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I thank Viv Rolfe for the title of this post! Her post helped me reflect on my own motivations and role what I have been labelling ‘open online education’ in this blog. I responded to Viv’s post with a comment published in Known that I titled Virtues and Vices. In that post I reflected on how sad it was that we had to apologise for asking questions that challenged conventional wisdom and the importance of making ourselves keep asking them,

I am thinking about all of those things, Viv. I also find myself ‘questioning not just openness but my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.’ Some people have already said adios. If we do not take time to consider the vices as well as the virtues, in the spirit of inquiry rather than self-righteousness, many more more might say adios in the not too distant future. Is this how we want it to be?

It is not how I want it to be. My first step in taking action to feel free to say what I want to say is to close comments on this blog. This post talks about how I hope my decision might help me tackle virtues, vices and heffalumps.

When I started this blog over 2 years ago now, the most exciting thing about it was to sit and wait for comments. I met lovely people through them doing me the kindness to respond to my ramblings. I can hardly believe that I have come to a place in my life online where comments are not always a welcome sight.

The sad part is that the majority of comments are thoughtful and wholehearted. Yet the few bad apples in the pack have really distressed me. I find myself censoring what I say here because I do not want to attract unwanted attention. I cannot have that anymore. I will not be silenced by a few people who think it is okay conflate ideas with people and attack those people in the name of a self-serving ideology.

There is also the issue of people taking my posts ‘into’ Facebook and feeling it is okay to ‘deal’ with me there, to talk about me in the third person, to call me names rather than call out facts. It made me very angry that some of these people did not have the courtesy to speak on this blog (follow links in update at end of linked post, if you want more detail) but were happy to speak about me, not even my ideas, in a place I have no access to. At least now I can let go of my own expectations.

Yes, I can moderate comments. I do. I make choices about how, when and if to display them.  Some still upset me. For example, those that take several paragraphs to talk about nothing related to a given post but want to sell their favourite ed-tech rock star instead. I have tried to having all comments moderated, then people whose comments should be published immediately have to wait *because* of the few bad apples. Not acceptable.

I did a little research as I felt uneasy about making the decision to close all comments. It turns out that I am in pretty good company – Audrey, Seth, Stephen and Leo all have closed comment blogs now. They each have different reasons for having made this choice and reading their work helped me with my decision.

If I put to one side my annoyance with a few people, there are many sound reasons to encourage comments away from the comment box.

I agree with Stephen that comments belong in my own space. I agree with Audrey that Known has helped me reclaim comments that can easily get lost on the web. I now mostly comment from my own space, link back to the appropriate blog and a different type online conversation can emerge. If people choose not to publish a comment I write on their blog, for example, I can still publish it in my own space so that I can connect ideas. Or if I want to use images and links to respond to a blog post, I can do so more easily in my space than on notoriously temperamental comment spaces.

I also thought about the Federated Wiki. The idea of copying a page and editing it, sometimes without knowing who wrote it, helping us engage with the idea not the person. I want to test my closed comment strategy as a way of using existing technology in that kind of way. Let us engage with ideas, not conflate people with ideas. Then, may be, I can like you and challenge your ideas more easily, or even dislike you and  find your ideas inspiring? Mike also talks about ways to re-invent comments to avoid stereotypical thoughtless commentary. May be a shift to commenting on one’s own space can help this?

Writing in my own space, I can engage with the ideas over time and avoid over-rehearsed comment speak: ‘Great post, big fan, awesome ideas, I will comment later but just wanted to say I love you, man’ or ‘Thanks for visiting, glad you dropped by, I agree, I disagree, thanks for the link to the post you wrote 3 years ago’. These over rehearsed rituals can simply mean: I like you but have no time to read your stuff with any quality attention. The lack of attention economy. At least now, in this space, nobody is under pressure to respond, people can respond in other ways and I will not longer feel a need to sanitise my writing to avoid trolling.

Of course, this will not deal with those people who are determined to be passive aggressive on their own blogs, using pseudo-anonymity to rewrite conversations and misrepresent me; or those who say they want dialogue and deeper engagement publicly on Twitter and never bother to follow up; or me having to witness the drama triangle playing out in online relationships where the very people who are victimised turn rescuer of their persecutors. These are all things I witness daily and will have to find a way to come to terms with if I want to keep the positive aspects of weaving the web. I am working on that.

The part I have control over is where I deal with any unwanted visitors, I do not have to invite them into my living room, as it were. I am sorry I cannot invite my friends here anymore, but they know where to find me, how to speak thoughtfully and sometimes (dare I say it) privately. People can always use Hypothes.is to comment on a post should they wish and I am happy to join into civil conversation. I have tried doing that and it works well. For myself, I feel that writing responses in my own space is more encouraging of co-creative dialogue.

It is my hope that if I can speak freely to what is not being foregrounded in the open online education community and can throw more light on a few elephants, I might contribute more to action and less to ripples that just ‘change their size but never leave the stream‘.

I keep experimenting with learning and living online in a way that encourages altruism not narcissism, as Jenny explains in her response to Viv’s post. The idea that openness is about ‘the altruistic sharing of knowledge and learning’ and not ‘about getting noticed and building up ‘numbers’ of followers [or] tweets’.

And as I close this post, I am grateful to Jenny Mackness for sending my way an article that I am sure will help deepen some of my questions about the ‘networked commentariat’. The title is: How to tame a troll and I hope that it suggests closing comments might be one way or I will need to go back to the drawing board.

P.S. I hope y’all like my new look blog too!