The thing that disturbs you is only the sound
Of a low spark of high-heeled boys
That probably has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but since I’m listening to Traffic, I just threw it in.
The reason – obviously – that webloggers allow individuals to put links to their homepages in their comments is so that we can strengthen links and ties between the members of our heavily abstracted community. We do it so that if people find a comment interesting they can go and read more about the person who commented. The cynicism involved in using such things for pure Google-juice – just to try and scrabble people to your porno site for a few extra cents – is just disgusting. And it’s not because it’s pornography, it’s because it’s brazen, disrespectful and offensive.
This was in response to a comment saying, in effect, "If you don’t like it, why don’t you just disable the URLs in comments?" It reminds me of Cliff Stoll’s defense of open– i.e., relatively unprotected– computer systems in his wonderful book The Cuckoo’s Egg: there are good social and cultural reasons for having open systems, and for respecting the boundaries of use that have to be maintained if they’re going to work.
It also raises a second issue. Sociologist T. L. Taylor, in her article "’Whose Game Is This Anyway?’: Negotiating Corporate Ownership in a Virtual World," argues that the creation of massive muliplayer game-worlds like Norrath and the Star Wars galaxy represents another example– virtual this time, but still important– of the intrusion of corporate spaces on public and private life. We spend more and more of our time in spaces that aren’t just "public" in the sense of being "not my house," but are owned and branded: malls, Starbucks, etc.. Kids have birthday parties in fast-food restaurants, or Gymboree; my daughter has already started a subtle "I want my 5th birthday"– which is 6 months away– at Chuck E Cheese, knowing full well that it would take half a year of pestering to get me to go in there.
It’s fun for the kids, but I wonder: as a moral principle, would it be better to avoid such venues in favor of public parks and other such spaces?
Comment spam, it seems to me, may represent an insidious new trend: the assumption on the part of companies that it’s all right for them to brand private spaces, to impose their messages wherever they can.
This is, in a sense, what the debate over the Do Not Call registry is about.
Comment spam may be the thin edge of a nasty wedge. If it does turn into something, it could have an even worse effect on blogging than spam has had on e-mail. For while mail spam is tiresome and time-consuming, comment spam can have the effect of overwhelming the social networks that are built up on blogs. The fact that I have to delete 50 messages for Viagra, Vicodin, and mortgages ever morning doesn’t mean I have a hard time talking to my friends; but comment spam, it seems to me, would have a more insidious effect on the conversational, networking aspect of blogs. And it means that my money goes to supporting ads from spammers.
Come to think of it, I think I’ll go change the URLs on those comment spams….
(Update, 10/8/2003: This piece by Halley also speaks well to the nature of these connections.