Posted by: Leek | January 24, 2012

An Idiot’s Ethnography of Nico Nico Douga: Comment Culture Part I – History, Styles and Evolution

Upon beginning this project, I had stated I wouldn’t write any tutorial style of article. My intention was never to “teach” anyone how to enter the Nico Nico Douga community directly by giving readers a manual. However, I did get an interesting search term regarding “Nico Nico Douga comment etiquette”. This statement regarding comments did trigger a pulse that made me rethink the idea of the comment ethic of regular Nico viewers. As a final result I decided to construct an article to hit on elements of history, common practice as influenced by history, and a list of some common comments in the broader Nico community (because I’m nice like that).

Nonetheless, I hope it will demystify certain myths regarding the active time comment system that is affiliated closely with Nico Nico Douga. I decided in turn to break the article into two parts. The first will be more technical and focus on history while I dedicated the second being more of a giant glossary. This separated the material so if you want to avoid the technical mumbo jumbo you can skip to the second section and read up on comments instead.

The mighty and fearsome comment box

I realize I did touch on comments briefly in my introduction and will no doubt reiterate many points. But this is meant as an aside completely separate from the meat of this article. It’s intention is to be less of a general critique of views but more so the development and styles of language among Nico viewers. By the way, in certain areas (particularly the comment example section) I will be using unicode. So just a fair warning if your browser can’t display Japanese properly.

So let’s go ahead and move right to the heart of Nico….

The Controlled Danmaku
I believe I stated this much in my intro but the common image of scrolling comments on Nico much resembles it’s early history. Lines of “w”s and single syllables was not an uncommon thing. In this way the barrage (弾幕 or “danmaku” for those wearing their Japanese hats today) ethic held very strong throughout the years. This, of course, very strongly resembled the videos of the time and many of the types (which would surface later) simply did not exist nor the comment style that came with them.

This did also embody the first experience users had with the active time comment system. If you were to look at the comments of early videos they were mostly representative of a “reaction” basis. Comments that were placed on the video corresponded to direct reaction at the time which could easily be represented as laughter, anger, fascination, what have you. In other words, a conversation didn’t exist and it was much of live audience sitting with you watching the video. This was far from an unwelcome experience though. Somehow seeing a barrage of laughter at times when you felt the same created much of the community Nico would later begin to further nurture.

Alongside simple reaction comments were the formation of early signs of comment templates (テンプレ or “tenpure” for short, I’ll discuss it in Part II) as well as common phrases (on a technical level called ネット流行語 “netto ryuukougou”, literally net buzzword/phrase) that were often taken from Nico’s close (though somewhat undesired) relative 2ch. These were the common kinds of comments that would come and go at any given time on certain videos and were practiced by most viewers. Even me with a lack of a kanji keyboard in my earlier days struggled to copy characters into the comment box so I could participate in the early community. More or less the barrage era was a development of ideas and community that would grow with the types of categories and eventual separate communities that would form from them.

So how did early Nico’s use of the barrage affect it’s current state? The barrage is far from a thing of the past and still resides on most high trafficked videos (sometimes regardless of category) that you choose to watch. More or less it’s something that most enjoy but aren’t seeking to create at any certain point in time. Just as one would imagine if there are enough viewers commenting at the same point in time then a barrage will naturally from. Though these can go and come as once a video passes the comment limit then older comments will vanish for new and that same barrage may thin out. A less common occurrence for barrages are often used in a comment gag referred to as the one man barrage (一人弾幕 “hitori danmaku”). As one could imagine this involves a single person creating a barrage of comments by themselves. While I do refer to it as a comment gag it does form in sometimes negative lights and creates a sometimes negative view of comment barrages.

Along with the anti one man barrage sentiments was the myth of the zero comment (0コメ zero kome). When Nico was in it’s earlier days and the player worked differently, there was a common myth that too many comments placed at the 0:00 point of the video made the player load and run too heavy and created difficulty for many users. Myths aside, another practical hate formed as it was frequent that anti video or uploader comments often held the 0:00 position. This created a historical and still currently held idea of the zero comment being the comment to never make as it led to an instant negative response from fellow viewers. Like any community it was something that was formed in history and, whether or not the myth of screwing up the player was true, the current distaste for zero comments is genuine. Generally speaking if you want to do early comments then wait until at least the six second mark before you let loose.

As Nico has evolved into it’s current state, a tool was eventually added to allow all users to “block” others or even certain comments. This was more or less to help viewers keep comments on while avoiding a mess that one person was responsible for. Since certain one man barrages were intended to bad mouth videos (or the creator) this helped to remove all those comments. This also allowed users to block certain words or phrases and would remove any comments that contained them. More or less this gave users the power to control barrages of bad comments to enhance their viewing experience. It was considered a smart move on the part of Nico’s management and fair proof they were aware of certain grievances occurring on the site. But this early history just skates the barriers of Nico’s comment culture.

Managing Comment Commands
So, were scrolling comments the only comments on Nico? Far from it. The other vital tool for active commentators on Nico was the feature of comment commands taking the space to the left of the actual comment box. These commands allowed for people to take commenting to all new heights by coloring, positioning, and letting their creative minds loose to create secondary experiences on videos using comments.

Comment blocking has become rather convenient (sorry if your ID is here)

To start on the positive side, comment commands easily brought feature to three new styles of commenting. The most revered and loved lies with creating art with comments. Nico’s layout and command system allows for comments to show up and be positioned about anywhere on the video. More or less the variety of colors and sizes that people were given allowed them to place art (often ASCII art seen on 2ch) directly on videos. This is, of course, not just limited to still comments. By using color, size, and spacing people have managed to even make their artwork mobile as well. The main problem with works like these is they often can be ruined by other comments and take a heavy amount of skill and know how (of spacing for stills and timing for moving) to perform correctly. Artwork on videos is generally uncommon for reasons of labor required and on any popular video it is sure to vanish as quick as it shows up. Oddly enough, there are features of Nico to bypass vanishing artwork. The simplest (and limited to premium) is the comment history feature which allows a user to load comments from a previous time. If artwork has partly vanished or reaction comments to the artwork are present it easily allows the user to go back in time and view the video with a certain set of comments. Another feature is My Memory (マイメモリー) which allows a user to “save” the current comments off of a video. The user can then go to their folder and load that video again at any time with those specific comments. Features aside, well placed artistic comments are and forever will be held in the highest respect.

The other use for commands are subtitle comments (字幕 “jimaku”) and attention comments which I feel generally serve the same purpose. What are attention comments? These are much of what they might sound like. While they lack no formal name, attention comments are comments that are placed somewhere on the video to snap the viewer’s attention to a specific point. Since comments that are placed rather then scrolling will remain on the video for a set period, these comments will almost always get a glance from the viewer. In a less direct way, many subtitle comments serve the same purpose. Aside form actually serving as subtitles, subtitle comments are often used on certain videos to highlight specific dialogue rather then subtitle the whole thing. Oddly enough it almost acts as the cue signaling viewers where to laugh and notice what’s funny. These types of subtitles are often used to apply common misheard (空耳 “soramimi”) phrases. Still comments aren’t common on most videos but certain genres containing more dialogue or foreign videos (for the sake of misheard dialogue) thrive off of strategically placed comments such as these to draw extra laughs from viewers.

On the trade off of love, comment commands have often been a constant source of grief for long time Nico users. One of the older historical arguments is the presence of premium colors. Along with the normal colors given to users, premium users since the earliest day were allowed to use an extra set of colors along with those of normal members. Using this color set marked you as a target in the early day as premium membership was considered less practical and merely something only someone who wanted to exert higher class would take part in. Certain distaste towards premium membership still exists today but it has generally died down now that a larger portion of Nico’s regular users have begun to buy a premium account. Regardless, the premium color set remains mostly unused even among artistic comments. Again while hostilities have been generally lied to rest, there is still the idea of premium colors as being excessive. Generally there is no reason for most people to use colors in general so the practice of using a premium color to further try and stand out is simply asking to be placed into a chunk of users’ block lists.

This generally goes along with the idea of “standing out” too much. While comment commands have their uses they are hardly ever used by most viewers. To be frank, most users simply want the equality of everyone using the white standardized scrolling comments. Purposely having your comments on the bottom or a certain color to grab extra attention is really nothing more then being excessive. For example, big red and cyan comments are two specific combination that have a certain history and carry a long negative context behind them in this regard. Another feature of blocked comments is also the ability to block certain commands so I was not too surprised to see many people simply have colors blocked in general.

More or less, comment commands serve a great purpose but using them effectively requires a lot of skill. However this isn’t skill in the artwork sense. As this set of articles is designed to prove, Nico hosts a particular community with a long history of established guidelines. I could never teach you everything and learning what to do can only be accomplished by spending time viewing behaviors. I have a habit now of being very avid in making comments on videos (covering all kinds) but I only felt comfortable doing so after seeing where and what kinds of comments were welcome on what videos.

And this brings us to the current evolution of comments.

From Comments to Conversation
Oddly enough many of the comment types I’ve discussed so far all dwell in the realm of earlier Nico eras. So what happened after that? Where are we now? Nico slowly began to progress from active time reactions to active time conversation as time moved forward. As videos grew more complex, so did the ways in which people used to comment on them. Suddenly the character limit of comments wasn’t just about how many “w”s you could fit on screen but how much you were able to say in a single statement. The practice of always reading scrolling comments was suddenly slashed for utilizing the comment box. Uploaders became more active participants on their on videos and, to a point, were expected to take feedback and advice based off of comments. All these new concepts allowed for people to explore different kinds of videos and eventually led to how different videos would hold different comment practices. This eventually led to the revolution of Nico’s live section and how comments would carry on in spirit to yet another new era of Nico.

MyList Comments. Don’t use them? Try it.

I feel inclined to only talk brief on the conversational comment of Nico as I believe the move towards them is a loaded topic on it’s own. Nonetheless, as different videos showed up it soon became more apparent that people were willing to interact with one another beyond simple reactions. This allowed people to connect in a brand new way and bring the community together even further. But why did it work? For one it’s important to remember the “ease” of saying things in Japanese. The presence of kanji allows for complex statements to be handled in less characters as opposed to, for example, English. With this in mind it allows a person on Nico to relay a variety of statements and ideas in one comment and often won’t be too long of a string that is unreadable, even scrolling.

What came of this? I can’t say where or when it started but people were soon utilizing comments in this new fashion. On certain videos someone would make a comment expressing a personal thought at some point in a video (more like a YouTube comment). Someone could then at this point use an arrow (← is what you’ll see) and post a comment afterwards. This often creates a comment pointing to the original that acts as a direct reply and can eventually create a hilarious (or depressing) chain of reply comments. But this is more a common occurrence when it’s a simple thought as opposed to a complex concept. But while there are times when people will relate to the comment of another there are more then enough times when someone gets on a topic that’s disagreeable. While hard to believe, Nico is no slouch when it comes to heated debates within active comments. Even if you don’t understand Japanese you may notice an often direct chain of very long and hearty comments in a row scrolling by. This is usually a fair sign that war has broken out on a certain video. From political to social, seeing debates like this erupt on certain videos has always been a fascination of mine (I’ve also started and participated in more then my fair share).

In a direct following to this evolution a new era of people often revisiting videos began. I had a friend who often told me he revisited videos often just to check comments. I thought he was crazy at the time but soon began to realize exactly what his intentions were. Over time long conversations can take place on the same video to the point you could hardly imagine people were watching the video in the first place (again why the comment box is handy). This again may show certain roots to 2ch as people had almost begun using Nico as a style of forum. Before Nico’s live section rose to power, certain videos were often created to generate discussion and named as such. These videos often nothing more then stills and music would cover topics from political to a current anime’s direction and predictions for the next episode. These again were no longer videos but merely utilized Nico’s comment system solely to propel an active discussion. For those with distaste towards 2ch, it also acted as a way to avoid the site altogether.

One more thing I feel worth bringing up is something I discovered more recently as I browse video series with smaller viewership. The idea of “comment correction” is another concept I feel worth bringing up. On certain videos I was watching I would see a comment and then another addressing it saying something like, “Oops, I meant *this”. This sort of on the spot correction baffled me. In fact it sparked a bit of laughter from me as I couldn’t believe how awkward it must felt to have to follow up your own comment with a correction. As I watched more videos that didn’t come near passing the comment limit I saw it as a very common occurrence and realized the logic behind it. For those commenting it really was making sure a clear discussion was had and that they were being perceived correctly (or to avoid being marked as a candidate to be blocked). Oddly enough as I continued watching these videos and commenting, I realized myself mistime a comment and send it at an awkward point in time. I decided to ignore it and came back to the video to see someone had addressed my comment rather curious as to it’s early timing. Oddly enough I felt completely embarrassed and commented again to “fix” my mistaken comment. Since there’s no way to delete your comment once it’s sent, it was the only way I felt I could save face from the situation. It was then I realized the logic of comment correction and since that day have been avid in making sure any misdirected comment was quickly fixed for viewer, uploader, and my own sake.

This about rounds out the general but full view of comments you will see on Nico along with some history behind them. While I wish I could tell of every single occurrence you’ll see, it would total to an epic of different concepts.

As the overall project is meant to discuss Nico as a community, the comments act as the specific cultural language with which to communicate. While Japanese is undoubtedly the literal language being practiced, comments present a strange form of communication that managed to evolve differently from both conventional Japanese net speak and 2ch. The result formed a hybrid culture meant to assist and present users with different tools that could both be used to discuss and further enhance videos.

And, of course, norms for this language were set as timed passed. While none of these rules were set in stone, a sense of “tradition” formed that incoming users would see and abide by to properly get along and participate within the community. New features allowed for users to better manage comments and gave a means to enforce the norms that had been set in place. But just like Nico itself, the comment culture continues to evolve and yield new standards, especially within the various communities located within Nico.

But the real strive of Nico’s community as furnished by comments is the ideal of trying to create an equality where everyone can be understood and discuss video content together. This involves using the “right” comments in the right place and not necessarily striving to create an identity (something you would do as an uploader, not a viewer).

This doesn’t necessarily mean some features of comments aren’t used but instead are meant as a means to enhance the viewing experience for others. If each user chose to run rampant with comments it would hardly be the “controlled barrage” that I spoke of but a simple chaotic warfare that refused to coincide with one another.

If you begin to browse Nico on a regular basis you’ll no doubt realize the different practices on different videos. And hopefully, one day, you may take enough away that you become a full and constructive comment contributor yourself. And really it’s a position that I consider just as vital to the community then simply uploading videos.

Next: Comment Culture Part 2 – The Deal with “w”


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