Blogs are the worst medium for a debate

Why is it that when people debate using blogs, this almost inevitably degenerates and causes negative feelings?

Here’s an attempt at a theory to explain that. When X and Y are debating, it should be X talking to Y and Y talking to X. Trivial, no?

But blogs break this trivial requirement. When X blogs about what Y wrote, it’s not X talking to Y. Instead, it’s X talking to The World about Y. The result is twofold:

  1. Makes Y feel publicly attacked
  2. Invites The World to the debate, thus feeding the debate with fresh new people who are not yet tired of it, and who may be missing earlier parts of the debate, since it’s not easy to trace back a debate-by-blogs to its origin.


8 Responses to “Blogs are the worst medium for a debate”

  1. Amen. I kept feeling like I wanted to post my thoughts about the current Gerv/Planet brouhaha, but I can’t think of any way that I could do so productively without seeming to attack somebody or just be annoying. So I haven’t.

  2. tnitot says:

    What Benjamin said. Except I would not call it “brouhaha” as “debacle” sounds like a better way to describe this :-/

  3. Mike Beltzner says:

    Great simile, Benoit. I often see it as two siblings, sitting at the dinner table, refusing to speak with each other but instead choosing to say something akin to “Mom, could you please tell my brother that I didn’t mean to imply that he was a jerk, just that I disagreed with him” or “Dad, could you please tell my sister that what she said was inherently offensive and she knew it would cause trouble, so why did she bother!”

    Get a room, kids.

  4. Robert O'Callahan says:

    In my blog post I just stated what I think planet should be, and why. I thought that didn’t seem annoying or attacking. I hope I was right!

  5. bjacob says:

    Robert, don’t worry, I wasn’t thinking about your blog post at all. I really don’t think that your blog post could be seen as annoying or attacking anyone.

  6. Looking at it this way, public mailing lists, newsgroups, twitter, even Facebook walls are just as bad mediums for debate.

  7. bjacob says:

    Robert (Kaiser), I disagree. Blogs are a one-to-many medium, seen by a very wide audience, especially when aggregated on a Planet. By contrast, mailing lists remain basically email, so you’re replying directly to someone, not replying to The World about someone; they are public but the structure of the debate remains mostly unaffected by that. Newsgroups are like mailing lists in this respect.

    Twitter/Facebook sure are terrible media for about any purpose, but I am not yet aware of anyone stupid enough to debate on them (I don’t use them though, aside from a few tweets, so I might be missing things).

  8. Paul Sayre says:

    If you compare the blog format of debate to the in-person format, then yes, I agree blogs are terrible for debate. If you compare the blog format to scholarly papers (which has been used for a lot longer then blogs), then I disagree. It really depends on speed and fidelity of the debate.

    Right now there is a debate in blogs over css prefixing and the speed of localstorage. For these topics, I think the scholarly format, while slower, requires people to think more about the problem at hand. They happen in public and are scrutinized by lots of people with strong opinions. In fact, the blog format is better then the scholarly format in that voices which normally wouldn’t be heard can compete openly with the established ones.

    There is a medium, which is less public, where debates are more akin to the in-person format; it’s over IRC. Imagine if a decision on the direction of the jQuery library was put up to the blogs to decide. First off, it would take longer. Second, it would be hard to declare a winner. Third, the debate would continue long after a decision was reached. But IRC doesn’t have these issues. Most large libraries have channels open to the public. And they work great for the kind of debates you are concerned about.

    Maybe there is a way to take the blog format and open it up to debate in a similar way. Something faster then blog to blog, but not quite a comments system. Ideas?