Yes, but… what is it?

I’m a little bit confused by this Comment is free malarky. I get the whole “Bleeeargh! Newspapers! Old media! Adapt or die!” thing. But The Guardian has been doing blogs for ages. So what’s new? What’s the big thing? What’s all the fuss about?

I read somewhere that they’ve got over 200 people signed up to be writing for ‘Comment is free’. But why weren’t they blogging in the first place? Couldn’t they just have got George Galloway to write some stuff for Newsblog, or Mark Lawson to write something for Culture Vulture?

There’s been a blaze of hype for ‘Comment is free’, but I don’t even know what it is meant to be. It’s being called a blog. I don’t think I’m the sort of person that goes on about what is and isn’t a blog (although I strongly feel that a comment section is half of what a blog should be all about). And I don’t have a problem with the ‘mainstream media’ climbing aboard the bandwaggon. But it doesn’t feel much like a blog to me.

The design is lovely — in fact, it serves as yet another reminder of just how creaky the old Guardian Unlimited design is these days. But if you’re looking for something a bit bloggy, prepare to be confused. The lion’s share of the screen is given over to ‘Editor’s picks’, which I guess is fair enough. With over 200 writers, it will probably be quite easy to miss notable entries. But at the moment there is a massive illustration in the way. Is it going to be there forever? On my monitor, it takes up about half of the browser window’s height. It pissed me right off the first time I visited.

In the top right-hand corner we’re given links to columns that were written for the dead tree edition. You can’t post comments to them, which makes this part of ‘Comment is free’ little different to the old Comment & Analysis (or whatever they renamed it for the Berliner redesign) section. The ‘blog’ — the chronologically ordered list of posts — is shoehorned into a tiny column on the left. It really does seem like the blog idea has been sidelined.

As for the comments section itself, you have to jump through hoops to register for it — although this seems like an attempt to prevent spam / flaming / shite comments / etc. But why can’t you link back to your own blog? I am struggling to think of any other blog that has a comments facility and doesn’t let you do this, and Guardian Unlimited’s other blogs let you do this. This is a mistake — communication between blogs is part of what makes the ‘blogosphere’ the buzzing thing that it is. At least a link to Technorati results is displayed though, so that is something.

And another thing. Why is Steve Bell’s ‘If…’ in there? What’s that got to do with it? Why isn’t it just in the cartoons section?

I don’t think I get it. The introductory post begins:

Welcome to Comment is free, the first collective comment blog by a British newspaper website.

So Gamesblog, Organ Grinder and all of The Guardian‘s other blogs weren’t ‘collective comment blogs’ (whatever that is)? Apart from the swish design and the dizzying number of writers, I don’t understand what the difference is. And now that we have this massive ‘Comment is free’ überblog, why are all the old blogs continuing?

What I would really like to see is a comments section appended onto every single item published on Guardian Unlimited, although apparently this is only a matter of time. Makes me wonder once again, though, what the big difference about ‘Comment is free’ actually is.

Still, all head-scratching aside, this must be welcomed. The Guardian seems to be making a legitimate attempt at getting its writers to have a proper discussion with its readers. That is a real step forward. Less than year ago Mark Lawson wrote an article deriding blogs. Today he’s writing for one.

So my final verdict? We’ll wait and see, although for now it’s a tentative thumbs-up. I just need to work out what it actually is.

1 comment

  1. It’s not really looking that good so far. I’ve yet to see an article author get down and dirty in the comments and there’s a distinct lack of linking going on in the articles as well as in the comments. Also, they seem to be wanting to push their “name” bloggers which kindof makes sense but it also makes it even more indistinguishable from the comment/analysis page in the paper edition.