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The New York Times gave us not one but two stories this weekend that lead with a lamentation over the state of Internet commenting. “The most obnoxious development of the Web, the wild back alleys where people sound their acid yawps,” wrote Michael Erard on Friday. “The most slimy and vitriolic stuff you could imagine, places where people snipe, jeer and behave like a frenzied mob,” said Nick Bilton on Sunday.

Erard’s piece provides a history of online commenting, from Marc Andreesen’s dreams of an annotated web to Fray, an early innovator in audience feedback, to Open Diary, one of the first virtual journaling projects. He concludes with a call to arms for annotation:

It’s a fascinating alternative-history proposition: would a world of annotations, rather than comments, inspired in part by Jacques Derrida, have set the Web on a different course? Social media might look very different; you can easily imagine an alternate version of Facebook and Twitter made up of people who regularly annotate certain sites across the Web. In this version of the Web, people would be writing on the worldwide wall of history, not scrawling in little spaces under siloed bits of content. But maybe there, too, they’d never figure out what they were supposed to be writing together, except to assert that everything they individually believe is true. America, Allen Ginsberg might have said in his sarcastic poem of the same name: Your caps lock is on.

And on Sunday, Bilton wrote a Bits blog post about the latest moves for Gawker’s Kinja:

On Monday, Mr. Denton is set to announce updates to Kinja, a Web site his company has been building over the last few years. Kinja flips on its head the idea of comments and conversation below a story on Gawker Media’s Web sites, including Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Jezebel, which collectively have more than 36 million unique visitors a month…

While Mr. Denton may be thinking in page views first and truth-in-journalism second, it seems that both could profit.
“There are scandals in companies, local governments and in towns too small to have a newspaper,” he said. Kinja will give people a voice on Gawker to “help bring transparency to even the murkiest corners of corporations and government,” he said.

— Caroline O'Donovan
                                   
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  • http://annatarkov.posterous.com Anna Tarkov

    I really hate that even Bilton’s piece starts with that tired old trope. If online comments were a race, they would surely be a minority of some kind. In other words, people would always be stereotyping them and applying characteristics to all of them that apply only to some.