The comment section of the Internet: What is the “true index” of influence?

I have been thinking about the vast silent majority of users/ readers who prefer to consume content. Contemporary events are like icecream “flavors” of the month- they are fashionable as long as the algorithms deem them to be important.

While we have an algorithmic driven social media that influences the public debates to suit specific agendas, in this din adding voice to issues appears meaningless. Personally, I have withdrawn to reflect more on issues and write on the blog to lower my threshold for the writers block. Tweets or re-tweets have extremely poor rates of engagement which makes it difficult in terms of discovery, too.

It begets the larger question on the absurdity of “impact factor” and the citations. These too depend on the discovery and search terms and I am glad that they haven’t been affected by the poison of “search engine optimisation”. If endowments and “prestige” depends on number of publications and citations, what would prevent end users to self cite, evergreen their publications and gang up with others to push the same line?

Part of the reason why I personally eschew comments is because it would increase my overheads- a commentary and an engagement is preferable with a network that posts in a wide variety of links. Twitter isn’t the medium; I have personally benefitted from focused Telegram groups. Besides, I actively engage in reading and have created an excellent workflow to scrape knowledge interfaces that delivers content in a central location (inoreader).

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I am genuinely surprised that comment sections signal the “widespread” acceptance of anything. Constructive criticism is a difficult skill; the nuance between outright defamation and pointing out flaws in the narrative is easily overlooked.

It is important for any publication to show any semblance of “engaged readership”; however, I find that metric useless. Most of “subscribers” prefer to get emails (or possibly read through RSS). I have no idea about readership because I write for myself. If someone else finds a value in it, so be it. That is why I prefer not to switch on analytics or serve any advertisements because it is self funded. Therefore, for a publication looking to monetise “daily articles”, the real metric is discovery of value by growing subscribers who then turn into paying ones. For that to happen, the content narrative has to be compelling enough to provoke “offline” conversations.

What is the way out? I have personally come to the conclusion that the Hacker News model serves a good model in community building as well as metrics for engagement. The methodology for “self-censorship” is built in as most end users consider it as a prestige to be associated with their “thoughts”on the forum.However, the flip side is that the comments can get increasingly derailed by determined individuals; the discussions then lead to “nowhere”.

white and black Together We Create graffiti wall decor

I think a better way out is to have a relook at Telegram to build communities instead. A large public space can serve as a continuous scroll of ideas (much like the old world charm of IRC) wherein participants can choose to connect or engage, It would require some effort to understand the medium but as the network effects take root, would serve as a good medium to engage and draw benefits.