Re: Commenter Court: Positive Reinforcement (Robert Wright & Aryeh Cohen-Wade)
Maybe I'm wrong about this, but as far as I can tell, this is the basic logical framework that has lead to Commenter Court: Bob Wright created Bloggingheads. Because he created the forum, he has both the administrative power and a legitimate claim to the right to alter the chemistry of the commenting community. Plus, we might throw in some apparent motivations to do so based on a (probably absurd) theory about the behavior of commenters having some kind of effect on the much broader viewership of his site.
There is something basically wrong with this picture, even if each premise is valid. The problem is that Bob isn't really a commenter. I don't even think of Aryeh as one, although they both pipe up occasionally. Having Bob and Aryeh debate over the most appropriate norms for the commenter community is a little bit like having Steve Jobs trying to instruct his customers on the most appropriate uses of the iPad.
There may be ways for Bob to be constructive in the development of a more civilized comment environment, but he needs to abandon this top down framework he's been working with. I take it that he's open to a basically democratic approach to these issues, since if he wasn't, he wouldn't be spending his time on these things the way he does. But he also thinks it's his job to make the call about what constitutes appropriate commenter behavior, and I think he needs to abandon the conceit that it's his job to make that call. That decision should come out of discussions among commenters themselves-the whole process should be driven from the bottom, rather than at the top. I have no clear policy recommendations, other than to have, if we are to have commenter court at all, to have it, like the Apollo dialogs, between commenters willing to discuss whatever issues come up.
Some of this is clearly necessary precisely because comment histories are not well understood by Bob (Aryeh is better on this score, but there is something oddly disconnected about the way he interprets comments), and the idea that you can just abolish the context in which antagonistic encounters arise and still have a sense of commenter justice is absurd. I don't think, fundamentally, that Bob and Aryeh have the same sense of what is at stake in these discussions as regular commenters do. And I think that's a big part of why it seems like there's something out of sync between what is said on camera and what is said in the forums.