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Monday, March 12, 2007

Comment Type #36

One of the terms that came to a new meaning in the computer age is "cut and paste." This is a restyling of an old typesetting and formatting idea in print, where you cut articles out physically and arrange them with paste to form a page, giving a visual depiction of the final layout. On computers, you can do the same thing, but the paste can be quite temporary, moving the article again and again to get it just right.

For commenting, cutting part of the article in question or someone's previous statements and pasting it in your comment is common and useful for clarifying what you are responding to. With careful formatting to set the quote apart, it can be very useful for other readers. Sometimes, to make a point, a commenter can cut a portion of a news story or other document and paste it into their comment to help support a point they make or draw attention to it.

I've copied my comment on a topic and posted it on other blogs to save time making the same point, and since it's my words, there is no need for attribution. I don't do this often, but it can be useful at times. Doing it too much or on the same site slouches into spam territory, which is something we all ought to avoid, but it's fine to do this sometimes between different blogs.

Then there's the Paste Eater. This is the kind of commenter that cuts entire articles and pastes them into place, without notation or editing. Whole news articles at times, but usually entire opinion pieces, a huge mass of text several screens long. Because most comment sections come up in a small window and are formatted to be 50 characters wide or so, this can compress the text into quite a long section. So a full length article is enormous, and quite tedious to read. In fact, most people simply don't read them.

This increases the text and size of packets the blog provider has to carry, thus slowing them slightly and costing the provider more money for the heavier content burden. Further, it is a violation of copyright law to paste an entire article without getting permission. A paragraph or two, that's fair use. The entire thing? You're stealing from the writer you allegedly want to support by sharing their work.

Some Paste Eaters are particularly fond of something they've written in the past and will paste it every time a given topic comes up. Some even seem to have a library of pre-written responses, by them or usually by others, that they fire off when ever a topic comes up. This can be vaguely related to the topic, or simply a desperate attempt to deflect attention away from the topic at hand. Either way, it's a poor thing to do.

Commenting is at best a sharing of ideas, news, and opinions. It can include some support and some writing by others, but ought to primarily be your ideas - why on earth write if you have nothing to say? The discussion at hand is best served by your thoughts and efforts, not by copying chapter 7 from Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh's best seller. There is a time and place for using the words of others, but that should always be clearly indicated to give them the credit.

The line on this is largely subjective, but if you catch yourself posting the complete text of your latest favorite columnist, don't. If you find yourself posting an entire study from 1985 on how Sweden is a paradise we all should emulate, don't. You're violating the law, annoying everyone who is there commenting, and chances are, no one will read what you posted in any case.

This is part of the Profiles in Commenting series.
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