Comment Culture Abstract

A short abstract of my research on feedback and comment:

Comment Culture: Feedback, ratings, and reviews in the age of the Web

Our world today is permeated by comment: ratings, rankings, and reviews are inescapable, on-line and off. Granted, as long as humans have spoken, we’ve been commenting about the world, especially about other people. Yet, today, the extent of our engagement with comment (from teens asking “am I ugly” on YouTube to an annual performance review at work) is an under-appreciated aspect of our lives. This book is an exploration of cultures of comment both offline and online, with a larger concern of how this might be changing our relation to ourselves and others.

I employ multiple approaches in this exploration. First, I engage with language of comment by distinguishing the terms and practices of feedback, criticism, critique, and assessment. I also trace the historical emergence of comment. How and when did the genre of the review begin? What of Michelin’s three stars? How has the psychometric likert scale (i.e., 1-5 rating) shaped our understanding of ourselves and society? Most of the work is ethnographic. For instance, when it comes to feedback, comments that go back to the person they are about, there are many communities with different cultures of comment, be it a public speaking classroom, online fan-fiction “beta-reader” group, or software collaboration. Finally, I am asking critical questions of this topic. For example, what validity do the many measures we employ (e.g., Netflix’s stars or Facebook’s “like”) actually have? Or, is our preoccupation with rating less about objectively quantifying our lives and more a reflection of insecure selves in a competitive world?

Hence, this book will be review the discourse, history, and cultures of comment and ask, does comment in the age of the Web makes us more informed and/or ill-at-ease?

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