Dave Copeland´s review of rbutr in the ReadWriteWeb website concluded that rbutr doesn’t measure up to Blog Comments as a means for discussion, or conveying dissent to an expressed opinion. Happy as I ever am to engage in a debate, it is probably of no surprise that I am going to have to disagree with Dave’s conclusion…
The Value of Blogs Comments
The main thrust of Dave’s argument came down to the claim that blog posts are a fine, imperfect yes, but adequate system for providing alternative view points. More importantly, they do this job better than rbutr can do it. He said:
Blog comments are not a perfect vehicle for airing a diversity of opinion, but they work – better than rbutr, at least. At this writing, 71 comments follow the Guardian’s review of Chomsky, which provide a diverse set of viewpoints, as well as a link to the same alternative commentary rbutr turned up.
I have several points to make against the value of blog comments as a superior alternative to rbutr, but I think the first two are probably all you need to hear:
Blog Owners Control Blog Comments
As long as the owner of a blog controls the comments, then blogs which express contentious views are free to censor anyone who disagrees with the main thrust of their article. Dave selected an article in the Guardian as his example of how effective blog comments are to express dissenting opinions, but many blogs are controlled by individuals with specific agendas to push, and no independent comment moderation.
As long as blog comments are controlled by the content creators, then they will always be mostly ineffective at conveying opposing perspectives.
Most Websites Don’t Have Comments
Similar to the problem of being moderated out of existence, there are inumerable websites which simply don’t allow comment. rbutr can be used on any page, regardless of whether comments are allowed or not, or whether it is even an article. There is actually an awful lot that rbutr can be used to achieve. Blog comments on the other hand don’t provide much more than what they were designed to offer, and they don’t even do that very well…
Who Reads These Things?
The insanity of reading blog comments has been parodied and ridiculed since they were invented. XKCD hit Youtube comments, Stephen Fry explained why he never reads comments, and then general rants like this one are far from rare. The internet has taught us repeatedly, as Stephen Fry clearly set out, that comments are where trolls lurk and your time will be wasted. If you dare to venture down in to them, then you hope you are at a quality website (like the Guardian) and then you still have to sift through the time wasters of “Very interesting” and other such pointless ‘Me Too!’s who don’t actually have anything valuable to contribute, but want to be heard anyway.
And then through all of that noise, you can occasionally find a quality comment – but how many of those quality comments are supporting the main argument, and how many are against? I’m not against agreeing with the author in general – I agree with many authors… It is just that the author has already presented the ‘for’ case as well as he can. The author is also the one with a community of readers, so probably pretty good at what they do – so do you, as a reader, really need to see more points in support of the article?
Dave understands that one of the objectives of rbutr is to help people break out of their filter bubble, and more importantly, confirmation bias. But blog comments are just as much a victim to the filter bubble problem as the rest of the internet; the people who are likely to post comments on a blog, are the people who read it. The people who read it, are most likely the people who agree with it. It is like looking for alternative perspectives on Jesus by not asking your priest, and instead asking other members of your church.
rbutr is designed to take people to an opposing perspective. With blog comments you are generally more likely to read comments supporting the article as you are to read ones opposing it. The blog comments opposing the article are then often replied to by the much more numerous fans of the author, as well as replied to by the author themselves, immediately creating all sort of emotional and fallacious reasons to continue to side with the author you already agree with.
With rbutr, one article is linked to a second article which counters the first. There is no mob mentality about it, and the rebuttal articles are forced to stand on the merits of the arguments presented in them. For the purposes of exposing people to alternative perspectives, rbutr, once populated with rebuttals of course, will beat blog comments hands down every time.
How Complicated Can One rbutr Be?
The article also makes rbutr sound like a hideously complicated beast of an application. It makes it sound like a 5 minute video is required to explain how to add a rebuttal. That isn’t true. It takes mere seconds to explain how to *add* a rebuttal. *Finding* rebuttals is the thing which is hard; the irony of this of course, is that this problem is exactly what rbutr aims to solve: providing rebuttals to our users, so that they don’t have to find them themselves. It is just that achieving this goal is going to take time, work, and a supportive community to get there.
The Video is rbutr Alpha Testing History
The video linked to in the article though is an interesting bit of media to pull out of rbutr’s history. It was created while rbutr was still in Alpha testing mode with a total usership of 10. The purpose of the video was to provide people with some guidance on how to find rebuttals if they really want to actively participate. Because, if I told you to go on to the internet and find a rebuttal – how would you do it? You can’t really just Google “Rebuttal”. It can be quite challenging to find a rebuttal at all, let alone a rebuttal to a specific article. During the first few development weeks of rbutr, figuring out how to get things started was a necessary first step.
This video is no longer representative of rbutr at all. We are not in alpha testing any more, and we don’t need to tell people how to find rebuttals. All we need is for the people who do happen across rebuttals to be conscientious and add them. Adding them, btw, is not particularly difficult – the whole process be completed in under 20 seconds very easily.
The Complexity Argument
Copeland revisits the complexity of rbutr in the closing remarks, saying rbutr makes a simple task “monumentally complex”. Eek. Monumentally? He doesn’t provide any real reasons as to why it is monumentally complex (other than the erroneous reference to the 5 minute video above), so I can’t really address the assertion, and am forced to wonder if it was just a flippant line, thrown in at the end to strengthen his conclusion that rbutr will fail?
Afterall, after granting us that rbutr is still brand new and sparse on the number of rebuttals at this early stage, concluding that it is never going to match up against blog comments as a medium for discussion seems pretty weak without some accompanying argument. That argument appears to be the two words: ‘monumentally complex’. Well, claims asserted without evidence can be dismissed just as easily; rbutr is really very easy to use.
Blog comments are controlled by the blog owners who can moderate out dissenting arguments and links. Most websites don’t have comments enabled anyway, so the alternative to rbutr doesn’t exist in most cases. rbutr is easy to use, and it is still very young.
Now, please leave comment about how much you all agree with me and appreciate my intelligence and insightfulness…