As advance warning, this entry might be douchebaggishly egotistical, but, well. You should be used to that by now.
Take as given, if you will, that I am a person with a certain level of notability online, both as an author and as a blogger of long standing: I am famous enough that a) I and/or my work are not entirely infrequently discussed online, and b) when I show up to comment on someone else’s blog, either as a consequence of being a subject of discussion or just because I want to comment, it sometimes freaks people out, sometimes happily and sometimes not.
(I am not so famous that c) people simply refuse to believe that I am me when I comment, or d) pretend to be me on other people’s sites, which suggests to me at least that my fame is of the distinctly “micro” level, which is, as it happens, just about where I like it.)
Without commenting on whether this level of notability is a positive or negative state of affairs or whether I should actually merit such a level of notability, if one is in the position I am in, one does recognize that at a certain point you have to decide how to handle showing up and commenting on other people’s sites, particularly if one (or one’s work) is being discussed at the time. Here’s how I personally handle it:
1. By and large I don’t comment when I or my work is the subject of discussion on someone else’s site.
2. But sometimes I do.
In the first case, it’s because there’s the recognition that just because people are talking about you or your work doesn’t mean they actually want to invoke you, and, converse to this, just because you can comment doesn’t mean you should. Most of the time I would have nothing to add to the conversation other than being a disconcerting presence, and there’s no need to do that. This is particularly the case when people post reviews of my books, and particularly when they’re negative: I think in a general sense people should be able to say “I thought this book was crap” without having the author show up to explain in detail why and how they are in fact completely wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. I’ve noted this before.
In the second case, sometimes I just want to comment. Why? Well, sometimes it’s because I think the conversation is interesting and, in fact, I do have something more substantive to add than merely my presence. Sometimes it’s because someone is speculating about my motivations for writing and/or doing something which I know are incorrect, and I think it’s worth giving them additional data. Sometimes people are asking a specific thing about my writing and/or me that I can answer authoritatively. Sometimes I just want to drop in a witty/funny/snarky comment. And sometimes I just like to screw with people’s heads, because there are days when I’m just that way.
(Also, there’s the small matter of, microcelebrity or not, I’m also just this guy who likes doing the same things everyone else does online, and who thinks people occasionally freaking out over his presence is silly. You know, I have to live with me every single day. I can say pretty authoritatively that I’m really not worth the freakout.)
If I had to guess the percentage of times I comment at someone else’s site rather than just reading without commenting, I’d guess that it’s something less than one percent of the time. If you write about me, there’s a very good chance I’ll know about it — my egosurf matrix of search engines is highly developed and tells me of an appearance of my name and/or a link to the site, usually within minutes, because I have just that much OCD — but generally I don’t do anything about it. Highly developed egosurf matrix or not, I don’t have the time, or as noted above, generally the inclination. Yes, that’s right, by and large I’m a lurker.
Likewise I’m more likely to comment on some sites than others. What raises your chance of me commenting at your site? Well, if you’re a friend of mine already, but that doesn’t really count in regards to this formulation, since my friends couldn’t give a crap about whatever celebrity I might have. Likewise, if you’re someone who comments here, I suspect you’ll be less likely to be weirded out if I comment on your site. People in online or real-world communities I’m part of, the same thing, because even if we don’t know each other, we know some of the same people. Finally, if I don’t know you, but have commented on your site before, it ups the chance I might comment again.
Now, I want to go back to a comment I mentioned earlier, which was that just because someone’s talking about you doesn’t mean they’re intending to invoke you, and in fact may regard your sudden presence in their comment thread as an intrusion. I’m of two minds about this. First, well, sure. That makes sense, and people being discussed need to be sensitive to that. Use your judgement. This is a major reason why I don’t comment, nearly all the time.
But second, this goes both ways: folks should not be entirely surprised that talking about someone in a publicly accessible online forum might attract that person’s interest, and that this person might feel free to respond, whether the original conversants intended or desire them to. I recently told someone who thought it was rude that I had popped up in a comment thread in which he was talking about me that I considered talking about me an implicit invitation for me to participate in the conversation. I am, after all, the leading expert in that subject. I didn’t think it was rude to offer my perspective.
Somewhat related to this, someone else mentioned to me that the appropriate way to respond to someone discussing you online was to respond privately, but my response to this is: well, no. You can, if you like, but if you’re being talked about online and publicly, it’s not in the least unreasonable to respond equally publicly. Suggesting a person should respond privately to a public discussion of them is an explicit marginalization of that person, especially when no one else is being told to go private.
All of this, of course, is couched in the usual standards of etiquette when you visit someone else’s site: be polite, move on when asked, and so on. Be that as it may, look folks, it’s pretty simple: If you’re discussing someone online, notable or otherwise, in a place that is publicly accessible, you run the risk of them showing up and responding, and it’s not unreasonable for them to do so. That’s how Teh Intarweebs work.
And in my specific case, I certainly reserve the right to show up and comment, even if I usually don’t, and typically won’t. I think that’s sufficient notice to all and sundry.