I first published Taming of the Tigger on this site fourteen years ago; today, I posted the first comment on that page. It’s not the first time something like that has happened, but it’s probably the most extreme example.1 I mention it because it offers occasion to take another stab at describing my pet alternative model for online writing and commenting.

There are a couple of sites that used this model before I did, but the prime example is Edward Tufte’s online forum/blog, ET Notebooks. Each of the posts (check out, for example, the post about Philisophical Diamond Signs) has the same basic two features:

  1. The writing style of the opening material, which usually takes the form of an illustration of an isolated concept (vs. laying out arguments in essay form).
  2. The comments (both from ET and from readers) which accumulate immediately after the opening material. Comments are cherry-picked and heavily moderated based on how well each adds its own self-contained substance to the thoughts already collected.

The result looks very different from a normal blog post, and also feels a lot heftier in terms of “signal strength.” The point of this model is that, when done properly (and when the writing justifies it), it allows each page to become its own little reading room, a long-term collector of related information. The timing doesn’t matter: comments can have equal value whether they are added ten minutes or ten years after the publication date.

I took inspiration from this model when I enabled comments on The Local Yarn in 2011. I don’t have the readership needed to attract a high level of participation at this point, but that’s the beauty of the ET Notebooks model: each page2 feels complete and self-contained whether there are fifty comments, or two, or none.

It would, I suppose, be more ideal if more of the comments were submitted by readers (as in Plans of the Psyche, which is so far the best result produced by this experiment in terms of what I envisioned for reader participation). But even when I look back on an old post like Water the Transcendent Lens, which (as of this writing) has three comments, all written by myself, I still think the model works well.

I’ll be continuing to use this model on this site, digging up years-old posts and adding notes to them as occasion warrants.

  1. Of course, part of the reason for gaps this long is that I didn’t even have comments enabled for the first eleven years (with one exception). Reason for that being, I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to use them for, and I didn’t want to do any extra design work to accomodate them. 

  2. There’s just one caveat I’ve found, which is that if the writing in a post deviates from the atomic “illustration” format (point #1 in the model above) into something more essay-like or conversational (e.g. blog-style posts like this one), you can’t really moderate comments on that post according to the “curated notes” principle (point #2 in the model) — at least, not to the same degree of purity. The more conversational the tone of the post, the more I’ve had to allow for responses to be equally conversational, otherwise I would end up rejecting too many fairly good comments.