ate last year when The Terrace Standard’s online edition, www.terracestandard.com, quit publishing anonymous Disqus comments, I cheered. Results since then have tempered my stance.
The range of opinions through Disqus gave zest to the publication. The right hand column of comments on the front page alerted me to fresh postings and articles I might not have found otherwise. One click took me to the article. That convenience is gone. So is the ability to greatly enlarge the print size.
The immediacy of the Disqus comments enlivened debate. Swapping thoughts with other readers was similar to critiquing the work of other students in an on-line writing class, one of the side benefits of such courses and a major reason for enrolling in on-line writing classes.
Often a Standard reader would offer a view I had not considered, or add a fact unknown to me. Those were bonuses for taking the time to scan down through a long list of comments, such as the battle over library funding where comments totaled 86 before they were terminated. Of course, by that time, many comments skirted the topic by a country mile.
Far too predictably comments deteriorated into personal brickbats between or among two or three readers. It got to be like a staged debate. Assign a pro or con position, didn’t matter which, on any topic and they would be ready to spar with nasty remarks better left unsaid.
Part of the fun of Disqus was puzzling out the identity of the people commenting with nothing more to go on than hints of where they might live, what kind of work they might do, or once did, and what their family and educational background might be.
Spelling and grammar, not to mention texting abbreviations foreign to someone my age, could be exasperating in some instances but lent an accurate glimpse of the commenter’s education and respect for proper use of the English language. In one exchange, my insistence on the use of proper grammar and spelling was dubbed an interest in an “arcane hobby.”
I cheered for the ending of anonymous comments to get away from those who hid behind anonymity to lob nasty remarks without fear of repercussions. Once they had to identify themselves through a Facebook account, those commenters disappeared.
With the fewer comments posted now, I waste far less time checking in. Fortunately for on-line readers, many other newspapers still allow Disqus comments, the Prince George Daily Citizen for one. It has at least one reader who seldom fails to comment, even if it’s only a lame smartass remark. Sometimes he – I’m assuming it is a he judging by his choice of words and tone– goes back an hour later and deletes his comment.
Last time I checked he had rung up over 1200 comments. He may be aiming to reach a higher total than anyone else, like Twitterers who proudly tally their followers even if they’ve never met them face to face.
One thing about Disqus was especially handy. If, on first reading my newest column, I found that I had made a factual error or a typo, without troubling the editor I could promptly post an adjustment before anyone else pointed out my goof.
I can make similar corrections with Facebook, but comments aren’t always accurately counted. You might not know any are posted.
For a columnist, comments are a sign at least one person read the article. Otherwise, a column sinks out of sight until a day someone hails me in the Safeway parking lot and says, “Loved your column!”, or a bank teller asks how my pup is fitting in, a sign they have read at least one recent column.
Facebook comments are more civil and credible than Disqus, but fewer and less fun.