Monday, April 25, 2011

On the Value of Reading Blog Comments

A link to Andy Lester's Perlbuzz post Slipping away from the Perl community is currently featured on reddit Programming. Although I generally try to minimize my exposure to Perl, I find this post and its reddit reference interesting for several reasons. One of the reasons the referenced post interests me is that the post itself talks about a legitimate problem in the blogosphere in general and in our industry in particular. I'll only briefly look at this issue in this post. The reddit reference interests me because of the value of the comments. It is what I learned from these comments that interests me enough to write this post. As a side note, it's nice to see new reddit posts again after Amazon EC2 going down last week and taking reddit with it.

In "Slipping away from the Perl community," Andy Lester's articulates what many of us who have used online resources since the early 1990s have observed: online civility seemingly continues to move to a new low. One of the things I learned from a comment on the reddit reference to this post is that there is a term for this particular phenomenon: Eternal September. Wikipedia describes "Eternal September" as "a slang expression, coined by Dave Fischer, for the period beginning September 1993" that "encapsulates the belief that an endless influx of new users (newbies) since that date has continuously degraded standards of discourse and behavior on Usenet and the wider Internet."

Although there are no comments on the "Slipping away from the Perl community" post itself as of this writing, the number of comments on the reddit reference to the post is approaching 400. Skimming through some of these comments, I have learned a few new things besides the term "Eternal September." One of the interesting things I picked up from a comment is the availability of Modern Perl in various forms at no cost. Although I only use Perl in rare circumstances these days, the three or four books I have on it are somewhat dated. Of course, they still apply for the most part, but it is nice to have another resource available with a more modern perspective on Perl.

Another comment on the reddit reference pointed me to a blog post that I don't recall reading before: Steve Yegge's Ancient Languages: Perl. Yegge is one of the flew bloggers I've read who is more verbose than I am and this post is no exception. In this post, Yegge explains why "if I ever start my own company, Perl won't be allowed there" despite Yegge's opening statement, "I like Perl."

There are numerous other comments on this post that I found interesting either because they reiterated my beliefs, challenged my beliefs with credibility, or presented something I had not thought about before. There are, of course, some of the very types of comments the original post was about (mean spirited). At a very high level, the comments remind one that there are still many developers using Perl, there are many developers who formerly used Perl, there are many developers who feel something else (often Ruby or Python) is now better than Perl, and there are many developers who feel Perl is still the best thing going.

One final observation that is clearly made from the fact that the post itself has zero comments and the reddit reference to it has nearly 400 comments is evidence of the own downside of aggregation sites and syndication. In Trouble in the House of Google, Jeff Atwood describes the unfortunately side effect of syndication that sometimes leads to the syndicated version of StackOverflow ranking higher in a Google search than does the original content. For comments, it is even worse because the comments are not likely to be reproduced in both places (syndicated and original versions). This example is the best (worst?) I've seen of this with essentially an infinite ratio (400 to 0) of comments on the aggregate reference as compared to the original post.

My blog is syndicated on JavaWorld and I appreciate that because it brings significant attention and traffic. Similarly, references from reddit and DZone also drive traffic. The unfortunate side effect, however, is that sometimes some really useful comments are added to the JavaWorld syndicated version or to the DZone or reddit references that are therefore not easily associated with one another or with my original post. I try to identify a comment on one of these forums that is interesting enough to reply to in my blog to ensure it is called out at the source. However, I know that I miss many of these comments altogether. Because comments can often be as useful (and in some cases even more useful) as the original post itself, it'd be nice to have them all in once place. Comments can also correct or address the misunderstandings, misstatements, falsities, typos, logic holes, speculations, and questions that might occur in the original blog post.

I have had several situations on my own blog where feedback comments have provided me with new information. Some recent examples include numerous comments on my post JDK 7: New Interfaces, Classes, Enums, and Methods.


More than once, I've found comments to be as useful as the post itself. The lesson learned is that comments can be well worth the read (or at least skim when there's nearly 400 of them!). I have found comments that refer me to related resources or similar posts often lead me to what I'm looking for or teach me something new. We're often told to "read the fine print." I suggest that when reading blogs, "read the comments."


Andy Lester said...

There were no comments on the article because the comments on were broken. I fixed the problem Sunday night, and there are now two comments posted in the past 12 hours. I'm sure there would be many more if the comments were working when I created the article.

Dustin said...

Another example of the usefulness of community comments that also serves as an example of the one drawback (a small price for the benefit of greater exposure) to syndication is Julian Exenberger's post Java 8.0 Wishlist. At the time of my writing this comment, the original post has zero comments and the DZone syndicated version has nearly 20 comments.