Breaking Up With the Comments Section

December 01, 2014 By: Jenna Category: blog

I’ve been considering this for several months now. It’s the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. Keeping the comments section open reads as an invitation to engage with me, but I am rarely commenting back. I thought if I was persistent enough with my writing, if I put more effort into my way with words, that this blog could become what it once was (like the best sort of suburban neighborhood, with frequent visits from the supporting cast and reasoned interesting discourse between all participants). But the combination of an absentee host and a smaller cast of supporting characters has forced me to accept that things are different now.

Over the past six months though I’ve come to realize that preserving and owning my own space is more important to me than striking through the writing/commenting roadblocks. I don’t invite strangers into my home to comment on my choice of curtains or the cleanliness of my bathrooms, and I’m not sure it makes sense to do so with my writing either. No matter how kind or good-intentioned each of you may be, all but a select few are anonymous to me. We are strangers, and I would like to utilize other spaces to get to know each other, keeping That Wife as a space that showcases my views absent the influence of others. Imagine if the movie theatre screened a film with a running commentary from critics on the side. Your opinion of the film would forever be altered from the experience you may have had if the communication had been limited to the creators viewpoint. Or if a novel had footnotes on the bottom with corrections from readers, interrupting the immersive and reflective experience we enjoy when reading a good book.

Just as I was about to announce this, research came out showing how the comment section affects perceptions of content. The researchers deemed this the “nasty effect.”

We asked 1,183 participants to carefully read a news post on a fictitious blog, explaining the potential risks and benefits of a new technology product called nanosilver. These infinitesimal silver particles, tinier than 100-billionths of a meter in any dimension, have several potential benefits (like antibacterial properties) and risks (like water contamination), the online article reported.

Then we had participants read comments on the post, supposedly from other readers, and respond to questions regarding the content of the article itself.

Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” and “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”

The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself. - source

And let’s face it, I’m terrible at moderating. I struggle with defensiveness, I can’t figure out what to keep and what to eliminate, and inevitably I wind up getting emails from perfectly nice people who feel like they’ve been slighted. I enjoyed writing (almost/sorta) everyday in November. It felt nice to curl up in bed with my laptop and engage in a sort of writing therapy. I like looking back and seeing how I’ve grown and changed over the years (even if I am often embarrassed by things I’ve said in the past). I’m not sure exactly how often I’ll keep writing but I’m going to turn off comments for the next little while and see how I like it. Starting with this post :).

From here on out I’ll be interacting back and forth with people on Twitter, @jennacole. I would love to go back and forth with you in 140 characters on a given topic! I can do so from the stairmaster, during a work break, from the car, right before I go to bed. If you would like to leave a longer-form comment on a given post That Wife Blog’s Facebook page would be an excellent space to do so, which I will always read but may not reply to. I’m declaring email bankruptcy on a monthly basis so if I don’t respond to emails within that time frame you will need to resend if it is still relevant.

I guess I’ll hear from some of you on Twitter? Even if I don’t, you can continue to read what I have to say in this space. I’ve still got some writing muscles that need flexing.

Comments Off

Audience Approach Adjustment

January 23, 2014 By: Jenna Category: blog

(I was really committed to the idea of alliteration with that title.)

The initial Arena post and the redux Arena post have led to lots of great conversations about what went wrong and how to fix it, and whether the vision I have for That Wife can ever come to fruition. If you look at the comment section of the redux post though, you’ll see that I haven’t spent very much time there. Initially I needed a break. And then the usual thing happened — the idea of responding to all of the comments became overwhelming, and so I read them all and then archived the notifications telling myself I would get to them another time.

I think you know where this is headed? “Another time” never comes. I’ve got a folder in my Gmail account labeled Respond, which has emails from April 2012 waiting for my attention. It makes me sad to think about the number of people wondering why I have never responded. That inability to keep up with people who mean something to me is an aspect of my actions and personality that I really dislike.

When it comes to interacting with readers of That Wife in the comment section, I’m going to make two changes.

T2 is skeptical that I can change. Have faith you guys! I think this is going to work.

1. Act, don’t react. Engage with readers who are furthering the conversation.

It has been pointed out to me several times over that when I wade into the comment section of a meaty post it’s often to defend myself to the people who are criticizing me (whether those comments are constructive or waste). I use up my time and energy on those commenters, and neglect everyone else. Engaging with readers who are putting forth productive criticism is an excellent opportunity for growth, but not if I’m reacting in a defensive way. When commenting from here on our I plan to think to myself “Am I acting or reacting? How is this comment helping me or the discussion?” Those who have invested in me and my writing deserve more from me.

2. Comment summary follow-up posts for posts with robust comment sections.

That Husband reads a site that takes comments on popular posts and highlights them in a separate post entirely. It’s a way for the authors to highlight the reader contributions that add to the conversation as a whole, and it’s a practice I would like to adopt as well. I’ll continue to dash off short comments on my iPhone on the posts that aren’t as hefty, but for those with an intense comment sections filled with a variety of thoughts I’m going to give myself some time to process and then write a summary post highlighting the comments and themes that stand out to me. I’m working on a post like that for the My Arena (redux) post now.

With changes like this readers will feel like their contributions are valued and appreciated (which is really important to me because they are, deeply so) and I will no longer have to feel anxiety or guilt about discussions that I prompted and then failed to engage with properly. I hope that these changes help all of us enjoy the experience here a lot more.

My Arena (redux)

January 13, 2014 By: Jenna Category: blog, Personal

Every so often a post fails so spectacularly that it makes more sense to address it in a separate post than try to wade into the comments section. The My Arena post was one of those. I frequently have issues with tone, and I read that one out loud to myself several times in an attempt to target that, but it’s a blind spot that I need to keep working on.

Let me try to clarify: I found a strategy for coping with the large volume of feedback that is communicated to me through various channels. This involves relying on people I have formed relationships with. Previously I was attempting to take in everything and I was overwhelmed, and sometimes sad. I wanted to share that strategy with others who might be struggling to handle harsh comments or process feedback as well. Ironically, I wrote a post about relying on the feedback of those close to me to help me make better decisions, but I didn’t run the post past that very circle. Following my own strategy more closely would have helped prevent this mess in the first place.

Learning about the viewpoints and experiences of other people is one of my favorite things. I listen to a lot of podcasts because the format allows a variety of opinions to be shared. Trying to understand other people has changed me into a different person, and I couldn’t be happier about that change. But I need a method to help me process the opinions offered about  choices in life (remember how I used to have a centralized source for this sort of thing?) and My Arena is the best I’ve come up with so far.

Your comments made me realize that we are viewing the situation through a very different lens, because I’ve been screening the information submitted that doesn’t deserve a platform. All comments with new usernames or email addresses get put into moderation automatically, and I have a filter set up to automatically moderate any comment with foul language. The comments I’m moderating look like this:

(click to enlarge, the worst language has been partially censored)

blogger harassment anti-feminist disgusting vile hatred comments trolls

These are the people jeering in the stands, and it is them I am attempting to ignore. When I said “Those people, and their feedback, do not matter to me. The only power I have over them is to deny them any power over me,” that is who I was referring to. How could you know that though, since I make sure they are never visible in my comment section? Something gave me the idea that I’m never supposed to let all of you know this is happening behind the scenes, and this post is the first time that I’m challenging that idea.

My Arena brought up something that I have obviously forgotten over my blogging lull – I need to focus on responding to comments made by people who have shown a commitment to sharing their thoughts with me in a respectful manner. That’s my target audience.  It’s a fair approach and leads to a stronger relationship over time. I should not respond to comments that irritate me when I’m feeling snippy, even though it makes me feel better in the moment. I also need to stop responding to comments in the same period that I moderate comments. When I delete a disgusting comment and then immediately respond to another my tone often reflects the way I feel about the deleted one, which comes across as hostile. Adding in a time buffer will help me address that.

As I work through this experience I’m working hard to remember that I’m human and will make mistakes, and worse than making a mistake is denying the lesson they can teach. I’m not going to let shame prevent me from admitting my faults and working to address them. I wanted to address some misconceptions that I admit I caused or exacerbated with my last post:

  • I do care that you are here and that you read.
  • I appreciate and value 95% of those who read and especially people who take the time to converse with me.
  • I don’t mind when people don’t agree with me, and I know you have seen the changes some of opposing viewpoints have had in my life. It may not always seem like I consider them, but I do, sometimes over multiple discussions or a period of time.
  • I struggle to know how to handle people who have preconceived ideas about me and use my writing to find evidence that prove their assumptions. I know we all do this as humans, but I have a hard time dealing with people who are mean or snarky. I am working on this.

In fact, I am working with a mentor to have some difficult conversations and develop a plan to address these issues so I can present well-written posts that invite fascinating discussion (that is my overarching goal, after all). I’m not ready to share details yet, but I wanted you to know that I’m glad you’re here and ask for your patience as I work through the things I’m hearing from you.

While proofreading and editing this post I realized that there are probably going to be a lot of comments asking why I continue to write if I’m getting such virulent blowback. I write here because I enjoy the process. I stay in the game because it makes me a better person. I blog because I like meeting new people. I don’t give up because I want to believe that I can push through this and become better.

Interesting side note: I thought bolding a sentence added emphasis, but TH said it is likely interpreted  as “Jenna yelling at her audience.” Noted.

My Arena

January 08, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Personal

Presenting my ideas and work to the online world is wonderful in many ways. My best friendships today were formed through social media, I have relationships with a range of intelligent and talented people, my ideas and beliefs have been challenged and shaped in positive ways, and certainly the validation is appreciated (sometimes far too much by me, but that’s another post).

But anyone who has read the comments on YouTube or The Huffington Post has seen the dark side of the internet. Lobbing molotov cocktails of snark and hatred is all-to-easy when done via a computer screen. It became crucial for my mental health to find a way to wade through the sea of criticism and develop a new metric for measuring my self-worth.

daringgreatlysource

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” Brene Brown

Brene Brown is the second great woman I know of who has shared this approach (the first was Liene Stevens, of Think Splendid) but it wasn’t until I started reading Daring Greatly that I was able to fully integrate this concept into my life.

I suspect most successful and notable people utilize this mindset at some point. Which is not to say that I think I am successful or notable, but I know I won’t get there if I’m busy worrying about whether everyone likes me. But how to fully embrace this idea when confronting faceless/useless/meaningless criticism? I was spending far too much time stewing and giving credit where it wasn’t due. Dr. Brown’s book has helped me develop a mental process that I can enact each time the self-doubt rises to the surface again. Anyone who has encountered her work has probably become familiar with the Theodore Roosevelt quote that she loves.

daringgreatlyarena

source

 It is her addition, that last part at the bottom, that changed everything for me. I am the gladiator in my own arena. If I want to share parts of my fight with the public, I am going to have unwanted observers jeering at me. Those people, and their feedback, do not matter to me. The only power I have over them is to deny them any power over me. 

The feedback that does matter comes from a very select group of people. If I shared something with these individuals, something vulnerable and painful and raw, they would first pull me in for a hug. After they felt my shoulders relax they would pull away, look at me (really look at me), and tell me the honest truth that I need to hear, no matter how hard it is for them to say it and for me to hear it. Those are the people I want in my corner, and those are the people who are going to help set the guideposts that I live my life by. I don’t need the public to like the way I spend my time, or to think I am a good mother, or to agree with my beliefs and opinions.

And now, when the clouds gather and the mental stewing begins, I picture My Arena. Is the feedback I’m considering coming from the hug+honesty group? No? Then I’ll be moving right along thankyouverymuch. I’ve got a battle to fight and a life to live. There is greatness to be had.

HPJoy Palo Alto Video

November 22, 2013 By: Jenna Category: blog

HP contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in coming out to their #HPJoy event in Palo Alto to talk to a film crew about some of their products. I got up the courage to watch the video, and I look a little mad — or maybe intense? I wanted to do a good job! While being authentic! I’m going to make a carefree playlist of teeny-bop to listen to beforehand if a similar situation ever presents itself again.

I’ll tell you more about this experience soon, but for now here is the video they put together. T2 makes an appearance in it too!

**I have received two HP Chromebooks for my review and comments. One of those is to give to one of you!**

      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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