Creative Destruction

June 7, 2007

Nitpickery Online

Filed under: Blogosphere — Robert @ 12:16 pm

Shamus Young (of DMotR fame) is understandably irked at the nitpickery that has come with having a big readership.

I confess uneasily to being one of those commenters, sometimes, although I like to think that I’m able to restrict my nitpicking to areas where it really is material to the point or argument being made. (Example of useful nitpickery: if the actual author of the linked post was Frank Johnson, correcting my error would be material; non-useful nitpickery would be pointing out that nitpickery isn’t a word.)

From a commenting perspective, probably the only thing Shamus can do to move the situation in a direction he likes is to create a circle of regular, non-irritating-jerk commenters, and ask them to use peer pressure to keep the jerkish behavior down. Ironically, I’d like to make this helpful suggestion at his site, but he’s closed comments because he’s sick of the jerks. Hopefully he’ll see the trackback. 😉



  1. Indeed. 🙂

    The biggest problem is that I can’t see how to combat the problem without annoying everyone else. As you noted, you can’t comment on that post. Sigh.

    Comment by Shamus — June 7, 2007 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

  2. […] LATER: A useful illustration of helpful vs. unhelpful corrections is here. […]

    Pingback by Twenty Sided » Pedantic Nitpicking — June 7, 2007 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

  3. You know what it boils down to? Faith – specifically, good faith. If two people are having a conversation in good faith, then each automatically mentally compensates for whatever trivial ambiguity or vagueness is present in the speech of the other. Inevitably, there are such lacunae in our precision; language is a club, not a rapier. We get close enough to be understood; further effort invested, as Shamus notes, makes writing a chore and reading a bore. There are times when the ambiguity passes a certain threshold; I have relationships in my life with people where the threshold is different for the two people involved, which causes some friction and frustration when one person seeks a clarification that the other person thinks is trivial or stupid. (Fortunately those relationships are worth the hassle.)

    But by and large, people who aren’t being assholes can talk to one another without having to pull this kind of crap.

    I’ve occasionally fantasized about some kind of peer-ranking system for blog commenters, where people’s asshole quotient can be measured. The problem with such a system is that we don’t have the ability to lock people into an identity; anyone whose ratings became sufficiently bad to give other people information about that commenter (“golly, a net feedback of -20401; I wonder if this guy plays well with others”) would just ditch that ID and start a new one.

    One other possibility is the Althouse scenario: she just will not put up with any crap, and if she sees you giving her crap she will call you. This has tended to drive away the serious crap-pullers, but at a cost to Ann of having to be a recess monitor in her own comments section, which might work OK for some but which is highly distasteful to many others.

    I don’t see an easy answer. I wish I did.

    Comment by Robert — June 7, 2007 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  4. Shamus,
    If worrying about this kind of thing is affecting your enjoyment of writing, you need to turn it around on them. Anytime you are about to alter your writing to account for this crap, stop. Leave it alone, or better yet, ratchet it up a notch. Then have your readers keep score in the comments, and berate the nitpickers. Hopefully this’ll allow you to enjoy writing, discourage the nitpickers, and provide a neverending source of amusement for your readers.

    Comment by Mob — June 7, 2007 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

  5. The readers keeping score idea seems pretty good. I wonder if there’s some kind of digg like-plugin for WordPress where comments could be voted up or down and hidden (but retrievable with a click) if under a certain threshold?
    A quick google turns up Comment Karma or trollr.

    Comment by Scott — June 7, 2007 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  6. “I wonder if there’s some kind of digg like-plugin for WordPress where comments could be voted up or down and hidden (but retrievable with a click) if under a certain threshold?”

    The website YTMND has this. Because some comments are flaming or crude (as is the case on a lot of sites) they implemented a system which allows the users themselves to rate comments. If a comment falls too low in the negatives, it becomes hidden and retractable with a click. When it was released it was abused to kingdom come, but now it’s a very useful tool to stop spammers and flamers clogging up the comments. The only bad thing is that often people with a certain point of view will be shunned by naysayers and their comment downrated, but if a relatively mature audience has this kind of system, it works!

    Comment by Galenor — June 7, 2007 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  7. Robert, I hope you don’t mind my posting here in lieu of Shamus’ blog. Thanks.

    Free speech protections only apply to the government. Shamus’ right to enjoy writing outweighs the nitpickers right to nitpick. It’s his blog and our privilege to read it.

    Personally I’d implement some draconian author-controlled measure, for example one click from the author and suddenly no-one but you sees your posts. So it’ll take time for them to realise no one can see their posts. They can change ID, but they risk harassment charges then. IP tracing is real.

    The Adams approach would be to intentionally bait and outwit the nitpickers. Eventually they may get bored of being pointed and laughed at, although there will probably always be more. Sometimes he posts multiple choice nitpicks at the end, like “if you claim X is inherently Y, explain why in 99.9% of cases, X is not Y”. I imagine Adams is to some degree sociopathic though, few people have the ability to not merely endure but enjoy constant abuse.

    The final approach would simply be to stop reading the comments as soon as you hit the first nitpicker, or entirely. That would be a big shame, you may disagree with punishing the group for the crimes of one but it certainly encourages peer pressure.

    Comment by Alexis Li — June 7, 2007 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

  8. Another possibility is to use the editing power to turn objectionable comments into something else.

    Comment by Robert — June 7, 2007 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

  9. Why justify nitpickers with responses at all? It doesn’t make you distant to ignore them. Nor do I think anyone has any business losing respect for you because you delete comments in your blog. It’s your blog, after all. Private property, no trespassing without permit.

    Comment by Dixie — June 7, 2007 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  10. As someone who does this sort of thing occasionally in real life (but not online–feedback is not immediate enough), I feel the need to explain. Nitpicking can be a game, for those of us who enjoy arguing for it’s own sake. Points are scored for finding inaccuracies in your opponent’s statements. The defender either goes on the offensive, attacking an inaccuracy in the opponent’s criticism; finds any reason, however tenuous, that he was technically correct after all; or acknowledges the point. It’s a fun game; the problem is it doesn’t translate well from the one-to-one real-life format to the one-to-many blog format. The blog author doesn’t have the time or ability to defend against simultaneous attacks from many fronts, or even to send signals to all their opponents that (s)he doesn’t want to play. Possibly some of the regulars would enjoy playing the game on the author’s behalf; this seems likely to fill up the comments with irrelevant posts, though.

    Comment by Nathaniel — June 7, 2007 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

    • That’s generally pedantic, and tiresome. When someone does that in real life, you start questioning their intelligence. At the point where they can’t understand your inferrances and generalisations, you realise communicating with such a waste of meat is self defeating: They’re not listening anyway. Unless you wish to be spoken to as a child, don’t act like a dick-clarifying all points and speaking in only the driest and more boring sense is exceptionally degrading to the listener, and time consuming and boring to the one communicating.

      I could nitpick that your comma at the end is incorrectly placed. But since I can understand your message despite the grammatical error, I can live with it. You also made a mistake with it’s: its is an exception, no appostrophe is used to indicate possession, since the contraction uses the apostrophe. But I understood your message, and understand that some people just aren’t good at spelling and grammar, and some don’t want to put it in spellcheck (Now I’m making fun of you). If you can understand what they’re saying, and if your message is irrelevant to the point, pedantic, wastes time, or leads the author to have to clarify something to you that should be self evident: Shut the fuck up. You’re a waste of everyone’s time.

      Comment by You're Wrong — November 17, 2011 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

  11. For the record I only read the intro… and I didn’t read any of the comments that were most likely nitpicking, but you need a gang of people to sit and watch your comments and when one nitpicks, you verbally destroy them and make them not want to come back. That’s what I would do… because those people suck. And their kids suck too.

    Comment by Nanja Kang — June 7, 2007 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  12. How about volunteer or paid bouncers? “Sorry, you’re a dick. Go. Next!”

    Comment by Robert — June 7, 2007 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  13. Since I don’t want to spend ANY time moderating comments on my blog, if I did turn them on I would probably make a rule that all comments must have the format of a short letter with a salutation that includes the name of the person(s) to whom the commenter is replying before their comment.

    Another rule would be that I’m not interested in “nitpicks” (but others who comment might be willing to process a nitpick reply to what they say).

    Any comment not specifically addressed to someone would be deleted without explanation. Anyone comment replying to someone with irrelevant garbage instead of a meaninful content would be deleted without explanation. Any comment nitpicking at me would be deleted without explanation. Others who comment would be told they could ignore nitpickers if they wished, or simply start their next turn in the conversation with something like “Skipping ‘s nitpick, I’ll reply to ‘s idea that…”

    Would this system help Shamus?

    Comment by David V.S. — June 7, 2007 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  14. Personally, I prefer to ignore trolls. They feed off of the attention.

    The only comments I’ve ever deleted on my blog were the crude and the direct attacks on myself. Anything else that isn’t helpful just gets ignored.

    Comment by Hal — June 7, 2007 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  15. Why does a blogger turn comments on in the first place?

    If we all know and understand the state of affairs it becomes fairly easy to accept that a certain percentage of readership feedback will be… verbal detrius.

    I believe allowing comments is not so much about forming a dialogue with the readers as allowing a place for ideological bacterium to grow (much like forgetting to wipe down the mirror after a shower).

    In the end, allowing people to comment on your own opinions is, in *my* opinion (lol), fan service.

    Comment by Jack — June 7, 2007 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

    • If you don’t care, then that’s fine. If you’d rather let your readership have a nice environment free of nuisances, assholes, spammers, and trolls, then you have to moderate your comments. Moderation takes effort. When scumbags and pedants waste too much of your time, then you stop giving the privilege to comment, because it’s a waste of your time.

      Comment by You're Wrong — November 17, 2011 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  16. […] Nitpickery Online Shamus Young (of DMotR fame) is understandably irked at the nitpickery that has come with having a big readership. I […] […]

    Pingback by Top Posts « — June 7, 2007 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

  17. Nitpicking can be a game, for those of us who enjoy arguing for it’s own sake.

    It’s not much of a game if one one party is playing, and the other party sees it as an irritant.

    Comment by bkw — June 7, 2007 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

  18. This world has a lot of anger that it has to swallow. After being told by your wife to do this and that. After being told by your boss to do this or that.. after being cut off in traffic or flipped off in traffic.. or ignored or forced to wait in line.. people need to vent. Some have chosed to vent by nitpicking… Bummer.

    Comment by Dave — June 7, 2007 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

  19. A funny thing about nitpickers… they’ll ignore the corrections.. it’s kinda like the credits to Monty Python’s Holy Grail… mind you Moose bites can be nasty.

    Comment by Dave — June 7, 2007 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

  20. Jack says in comment 15:

    Why does a blogger turn comments on in the first place? … In the end, allowing people to comment on your own opinions is, in *my* opinion (lol), fan service.

    If you’re interested in seeing you own writing published but not having any feedback, then comments off makes sense. To many of us, the discussion is as worthwhile as the original post, and there’s a lot to be learned from tossing ideas back and forth.

    At Creative Destruction, we’ve done pretty well self-policing comments and reining in a few rabid commentators. The option of turning off comments would be a bit like the sound of one hand clapping (oneself on the back, at that).

    Comment by Brutus — June 7, 2007 @ 11:19 pm | Reply

  21. If I didn’t want feedback for and by and about and against my opinions, I would stop posting on this relatively high-traffic blog and go back to my little hole-in-the-tubes spot on Blogger. There I would be safe in the realization that no one would read anything that I write and, therefore, would not have to worry about comments.

    With traffic comes people. With people comes thought processes. With thought processes come comments. (Then we become the grass, which the antelope eat. That, Simba, is the Circle of Life.)

    Comment by Off Colfax — June 10, 2007 @ 12:02 am | Reply

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