Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Silliman's backlog of comments lost forever?

[EDIT: when i wrote this post, i was under the impression that Kent's "malfeasance" comment was in regards to individual comments not being retrievable. upon rereading his comment, he was quite clear that he thinks that there's malfeasance because he views all the comments as being an integral interconnected part of Silliman's blog. i very much disagree with the accusation that there is any devious nature to Silliman's actions, but will have to address that more specifically in another blog... which sucks cause i'm pretty sick of talking about this]

first of all, everyone can calm down. few if any of Silliman's comment threads are lost forever. skip below for a list of resources that will help you recover his old comment sections. you do probably want to act quickly though.

Kent Johnson, and a few other people that he's managed to convince, are upset that Ron Silliman might have deleted all the old comment archives from his blog. he writes:
the deletion of that public record [Silliman's blog comment archive], with all its good and bad both, would be nothing short of–from an ethical and literary standpoint–a stunning instance of malfeasance.
someone should probably address this on a more well-read blog, because there is a huge misconception here. really, it's a little scary to think that anyone could possibly have been contributing comments somewhere for years under the assumption that Blogspot (or as Kent seems to think of it "Ron Silliman") would keep them forever.

archiving this amount of information takes a good bit of time and resources. why do people keep thinking that Ron Silliman needs to be putting in all this extra effort and resources into protecting your writing?

don't you keep copies of poems you send in to publishers? don't you keep copies of your side of a correspondence with someone? how could you possibly think that anyone besides you has an obligation to be archiving your own written material? especially when you're writing in a medium that's so famously ephemeral.

it's a little late now for Silliman's blog, but anyone who finds it important to archive comment sections should know that it's their own responsibility, but that it's not difficult to do at all. just subscribe to the "all comments" RSS feed on a person's blog (which you should then be backing up if it's important to you). also, on Blogspot, there's an option to have all comments on any thread you participate in sent to your email address (which you can then also back up somewhere else).

resources for recovering "lost" web content:

you can use the internet archive and the wayback machine to recover old webpages. (here's an example of an old Silliman thread with the comments still viewable using wayback). a little spotty, but you can find many of the comment threads.

also, you can use the google cache function. just press the "cache" link under any google result, or search "cache:example.net" on google. (example of viewable comments using google cache). google's cached pages do expire after 3 months (thanks to Steven Fama for reminding me), so be quick about grabbing stuff using this. you can get a text version of the cached results, which will make it a tiny file for saving purposes.

here is a greasemonkey script that's useful for browsing the internet using google cache (learn how to use greasemonkey here.)

find more resources for recovering old webpages here.

also, there's some likelihood that Silliman has old versions of his blog backed up, which would have all the comments in tact. i'll let everyone know if he gets back to me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

some thoughts on how to cultivate valuable discussion online

i'm sure that many people are going to walk away from Silliman's termination of his comment section with the idea that productive dialogue is just not possible on the internet. this is just not true. and if it is true for poets, then it's all our fault, not the internet's.

anyone arguing that the internet is bad for dialogue can go ahead and tell me what a better medium is for organizing 1,000+ people's ideas in real time.

it's not easy. it takes time, effort, and community cooperation (which is going to be the difficult part for poets). also, it's probably not something a blog with an unpaid staff of one can really reasonably accomplish. so it's probably not going happen on Silliman's blog without some good volunteer moderators. the Harriet blog could have done it, but they gave up for some reason, perhaps due to a lack of faith in their online users.

but it is done. valuable conversations happen online. Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog accomplishes it with hundreds of comments per post (and not just better than any solo writer's blog, but probably better than any other blog). Slash Dot and Reddit have had their ups and downs of useful large-scale discussion. there's plenty more, these are just the ones i've had direct experience over the last few years.

i can think of three things (right now) that the online poetry community has trouble with that contributes to the overall difficulty of having good discussions.

1. interface:
some of these sites that actually have good discussion are user moderated, where each comment can be given a positive or negative rating, and each user can select a negative parameter at which they'd like a comment to be hidden from them. for this to work, however, it requires a user base who truly desires to cultivate a community of varied voices, rather than a user base where each member's only desire is to be heard. you can't just downmod a comment because you disagree. this will be difficult for poets, i think. poets (online at least) tend to view a comment section as their own soapbox, issuing a strong demand to be listened to, and rarely to reciprocate.

2. banning users:
poetry bloggers are slow to ban users. this isn't entirely bad of course, valuing (or at least allowing) dissenting opinions is a necessary part of productive dialogue. poetry blogs however, have a high percentage of independent dissenters who tend to not respond to any kind of criticism themselves. these people will quickly flood the entire comment space if they are not reprimanded for some of their more obnoxious behavior.

poets are also among the whiniest people when they've been banned from something, running and crying on their blogs about how they've been censored. sorry, but obnoxiously dominating a thread with your long-winded, and only vaguely related comments on someone else's personal blog is not freedom provided by the constitution.
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: No you're not wrong.
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: You're not wrong Walter. You're just an asshole.
Walter: Okay then.
another problem with banning within the poetry community is that it's probably hard to ban people who's work you're familiar with, and may even like. for instance, ■■■■ ■■■■■■■, and ■■■■ ■■■■■ (names removed cause i'm at least trying not to be a hypocrite) are both very intelligent poets. they're productive contributors (in their own ways) to the larger poetry community, and both have uniquely important voices. however, acting the way they consistently do on any decently moderated forum would get them at least temporarily banned. whereas on poetry blogs, they are rarely banned, leading to them dominating threads to the point where no one wants to participate anymore.

3. comment navigation:
part of cultivating dialogue online is just having a user base that knows how to navigate online discussion. you can't respond to the assholes, and if you do, the results are partly your own fault. there's always going to be a few that sneak in, and you just have to ignore them. these people are called trolls, and all they do (whether it's their intent or not) is distract discussion. sometimes they offer a seemingly intelligent comment in an abrasive manner. you might respond to them calmly, hoping to quell their anger and spark a useful discussion, but the more you respond, the more everything just seems to spiral out of control. you've been trolled. you can't get a persecution complex (which is hard for poets, i know) you have to respond to the mature comments, the ones that add something, not just the abrasive controversial ones.

every single user bares at least some responsibility to cultivate useful dialogue. poets need to stop being so single minded about their own voices being heard, and start thinking about how what they're saying builds into the whole environment of conversation. saying that poets just need to develop thicker skins is just kind of boneheaded and lazy, as is calling Jessica Smith a "silly young self-righteous poet." "cultivating useful dialogue" doesn't mean we can't have heated, strongly worded conversations. it just has to have a point. it has to go somewhere.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

the death of silliman's comment section is the end of civilization as we know it

poets! please! does every tiny event that somewhat effects your lives have to be the most dramatic thing ever? Conrad DiDiodato laments, in most hyperbolic terms, the end of Silliman's blog's comment section. his poast is entitled "Ron Silliman and the diminishment of free speech", and he writes:
Ron Silliman has, in a word, opted in favor of Internet censorship, radically curtailing the reader's right to offer intelligent, constructive criticism
not taking questions from the audience at a private event you entirely sponsored and organized is not a sign of the end of free speech. getting rid of the letters to the editor section of a non-profit publication that you pay for out of pocket is not a sign that everyone is being repressed by a totalitarian dictator. and getting rid of the comment section on your own blog is not the downfall of freedom as we know it.

you can't just go screaming that you've been repressed every time someone makes a personal decision that happens to violate your vastly over-inflated sense of entitlement.

Silliman's decision to end the comment section sucks, but your free speech is still intact. you can still go get your own blog, write something, and Silliman will probably even link to you every so often, put you on his blog roll and all that. the funniest thing about Conrad's complaints that free speech is dead is that i guarantee that Silliman will link to his post.

Silliman scours the internet every week for pertinent poetry discussions and links to them. he does this for free, for nothing, on top of his job, family, and poetry and blog output. how anyone can get the idea that they are entitled to this free service is completely beyond me.