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Plato's Cave: Where everybody knows your (blog) name

Published August 27, 2006 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Imagine reading a book where none of the characters had names. The dialogue went back and forth among people who might or might not agree, but there was no way for the reader to keep track of who was saying what, or even how many people there were.

It would probably work as a play, "Waiting for Godot"-like, where you could see the characters. But on the printed page the train of thoughts would quickly become too muddled to follow.

That's why we are going to change the procedures for posting comments in Plato's Cave, The Tribune Editorial Board's Web log.

We're going to start asking you to register to comment on our blog, just as many other Tribune blogs and those run by others in the vast blogosphere do.

At the same time, though, we're going to turn off the filter that requires a human eye to approve comments before they become visible to others. That just slows the process down and, at least so far, we've had no problems with libelous statements or dirty talk.

Blogger registration means you have to have a name to go with your comments. But it doesn't have to be your real name. In fact, it's probably more fun if it isn't.

In my limited wanderings about this alternative universe, I've seen people comment under their own noms-de-net. Folks adopt such interesting handles as Sailor, goucho, cosmos, Darwin's Disciple, Outlander, Gay Mafia, bee good and, simply, B.

Up to now, in the short life of our little corner of the Internet, any reader wanting to comment on our staff postings could push the "anonymous" button on the Blogger.com page and flame on to his or her little heart's content. It would appear on the list of comments as "anonymous said . . . "

Because we're more interested in the thought than the thinker, in this forum, the fact that we don't have your name, address and serial number isn't a problem. Because space is theoretically unlimited, unlike the very limited space of the print Public Forum, we don't feel like we have to reserve space for those willing and able to append their names.

But, when "anonymous" says, "If Mr. Pyle is so keen on the idea of the British fighting terrorism with intelligence, why does he blast the administration's use of wiretapping and bank records to find terrorists?" shortly after "anonymous" says, "George, I agree with you. The pretend Bush administration is outside the law," it starts to look like we've got one reader with serious personality issues.

Which, for all I can tell right now, may be the case.

So now you'll be asked to register, if you haven't already, to comment on our posts. It just takes a minute, it's free and you only have to do it once.

I tried it the other day and, once I had it explained to me by wiser men that I am not required to set up an entire blog, it was a piece of cake.

You can set up a blog of your own, though, or just fill out a profile or make your e-mail address known to everyone. That's a good way to start other dialogues or help others find your own Webified musings.

Once that's done, it will be easier for both full participants and lurkers to follow the flow of the conversation and, if you're gonna call names, at least you'll have a name to call. ("anonymous, you ignorant slut," just doesn't have the same ring to it.)

In most cases, I won't know any more about you than I do now, unless you choose to come out more fully in your Blogger profile.

I will, though, be able to get your e-mail address. But I don't plan on doing anything with that unless I need to contact someone for some clarification of a point or seek further comment.

Your address will not become a spam target. I promise. I hate it as much as you do.

If anyone reads a comment that they believe is really out of bounds - racist, libelous, filthy - you can e-mail me (gpyle@sltrib.com) and we'll take a look at it. But we want to manage this exchange with the lightest possible touch.

As B.D. said in the very first "Doonesbury" comic strip, there are still a few bugs in the system. But working them out is half the fun.

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George Pyle is a Tribune editorial writer who hosts the Editorial Board's blog, Plato's Cave, at http://blogs.sltrib .com/editorial/