Zinestorming: Textual and morphological observation of the online & offline user generated comments sections

Our first week at publishing lab started off with a zinestorming session, we were tasked with finding a subject within the broad field of (digital) publishing, getting to know each other and creating a zine. Quickly we narrowed it down on how people interact, focussing more specifically on the culture of comments and how various platforms shape them.

As active participants in different cultures and platforms online: we comment, react, like, heart, clap, snap and troll effortlessly in different platforms. We understand intuitively which social rules are to be followed where. Yet, while researching ways of interacting online we realised actually how many different internet cultures are present nowadays. The user generated comment sections caught are attention, would be possible to isolate a comment from its platform and still know where it came from ? Each (sub)culture — much like a plant or animal — comes with its habitat, its own type of people or bots, behaviours and use of language and history or community guidelines that shaped it into what it is today.

Starting off we collected samples, screenshots and links of comments sections in a shared Google Doc. As we were trying to short and categorise all the comments we were collecting, the documentation itself turned into a comment section, with each link or image being commented on. To sort through everything, we decided to print the document and organise our research into groups pinned to the wall. 

By hanging the comments and removing them from their context we realised that the groups are similar to genera. With each group showing distinct morphological properties. At that moment we understood we were conducting participatory research, and tasked ourselves with the role of anthropologist to view and collect, measure, list, identify and preserve the characteristics of the user generated comment section cultures.

view full datasheet here

There’s a reason that comments are typically put on the bottom half of the Internet.@AvoidComments(Shane Liesegang), Twitter via Reading the Comments by Joseph M. Reagle, Jr.

We don’t have the time or desire to continue monitoring that crap moving forward.Jonathan Smith, vice.com’s editor in chief via Me and My Troll by Jason Pontin at MIT Technology Review.

The end result is a zine in four parts: Texts, Taxonomy, Specimens & Community Guidelines. Documenting all the collected information — fragmentarily and outside of their original contexts, on comment at the time — that enables us to highlight the bottom half of the internet and its inhabitants in the driest way, with no added commentary or critique, just a collection of comments from the user generated comment sections, sections that seem to disappear and one annoyed website editor in chief at the time and section on toxicity determining AI at the time. 

Project made by: Mateo Broillet, Thijmen van Brunschot, Nina FistalVictoria Douka-Doukopoulou and Stef Kors