Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's a Lecture....

I was talking to my brother today when he suggested a topic for today's post.

Apparently, there's a comedian here in the UK who writes a regular column in one of the newspapers and he caused a bit of a stink by saying he never reads his comments because they're usually negative or rude.

My brother's angle on this story was to suggest I write about how this comedian shouldn't be writing a column in the first place if he's not willing to listen to feedback. Basically, his opinion is that if you're not interested in your audience's opinion, you shouldn't be writing for them.

I agreed to write a post on this subject...but I'm coming at it from the totally opposite angle. As a creator myself, I completely and totally understand (and even support) this comedian's point of view.

You see, the mistaken assumption here is that the people who comment on any given article are a representative cross section of that article's audience and all their opinions have merit. If that were the case, I'd agree completely with my brother... but as anyone who has ever posted anything on the Internet can tell you,  that that's just not true.

From this blog, my Podcast and my YouTube videos I can tell you the pattern is always the same:

Around 95% of your audience won't interact with you in any way besides consuming whatever it is you've created. They'll turn up, read your post (or watch your video, etc) and leave. For example, I get roughly one comment per 100 blog views, and about two or three comments/ratings per 100 YouTube video views.

The remaining five percent are the ones who will interact. They're the ones who will click a 'like' or 'dislike' button or leave a comment...but here's the rub: In any given situation, people are far more likely to express negativity than positivity. The same person who won't bother clicking a 'thumbs up' button on something he likes will be more than willing to create an account, send a confirmation email, wait an hour to be verified and then take four attempts at a captcha to tell you that you suck.

In other words, someone who comments on an article is usually skewed towards one extreme or another. They either love you or they hate you...and if they disagree, they aren't going to respond to your article with a well though out rebuttal to your argument...they're just going to say they've fucked your mum or you should go die in a fire.

In other words, even though comments sections were designed for discussion, what you're most likely to find is over the top, gushing fans or foul-mouthed trolls.

However, I think my second point is the more important one.

Personally, I think the Internet has totally skewed the way we view the creator/audience relationship. What was once a one way street has now become far more of a two way conversation.

But here's the thing, an article, blog post or column in a newspaper really isn't a conversation, it's far more like a lecture.

For example, let's say that you write an article and it gets published in a major magazine. What you're essentially doing is telling the world at large that this is your opinion... then I come along... and I dislike your article.... In fact, I absolutely hate it.

Now, ask yourself a question. In the above situation, as one of your readers, what exactly do you owe me?

Are you required to listen to my opinion? Do you have to change your opinion to please me? Do you owe me an equal forum so I can express my opinion and publicly disagree with you?

Of course not. All you did was write an article.

Take this blog, for instance. This is my forum where I express my ideas and opinions. If I write something you disagree with, you're more than welcome to comment... and there's a very good chance I'll read fact, if it's well thought out and well written, you may even change my opinion... but I don't have to read it.

Right now, our relationship is one between a creator and consumer. By your being here, the only implied relationship is that I'm going to write something and you're going to read it. I don't owe you a say...and I'm no more obligated to listen to your opinion than you're obligated to listen to mine.

Basically, buying a movie ticket doesn't mean the actors are obligated to listen to us critique their acting. Going to a concert doesn't mean the musicians are obligated to listen to our opinion on how they could improve their songs...

People are angry because a writer said he didn't read his readers' opinions of his work, even though the law of averages state that 99% of those opinions are from the idiots and trolls.

That would be like me getting mad at Pavarotti because he ignored me when I said he was a fat cunt who should sing in English.

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