Wisenheimers, Scary People, and Debate-Team Captains: A Taxonomy of Commenting Communities

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Every online publication with a comments section develops its own culture of readers who gather every day to post funny one-liners, shout at each other, resume long-running debates, and occasionally even leave cogent reflections upon the subject at hand. On many sites, commenters write more for each other than for the author of a story or even the thousands of non-commenting readers. For some, commenting itself is a means to an end, or at least, a job. These commenters have formed “cuckoo communities” that happen to exist within a media-website nest. Yet these communities usually have a relationship to their host bodies — in fact, they’re often a reflection or refraction of the original site. After deep immersion within a baker’s dozen of these strange cultures, what follows is an anthropological survey.