by Mike Shea on 7 March 2010
For fifteen years I've dealt with comment boards on various sites I've run and my patience wears thin. About five years ago, when I rewrote the software for Mikeshea.net, I made a conscious decision not to include a comment board. You can blame that on five years at Mobhunter dealing with the army of trolls that seemed to follow Everquest around making excuses for its poor design like an abused spouse saying "daddy's just tired".
A couple of things got me thinking about this topic recently. One was a song and video by Jonathan Mann called The Three Rules of the Internet. Jonathan Mann writes a song every day, 429 as of this writing. It's clear from his song that he gets his fair share of shit for the stuff he does. Here's a guy making something every day that has to deal with jackasses who want to tear down his creations. What gives them the right?
I also happened to be reading the afterward of the Dark Tower: The Long Road Home where the writer, Peter David, describes how a bunch of readers said he wasn't writing King's narrative correctly. Only, David pointed out, he had transcribed it word-for-word from the original text. Again, we have a guy with the guts to stand out on a line and continue the best fantasy series ever written getting cut down by a bunch of dorks who haven't created anything but stains in their underwear for the past 20 years.
This is mostly pointing me down to a theory of mine. Creative people shouldn't listen to their audience. While 95% of their audience may be great people with a lot of love for their work, there's a dangerous 5% that want to just cut people down. It's the same reason friends and loved ones secretly hope for failure. Deep down we're scared by people's success.
And it's hard enough to get the balls to do something creative in the first place. It sure as shit doesn't help to have people anonymously cutting you apart just because it makes them feel better about the fact that they aren't creating a goddamn thing.
So my site here doesn't have a comment board but people are more than welcome to email me. For some reason private conversation is a lot more cordial. So is Twitter for some reason. Sly Flourish has a comment system but I'm always one spam message away from turning it off. I'd almost rather people just send their thoughts through Twitter, where I can ban them forever if they turn into asshats. I think John Gruber has the right idea. So does Neal Stephenson.
Is this arrogance? Maybe. Maybe I'm just tired of having to defend myself when all I want to do is make stuff. I have a group of people I trust who are mostly creative types themselves to keep me honest.
Is it censorship? I can't see how. I'm paying for the site and I can do what I want with it. There is no lack of ways to get your voice heard on the net somewhere. There's about a thousand places to start up a blog or a chat. There's even hundreds of ways to comment on this article if you want. My favorite would likely be Twitter.
Fifteen years on the internet has shown me that there's a lot of jackasses out there. It's almost better to set up a white-list to keep the critics door closed to all except those you trust not to cut you down for their own self interest. You can't do that with an open forum on your website.
I think it comes down to a simple thought. I want to spend my time creating things. I want to make something every day. That means sometimes I need to isolate myself and it certainly means I need to stay away from people who feel better when I feel worse.