Now that YouTube is giving users the option of deleting their comments, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the ways in which all of us can become better commenters on YouTube, Digg, blogs, and just about everywhere else a site gives us an arena to spout our own opinions.
As someone who writes somewhat controversial articles on the world of technology, I've seen every kind of comment known to the world: friendly, angry, thoughtful, agreeable, disagreeable, ridiculous, rude, meandering, outrageous. Suffice it to say that the number of comments I see each day that really have no business on the Web is far too high.
But that doesn't mean we all need to trudge through the dense filth of awful comments. Together, we can bring change to the Web.
Yes, we can.
Ditch FUD, trolling, and every other "inside baseball" maxim
Sorry, but outside forum dwellers, there are few people who care that FUD means "fear, uncertainty, doubt" or trolling describes someone's intention to write something inflammatory. I know the terms have been around for years and they're still widely used, but how do they really add to the value of a comment?
I can't tell you how many times I've been reading comments on a blog, only to find a comment written by someone saying, "Uh, this is nothing but FUD. Stop being a troll." Yep, that's the entire comment.
Can someone who has done this please explain to me why they think that's a worthwhile comment? How does that add value to the discussion between the blogger and the people in the comments section?
If users want to slip "FUD" or "trolling" into their comments, fine. But at least do it at the end of a comment that discusses issues with another person's argument and explains the merits of your own. Simply telling the world that something is "FUD" tells us that you don't want contribute to the discussion.
Eliminate the anger
Anyone who has read Digg comments or comments on YouTube knows the anger that finds its way into almost every thread. It's unfortunate.
What makes everyone so angry that they need to do everything they can to write outrageously offensive comments about a story, a person in a video, or other commenters? Sure, I understand that some topics can be polarizing and getting angry is easy. But why does it need to manifest itself in put-downs?
Anger is rarely justified in comments. Comments are specifically designed to give readers or viewers the opportunity to express themselves as it relates to the content they've just consumed. When anger and attacks find their way into comments, it dilutes the value of the discussion. And that's not fair to others.
We don't need obscene remarks
When I read the comments on sites ranging from CNET to CNN to Digg, I'm always shocked at how many are riddled with obscenities.
I know there are some free-speech advocates that would say that commenters should be able to say whatever they want, regardless of the filth they decide to leave on sites, but I disagree. Just because a commenter has the right to post F-bombs in the comments section of a site, I don't think they should. What does it prove? As far as I can tell, nothing.
I strongly support free speech (after all, it's how I make a living), but that doesn't mean we have the right to offend others by leaving offensive remarks in a setting that doesn't require it. Call me crazy, but I think a little respect and clean comments go much further than an obscenity-laced diatribe.
It's about value and adding to the discussion. Not our mastery of four-letter words.
Bring something new to the discussion
Quite often, comment sections are filled with the same basic comment. It doesn't hurt to read through the comments others have made and decide if our own will say the same thing or add value to what's already there. If it's the former, I think it's best to think of something else to say.
On my Digital Home page, I've found this happens quite often. Someone will say something and almost every commenter after that will submit a comment saying the same thing. For those of us who enjoy reading the comments, that's annoying.
That said, I'm just as guilty as the next person for not looking at other comments before posting my own. Some topics can be extremely polarizing and sometimes, I need to get my thoughts out as soon as possible. In that case, reading over other comments is almost out of the question. But I think it's incumbent upon us all to do our best to cut down on duplication and write comments that are both unique and informative. Impulse is no excuse.
Back up your claims
Comments aren't (usually) edited and we can say whatever we want. But that doesn't mean whatever we say is true. Claims made in posts could be backed up with evidence, for added impact.
I find a lot of value in comments that go above and beyond the basic rant. Some comments feature examples, statistics, and all kinds of links to a wide array of sources to prove a point. It's tough to argue with that amount of research.
But when comments are rambling rants that provide no value, it doesn't do anything to prove a point. After all, if a comment is made to disagree with the original post, shouldn't research be employed to make that point?
Research and examples go a long way in proving one's intelligence in the comments. They show that that person has a solid understanding of the topic and they prove that there are two (or maybe even three) sides to every story. But a comment that provides a hypothesis without any evidence to back up that claim isn't worth much.
Read (or watch) to the end
I can't tell you how many times I've read comments on a blog post by someone who obviously didn't read the entire article or watch the whole video. More often than not, their comments are a reaction to the headline or the first segment of the story, and it's blatantly clear that the commenter didn't take the time to digest the entire post and fully understand the author's point.
I don't think it's asking too much of a reader to consume the entire article before they comment. The headline and the first paragraph aren't the whole story and more often than not, they provide a framework for the rest of the post. To base an entire argument off that framework is ridiculous.
If comments are about providing value and furthering the discussion between the content producer and the content consumers, isn't it only right to base your comments off the entire argument others have made? Comments are not valuable if the commenter doesn't appreciate the full argument. Other readers can see that they haven't read the entire article and the comment, because it doesn't benefit from the full perspective, is basically useless to everyone else.
Respect the readers and the content creators enough to at least respond to everything that was said. Not just the headline.
Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.