Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, July 31, 2021

A couple of days ago, I got an email from my friend Tom. He was replying to an article on the best Cuban coffee joints in Tampa I zapped to him.

Since we were talking libations, I decided to forward him the permalink to my recent post about buying my first box of wine.

He got a kick out of it. After reading the post, he let me know so by emailing me back a little anecdote about his recent taste-test involving boxed wine. I appreciated the feedback, particularly because it played so well off the post’s subject matter.

Later on, it occurred to me: Why had Tom emailed his thoughts on the post back to me, instead of opting to leave them in the comments area of the blog?

I discussed this with him the next day. The short answer was that, because an email message had led him to the material, his first impulse was to answer using the same communication channel. It didn’t even occur to him to deliver his response outside of the send-and-reply email loop (barring the next time we actually spoke).

The more complex answer involves a general attitude toward communication, particularly online. Like most people, Tom considers email to be (generally) private and person-to-person. Contrast this with a blog comment field, or a messageboard posting: Nothing private about that. That’s the fundamental difference in approaches.

Contrast this with my thinking if/when facing a similar situation. My instinct would have been to leave my pertinent reactions in the form of a publicly-viewable comment. The idea, in my mind, is to extend and expand the discussion that’s already been started — really, the underlying philosophy behind blogging. It’s not so much making my thoughts known (although it is), but rather contributing to the topic.

Context is a factor, too. If it’s non-critical information — i.e., of little consequence regardless of who comes across it — then Tom has no problem posting it in a public forum. But if it’s at all sensitive, the more circumspect to stick with the closed email channel. That came to my mind because, in his original email reply, Tom included some offhand personal information that, while not particularly revelatory, could factor in.

We wondered how the recent Pew Internet & American Life findings about youth Internet habits that revealed teen attitudes toward email as being passe and for “old people” might tie into this. Since neither of us are kids at 34, I’m not sure it’s relevant. But since IM, the kids’ choice, has less permanence than email, it’s less reliable as a record. So you could consider the preference for IMing as stemming from expedience rather than long-term utility, even if that consideration doesn’t consciously enter users’ minds. Again, it’s about the context and the purpose of the exchange.

I wonder how this compares to the general online public’s feelings. I know some bloggers insist upon getting commenters’ email addresses, partly for the option of replying on the subject privately — pointedly, outside the “official” exchange on the blog. That’s another example of different attitudes in this space.

Any other thoughts on this? I’d strongly prefer you comment on it below. But, if you prefer, I’ll take your feedback via email, too.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/31/2005 10:58:50 PM
Category: Internet, Bloggin', Society | Permalink |

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  1. IM’s can be permanant. In my IM software (GAIM) you can log all your conversations. I am sure other software can do the same thing.

    I dunno, if I comment on something, I do not always go back and look for responses. Usually, the author, if he has something to say, will email me with their thoughts regarding my comment and a discussion may ensue.

    Maybe I should look back after I comment to see if I am missing importand discourse?

    Comment by Dave — 08/01/2021 @ 12:03:12 AM

  2. Not even e-mail is private and for some people it isn’t even possible to send and receive e-mail due to interference from overbearing, controlling third parties.

    I say go back to the old fashioned methods and write letters and use the phone. That’s what I HAVE to do, in fact. But I suppose my situation is unique.

    Comment by Blayne — 08/01/2021 @ 04:14:00 AM

  3. Dave: Yeah, like anything else on the Net, IM logs can be kept. I guess that’s less obvious to the layperson, because it’s use is less formally structured than email. And it’s even less apparent if you’re using just the standard AIM or YahooIM software.

    I have to say that I NEVER email someone back after they’ve left a comment on one of my posts. I’ll respond within the commenting area, like this. By the same token, I very much prefer the same treatment when I comment on other sites.

    I pondered over this before… I wonder if I’m atypical in this area? I’m guessing others feel this way too; the “email me if this comment gets any responses” option on some blogs obviously speaks to this.

    Blayne: Yeah, email ultimately is not private, and most of us know this. But it’s a level higher than public posting.

    Comment by CT — 08/01/2021 @ 10:09:30 AM

  4. I also feel like email is a person to person communication as opposed to a public board/post. But, this apparently doesn’t make a difference to CT since he can turn Tom’s personal note into a web log. You’ve come this far you may as well let us know what Tom’s Offhand personal information was too. I’ll email you what I really think later.

    Comment by Hunk Oman — 08/01/2021 @ 02:47:44 PM

  5. I used to reply only in the comments. Since WP, I use the email to let me know when a comment is made. I have since found myself using it for a more pointed discussion..

    Comment by tommy — 08/01/2021 @ 06:03:33 PM

  6. Even though Hunk was joking (helluva zinger, as always!), it does bring up a related point: Whether or not emails are fair game for blog posting.

    Although many bloggers consider email correspondence relating to their blog to be subject to public revelation unless explcitly asked not to (and maybe not even then), I consider it off-limits. It sorta follows the overall theme discussed here: If that person wanted their thoughts out in the open, they’d have consciously delivered it in the form of a comment, not as an email.

    Comment by CT — 08/02/2021 @ 08:59:33 AM

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