Housekeeping Note: Categories, Comments

By James Fallows

In the two months since our site's redesign, I've mentioned more than a few times that the "categories" feature of our previous layout would someday be restored. Now it is in fact back. My thanks to our web/tech team. This means that, for instance, if you wanted to see all postings about the Icelandic volcano eruption earlier this month, you'd click on the "volcano" category, here. Full list of categories at lower right side of this page.

This past weekend, because of a tech error of unknown origin, the "comments" feature of this site was turned on. The reason I consider that an error, and asked to have it turned off again, is explained after the jump, which is a recapitulation of a point I originally made in (yes!) the comments section of Ta-Nehisi Coates's site. A good comments section -- and TNC's is great -- requires attention, tending, and discipline; and I am so often away from the Internet, and so short on "real" writing time even when connected, that I don't want to take on that responsibility. These past few days are an example. Because of travel and other headaches, I have been mainly offline through the 48 hours since putting up this previous item, likening Arizona's new civil-liberties policy to China's. You can't supervise a comment section that way.

While I did want the comment function to be turned off, I did not intend that the comments already posted should be removed. But because of another tech error, they apparently have been. My intention was to answer them. I do realize that it's not in keeping with the Web Spirit of Transparency to remove things once they have appeared. In any case, this is a periodic reminder of the rationale behind the no-comment policy. I will, in a few minutes, try to answer some of the mail I've received about that Arizona item. Thanks for your interest and attention.

A comment originally posted in this thread on TNC's site:

This is TNC's neighbor, Jim Fallows, weighing in with two purposes.

The first is to admire the really dedicated and thoughtful community of readers, thinkers, contributors, occasional complainers, and overall online version of "civil society" that Ta-Nehisi has attracted and maintained here. It's a very important part of this site -- "this" meaning both TNC's blog and the Atlantic's broader presence -- and the recent change in web environment creates a moment to emphasize that.

How can I say that I admire this community, and still decline to have comments on my own site? The reason is an extension of my admiration for TNC's pruning, guidance, and maintenance of the community. I know from long web experience that, without careful and timely intervention, even the most stimulating commenter community will (almost) inevitably be disrupted by a vocal and disturbing minority of trolls, bullies, haters, etc. I know myself well enough to be absolutely sure that I cannot commit the time to tend such a community. (After all, nothing involving the web is theoretically any part of my real job at the Atlantic. I am very glad to have this outlet, but my day job is writing for, you know, the "magazine.") There are times when I may be on the road for a week and away from a computer. My position is like that of a childless person who admires attentive parents -- and observes them carefully enough to know that he's not well situated for that responsibility.* So keep it up; I admire all of you; but I know I can't create my own version of this community.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2010/04/housekeeping-note-categories-comments/39606/