I was reading Jonathan’s post about comments systems and how they have implications he’d not thought about, and it dovetailed so well with some thinking I’ve been doing lately that I left a long comment there, that I want to expand on a bit more here, if he doesn’t mind. (Tangent : Who ‘owns’ the comments you leave on someone else’s blog? You or the person who writes the blog, or if the comments are offsite (like mine), the owner of the offsite system? Damned if I know.)
I’ve been a Metafilter addict (Tap, tap, squeal – “Uh, is this thing on? My name is Stav, and I’m a Metaholic.”), sometimes more, sometimes less, for a year and a half or so, and for me it has always been about the conversations in the threads, foremost. The concept of Metafilter, married so neatly as it is with the useability design, appeals to me immensely. Although I do follow many of the links that are posted to the front page, I have often been guilty of just reading the comments threads behind the posts. Although there has been much (justified) wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth (not to mention the occasional bestial roar of anguish) recently about the decline of the level of discourse around the place, it’s a rare day that there aren’t at least a couple of threads where Very Smart People talk about things that I have, compared to them, a tenuous grasp on, and that I find fascinating and informative. I’ve learned a lot there over the last 18 months or so, sharpened my writing skills (to a small degree, ok, fair enough), and feel as if I am part of a well-defined but very diverse community, a group of brainy folks who, most of the time, are good fun to be around. Although many of the ‘old guard’ are more inclined to believe that a well-crafted post to the front page, with interesting links, is the key factor in what makes MeFi great (in perhaps much the same way that it has been argued in some places that the focus of a ‘real’ weblog should be linkage), I tend to lean towards the discussion that a great link, or even a crap one, can generate.
Now, I wrote a piece for Waeguk when I had had a few beers one night last month about how important I thought comments systems on blogs really are, but never posted it, because it was more laced with invective than usual, even for me. I believe I went as far as to say make references to cowardly lions. And identical cheese hostesses. (I told you I’d had a few beers at that point…) Later it was gently pointed out to me in a discussion thread in the comments system at BurningBird that some people prefer not to engage in the two-way, not to open themselves up to criticism and so on, and this is just fine with me. Reading that, I was actually glad I’d never posted the aforementioned drunken screed. Each to their own, I say, gosh darn it, but I still think keeping the communication flow one-way cripples the power of the medium.
The non-sequiteurs collide here : I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit…I feel what may be happening is like a metastasizing of the Metafilter concept (‘a community blog’) into an overlapping network of distributed micro-metafilters, organically growing, based around virtual peer groups like the ones that I belong to (out along various axes like BurningBird and KeepTrying and Metafilter and 1142 so on and so on and on – different axes, different circles, for different people, variously overlapping). If Metafilter is a community blog focussed on a single site, then the distributed micro-metafilter (Meta-MetaFilter?) equivalent of the ‘front page posts’ are the things that each of us write on our own blogs, and for me the real gold, the real community, the discussion and exchange and ferment and chaos comes from the rolling, cross-blog, intricately-threaded discussions that flare up and die down in the various comments systems we’ve implemented. These thoughts and colloquies are then reflected in our blog posts, and the process becomes auto-catalytic, feeding itself, and growing with each iteration!
And I think it’s happening everywhere, throughout blogspace, in pockets where people have come together for whatever reason and banded into blogtribes, centred around interests or styles or strong personalities or whatever, and where some critical mass of them have enabled comments systems and are using them to talk….it’s endlessly fascinating to me.
Or am I just talking crap again? I have a tendency to do that.

Meta-comments? comments.

Thoughts That, If Not Deep, Are At Least Wide