And then, before I get insane enough to do it, something wonderful usually happens to stop me.
Poor Charlie Stross.
Much as any artefact exposed to the maw of a small child eventually becomes soggy and turns brown (after it stops working, if moving parts are involved), I am coming to the conclusion that any comment thread on this blog will, between 100 and 200 comments in, circle around to become a discussion of:
* Space colonization
* Automotive technology
* Things that go fast and explode (rockets, military aircraft)
* Alternative energy (from solar through wind/wave to nuclear)
* Libertarianism (and everything is worse with libertarians)
And then he asks his audience – which is a fair bit larger than mine, these days – if he’s doing anything wrong, and wonders aloud how to develop a new audience of commenters.
283 comments (and counting) later, he’s got people ranting about libertarianism, cheap energy (the second comment!) and whores. Oh, and “secular modern civilisation.” I get mentioned a couple of times, in regard to the old Warren Ellis Forum and the Whitechapel board (although the poster missed that I turned the latter over to Si Spurrier last year and neither read nor write there).
Charlie’s been writing at his site for a year more than WEF operated, and four years into WEF we’d pretty much mapped out the memetic genome of the self-selected participants. There comes a time when a hardcore regular attendance dismays new arrivals – as an American put it to me once, “it’s a bit like, ‘really? High school again?’” And so, even when Charlie says something there that breaks into mainstream consciousness, his commentariat is unlikely to change much. Also, they are defending that piece of virtual dirt, because they have made it into a place that is comfortable to them. Charlie’s place is where they come to talk about rockets and whores, damnit.
Which brings up another thing, and I’m not going to ascribe it to Charlie, who is a nice man, but it’s real – sometimes, your commenters, by which you often mean your audience and your readership, are really fucking annoying, and sometimes you don’t like them. Which you can’t say. Who’s going to pick up another book by a writer who says “My readers are awful pieces of shit and I can think of twenty of them, right off the bat, who should be drowned in hot pig blubber”? Nobody. “My audience are all complete pissflaps. Have you read my website comments threads? Utter inane gibberish. I would like to train a giant horse to fuck out all their eyes.” Who’s going to say that?
I guarantee you that even the sweetest and kindest writer has thought that exact thought more than once in their lives. And its corollary: “Oh god, my readers are such horrible demented shitbags, what am I doing so wrong that I attract them all to me?”
Just as I know that every writer has dropped the ball at least once and disappointed a reader. Or exposed themselves as a total prick or a frothing nutter.
The deep interaction between creator and reader that the internet has brought us is not always healthy for either side, nor does it always – or even often – bring out the best in either side.
So I do this: I have a twitter account where people can talk to me, and I have a website where I post my research material and show off interesting stuff I’ve found and talk about whatever’s in my head on any given day. I feel like, that way, we get the best sides of each other.
(Speculation. The thing about the open house that comments systems constitute is this: you accept my invitation into my house, and then I get stroppy because I want to know why you’re pissing on the floor and refusing to talk about anything other than that one sculpture on my shelf that depicts a whore riding a rocket. But just maybe you’re urinating in fear because you only came into the house to look at the sculpture and now I’m trying to fit you into the oven.)
Best of luck, Charlie.
Also, buy a bigger oven.