MovableBlog: The Real Problem With TypeKey
April 14, 2004
There has been much ado about TypeKey, Six Apart's comment authentication service, and the thread had died down until Sarah brought it up again and Jay commented that opinion was split between those who used it and those who haven't. Phil Ringnalda hosted a lively discussion about distributed moderation and authentication, and some of the usual suspects said some of the usual things about the matter. Rogers Cadenhead wondered why 6A offered a centralized tool when its bread and butter are decentralized tools (although TypePad is a centralized alternative to Movable Type). I can't—so therefore won't—claim that I've read every last weblog post about TypeKey, because I'm a busy man (increasingly true) and nobody is saying what the real problem with TypeKey is.
It's not that it's centralized and it's not that Six Apart and its employees have bills to pay along with the possibility of retiring to a beach house to think about. It's not because it increases the ability of Six Apart or weblog owners to censor others. Actually, that gets close to it: weblog owners have the ultimate say as to whose comments get edited or left on the site. I have yet to see a compelling reason to let others dictate what goes and what stays on a website that I not only pay for in terms of hosting fees and domain names, but also in terms of time spent and thinking, designing and writing. Weblog comments and message boards and wikis—along with other similar types of websites—are free speech on someone else's dime. Now don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with giving someone else the ability to write on your site. If you pay for it (through either time, money, effort or all three), you get the priviledge of saying pretty much what you want and allowing others to say pretty much what they want. Of course there are limits: in North American societies, at least, you are not allowed to slander or libel anyone, nor are you allowed to threaten someone with bodily harm or death.
The problem as I see it is not that TypeKey is too centralized, but weblog comments themselves are too centralized. By commenting on someone else's site rather than commenting on your own weblog, you are increasing the chances that the owner of the weblog you commented will edit or delete your comment. We saw that last year with the introduction and enforcement of weblog comment policies. Most weblogs do not have comments feeds, so keeping track of comments is difficult to begin with. (Phil Ringnalda, if you'll permit me this parenthetical comment, not only implements comment feeds, but also <wfw:commentrss>.) How many times have you commented on a weblog entry only to forget that it was there or stop caring about the conversation once the number of weblog comments reached a certain level? And how many times was the person's remarks so insignificant to you that you did not feel the need to reply?
I've taken comments off on my weblogs primarily because your one-button confessionalism is best done on your weblog. I do wish to point out a hypocrisy or two, which will have the very much intended effect of promoting two of my other projects: improvident lackwit and Vancouver Webloggers are two sites that I pay for that have comments open. The former because of laziness and the latter because it's a group weblog, and I need the criticisms resulting from blanket elimination of the ability to comment like I need another hole in my head. In an ideal world, though, no weblog would have comments enabled, but everybody would have their own weblog. You remember that old cliché, the freedom of the press goes only to those who own one. Well, there is remarkably little stopping you from owning one these days. Is the fear of having to install complicated software getting in your way? TypePad, Blogware and other paid hosted blogging solutions have a pretty interface and are setup ready to go. You can't afford to pay for a monthly subscription to a blogging service? LiveJournal and BlogSpot are free. Don't have access to the Internet from home? Your public library—which you pay for already through your taxes, and if you don't pay taxes, some rich guy is helping you out—probably has free machines for its patrons. You don't have access to the Internet at all? Then how are you reading this? (In the event that someone has printed this out for you to read, and you really don't have access to the Internet, then you can't own a printing press like so many other bloggers do. One day someone will find a way to make a tidy fortune off sending weblog entries by snail mail, but that day is not today.)
I have another point of hypocrisy, one that points out the benefits of having comments enabled. A new project of mine, Urban Vancouver will have comments enabled on as many pages as possible, including the events calendars and other non-weblog sections. Because we can't be everywhere at once, and people who experience the events around the Greater Vancouver Area will want a place voice an opinion. Also, authenticated users will be allowed to have their own weblogs, which will most likely have comments enabled. (That will be the blogger's choice, of course.) All this benefits the editors of Urban Vancouver in terms of finding out great things about the people and places in Vancouver, but in terms of free content that a) search engines index, increasing the number of and ranking for valuable keywords and b) ad serving programs (or even third party companies who recognize the importance of certain keywords and want to advertize) will analyze Urban Vancouver pages and pay us. Users will benefit by getting a voice, organizations or people benefit by being linked to a highly-ranked web page, and we benefit with fame and/or money. (Fame and money are evidently convertible commodities.)
Six Apart is wise to address the comment spam problem, and have figured that there is business value in providing a solution like TypeKey. What I am trying to suggest is that TypeKey encourages people to use commenting systems of other people's weblogs when these same people could easily and cheaply get a much more substantial voice by commenting having their own weblog. That way, the only people that can censor you are your hosting provider (they have asses to cover too) or, sometimes, the state. Or if you've decided to quit blogging, you only have yourself to blame.