According to one theory of knowledge, there are no original facts. All knowing is gained through more knowing, each fact tied to every other fact like a spider web – none supported completely on its own, but all working beautifully in concert. Whether this is ultimately true philosophically, it illustrates a key point of online knowledge: Everything worthwhile refers back to something else.
This is particularly true of the many arguments on the web. The strongest arguments are those that can relate their case to other fields of knowledge and understanding. While there are always those who will buy into constantly debunked arguments, by and large the web is a place where the meritocracy of truth can hold court.
So, how exactly does one harness this for his or her own blog?
First, understand that an argument always produces hard feelings. This is the inherent risk of it; people do not like to be proven wrong. Whether it is cultural or evolutionary in nature, there is an almost gut-level need to be right in an argument. If you have a discussion of this sort, you will run the risk of alienating some audience members.
However, the same effect can gain you a strong readership if handled properly. People admire those who can demonstrate a strong case against consistent criticism. Take the video bloggers Thunderf00t and AronRa on YouTube. Both of these men advocate very specific positions about science, free speech and religion, and the role of these entities in the modern world. Both have come under extensive attack, including outright legal action in some cases, for advocating their views and maintaining the argument about these issues. Yet both have very popular YouTube channels, and both writers have been booked for speaking engagements as a result of their work. Their channels are consistently growing, largely because they are willing to have arguments and back them up with strong evidence.
The first step is to make sure the argument is worth having. Is it genuinely an issue worth arguing over, with significant relevance to the average user? Consider your audience carefully for this one. Arguments about freedom of speech may well touch on everyone’s lives in some degree, but if your blog is dedicated to the subtleties of audiophile technologies, it might not be the argument to have.
Once you have made the decision that a point needs to be argued, it is important to match the intensity of your tone to the relevance of the point. If you have a relatively academic disagreement with one portion of another blogger’s work, then it would likely not be appropriate to ream the entire piece based on one disagreement, or to focus on the disagreement instead of the areas of concordance.
This should be common sense, but the web seems to create a tendency in people to narrow their focus onto odd elements.
Begin with a post stating the basics of the other party’s case, honestly and omitting nothing relevant. Then provide your commentary and rebuttal in specific terms, providing due credit and citations and making sure to link to your opposite number’s blog if the argument is occurring between the blogs, or in the comments section if the discussion is to be had there.
Remember also to be gracious in victory and polite in defeat. It may well be that you utterly end their argument. If so, then well done. If they concede the point, accept the concession and move on. People have had their show, things have been learned, and hopefully both of you have benefited. Similarly, if you are clearly shown to be in the wrong, you gain much more credibility by revising your stance and acknowledging the opposing party’s points. This is not formal debate, where the idea is to win points – it’s to maintain good discussion and draw in the kind of people who take your work seriously.
Tying in with this effect is the user effect. People feel more invested in a blog when they feel their contributions are honored and considered worthwhile. So if a commenter to your blog provides a particular insight on an ongoing discussion or argument you are having with another blogger, bring them in. Highlight insightful commentary from your readers with a post, or incorporate it into one if appropriate to do so. This will encourage more people to bring commentary in, both for and against your point of view. This is a great way to attract the viewers of your opposite number’s blog, as they feel their input will not be ignored.
So, in the end, should you go looking for arguments to start? Probably not; enough of them will present themselves to you. This is evident from reading just about any blog on the web. Read enough of them, and you will find something you disagree with. If you feel you can have a reasonable dialog with the writer of another blog, or if you feel their views are so drastically wrong as to require your rebuttal, then by all means do so. Simply do not forget to make it an argument worth having, and one that will educate and entertain your readers.