The Conversation That Wasn’t

Discussion threads are legion. They are one of the more prominent exemplars of the new communications paradigm. Their existence in places where they heretofore have not existed is generally a welcome thing. I want to know what people think of that editorial on GISS weather data. The editorial alone is not enough.

There are lots of ways in which the discussion thread as a model could be improved. But I’d like to take issue with one very simple way in which I believe they’re misused; or rather poorly implemented. I’m talking about chronological inversion. I don’t want to read the most recent contributions to the discussion first. Who would?

Take this ESPN discussion thread about Barack Obama’s suggestion that the BCS add a playoff as an example. I can only assume that the strategic goal driving the decision to invert the discussion is the sense that always having fresh content at the top of the thread means more traffic. Which may be true; both my conjecture and the conjecture of my conjecture. But even so, I submit that the inversion severely undermines the quality of the discussion. In fact, I think it encourages grandstanding and truculence and discourages actual, y’know, discussion.

It is notable (to my mind anyway) that generally, blogs don’t do this. For the most part, it is the entrenched, old media that does this. Which makes sense. The entrenched media are like the adherents of phlogiston theory at a time when Lavoisier was demonstrating its failure. The entrenched media are like H.M Warner pronouncing in 1927 that, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” The entrenched media seem to think it will be 1992 forever.