Monday, 22 October 2007

Comment Is Fascinating

If you were to ask me which website I would miss most (apart from my own blog!) were it to disappear from the internet tomorrow, I would immediately reply Guardian Comment is Free.

No other single website has such a variety of quality writers as CiF. No matter when you open the site, there will be several articles that are worth reading, and the open threads below a large proportion of those will contain some quality debate (along with a lot of drive-by posts that can happily be ignored, of course)

The Guardian is a left-leaning newspaper, so it is not surprising that there is a statistical over-representation of writers espousing viewpoints that might commonly be described as left wing. To give just one example, environmentalists have several writers promoting their cause on CiF, whereas their opponents have only the one semi-regular spokesman, Brendan O'Neill of Spiked online.

The open threads are a different story, however. By rough estimation, the left-right proportion among regular commenters as opposed to writers is around 30-70. Perhaps this is because readers are more likely to comment on an article that they broadly disagree with than one they have no argument with. Either way, it can make for some very interesting discussions.

Admittedly, CiF isn't without a couple of problems. Its moderation vexes a lot of contributors. In my observation the problem with it is not so much that it is bad, but that it is inconsistent. Sometimes trigger-happy moderators delete posts that are even mildly critical of the article or its author (I once had a post deleted for using the word prick!). At other times the kind of nastiness that has led to CiF being referred to as the 'talk radio' of the blogging world goes seemingly un-noticed for hours if at all. A more minor issue is the archiving of columns once they leave the front page - some get missed out and are a job to find later if you want to refer to them!

I expect that I'll be reading and talking about Comment is Free and its writers & commenters for some time yet.

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