Thursday, August 13, 2009
IntenseDebacle, the Jihad Watch community in ruins, and the Aristocracy of the Anti-Islam (woops! I mean Anti-Jihad) Movement
[Update: Jihad Watch has restored its old comments system, and things are settling back to its previous normal smoothly running baseline.]
The community dimension of Jihad Watch comments has effectively become crippled. It is now in ruins because of IntenseDebacle.
The real name of that thoroughly destructive, complex piece of crap passing off as a system for interactive comments is “InstantDebate” (or, rather “instantdebate” with fashionably uncapitalized letters).
For over six years now, the Jihad Watch comments community has functioned as a way for people all over the world who are concerned about the problem of Islam to be able to get together in one place to vent their frustration at the PC MC West; to share information and ideas; to rally each other with inspiration; to communicate important concrete events, such as upcoming rallies or opportunities to contact their political representatives; and last but not least, to present to innumerable new visitors to Jihad Watch the spectacle of mostly mature and intelligent—and often informative—feedback from the regular commenters.
Robert Spencer some time back (a few months ago, I believe) completely changed the commenting format for Jihad Watch, bringing in the new “intensedebate” system. He did so completely unilaterally, without soliciting any input from his minions of staunch defenders, supporters and purchasers of his books. All along there have been bugs with this new comments system. At first, one could pretty much ignore the bugs, as they were minor, and they seemed to be fixed fairly quickly by invisible hands. However, in the past month the bugs have multiplied and become more serious, to the point now where they are almost intolerable—no, not “almost”: they have finally crossed the line and become intolerable.
Example: Today, I saw yet another interesting article on Jihad Watch, about Tariq Ramadan, the extremist wolf in moderate sheep’s clothing. I decided I wanted to contribute to the discussion that must surely be underway. Though the article at that point was at the very top of today’s list, I knew from experience reading comments at Jihad Watch for over four years that it would likely have at least 10 or 15 comments by now; and anyway, more comments and more readers were sure to come as the minutes turned into hours. Knowing the problems with InstantDebacle, however, I prepared myself to see what I had already been seeing in the last week or so—a comments field with about 200 comments, most of them strangely transported there from comments fields many weeks ago, completely irrelevant comments having to do with old stories on Jihad Watch.
So I clicked on “comments” in order to access the comments field, and what did I find? This time over 700 comments—for an article barely an hour old at that point. And of course, the bulk of those comments had nothing to do with Tariq Ramadan, but had been strangely transported from other threads. The already nearly intolerable problem had effectively morphed into monstrously intolerable proportions. [UPDATE: Yesterday, a few of the most recent threads had reached over 970 comments—and this morning, August 14, I see that a few have pushed 2,036!]
And this is only one aspect of the problem. Another crucial aspect that affects the community dimension at Jihad Watch comments is the fact that a commenter who has left a comment can rarely find his comment again to see the responses of other commenters. That was one of the major beauties of Jihad Watch comments—the smaller discussions that would sprout up, inspired by some angle on the article in question. And often, even if these sub-discussions were “off-topic”, they invariably were interesting and informative, and furthermore conduced to the sense of community among those concerned about the problem of Islam.
This is all now in ruins at Jihad Watch. It is no longer merely impaired. It is a heap of complex bells-&-whistles in smoking ruins.
In a recent essay here about three days ago, I asked: What can Spencer & Staff do about this?
And I answered: The very least they could do is post a formal article at Jihad Watch explaining what they know of the situation and what they are doing to try to ameliorate it.
Well, two days ago, August 11, Spencer finally took time out of his busy schedule to tell us that he is aware of the InstantDebacle problem and that he is going to change the comments system “soon”. This belated notice came to us after a good month of inreasingly escalating problems with InstantDebate. Perhaps Spencer doesn’t appreciate the nature of Jihad Watch comments—how it functions as a thriving community of people concerned about the problem of Islam; how furthermore this community helps to make this site Jihad Watch a dynamic interactive site and not merely a boring newsfeed; and finally how this community helps his book sales.
I also wrote in that essay three days ago: If then they (Spencer & Co.) are feeling particularly respectful of their devoted community, they might even dare to go further and actually post an article at Jihad Watch that solicits from that community its thoughts on the new “intensedebate” system and ideas for improvement. Fat chance for that. Jihad Watch isn’t a democracy! It’s an aristocracy, and Spencer does not seem to care to sully his hands with an actual partnership with the hoi ochloi who comprise his loyal, devoted, expanding community.
As for InstantDebacle: Take a look at the photos of the team that comprises the staff at instantdebate, on their “about us” page. They look like the usual ambitious 20-something Bohemian techno geeks (with a slightly older Penn Fraser Jillette look-alike, Jon Fox, at the helm) who have idealistically tried to corner a market in the online services industry, perhaps hoping someday to approximate the megabucks of the Google guys.
Well, they are never going to make it if they can’t work out the grotesque bugs which afflict their product—bugs which have effectively destroyed the comments system at Jihad Watch.
As I wrote in a comment today at Jihad Watch:
Spencer should treat this as an emergency, stop everything else, suspend Jihad Watch immediately while he switches over to a new system—NOW.
To which I added:
All in favor, say “aye”.
While the sense of community in most ways thrives amongst Jihad Watchers, I suspect they will mostly ignore my plea. It seems, for the most part, their sense of democratic empowerment in the context of the Jihad Watch community remains impoverished—for a number of reasons, among which are the fact that Spencer over the years has done nothing to encourage it and in fact has done much to discourage it; and the fact that most Jihad Watchers seem themselves to encourage a kind of anti-democratic idol worship of Spencer. I thus suspect that they will not bother to say “aye” in sufficient numbers, but will simply suffer this major problem like sheep. I am of course not in any way calling for some kind of coup—only for more representation and respect accorded to us by Spencer. And for this to happen, the Jihad Watch community will have to respectfully ask for it, in sufficient numbers. While we owe Spencer a lot for his continuing valiant efforts in the pedagogy of the West with regard to the problem of Islam, he also owes us for our support over the years. The least he could do is show his appreciation in concrete and substantial ways, by deputizing us.
All in favor, say “aye”.