The Local Yarn

Accepting Footnotes

Most posts on this site now accept submissions for additional notes. If something in a post jogs your memory — reminds you, perhaps, of a related experience or something in a book which sheds further light on the subject, we invite you to make the connection for other readers by submitting a note for permanent publication alongside the original post.

That said, if you do get a comment published here, you should add it to your resume.

Keep in mind, you are not simply “commenting” on the original, but actually being invited to try adding to it. Be authorial; be original, be clear. There is no limit on length as long as your writing justifies it. If we see promise in a submission that nonetheless contains non-trivial shortcomings, we may contact you with our concerns and work with you to shape the thing up.

Note that we don’t display the time or date of published comments (although they do appear in order of publication), so readers will not know what year you wrote unless you need to mention it. Avoid statements whose relevance will expire with time – think of writing for a limited-edition book, not a fish-wrap newspaper.

Simple statements of opinion do not have much chance (even if they are nice opinions!). Obvious marketing and incivilities will be shot on sight.

Further Notes

Two of the best examples of this “reader submission” model that I know of are Edward Tufte’s Ask ET Notebooks (written about at length in his article Moderating Internet Forums ) and the user notes on PHP’s online reference.
Joel Dueck

Matt Gemmell has recently examined the issue of whether and how much on-site comments add to the value of articles in practice. In his article Comments Off, he ends up on the side of turning them off entirely, saying that authors now have other options for engagement with readers, such as responses on twitter or on blogs.

The main problem I see with this is that when the ensuing discussion is conducted via Twitter or scattered blog posts, it is not collected or collated anywhere. It’s interesting while it lasts; but a week later the discussion as a whole has effectively vanished and it is very hard to track down again, even assuming you are aware it existed. This is little better than having no engagement at all; it can never add lasting value to the original article, unless the author assumes the burden of collecting and curating every follow-up tweet and blog post and appending them to the original – which resembles comment moderation far too closely to offer any real advantage.

My own approach doesn’t avoid the problem of placing the burden of moderation on the site author, but it does offer a middle ground between the all-or-nothing paradigm that seems to prevail in these discussions. As long as expectations are properly conveyed to readers, you can have engagement that adds permanent value to your site. And part of setting those expectations may be that we stop calling it “the comment section”.

Joel Dueck