You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything


How does commentary affect the world around us?

Tweets are Comments: Are Tags?

I’ve expanded the definition of commentary exponentially as I continue to write about it. In some ways, nearly everything can be viewed as a comment. A tweet is a comment, if sometimes an inane one. A comment on a blog post is an inane one, even if it promotes something different from the original post’s agenda. A comment is anything that says something, has a point of view. And a comment must be published to be meaningful. In order for your commentary to have an effect, it has to be public. And perhaps more importantly, it has to be read–by others, who will comment in return. Unlike Ian Shapira’s hope for unremitting, unresponsive adulation, any good work should invite commentary, conflict, and debate. If we’re not putting it up for discussion, we shouldn’t be putting it out there.

In his influential book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky uses Flickr as an example of hands-off collaboration, made possible by tagging. He describes how easy it is to find images of a particular item or event on Flickr, in contrast to how hard it would be to specifically contract people to take such pictures. By removing the need for organization and simply giving users tools to organize themselves, Flickr made it possible for people to access images in new ways. Most of Flickr’s functionality is based on tagging: from the original photographer, not necessarily other users. If anyone could tag, would the tagging lose its functionality, or become even more interesting?

A tag, then, is a comment. It adds value. It makes a judgment about something. It expresses an opinion. In that sense, a review is also a tag or a comment. Lawrence Lessig, writing in Remix, agrees that “Tagging thus added a layer of meaning to RW [read/write] content. The more tags, the more useful and significant they become… As they add meaning to content, these tools also enable collaboration… As the reader “writes” with tags or votes, the importance of the original writing changes.” Stars in a review “tag” an item as good or bad; the text of the review offers further commentary. Even “likes” on Facebook have taken over comments. Instead of writing on a friend’s wall or writing something about a friend’s status update, you can just click a button to show that you “like” what your friend has said or done.

Is everything a comment these days? Maybe. Commentary is breaking down into a variety of forms. This is not necessarily bad, just different. We have more ways than ever to respond to something. What’s important is responding at all.


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