Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader

This question comes from Sassy Coconut:

How do you see us (readers of this blog)?
What are we to you?
Are we a faceless mass murmuring in the background? Gargoyles on the edges of your posts cackling and shoving each other around? Or are we mice scurrying through the sea of grass that is this blog?
Tangent: How does this sense of audience differ between your blog and novels?

Well, most of the readers of the blog I don’t know. The vast majority of thousands of people who visit the blog on any given day show up to read, not to comment. The number of readers who comment, on anything other than the very busiest of days, is a few dozen at best. The “Straight White Male” post gathered 800 comments in two days, while about 200,000 visitors saw the piece here in the same time. Even if each of those 800 comments was from a separate visitor (which they were not), that would mean less than one half of one percent of the people who read the piece here commented. Who are the other 99.5%? Got me. Outside of basic data supplied by my stats package, I don’t know, and can’t know.

(Well, I suppose I could know, if I followed back IP addresses and did a whole bunch of sleuthing, and maybe asked someone at the NSA to follow up for me. But I’m not going to, because I don’t actually care that much. I’m glad people come by, but if all they want to do read and move on, fine by me.)

As for the people who do comment here, well, I tend to think of them a number of ways. Some of them I know as actual people out there in the physical world; I like most of them and consider several of them friends. Others have been longtime commenters here and I consider them “regulars,” i.e., the people who help to constitute the community here. Some commenters I like, from what I can see of them via their words. Some I like less but as long as they follow the comment rules and take direction, they’re welcome to continue to comment (I suspect that some of you might believe that this falls along political lines, but you might be surprised).

I’m proud that most of the people who comment here, whatever their political/social persuasions, tend to treat each other with respect. I have a reputation for swinging the Mallet, but the fact of the matter is I do it less than perhaps people like to suggest. As an example, the “Orthodox Church of Heinlein” comment thread is currently 370+ comments on a deeply contentious topic, with participants coming in with a large range of views, and many of which disagreed with me strongly, and no malletings at all. Why not? Because the people commenting spoke cogently, respected other commenters and mostly weren’t assholes.

Which means that commenters here generally add value to the site — which is something that is frankly very rare for commenters to do. And because of that, I generally think positively of the commenters here, even the ones I don’t like as much as the others. And, now, to be clear, a fair amount of that is due to the comment rules here and my willingness to enforce them. But it’s as much due if not more so to the people who want to comment here being willing to be signal rather than noise. I’m willing to use the Mallet; but the commenters here are such that I don’t have to lift the Mallet often.

(When does the Mallet get the most exercise? When new people come in from elsewhere and assume the appallingly lax definition of “discourse” that applies elsewhere also applies here. Many are surprised and leave. A few are surprised and stay. In both cases, I’m generally happy with their decision.)

(I will also note that there are places online where my use of the Mallet is criticized. A quick look at what passes for the comment threads in those places tends to be instructive.)

For the tangential part of the question, I’ll note that in my experience the readers of my novels and the readers for the blog overlap but probably not as much as some people might think. The same is true (in both cases) for my Twitter readers. Which is to say each has its own native readership which may or may not be engaged with the other things I do. I find that interesting.

(It’s not too late to get a request in for Reader Request Week — here’s how.)

78 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader

  1. Every time I see the comments thread on a place like this where commenting is well-curated, I think how valuable these spaces are. Because you can read comments here and forget that it IS curated, which means you start to think that maybe this is just how normal, reasonable people behave. I think that kind of passive socialization, that sense that maybe “this is just how people are(/can be) on the internet” is incredibly important. People tend to behave how they see the people around them behaving. If they see every comment thread they surf through filled with vitriol and trolling, they’re going to think vitriol and trolling are the way to be on the internet. If they see comment threads that are filled with people being normal and reasonable, they’re going to think that’s the way to be on the internet.

    (I mean, you’re always going to commenters on the margins no matter what; polite respectful commenters on YouTube, and people who try to troll in well-curated places like this. But there’s a vast space in the middle of people whose behavior is to some extent conditioned by what they see around them. We’re humans, that’s how we do, for the most part.)

  2. I do enjoy reading the comments here and occasionally leaving one. I have to admit to receiving the Mallet once for blatantly disregarding an instruction on a comment thread. I actually had a visceral reaction to it and felt bad for a couple hours.

  3. Speaking as an irregular but not all that infrequent commenter (I presented as “georgmi” before I started using my WordPress account), I will say that I think a little harder here about whether or not I’m adding value before I click “Post” than I do in other places. Partly because none of y’all actually know me, and thus it’s better if I don’t assume you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt if I happen to fall subject to “the failure mode of clever” (which can be an issue for me, I freely admit), but partly because the standards of discourse here *are* higher, and I’m vain enough to not want to be the guy who drags it down.

    Which is not to say I’m spewing bile and assholery everywhere else I go on the ‘Net, because I have a pretty good understanding of the permanence of content and the size of the potential audience as well as a strong desire to not make myself unemployable, but here I’m extra careful to avoid the unsubstantiated snark which features so heavily in my own spaces.

  4. I am one reader who is a fan of your blog and your non fiction work but not a fan of your fiction. My wife loves your books but she doesn’t like your blog.

  5. Truth is that I only follow this Whatever blog having first dropped by after reading a Scalzi novel recommended to me by my firstborn son. I do gather from this blog that discourse here apparently is more civil than elsewhere on the web. While I know folk can be uncivil to each other, I cannot fathom why people would spend their time voluntarily in uncivil environments.
    What I wonder is if there are many other blogs about the web that do as well as Whatever in being generally respectful and civil in commentary by those commenting. I just wonder. I am not going to spend any time looking for them as there is more to life than being immersed in the digital world now surrounding us. Hey, I don’t even watch the “reality” television shows. My life is real enough, thank you.
    I do appreciate Whatever as a place to see what people think of the issues Scalzi chooses to put up for discussion. Now what would be fun is an opportunity to meet face-to-face many of the “regulars” Scalzi speaks of in this thread.
    So how about it, Sir Scalzi? Organize a Whatever Convention right there in middle-America where you live. Schedule a bunch of your “regulars” to make presentations or lead panel discussions. Have mixers and a cash bar; only I am fine with creamed, sugared hot cups of tea. If in the summertime when school is not in session, I would make it a point to be there. Just to meet a gathering of your Whatever “regulars” for a long weekend. Insofar as I can recall, I do not think you have ever organized and held such an affair. Hey, you too could meet the “regulars” face-to-face. I bet you could even figure out a way to finagle a small profit. You could charge publishing companies for exhibit booth space. Check with your accountant on the profit angle.

  6. Gary Willis: for another example of a blog where comment threads are generally civil, try Making Light (http://www.nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/), which shares a handful of regulars with this blog, and which actually has a community tradition of small meetups between regulars who find themselves in the same location.

  7. I’m a very regular reader. I probably check in here on average a few times a day, more if some topic is generating lots of comments. I almost never comment because usually someone else has already made any point I would like to contribute before I get around to it and I really hate doing “me too” posts.

    I love reading the comments here because most people are so well behaved. It’s really nice when people can disagree without being disagreeable. This is one of the few places on the web I’ve found that has both of those features.

  8. nkelsey–

    It may be important I suppose to have “safe places”, they are just not terribly valuable. Of 3,000 whatever posts I have fed into the database so far, the vast majority of topics contain no measurable movement from JS’s viewpoint. It is, essentially, the same group of people, plus or minus 10% on any given comment (with notable exceptions, that JS rightly points out.. when some topics go big, they go BIG).

    So it’s discourse really only in the slightest sense of the word.. talking. In general there is very little meaningful discourse happening. There is almost no ideological or viewpoint orientated movement within people’s opinion over the span of the internet age. It’s essentially static. And Whatever fits into that larger trend easily.

    Compared to, say, the Greek era of oratory or even the pre-Civil War US Senate, there is very little movement. It could be that everyone is just so much smarter than they’ve ever been before, or that the audience of Whatever is self-selected to be more ideologically confident. Hard to say.

    So the “safe space”is really safe because the topics are fairly narrow, and the viewpoints fall into a narrow band of responses, with most simply agreeing with JS or the guest poster entirely. From there is a small cohort of posts that almost entirely agree. Followed by a narrow slice of off-topic discussion (which is often stopped before it goes far off topic), and then a very narrow band of dissent.

    None of this is to say that JS or anyone has a responsibility to have valuable discourse. Just talking is a nice pastime and marketing tool to have.

  9. Lila–

    I would add to that, if that’s your thing, check out The Well. Old school internet community that has a tight control of it’s regulars and produces very interesting and useful assortment of comments.

  10. I am intensely grateful for your judicious and mindful use of the Mallet here. The discourse here is downright unworldly compared to much of the rest of the internet; I am a volunteer Moderator on a forum website, and I would give my eyeteeth to see Whatever-caliber commentary there. I’ve got a Mallet of my own over there, but it’s a whole lot harder to wield when it’s not my own site and I’ve got to adhere to the rules of the forum (which don’t always jive well with my personal opinions).

    I am not a huge fiction reader at this point in my life, although I did read one of your novels (Redshirts) just because I thought I needed to see your writing from that perspective as well. But I very much enjoy your essays here, and I enjoy the essays you get in response nearly as much. In fact, my biggest beef is that there is no way to go through and click a “Rate this comment positively” button when I read something especially cogent and pithy; I don’t want to clutter up your blog with a bunch of “great post” comments, of course, but it’s frustrating not to be able to convey my appreciation for the erudition, perspective and humor I find here regularly.

  11. [Deleted because not on topic. Thedude, you can ask the same question again in the actual Reader Request Week thread if you like -- JS]

  12. I’ve only recently discovered your fiction, though I was tangentially aware of you and your online presence through friends who are rabid “Redshirts” fans. I started reading your blog after purchasing but before reading OMW. That said, I really appreciate the community on your blog.

    I’m a writer who has just started submitting my own stuff to various markets, and sometimes you worry about sequestering yourself into community of certain sorts. I’ve heard too many people say, “Short story magazines sell exclusively to failed short story writers.” Sometimes that sentiment proves a bit too true, and you worry that you end up talking in circles with other (failed or, at the very least, so far unsuccessful) writers. I don’t find that’s really the case here– we get plenty of other writers, but people not interested in writing as well. Some people are contentious and clearly out to argue, but they do so (for the most part) in a respectful manner, and some people just want to add their point of view to the mix. I appreciate the conversation.

  13. I came here because I met you at a con some years ago, was favorably impressed, and read one of your (nonfiction) books on which we agreed about George Lucas. I have your fiction, but it hasn’t floated to the top of my giant pile of reading as yet because there’s just so much. But the books are paid for, so I will read them.

    I return here because the comments are quality comments (in general). I like reading your thoughts, but I enjoy even more the banter, conversation, and actual exchange of ideas in the comments section. That’s so damnably rare that I have to remark upon it. I don’t participate as much as I might like because, in truth, I’m a shy and retiring little flower.

    As for “the rules”, I must think rather as you do, because they require nothing more of me than I think necessary to talk to anyone.

  14. dpmaine, are you claiming to have actually READ 3000 Whatever posts, or is your “database” associated with some kind of opinion-analysis software?

    I’m also a little unclear on what you mean by “movement.” You mean people changing their opinions based on what they read here? (I certainly have, because there have been facts of which I was unaware that others have brought up, phenomena that they’ve explained, etc.) If that’s what you mean, have YOU changed your opinion on any topic based on what you read here? Why or why not?

  15. dpmaine, are you claiming to have actually READ 3000 Whatever posts, or is your “database”
    associated with some kind of opinion-analysis software?

    Spidered and categorized by hand, nothing fancy. Though I wish I could afford much of the fancier stuff. I think there are about 45k comments I have tagged. It’s not that many a day compared to bigger operations.

    If that’s what you mean, have YOU changed your opinion on any topic based on what you read here? Why or why not?

    Oh sure. I change my mind routinely. Probably just not as convinced of my correctness as your average person these days. I have no explanation for why most people are set in stone. The guest posts are often very enlightening.

    What would you say your biggest change of heart has been from the start of the thread to the bottom?

  16. -dpmaine: Wow, your ambitions are much higher than mine. I just think it’s valuable to see people modeling polite conversation on the internet. ;) Greek oratory, forsooth!

  17. I’m that dude who threatened to lick you if you put your face that close to mine one more time. Chicago worldcon. And so on.

    Also, i’m a gargoyle.

  18. So there are no misperceptions: this post is submitted only so I feel included in the 1/2 of 1 percent that participates in the commenting process.
    Back to work…

  19. Some of the biggest sites – like Slashdot used to be – there is a lot of dialog that leads to big movement. And then future posts by those users demonstrate that. The big example was during the 2008 Presidential run, when you had hundreds of users migrating from “Who is Ron Paul?” to “Huh, he sounds interesting” to “Vote Ron Paul Or Else You Are An Ant Killing Molester” (or thereabouts).

    There just isn’t that type of dynamism in many places.

  20. Speaking up for the 99.5%…or does this bump me out of that category?!

    I read OMW and Redshirts last year. I’m pretty sure I’d found Whatever before that (very possibly from the “straight white male” piece) and stopped by occasionally. I’ve only been reading regularly for the past month or two.

    Oddly enough, the three blogs I read regularly that get lots of visitors and comments are all very well curated—that would be here, Captain Awkward, and Mark Reads. I wonder how much the welcoming comment-spaces contributed to my continued interest in these blogs. I comment myself rarely, if ever, because I don’t usually have anything to say that someone else hasn’t said. Or I don’t think I got to the post early enough for my contribution to be noted. I’m content to be a reader/listener.

  21. @dpmaine – is the Well still going? I remember that from dialup days!

    I do wish some sites had the mallet wielded with as much effect as here- the level of abuse on some sites makes them barely worth reading.

  22. znepj–

    Yes, The Well is quite strong. Drop by sometime. It is heavily curated because of how it’s tied to real identities and if you cause trouble you just get your subscription discontinued.

  23. I read your blog and Twitter daily, but have yet to read one of your novels. That will change once my to-read pile dwindles a bit. Redshirt’s premise didn’t whet my appetite much, but Lock-In looks like something I would love, I’d say it’s a lock, in fact.. I plan on starting with OMW and HD though.

  24. dpmaine, I can’t think of any specific examples right now. But the legal knowledge that mythago brings here has enlightened me a time or two, and I’ve certainly come away with different thinking than I came here with.

  25. There is a very small number of sites I bother to wade into the comments section on. I deal with enough assholes IRL to want to engagement for sport. I credit our host for a good part of that, people are free to express an opinion as long as it is respectful & germane. But we do get some credit too, one of my previous favorite sites is currently suffering a months long breakout of assholes. The host is a bit of an open sort who (wrongly in my opinion) believes these things will self regulate. Well. I suppose they do, a lot of good commentators don’t go there any more & the assholes are winning.

    Enjoyable comment sections are a combination of host & guest each doing what is right. Thanks to John & to each of you who make this place a pleasant read.

  26. I don’t comment very often, but I lurk the comment section here on occasion and very much agree with the general consensus that this one is good discussion that’s well moderated.

    However, unlike many of y’all, I didn’t notice any discrepancy. I wonder if that’s because 90% of the blogs I frequent are feminism-related (e.g. feminism + comics, feminism + geekdom), where the comments sections are heavily moderated by necessity?

    I occasionally stumble into parts of the wider Internet where I see things so stupid as to make my eyes bleed all over my keyboard, but generally I choose to vote with my clicks. :D

  27. 40yo white female, married, a mother of a 5 year old, Masters degree in Liberal Studies which is as marketable as you might assume. I came to your blog many years ago and it became a trampoline for finding out about many things which I now currently adore. I don’t know how I would have found them without you. Thanks.

    Also. Loved the Redshirts audiobook VERYVERYVERY much.

  28. I personally really appreciate that Whatever is a well-moderated space that doesn’t require some kind of sign-in or subscription to participate in the conversation.

    For whatever reason, those “password to play” models rub me the wrong way, even if I understand why some bloggers and site curators choose them.

  29. Ok…back. Finished work which today was kayaking through Mangroves and learning about a bioluminescent bay. Dear god the van is bouncing around so who knows how my typing will be.

    I just wanted to add that I found Whatever after I had read the majority of JS’s fiction and decided to find out more about him on his website. That obviously led here. This is the first blog and only blog I subscribe to and I enjoy it because each day there is something interesting, funny, thought provoking, or just pleasant (insert sunset picture here) that I can take a few minutes from work and enjoy.

    Of equal importance are the reviews of books, introductions of the Big Ideas, and the overviews of book award ballots. I love to read (when I can) and through this blog I have had great steers to a variety of works and authors that I otherwise would never have been exposed to. In the last 3 weeks I have read “The Red” and “Fire with Fire” because of this site- and I enjoyed both. I read Ancillary Justice after the big idea. And I have read all the “full length” fiction that JS has.

    I enjoy the commentary because often it is dry, witty, and thoughtful, whether I agree with it or not. And what’s not to like about the fact that I have to do nothing but look at my inbox on my smart phone to receive all this fun and advice! (Easy= more involved)

    Keep it up and thanks! And now because I have 2 posts I think I get to count for .02%. That’s right…

  30. I stumbled in here one day after seeing a tweet about a post. I think I’ve read most of what has been posted here since, posts and comments alike, just for the pleasure of civil discussion. Your use of the Mallet inspires me. While comments on my blog have been meek and rather sparse, if ever things get rowdy, I will use my own version of the Mallet. I’ve been thinking that calling it the Jawbone of an Ass would be very appropriate, given the tendency of asses to jawbone online.

  31. Compared to, say, the Greek era of oratory or even the pre-Civil War US Senate, there is very little movement.

    That’s an odd comparison. Both of your examples are of highly formalized presentations where a limited class of professional orators presents speeches to a listening audience, and discussion is not open to anyone who wishes to participate. (The contributions of women, for example, no matter how eloquent or persuasive, were neither welcomed nor permitted by either of the bodies you mention.) It also strikes me as a bit naive to assume that any change of opinion among the members of an elected political body such as the Congress has much to do with the speechifying of its members, as opposed to, say, the shifting opinions of voters or the views of generous campaign contributors.

    You seem to presume that heat and friction inevitably lead to light and are in fact a prerequisite, and that the only value a discussion has is whether the people in it people shift their views significantly. That’s really not the objective measure of a discussion; it’s a statement of personal preference. You like it when people have polarized views and try to argue one another into submission, you’re bored when people mostly agree, or disagree politely, and say ‘hm, you may have a point there’. You also assume that a subjectively-perceived shift in opinion means that argument lead to mass persuasion. Here’s another pretty obvious explanation: people who didn’t care about Ron Paul, or who disliked Ron Paul enough that they didn’t want to engage with his vocal supporters, dropped out of the conversation, while people who felt more strongly about Ron Paul dropped in (much as happens here, when something Scalzi says gets linked in places where people feel strongly about the topic, and suddenly brand new posters pop in to comment, or where a controversial thread dwindles into a handful of people continuing to talk amongst themselves).

    I mean, maybe this isn’t the kind of discussion space that speaks to you. That’s okay. If you like places where anything goes, or where “Someone is WRONG on the Internet!” is less an xkcd joke than a way of life, there are plenty of ‘em. Heck, you can start your own discussion space – call it dpmainesgreekagora or whatever you like – and curate the discussion and comments in a way that you think is valuable. It just strikes me as a bit pointless to stick around in a space whose approach you dislike so you can complain that the host doesn’t run things to your satisfaction, when it’s pretty clear he’s not going to change his Malleting ways.

  32. Mark me as someone who reads more than comments (ie, daily and never), and is more a fan of your blog than your fiction. I don’t have much to say to the crowd here, but this seems to be a solid source of information about what’s going on “behind the scenes” (for me anyways) in sci-fi, and your journalistic-style writing is great.

  33. myth–

    “You seem to presume that heat and friction inevitably lead to light and are in fact a prerequisite, and that the only value a discussion has is whether the people in it people shift their views significantly”

    That’s entirely unsupported by what I wrote. I said nothing for the sort. I remarked that it was odd that there was not much movement, not that movement is good or bad, or required or not. As I mentioned, JS is not required or expected or anything like that of providing a forum to have a life altering change of ideology.

    Lots of talking, chatting, writing, etc is just for the sake of it, without any intent whatsoever to persuade. JS at times appears to be agenda driven – for example exhorting various Con’s to change their news policy. So it’s a little unusual to have a case where a site author has an agenda mixed in with comments as they are here. It you drop on over to Redstate or Think Progress, and look at their comment section, it’s not that dissimilar. If you are expecting something else, it can be jarring but it’s by no means “bad”. Lots and lots of comments, an occasional reactionary troll that is immediately banned, but not very much movement. The audience and the writers are in large part agreeing before hand, and that’s that. On the other side, if you look into any of the larger sub-reddits, you find a very diverse set of commentators, with many more viewpoints and opinions on the topics. I should expect part of this because of the wide variety of topics more than anything.

    “and discussion is not open to anyone who wishes to participate. (The contributions of women, for example, no matter how eloquent or persuasive, were neither welcomed nor permitted by either of the bodies you mention.)”

    Neither were formalized. Both were lively and contemporaneous, both worked and weaved with the crowd, both were fractious and convincing, and often swayed minds. You may have some halcyon view of both bodies that are not historically accurate. The Senate was not stodgy and crusty as we see it today for a long-time after the Civil War (and still can be quite lively if that’s your thing, although, not very much convincing happens).

    You are also incorrect about women in Greek times. There were a few city-states with a very limited role for women, but it was not a universal Greek attribute, contemporary movies not withstanding. I would commend: “The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World” lecture series. The presenter goes into fantastic detail about the life of women in Greece. Lecture 14 details being a Greek women, and it will change your view of the Greeks substantially. Women of all stations had access and influence, and in some cases, had quite a bit of both.

  34. I remarked that it was odd that there was not much movement, not that movement is good or bad, or required or not.

    From your earlier comment: “[safe spaces] are just not terribly valuable” and you defined those spaces as having little to no movement.

  35. dpmaine’s first comment on 3/18 @ 3:23 which says in part “…the viewpoints fall into a narrow band of responses, with most simply agreeing with JS or the guest poster entirely…” mirrors my reaction to most of the comment threads here. Enough so that, after an initial period where I tended to comment more frequently, I’ve backed off quite a bit due to a tendency I perceive for some comments to “piled on” by those who don’t agree (and no, not just those who are “borderline rude but perhaps haven’t been malleted just yet”). So I am a daily reader of Whatever, but I choose to wander into the comments threads pretty carefully these days.

    Now just to place myself in the site’s demographics, I’m a straight, white, male – middle aged and mostly left of center politically (if I lived in Europe, I’d be a Social Democrat). Personality is pretty close to a Meyers-Briggs INFP. I’m a lifelong SF fan, and have read and enjoyed almost every bit of fiction our host has written. I also find myself agreeing with, and entertained by, practically all of Scalzi’s opinions on the various topics he chooses to post on, and have never disagreed in more than a slight, nitpicking way on a very few (and many of those are based more on personality “style,” not substance). John seems like a good guy, and I’m sure I’d enjoy sitting down with him for a cheeseburger and a beer (or Coke Zero ;) if the opportunity ever arose.

  36. Something without value isn’t good or bad, it’s just worthless.

    It’s like saying that the coffee talk you have at Starbucks has some great value. It doesn’t. It has no impact on anything. No movement. No weight. It doesn’t mean it’s “BAD” or “GOOD”. It just means it’s light.

    Just because it has no value doesn’t mean you should stand silently in line at Starbucks.

  37. If anyone finds that the comments here add no value, why would you spend your time on them? I enjoy them, therefore they have value for me. I know I can get at least one guffaw and one “never thought of that before” every week, sometimes more often. It works for me.

  38. David– you are welcome to jump to 2nd or 3rd definitions of a common word, but worthless is not saying something is, literally, “bad”. Writing “It may be important I suppose to have “safe places”, they are just not terribly valuable” does not imply something is “bad”. There are a whole of host of things that happen or occur that are neither good or bad, but have no inherent value or effect. A butterfly going through the forest could cause a tidal wave, but it probably won’t.

  39. “If anyone finds that the comments here add no value, why would you spend your time on them? ”

    I am working on my PHd and my thesis involves online communities. It’s field research.

  40. dpmaine: “It’s like saying that the coffee talk you have at Starbucks has some great value. It doesn’t. It has no impact on anything”

    It also depends on what value one is talking about. The coffee talk might have significant value in strengthening a bond between friends or helping to get past a misunderstanding. It might have value in information exchanged that later turns out to be useful or enlightening. I’m not sure why you think that “light” equals “no worth.” Maybe it doesn’t cause the kind of movement you apparently want to see, but I think your world view is not widely shared and not likely to be. That’s okay, because I don’t think people all need to see the world the same way. But you pronouncing something worthless doesn’t make it so. It doesn’t have worth for you, personally, but it may have value–great or small–for other people.

    On another matter, I have seen a lot of movement in some areas in the Internet age. I’m not connecting the movement with the Internet, though I have little doubt that the Internet played a part in numerous ways, small and large. Take, for instance, same-sex marriage. I don’t think many people at the beginning of the Internet age would have expected to see as much acceptance of same-sex marriage in the United States as there is currently. It has certainly been an exciting surprise for me. In state after state, the voters or legislature has legalized it or judges have nullified laws against it. The acceptance seems to have happened the way changes in opinions generally do: slowly, incrementally, and influenced by numerous factors, especially personal ones. Debate about it has generally not been effective in my view, though it does put ideas out there that people can mix and match with the ones they already have and move gradually in one direction or another in the process. For instance, my mother went from thinking that gays and lesbians should be allowed to have civil partnerships but that it should not be called marriage, which should be reserved for one man, one woman. She doesn’t feel that way anymore, but the change was gradual over the course of perhaps ten years, as she thought about it more and talked to people about it more. She has always been quite liberal, but she’s 90 years old, and for a while this was just too far outside what she was accustomed to.

    As for the pre-Civil War Congress, sure there was vigorous debate–and it didn’t solve the issues. Instead, people hardened their positions some states began to secede, and the stage was set for the war. Maybe the war was a good thing in your value system (a system that I can’t understand from your posts in this thread). It had it’s good points and bad points (it’s not clear that the slaves would have been freed when they were had it not been for the war, so that’s something), but it was traumatic for the nation and many people lost their lives and livelihoods. So I’m not that impressed by the style of debate in Congress in the pre-war era.

    I think you challenged Xopher to describe how his opinion or views changed from the beginning of a thread to the end, but I didn’t think that kind of instant change was what he was talking about, and his reply was along the lines of what I would have said. People describing their own experiences and their thoughts about these is something I find enlightening about these comment threads. I gain knowledge from people in fields in which I have little experience, and I gain empathy from people who have had very different life experiences from mine and have thought about them and are willing to explain their thoughts. I take these away from the discussions and put them in the mysterious machine of my mind, and my thinking on something changes in small ways that may eventually lead to larger changes or may not.

    If you’re looking for tidal waves and not seeing them, then I would agree with that. But ocean levels rise and fall slowly, and those changes are perhaps more important over the long term than a tidal wave. Places that once held oceans are now deserts. Glaciers have scoured out valleys, and their debris has formed the barrier islands along parts of the American coast that have been moving gradually landward for a very long time. At some point, a storm will knock down a beach house but it’s because the erosion has occurred over the course of years. The storm is only the tipping point.

  41. @dpmaine, while I genuinely appreciate the pointer to the lecture series, re ancient Greece, you’ve changed the subject. Nobody, I think, contended that women in ancient Greece or antebellum America were powerless and lacked any influence on their society; such a contention would be silly, as I think we can both agree. But that influence didn’t translate into being permitted to participate in the great public oratory of the agora or of the Congress. (An exclusion that certainly wasn’t limited to women; slaves certainly weren’t permitted to participate in the Congress, and to my knowledge, not the agora either.)

    As to “formalized”, you appear to treat that as a synonym for “boring”. Even in lively, passionate argument meant to sway public opinion – as Congressional speeches often are today – the Congress follows formal rules for who gets to speak and when and in what turn, and whether others are allow to interrupt or Mallet them. And, of course, as with the Greek orators, the Congress didn’t permit just anyone to hop up out of the crowd with “Long-time listener, first-time commenter” and speechify.

    While we’re getting into the weeds a bit here, really I was noting that you extolled examples of formalized debate with participation limited to certain people and certain specialist classes, and therefore is a poor comparison for a Website open to ‘anyone willing to follow the rules and who hasn’t been kicked out’.

    Red State and ThinkProgress are both explicitly political sites with strong and polarized points of view. This is an author’s personal weblog in which he sometimes discusses political issues. Are you really surprised and disappointed that there are not more passionate arguments in the comments where Scalzi puts up pictures of a sunset, or sets out his book-tour schedule? (If so, the beauty of the Internet is that you don’t have to spend X time on Whatever instead of on, say, RedState.)

    Finally, as DAVID notes, you’re presenting a false dichotomy; either we have vigorous argument which leads people to change their minds, or we have idle chit-chat about the whether and the price of a no-whip latte.

  42. Something for you to consider, dpmaine; I don’t think my interpretation of your words is using particularly unusual meanings (I suspect that most people hearing something described as “worthless” or “with value” would take it as a pejorative, especially if it was something that they themselves engaged in), and you might ask yourself what the usefulness is of you framing your point in a way that most people will take as hostility?

  43. @dpmaine: “I am working on my PHd and my thesis involves online communities. It’s field research.”

    Really?!?

    @DAVID: “Something for you to consider, dpmaine; I don’t think my interpretation of your words is using particularly unusual meanings (I suspect that most people hearing something described as “worthless” or “with value” would take it as a pejorative, especially if it was something that they themselves engaged in), and you might ask yourself what the usefulness is of you framing your point in a way that most people will take as hostility?”

    For SCIENCE!

  44. “I am working on my PHd and my thesis involves online communities. It’s field research.”

    Yeah, I think I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. Either you’re not actually doing any such thing; or, by actively engaging with and attempting to influence the online communities you’re studying, you’re calling the validity of your research – not to mention your ethical practices – into serious question.

    Besides that, you’re consistently making value judgements and attempting to call them objective measures, which, also, bullshit.

  45. Myth–

    You are wrong

    “Even in lively, passionate argument meant to sway public opinion – as Congressional speeches often are today – the Congress follows formal rules for who gets to speak and when and in what turn”

    This is a modern invention. Floor debate that I mentioned was free form. The Senate still has no time limits, and only a few ways to stop debate. The filibuster is new, the point of order is new. The old Senate was not formal. There is no other way to say other than you are incorrectly picturing the modern Senate as the pre-Civil War Senate. Not the same. The prepared speeches, talking past each other to empty chambers, and the dull pace is an invention tied to the TV soundbite.

    As far as Greece goes, you are also uninformed. The reason I suggested the lecture I did is it exposed how oratory worked, and how women were involved. Except for funerals it was not strictly structured as you envisioned.

    This is however a distraction. Trying to cast these out as examples because they excluded one group or another is lame. Both are examples where a much wider variety of viewpoints were regularly moved through, and where the outcome was not strictly for show. The outwardly racially or gender diverse group does not promise a diverse discourse or set of opinions to emerge. It may be more likely but it not a lock. A modern example is larger sub-reddit, where you have a very static crowd – white, male, skewing youngish, skewing high income, but where the opinions are very widely held.

    “‘anyone willing to follow the rules and who hasn’t been kicked out’.”

    This is directly comparable to Greek life. Yes, slaves were not involved. And neither were prisoners. Just like both are not able to join in one Whatever. There is a minimum acceptable participation required for Whatever- you must be literate, you must be at least wealthy enough to have a computer, you must be able to type, you must be able to speak and write English. You must not be in jail, you must not be legally barred from the internet. You must not be too old or infirm. There were fewer people excluded from the Greek oratory tradition as a percentage than there are from Whatever. But that doesn’t make Whatever a bad place. The fact that it’s better than many of it’s peers (who require registration or whatever, for example) is one factor.

    Again, you are just way off base.

    “Are you really surprised and disappointed that there are not more passionate arguments in the comments where Scalzi puts up pictures of a sunset, or sets out his book-tour schedule?”

    Why are you placing judgement on what are noted as straightforward observations of what I perceive to be fact. I did not say I was disappointed. You imputed that apparently. And I did not say things are lacking passion.

    “Finally, as DAVID notes, you’re presenting a false dichotomy; either we have vigorous argument which leads people to change their minds, or we have idle chit-chat about the whether and the price of a no-whip latte.”

    I have no done no such thing. You and David are desperate to take what I wrote and make it a negative aspersion to Whatever’s commentators. It is not. It is response to the claim that Whatever is important because it is a curated, “safe space”. It is a safe space, in that the opinions and viewpoints fall within a narrow band, and outliers are excluded if they do not present the proper tone and/or comity. That is a nice definition of a safe space. I am pointing out, however, that “safe” discussions about the sunset, JS’s politics, or the weather are not all that important. As I said, this isn’t bad. JS is under no obligation to provide a space-space to debate the whether (solidarity with cup of coffee).

  46. “Yeah, I think I’m going to have to call bullshit on that. Either you’re not actually doing any such thing; or, by actively engaging with and attempting to influence the online communities you’re studying, you’re calling the validity of your research – not to mention your ethical practices – into serious question.”

    (Methodology note: The dataset for the statistical analysis was completed in 2013, before I ever posted here. I enjoy Whatever and JS’ fiction immensely, and was happy when my advisor selected Whatever as a target for analysis. The ongoing content and comments are useful for shaping the discussion of online community in comparison to the historical norms of discourse. Online communities are starting to hit their stride – some being over 25 years old now – and the critical mass of detailed research is growing each day to help understand and quantify their impact).

  47. Dpmaine:

    Do me a favor and aggregate your comments, please. Multiple sequential comments from the same commenter messes with my feng shui. This is my standard comment to people who post sequentially, I will note, i.e., I’m not picking on you in particular.

    More generally:

    We may be beginning to wander a bit off-topic here, so let’s make sure this line of discussion ties into the original post, please.

  48. “Besides that, you’re consistently making value judgements and attempting to call them objective measures, which, also, bullshit.”

    It is much more interesting that the word “worthless”, when used to categorize comments about JS’s book tour or sunset photos is taken as a pejorative or as a bullshit value judgement.

    What value would you ascribe to the posts on this thread:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/04/25/your-midday-cat-picture/

    Here is how I ranked them in the database:

    1. unrelated personal inquiry to author
    2. flattery
    3. flattery
    4. wit/humor
    5. wit/humor
    6. flattery
    7. inquiry to author
    8. wit/humor
    9. flattery
    10. wit/humor
    11. flattery
    12. flattery
    13. appreciation
    14. inquiry to author
    15. inquiry to author
    16. wit/humor
    17. flattery
    18. flattery
    19. flattery

    So take another crack at it. Take a few random posts and demonstrate the value of them.

  49. You and David are desperate to take what I wrote and make it a negative aspersion to Whatever’s commentators.

    Ah, well, I was hoping you would listen, but apparently not.

  50. So, questionable ethics, then.

    Much more interesting than what?

    As an academic descriptor, I think I would at least use “trivial”, rather than “worthless”. A better choice might be something like “conversational”. But then again, I wouldn’t use any of those terms here, because: a) this isn’t my academic paper; b)I wouldn’t want to unduly influence the subject of my research; c) they all have negative connotations; and d) I don’t want to be perceived as a jerk in someone else’s space.

    Really? You’re analyzing the cat picture posts?

    No, I’m not going to do your homework for you. Nor am I going to accept a homework assignment from you.

  51. Okay Doc Rocket, well, you are free to criticize then. But it’s just empty. Trivial is a step up from worthless, “having little worth” being a likely use of it. What is the worth of the cat posts comments? JS’s post was trivial, the comments are a step lower than trivial – hence “worthless” or, having very little importance. Your concern for ethics is noted, though. I will think on it.

    It is an abuse of the language (which granted is not my first or second) to think that “trivial” is not negative while holding that “worthless” is. It is a package deal.

    “Really? You’re analyzing the cat picture posts?”

    That’s a big chunk of what JS posts. Take it up with him. You want to defend the value of the comments against my apparently grievous statement that:

    “It may be important I suppose to have “safe places”, they are just not terribly valuable.”

    Than you have to work with the reality of what the “safe place” is. The safe place is a place with a lot of cat posts.

    I gather that there is a lot offense because Whatever comments feel important. There is a lot of community, a lot of agreement, and a lot of positive words. (Incidentally, JS’s curated comment’s section was in the top 5 communities for comment sections for use of positive words).

  52. dpmaine, you are talking about whether or not the posts have value for some particular goal or in some particular context, which I’m not sure you have specified. It’s not possible to assess them as valuable or not valuable except in some context. Value does not exist independently.

    I’m not sure that what you are reading as offense is actually that. It seems that you have something in mind, and in that context, you are judging whether something has value or not, but that is specific to your context. What you’re seeing, IMO, is pushback for your apparent assumption that there is some universal sense in which the posts and/or comments have value or do not have value. (I say “apparent” because I’m not entirely sure you do see it as universal, but the way you express your ideas about value seems to suggest that.)

    Clearly, the posts and comments here do have value for some of the commenters. For just one example (and not one that matters to me as much as it does to others), having a safe place to bond with other people is valuable for many human beings, and if this is one such place, it is valuable for those people for that purpose, and the comments are valuable in helping to provide such bonding.

    If you want agreement that there is no value in the posts or comments, you will need to do a better job of explaining the context in which they have no value, rather than just declaring them without worth in such a general way.

  53. I read the blog fairly regularly; followed your Twitter feed for awhile but didn’t enjoy it, so stopped; and I haven’t read any of your books even though I won one. I picked one up once in a bookstore, read the first page, and put it back–I can’t even remember why. I’m also not sure, considering that I love science fiction in general, why I haven’t read your books. But the blog is important to me. I’ve purged many other blogs from my RSS reader, but I would never consider purging this one. So I’d say that you’re right about readers not necessarily overlapping.

  54. It is an abuse of the language (which granted is not my first or second) to think that “trivial” is not negative while holding that “worthless” is.

    I didn’t claim that all. What I said was:

    As an academic descriptor, I think I would at least use “trivial”, rather than “worthless”. A better choice might be something like “conversational”.

    (Emphasis added.)

    If you’re going to claim that the cat posts are of limited value, then what is the point of analysing the comments? What exactly are you looking for? If John posts, “Hey everyone, 2+2 still equals 4!” and all the comments agree, then what does that tell you?

    You’re being awfully kind to yourself if you think that that particular “safe spaces” comment is the one causing offense, while ignoring all the other offensive and condescending things you post.

  55. I have to drag my husband here to read this. He is also working on his PhD (in Rhetoric) with a particular focus on online communities and augmented reality. I think he will find this quite interesting!

    I am a bit sorry it’s wandered away from the original post, but it is a very fascinating discussion on the nature of discussion.

  56. I think after having read this discussion, I finally understand. dpmaine is here to argue simply for the sake of arguing. That contextualizes a lot of his discussion for me. That often the debate is neither heated or boisterous enough that it suggests a stagnant, unwavering community to dpmaine might explain why he or she seems to seek out what seem to be me to be intentionally argumentative positions.

    The idea that this is a strictly homogenous community with no vigorous debate or disagreement and that everyone just goes along with Scalzi’s point of view seems silly to me, especially to someone like dpmaine, who is neither so new nor so scarcely present in discussions as to believably make that claim without being somewhat disingenuous, IMHO.

    I enjoy the commentary of folks like Greg, Xopher, mythago, Kat Godwin and host of others, but I frequently disagree with some or all of them, at times. I have also been swayed by arguments and evidence of those posting here. An easy example is the many discussions of privilege had here and the perspective change they brought me.

  57. I found Whatever from (I think) a tweet by Wil Wheaton that referenced @Scalzi, that led me to the blog, that then sucked me into several hours of reading back posts. I had seen both Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts at the bookstore before and mentally tagged them in my “I need to read those one day” list, but only got around to it recently. So although I knew who John Scalzi was as a writer initially, I really think the blog led me to the writing, rather than the other way around.

    I do read the blog every day (I RSS it) and click through to read comments about 1/3 of the time. I probably comment a couple of times a month, if that, although they all tend to be on the same post/thread when I find one interesting or engaging.

    And just to the tangential discussion going on: I find the word “worthless” to be pejorative, no matter what context. If someone told me something was “worthless” I would not take that be a neutral statement and in some cases not even simply factual (unless, say talking about currency or monetary value). I would take it to be a a negative value judgement.

  58. @wizardru — I respectfully disagree with the assessment that dpmaine is arguing _only_ to be arguing. It might be one reason, but I suspect there are others. I believe dpmaine is arguing in order to be declared “right”, to have his/her opinion accepted as some form of factual information, and to be seen as having made some kind of change in other people. In short, there’s a very interesting power play taking place.

    I don’t disagree that dpmaine is continuing the defense of his/her statements with some vehemence and is deploying some classic debate tricks to fend off opposing arguments, because that is how one resists change. We could all be said to be resistant to change in some way or another.

    However, in a blatant attempt to swing the conversation back to the point before the Mallet descends upon me, I think this is exactly an example of what kind of conversation takes place here and that Mr. Scalzi accepts. I, too, have been given information here, both in posts and in discussion, that has widened my viewpoint or expanded my thinking. I’ve also witnessed the wholehearted defense of the indefensible, stalwart sallys on hardened opinions, and a fair bit of pot stirring. Often it is fun. Sometimes it is educational, On occasion it is tiresome.

    I will venture to say that a declaration of something’s value is automatically a subjective declaration, for value is a subjective quality determined by each person for assorted purposes, and to attempt to assert that one’s value judgment should be the value judgment of all others, that one’s individual subjectivity is the ultimate “correct” reality is a bit pointless, but it is sometimes entertaining to watch.

  59. If you want agreement that there is no value in the posts or comments, you will need to do a better job of explaining the context in which they have no value, rather than just declaring them without worth in such a general way.

    I think that I laid out the basis of comment value in my first response to the claim of important safe spaces:

    “It may be important I suppose to have “safe places”, they are just not terribly valuable. Of 3,000 whatever posts I have fed into the database so far, the vast majority of topics contain no measurable movement from JS’s viewpoint.”

    The idea of this being safe space is true – there is very little that goes away from where JS purposefully drives it. That makes for a very comely polite place – “safe” was what I responded to. But it’s sort of pointless, in that we aren’t convincing John of much, and he isn’t convincing us of much. The measure is how much the discussion creates movement or action.

  60. “It may be important I suppose to have “safe places”, they are just not terribly valuable.”

    Really? You think a place where you can have a discussion about a potentially heated topic without it becoming a name-calling, hate-filled mob is “not terribly valuable”? Whether minds are changed or there is “no measurable change” from the viewpoint or not is immaterial really. What is material is that someone can (politely and legitimately) pose a question or express disagreement w/out being subject to ad-hominem attacks and the foulness of the sort that goes on in other discussions of the same time in other parts of the web.

    Further you say that there is “no measurable change in viewpoint” but you have no way of knowing or documenting the people who read these threads and never say a word, but walk away with a greater understanding or depth of knowledge or even mindset.

    So your entirely subjective determination of the value of a “safe place”, much less the worth of this particular safe place seems to be significantly skewed by your own prejudices.

  61. I started reading in summer 2008, I think shortly before Sarah Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate. That’s not what brought me here (it was a link to the post/thread containing “Editing! Gerunds! Death!”, but I was impressed at the political discussions with multiple viewpoints and minimal personal attacks, thanks to John’s moderating and an established (and non-homogenously-opinionated) commentariat. For both personal and religious reasons I tend to be very oblivious to politics and have probably learned more from this blog and comments (the latter at least as much as the former) than I picked up in the previous 15 years — most of which were spent in Berkeley, CA. Which I note to illustrate my general obliviousness.

    I bring this up in response to dpmaine’s exchange with Xopher. I’ve kind of lost track of where dpmaine’s further posts have gone (starting with the bizarre assertion that “worthless” is neutral, which I don’t think any native speaker of [American] English would say), but this did make me think. Because that’s what this blog and comments do. For example, I never thought much about same-sex marriage (again, despite living in Berkeley) previously, due as much to religious noninvolvement with government and politics (we pay taxes, but don’t vote) as to my obliviousness, but you can bet I’ve thought about it since — and argued with my mother, who is of the same religion, about how it’s simply logical that it be legal as a civil right, regardless of what our religion teaches about homosexuality. (This is the part where I’m very, very glad that it also precludes voting, so I don’t have to choose between what I think is correct for the context of the country we live in and what would be allowed full membership in my congregation. I should perhaps note that this came up while discussing a coreligionist who discovered he was a hermaphrodite when her body basically changed itself to male at some post-puberty age. What if she’d been married at the time? I don’t know the answer to that.) And possibly argued with others. Certainly made clear statements that it’s ridiculous that the legality is even a question, and congratulated at least one couple on their same-sex nuptuals. Though I probably would’ve done the latter before out of politeness, it’s with much more appreciation of the issues now.

    The point is, even though I rarely participate in threads that involve any sort of argument or controversy — either because I don’t know enough to comment or because I know people here who are more facile than I will say what I’m thinking better and with additional food for thought — I find them literally thought-provoking and educational and at the very least, opinion-modifying. I just don’t generally find a need to post explicitly saying such, this comment excepted, especially if a) I wasn’t involved in the discussion already except as a reader and b) it’s over the course of several threads.

    Argh. I totally did not intend to write that much. Sorry for the tangent. Re relating to Scalzi himself, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him at a couple of book signings, both of which had me as the last signature-requesting person of the night. I like to think that we’d be friends if we knew each other, but we don’t, and I’m hardly offended by his not remembering me from one signing to the next. Someday I aspire to be memorable enough to be a regular!

  62. Responding to comments made while I was posting… Kara, I think it’s clear that dpmaine is using his own definition of “safe place”, which appears to be along the lines of “safe from the intrusion of differing opinion.” Not “safe from hateful abuse by bigots”, which is the sense I’m more used to seeing it in these days.

    dpmaine, defining your terms (and preferably altering them to words that actually mean what you’re trying to say) would probably go a long way toward useful conversation. Like “valuable”. How are you defining value?

  63. Wow, in less than 16 hours this thread went from one thing to another. Always interesting. I appreciate the characterization as posting flattery- score… In reality, I didn’t see this thread as rolling anywhere but positive with rainbows based on the topic. So naive of me.
    Also- I can tell who uses something more than an iPhone to type…
    One thing seems to be obvious- the grasp of the English language is above average on this blog (not that this is saying much in today’s system of education). I like to learn from both the competing arguments and how those arguments are expressed.
    Ok- add that as post #68: observation, flattery, and appreciation for English grammar.

  64. dpmaine: “But it’s sort of pointless, in that we aren’t convincing John of much, and he isn’t convincing us of much. The measure is how much the discussion creates movement or action.”

    So in the specific context of wanting to convince John or John wanting to convince readers, the measure being the degree of movement or action (terms that you did not define in explaining your context, nor did you describe the units of measure for such movement or action–or are you looking for a movement with only two possibilties: believes A/does not believe A, for instance?), you consider the posts and comments to be without value. As far as I can tell, to have value for your purposes, a large measure of movement is required, rather than having the comments contribute to gradual or incremental movement.

    That’s your limited scope in which the comments are, in your judgment, without value. (Obviously, that does not define “value” for other contexts.) Is it your proposition that to have value in your specific context, there must be movement of a person’s ideas within the comments on that particular post? Or is there a time frame measurement in your analysis?

  65. dpmaine: My comments are almost always removed, and yet I believe they have value. You see, the lion’s share of the comments I make are reporting spam, and it is OGH’s quite sensible habit to remove the spamflagging post at the same time he removes the spam. I like to think I do a small part in helping to keep the spambots from taking over, and that this is a valuable service.

    Of course, those posts won’t get included in your database, as unless your timing is Just Right you’ll never see them.

    Which reminds me, it’s about time I put together another Big Block of SpamReporting email. Maybe tomorrow. (I only flag spam here on the site when I’ve got good reason to believe that he’s currently reading it. When I notice spam late at night, I just add it to the list to email. Then I check each link to make sure it’s still there before actually emailing it.)

  66. The internet is useful as an agora, where people from all over can come together to debate the important issues of today, but it also facilitates spaces where people can have a conversation about shared interests-matters that might be trivial on a global scale, but perhaps more important to the lives of each individual reader or contributor. dpmaine, why do you favor the former function over the latter?
    I don’t know enough people who like sci-fi and fantasy to wait for recommendations from my friends and acquaintances, so I come to this site to hear about new books, from both the posts and the commentators. This site sometimes leads me to books that I end up liking, so I find it worth my time. What other value is there?

  67. When I asked this question, I wasn’t thinking about where the conversation might go, but that’s people for you. I don’t know about everyone else, but I sometimes find following a conversation in the comments difficult. I wish there was a way to see all the replies to each comment and the post more easily, but I can see that getting crazy really fast.

    JS: Thanks for answering my question! I asked mostly because I find the thought that almost anyone can read what I post somewhat unsettling. I also have no idea how you find the time to monitor comment threads; I feel like it took me forever and a day just to get through this one.

    debyfredericks: I love the cat-herding image!

    mythago and dpmaine (and anyone else who is interested): I recently read a piece called “The Gender of Sound” by Anne Carson and found it fascinating. (It’s about women, ancient Greece, speaking, etc.) I highly recommend it!

  68. Is it your proposition that to have value in your specific context, there must be movement of a person’s ideas within the comments on that particular post? Or is there a time frame measurement in your analysis?

    The methodology for measuring is to compare the ratio of positive agreement orientated comments to negative, contrary, or opposing comments, per user, per topic [this is facilitated by JS's tagging]. Almost 90% of posts are from people who have posted before, so for those 90%, it’s easy to correlate. I don’t have the stat directly in front of me, but there are a huge number of people who, going back 3000 posts and thousands of comments, have never disagreed with JS in a post.

    My point that there is not much value in the comments here, it is a “safe space”, essentially boils down to: “there are not many topics that have any substantial disagreement with those people who comment, and for those people who comment, the primary purpose of commenting is to agree with JS”. It’s akin to small talk.

    If you haven’t, compare any random Whatever thread to, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic or a busy sub-reddit over at reddit. There are many more opinions, many more comments, and much, much, much more movement. I think a big part of it is subject matter. I have not seen any caturday posts by Coates, or example.

  69. John – wow! Congrats on being an extreme outlier … amiable, reasonable, respectful and totally non-neurotic … all in one package!

    BTW – I have all your published books … several of them autographed*and have even purchased additional copies of a couple of favorites to distribute to friends. Having once chatted with you for about 10-15 minutes at a worldcon, can assure others here that you’re a delightful human being …

    * New category for authors: Best ‘autograph’ (note) … situationally-appropriate humor.

  70. I first discovered John Scalzi via “Being Poor”–I want to say, Christmas of 2005? Took me another 2 years to buy ‘Old Man’s War,’ but I was hooked–I’ve since bought ‘Ghost Brigades,’ ‘Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded,’ ‘Red Shirts,’ and, at one L.A .signing, ‘Agent to the Stars’ and ‘Fuzzy Nation’ (still haven’t read those last two, but Red Shirts is a favorite.)

  71. Frack. This is gonna be sequential because my mind is fuzzy today. I *do* suffer from depression (mine is comparatively ‘minor,’ I suppose), and it’s a beast. So my thoughts are with any other Whatever readers struggling with it. Hang in there.

  72. Coming in a bit late on this one, but your philosophy for application of the Mallet, John, seems loosely similar to one well suited for parenting. Follow the (relatively few) rules, take your learning seriously, be nice to the people around you, and don’t break stuff. If you do that, you can do pretty much whatever you want. If not, you will be (metaphorically) smacked.

    Amazing things, boundaries…

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