takes bloggers like Cath others who straddle the communities to occasionally sprinkle some crazy dust into their nice gated community.

  • drdrA says:

    Cath- I read your non-NN blog and comment there from time to time. I like it a lot, in fact. 🙂
    NN- I just don't visit there in general much.
    Mr. Gunn- There are idiots out there in real life too- I would argue that they are no less scarce than on the internet. Maybe we've built our tribe in real life to avoid the ones that use bad language.

  • Heather says:

    That was a good pointer you made here from Twitter. I had gone to bed by that point, though.
    I would have posted as my usual "Alethea" but I've punctured my pseudonym a long time ago, on purpose. However, I absolutely see the use of pseudonyms. Most of my favorite blogs are written by pseudonymous bloggers, and the couple of coming-outs that come to my mind have been accompanied by a brief spate of interest linked to that, followed by a drop in said interest.
    I don't bite the hand that fed me, because the insular quality of NN did cement a couple of real-life friendships for me and introduce me to a good number of fascinating people, some SB bloggers among them. I think it is naive to deny that insular nature. And so, rather than stir up the conversation over there and perhaps make it an interesting one for ScienceBloggers and others who might like to see a little disagreement from the sidelines, I turn away from the thread (which I hadn't initially even bothered reading) and get back to my in situ hybridization experiment. Someone else will probably say what I would have said and appear clever for it.
    Which gets back to Cath's comment #2. My personal goal is not to increase comments and participation on Nature Network, despite my having a blog there. It could be to have more comments on my own blog (which it isn't), in which case other things could be done (some of which are perhaps being prepared behind the scenes; we'll see how that pans out). I'm very grateful today to not have been accepted into the SB blogroll way back when I had asked some years ago, because frankly I am aware with some hindsight that what I write is generally boring and not posted frequently enough to make it an SB-appropriate blog.
    However, some of the posts on NN are among the best and most thoughtful science posts that are out there, and some comment threads can be excellent despite the filtering mechanism of requiring people to register to comment. Most threads are clearly restricted in the diversity of the people they draw. But the same is true on SB as well. Pesky human nature, again. Bloggers from this or other platforms comment on other bloggers' posts, get to "know" one another both online and IRL in many cases, and in the end, conversing often with a cordial tone. It leads to a club atmosphere independent of comment registration.
    Another reason comments require registration on the NN site, is that the person who makes them is an entity that NN aspires to enable to network professionally with other scientists, fostering new collaborations, etc. I think this aspiration is illusory. The blog section for me is very detached from the (much more active) forum section (precisely because of the lower barrier to entry). The networking feature of having "friends" and "contacts" is unused, as far as I can tell, and the "hub" aspect is useless if you are not close to a major city - even if you are, since I am in Paris and the site is resolutely and justifiably anglophone.
    What I am interested in still, is why human nature is not to leave a comment when you must fill in Name, Email address and (optional) URL once, on the NN site, and get them validated, whereas over here these fields need to be filled in each time, yet there are undeniably more comments on SBs overall. Because of the requirement to not be pseudonymous? Is it our internal vandal begging to be let out? We need that authorization to perhaps be uncivil, to feel perfectly free to say anything that crosses our mind and not be held personally accountable, even if 99.9% of the time, as for Mr. Gunn, many of us never exercise that prerogative?

  • Bob O'H says:

    But ... but ... we don't want to face the real world. Ask Zuska about what happens when we do.
    *ahem*
    More seriously, I agree about the insularity. To some extents it's inevitable because NN is specifically aimed at scientists, so the pool it draws from is smaller.
    Mr. Gunn brings up the civility issue. That's one thing NN has got right I think: I like the more civil tone over there, and I don't think it's a big impediment to joining the conversation; I have difficulty believing that scientists are incapable of being polite online.
    It is possible to be pseudonymous on NN, even if the bosses don't like it. It strike me that registering and requiring the use of real names are both doing the same thing, in terms of accountability: the account holder is accountable, regardless of their real name.

  • These crikeyosphere goobers oughta pull the fucking watercress sangwiches out of their bungholes and ratchet down a little.

  • anon-HAHAHA says:

    That's funny !

  • Solomon Rivlin says:

    No, that's infantile !

  • Gaah! I had a whole long, multiple paragraph comment typed out, then my cat jumped on my laptop and closed my browser. The gist was something about thanking DrDrA, saying to Mr Gunn that people do troll less under their real names, agreeing with Bob and Heather, and telling CPP to bugger off. Politely, of course.
    Oh, and in response to Mr Gunn's "crazy dust" comment, drawing parallels to my real-life situation as a dual citizen (UK & Canada) who's familiar enough with both cultures to survive and interact in both countries, but not truly at home in either. I think that was all. Stoopid cat.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    I do have to give CPP props for, as far as I can tell, living up (down?) to his rhetoric on civility and pseudonyms. I have yet to see a sockpuppet that was clearly him being nastier than he is under his primary pseudonym. I can't say the same for everyone else who makes the same argument.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I have yet to see a sockpuppet that was clearly him being nastier than he is under his primary pseudonym. I can't say the same for everyone else who makes the same argument.
    As far as I am aware CPP is far too egotistical to allow his bon mots to be credited to anyone other than CPP.
    OTOH, what difference does "primary" pseudonym make? You are making the same exact argument as those who hate all anon/pseud identities and not furthering your point. You are insinuating that for some that you "can't say the same for" are getting nasty *only* because they are pseudonymous. It's bullshit. It is the assertion of people who exists in some happy-ass-happy fake-smile superficially polite world instead of reality where the rest of us live.
    Honestly I feel like asking for a show of hands sometimes. Do you really exist in a world where if you said some spectacularly asinine thing that offends people around you nobody is going to tell you that your comments are offensive? Where nobody is going to take your nonapology at face value? Do you exist in a world where every freaking person around you is so impressed with your alleged smarts and authority that they won't call you on it when you are being an ass or mansplaining or some shit like that?
    Because if you do? You need to get out more. IMO, of course.

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Precisely my point, DrugMonkey. Some people *want* to belong and they want to behavior of others enforced for the benefit of their delicate fucking ears.
    Some people actively avoid belonging. I like to belong, but I also like to sprinkle a little crazy dust when it seems like things are getting a little too polite and quiet.

  • "It is the assertion of people who exists in some happy-ass-happy fake-smile superficially polite world"
    Oh, you mean Canada?
    A few weeks ago I was walking on a very narrow footpath with muddy puddles on both sides. Someone was coming in the other direction. We both stepped off the path and into the mud on our respective right sides. Then we both apologised, and then laughed.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Not at all, DM. I'm saying they're grabbing secondary or tertiary (in terms of words produced) pseudonyms because they're being nasty.
    Do I not get all that shit for what I say? Of course I do. I just deal with it all as me. No, that may not work for everyone, but that's no reason to not give a nod to CPP for carting all that around with him wherever he goes.

  • Solomon Rivlin says:

    Funny, but in the other language I speak a 'nod' is a 'fart.'

  • I really wish people would stop dissing the pseudonymous.

  • steffi suhr says:

    Yes, NN is insular. That actually suits me well, since I barely have time to keep up with anything these days anyway. There may be others like me who have a very limited amount of time for non-work related online activities. Whenever a 'new' commenter shows up though, they are almost always welcome and pulled into the conversation, at least in my experience.
    And the whole discussion about civility is just stupid, frankly - if you walk into a room where a discussion is going on and start shouting insults, the discussion either turns into a big, useless shouting match... or is over. I do also worry about the impression 'non-scientists' will get if all we can do is to shout at each other (and call that necessary for the discussion).

  • Sí, vas por allí por dejar un comentario. Sin embargo, es necesario hacerlo en Inglés porque eso es la "lengua de la ciencia".

  • steffi suhr says:

    Ich bin mir nicht ganz sicher, ob der Kommentar an mich gerichtet war, Dr. Isis - if it was, I don't quite understand it (and not because of the Spanish). Can you please explain?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    steffi suhr,
    you have a bizarre understanding of blog conversation. Lowering the comment barrier does not inevitably lead to chaotic "shouting". This is a false assertion. You NN types seem to be absolutely fixated on Pharyngula....perhaps you should get some additional experience. I recommend you look at Cog Daily as a starter.
    Wrt your personal preference- I'm just responding to the internal handwringing. Clearly there are some in NN land that pine for less insularity or they wouldn't be asking / be so defensive about it.

  • steffi suhr says:

    Nice. I did not say or even imply that lowering the commenting barrier would automatically lead to shouting - actually, I didn't say anything about lowering the commenting barrier at all.
    I'll just go back and hang out with my fellow 'NN types' now.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Why did you bring up civility then?
    And if you are storming off in a huff after my comment, well I think we've identified the problem here.

  • steffi suhr says:

    Why did you bring up civility then?
    I brought it up because I value 'civility' in a discussion, which includes the civility of NN. As others have said, the atmosphere there is a bit gentler overall and new commenters are generally heard out... and not thrown into a category right off the bat, before you know them at all or have even *really* read their comment, like you just did.
    Although I wasn't really going to storm off in a huff (failed attempt at being ironic, sorry) I did think twice before commenting again. I don't feel like having to fight in order to be heard. I am pretty sure there is a large number of people who feel the same, and you (generalizing now) may be losing many otherwise interested readers/commenters because of the generally rather contentious atmosphere on scienceblogs - and I am NOT just talking about Pharyngula.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    True that there is a population for any blog that should theoretically be in the audience but that departs because of the "tone". Allegedly I, for example, lost some readers because I extend latitude to certain antediluvian commenters. It should be a consideration.
    What should also be a consideration is who is being excluded because they simply do not know you exist- individual blog, blog consortium or even the whole science blogosphere.
    There was a comment at that NN thread (see problem? I have no idea which blog it is on, see Munger's comment about individualizing the blogs) about writing for her own peeps and not giving a hang about traffic. Why have a public blog? There are more private social media and fora. More generally, why have the NN blogs visible to anyone other than those who register and login?
    The very fact one engages in *public* blogging says that one is interested in reaching new people. Period. After that we are merely discussing whether you are doing a good job meeting performance goals...

  • A few weeks ago I was walking on a very narrow footpath with muddy puddles on both sides. Someone was coming in the other direction. We both stepped off the path and into the mud on our respective right sides. Then we both apologised, and then laughed.

    CRIKEY! Did the watercress sangwiches fall out of your bungholes?
    In relation to your assertion about sockpuppets, CIMF, I did try to have a few a long time ago, but the fucking douchebags were insubordinate, so I shitcanned 'em.

  • The very fact one engages in *public* blogging says that one is interested in reaching new people. Period.
    Meh, it's public-ness is only as great as its advertisement. Just because it can be accessed (either intentionally or by happenstance) does not mean it's intent was for public consumption. Hell, IIRC Pharyngula was originally intended to be a classroom aide was it not?

  • "CRIKEY! Did the watercress sangwiches fall out of your bungholes?"
    Yes, but it's OK, because I had my britches ratcheted up so tight that no-one noticed.
    BTW I think you are confusing Brits with Aussies. Happens to me IRL all the time.

  • Zuska says:

    Here is one of my favorite examples of the civil nature and gentler tone one might find in the comments at Nature Network:
    Posted by Ian Brooks Thursday, 21 Jan uary 2010 - 15:38 UTC
    SIDEBAR: why i don’t like SB: However, Scienceblogs is also full of pseudo-intellectual wankery drivel where half the Bloggers are permanently riding the racism/feminism/anti-religion band wagon giving each other high-fives and rimjobs pats on the back every time they purport to stand up for someone else’s rights. You can hardly say anything without Comrade Physioprof Greg Laden -Dr. Isis the Bloggers lambasting you for being a white, over-privileged, male bastion of everything that’s wrong with academia/the world as we know it (/SIDEBAR)

    Indeed, I think much of that entire thread is a shining example of NN's commitment to civility and a gentle tone that would invite all scientists to come! come! discuss science with your tribe, in a manner that is Safe For Our Children To Read.

  • becca says:

    Now now, Zuska. That's someone mansplaining, so it doesn't count as uncivil. Not that we've every seen anything like that round these parts*cough*CPP*cough*.

  • Zuska, but he didn't say "fuck" or "mierda." That makes it totes civil.

  • Dr Aust says:

    That is a rather selective bit of quoting from NN by Zuska. Apart from being an acknowledged intemperate rant, the chunk of Ian Brooks' that Zuska reproduced was highly unusual tone-wise for NN and was "flagged" as such, hence his "SIDEBAR" comment. Plus, given what he was talking about, it seemed to me like it was a deliberate "channeling" of the spirit/style of some of the swear-bloggier denizens of SB, e.g. Comrade PhysioProf.
    PS Re the sandwiches, as an Ageing Brit have to say I have never seen a watercress one. Ever. We actually favour cucumber ones. With the crust removed and cut diagonally, naturally, served on a silver tray and eaten whist wearing a club blazer and watching a properly interminable game of cricket.

  • SKM says:

    Sin embargo, es necesario hacerlo en Inglés porque eso es la "lengua de la ciencia".
    Pues claro! *sprains eyes from rolling*
    Also, I'd like to live in the safe, shiny world of those who diss pseudonymous commenters. Not only am I Female on the Internet, I have a name that nobody else alive today has. I get enough hate mail as it is; I don't want trolls to be able to look up my home address. So I go by my initials. To some, that makes me non-serious and a coward. Of course, I suspect that if I went by my real name and somebody stalked me or worse, those same people would blame me for existing online under my real name.

  • David Crotty says:

    No one here seems to have touched upon the real reason Nature wants you to register in order to comment--it's a valuable marketing tool for gathering e-mail addresses of customers and potential customers, duh. Each person who registers counts as a member of the Nature Network, increasing their totals and letting them trumpet their success in building a huge community.
    If it was solely meant to discourage trolls, then, like many other blogs, you wouldn't require registration, you'd just moderate the comments and screen out the spam and the nonsense.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Fair enough, David Crotty, and I will admit to not knowing much about business models and how one determines if they are working.
    I take the simplistic approach that more users (readers, commenters) = better, especially when the overall market adoption in your target population (scientists in their case) is so dismal.

  • David Crotty says:

    I'm not trying to argue that it's necessarily a good or successful business model, just that the motivations behind it may go beyond merely screening out the yahoos.

  • SKM says:

    If it was solely meant to discourage trolls, then, like many other blogs, you wouldn't require registration, you'd just moderate the comments and screen out the spam and the nonsense.
    Good point, David Crotty, but I'll add that registration does, in fact, cut down on trolls in my experience. I suppose some trolls just can't be bothered to register. Whatever the reason, when we started requiring registration on Shakesville, the number of trolls dropped immediately, but not the number of page views. The overall comment volume remains robust. Of course, every blog's mileage likely varies, but I think that putting up some small hurdle does cut out the laziest drive-by trolls.
    I agree that registration for NN likely does go beyond screening out the yahoos, though.

  • […] percentage of the tens of millions of working scientists in the world.  Science blogging is a tremendously insular world, and frequently an inwardly-gazing one.  It’s often noted that the most common topic covered […]

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