Comment posting guidelines

Most blog authors want their readers to participate by commenting, so having people post comments on your articles is generally a very good thing. I for one love it when people leave constructive comments here. Nearly everybody participates in a civilised manner, but unfortunately there are exceptions.

I’m sure most people who have reasonably popular blogs will agree that reading and responding to just the well-written comments can take a lot of time, but that it’s okay. What is not okay is the time and energy consumed by trolls, spammers, and people with bad attitudes.

Disabling comments does not feel like an attractive option to me since this site would not be what it is without reader participation. So instead of doing that I have written a few tips and ground rules for posting comments.

Following these simple guidelines will increase the chance of your comments being read and taken seriously, and encourage blog authors to keep writing useful and interesting articles. You’re happy, the authors are happy, everybody wins.

  • Read any existing comments first. Really. Somebody else may have already stated your point. Take extra care to read any comments posted by the article’s author (many blogs format author comments differently to make them stand out), as they tend to clarify the article. If you post a comment to point out something that has already been mentioned, all you’re doing is adding clutter to the comments. There are exceptions to this of course.

  • Add value to the discussion. Consider whether what you are going to say will actually be of use to others reading your comment. If you aren’t certain that it will, try rephrasing your comment or maybe even refrain from posting it. If you disagree with the author’s point of view, that is fine, but explain why. If you find a mistake in a tutorial, explain what is wrong and let the author and other readers know how to fix it. And stay on topic.

  • Avoid two-word comments. While getting appreciative comments is great, comments consisting of only “Great job”, “Nice work”, or “Love it” don’t really say a lot. I’m not saying that you can’t express your appreciation for an article you like, but do try to explain why you like it. With more and more spam containing only short phrases like the ones I mentioned, fleshing it out a bit also reduces the risk of getting caught in a spam trap.

  • No signatures, please. Blog posts aren’t mailing lists or discussion forums. Your name will be linked to your site, so there is no need to make the comments harder to read by posting signatures.

  • Stay polite and civilised. Posting personal attacks and being disrespectful will not add value to the discussion. I generally (but not always, there are exceptions) delete such comments, and sometimes ban the IP that they were posted from. Again, it’s perfectly fine to disagree on something, but be constructive about it or you’re out.

  • Don’t try to disguise spam. I get an increasing amount of comments that are carefully written to be on topic and look as if they are taking part in the conversation, but link to obvious spam sites. Recently spammers have reached a new low by faking the names of people who regularly post comments here, probably hoping that I’ll miss the spam content. Don’t do it. I delete these comments and blacklist any URLs they contain as soon as I find them. In the past I have probably let some slip through, but as this kind of spam is increasing I will be much more trigger-happy with the delete button.

In my opinion, these are the most important blog comment guidelines. There are certain topics to which one or more rules do not apply, but they all apply to almost any kind of Web design/development related article or tutorial.

I really think these rules are easy to follow and that they will make reading and writing blogs more enjoyable and less stressful. Should there be more rules? Are any of my rules too harsh? What’s your opinion?

Posted on November 20, 2006 in Writing

Comments

  1. November 20, 2006 by Achenar

    Love it

  2. No one’s gonna dare to post a comment now… Well written especally on the spam issue. Spammer are always going to find new ways of getting their message trough, and god save askimet.

  3. I’ve experienced much of this and weeding through spam is never fun. I’m probably one of the few who goes fairly out of his/her way when it comes to comments. People who add sigs, I usually email them but delete the sig from the comment. I’m getting a bunch of spam from Germany these days and I find those can often be hard to discern as the language barrier makes it more unlikely for me to recognize it. The other thing I’ve noticed are people who use author names like “web designer” to capture some traffic. I have a tough time with this as the comments have often been highly relevant. But it still feels dirty… It cheapens the effort and are much more likely to get torched in the future.

    My rule: be honest, be up front and own what you say.

  4. Great post. This all seems fairly obvious, but I still think it needs to be said, so thank you for articulating it so well.

    Unfortunately people can become thoughtless easily when the barriers to communication are so low and the medium so informal. It takes a certain presence of mind to remain thoughtful when addressing someone via email, bulletin boards, and blog comments.

    What are your thoughts on comment moderation? Do you think it increases the barrier to timely communication by too much?

  5. Two things, first policy about spamming is pretty much useless. Spammers aren’t going to listen. You can blacklist the URLs, but then all a enterprising spammer has to do is post a spam message with a URL of a real visitor….

    Second, I think policies like this make visitors afraid of offending site owners/authors (as Fredrik noted above). Everyone is different, but on my blog I welcome a good contradictory post or even an argument if it can remain civil. Unfortunately I can’t even seem to even draw trolls, just spammers.

  6. Your guidelines seem appropriate to me. I find the most annoying spam to be the ones linking to random (usually non-existent) URLs which can’t be blacklisted … seriously, what’s the point?

    One thing I’d like to see is a value rating system (most likely by you but perhaps also by ‘trusted’ visitors). Your articles frequently attract a high number of comments and it would be a useful feature for the more constructive comments to be promoted visually (in the same way that the author’s comments are visually different).

    The flip side, comments that contain simple text like “Love it!” or “Great article!” could be demoted visually (perhaps just a simple graying-out of the text).

  7. I’m not convinced guidelines will do you (or any site owner) any good. Most legitimate comments are perfectly reasonable. There are a few, like “Nice site”, that although genuine don’t contribute to the discussion; it’s true these folk might benefit from a polite nudge. But those whom we would be mostly aiming guidelines at won’t heed them. Saying “Don’t be rude” is like poking at stick at people who are prone to swearing. Saying “Don’t advertise” is like inviting some jerk to spray graffiti on your house. The point being that “don’t’ just isn’t in their vocabulary—there are plenty of Internet sociopaths out there.

    When I’ve been in doubt I’ve e-mailed the author, and if it bounced or there was no response this is an indication to delete the comment without any guilt. When there is doubt, this outcome is an almost a given. Trust your gut.

  8. I haven’t seen comments on my blog yet by people posing as regular posters but I will keep my eyes open for that. It’s sad the amount of time and energy that goes into keeping the comments-quality as high as the posts themselves. If we let our guard down, though, for even a minute, spammers will quickly take over. Thank goodness for anti-spam plugins and other defensive tools.

    Oh, I almost forgot to add: “Good post” ;-)

  9. I’m very happy for Akismet to catch nearly all the spam that gets sent to my blog — I think it does a great job.

    Thank you very much for this article! I immediately “del.icio.used” it for further reference — now there is a really good document to show to someone you want to tell how comments are meant to be on a blog.

  10. While I agree in principle with a lot of the guidelines you’ve posted, I’m not so sure that they’ll prevent any spammers from posting their garbage.

    I’m also in the camp with others so far that think posting a large list of ‘guidelines’ may even prevent (or hinder) well-intending readers from posting their thoughts on an article at all because they’re worried about bothering the author. Sometimes all people want to do is say thank you and may not have time to dive into what they liked/disliked about the article.

    I know that’s not your intention at all though, but it is something to think about when posting comment guidelines. Comments should be invited, not stifled.

  11. There’s certainly something to be said for encouraging people to comment. Most people who read any given blog post are lurkers, and many of those people are likely to be thoughtful, yet reserved. It’s a tough balance to find between encouraging people to get involved in the discussion and keeping out the stuff that’s unwanted.

    I have to admit I thought of this post more of a general wish list for comments and not so much a guide for this site in particular, even though that may have been the intent. It’s good for those of us who do comment on a regular basis (anywhere) to be thinking about the quality of our own comments. Then again, those thinking about it probably leave decent comments in the first place.

  12. I think the commenters on berea street are generally people knowledgable about the topics presented here. Though I firmly believe the guidelines for good comments Roger made here, should speak for themselves. But a real discussion that goes to the core of things, is more difficult since all want to have their opinions in the open first. And after that some mini discussions develop along the way. I believe the potential of the sum of all people passing by here could need a serious boost. Solution: think before you write!

  13. Love it

    that is not what Roger implied

    Spammer are always going to find new ways of getting their message trough, and god save askimet

    It seems Askimet is the new plug to beat spamming. It is getting common like Coca Cola. Spam is abuse, point finale.

    My rule: be honest, be up front and own what you say.

    As they say be objective

    Unfortunately people can become thoughtless easily when the barriers to communication are so low and the medium so informal.

    So they can do better!

    It’s sad the amount of time and energy that goes into keeping the comments-quality as high as the posts themselves.

    Moderating is a necesarry evil.

    I’m very happy for Akismet to catch nearly all the spam that gets sent to my blog I think it does a great job.

    Again Akismet lives by its reputation. Is this a Word Press only plug?

    Comments should be invited, not stifled.

    But interesting at least too!

    Most people who read any given blog post are lurkers, and many of those people are likely to be thoughtful, yet reserved

    Lurkers are readers, who says they are reserved and thoughtfull? Seems rather generalizing it!

    Done!

  14. OK. Three words. :-)

  15. A great post. Better be careful of saying that :)

    I do get spammed on my weblog and it is very frustrating, but aksmimet seems to catch most of the spam, except for a few trackbacks, which I manually delete.

    I’m sure a much bigger site look yours gets spammed tenfold, and I can’t imagine how frustrating that might be.

  16. I fully agree on all your points mentioned here. However, the first one — Read any existing comments first — sometimes really can be difficult.

    For me, comments are not only something like an addition to the discussion, they also have the meaning of showing the author that his or her work is good, no matter whether the comment just includes a “I like that” or more. Perhaps one should clear up, which kind of comments are welcome on a website and which are not. So if you completely care about topic-related discussion and no good word, then you have to state that in a way that commenters will avoid to comment if they actually have nothing to say except that they liked this article.

  17. I get a lot of spam too - but all of it is automated. You say that your site is spammed manually? That, in my eyes, is a compliment.

  18. Here is why your guidelines will have little effect:

    Those who should be reading, will not. That is why you had to write the guidelines in the first place.

    Those who did read it, were probably already part of the well-written comment group. Although this put them back on their toes, they are not the problem.

    I’ve been writing and rewriting guidelines for an art site with peer comments for ages and things only change when we make changes to the functionality.

    While annoying for the casual commenter, you start to see changes when you require someone to invest time and effort before earning the right to speak.

    You see such systems implemented in one way or another at most community and social networking sites that allow free textual input.

    I have however not yet seen or thought about linking time/effort to comment rights for a blog setting like this. How would you require a time/effort investment without severely disrupting the overall experience?

  19. What I have seen over the past couple of weeks is the bots scraping sentences and making up posts from them. The reason I know is because the cheapskates have been stealing some of my comments. Usually it gives it away in their URL signature link.

  20. That’s a tricky one, Roger. First you ask me to be sure I’m adding something of additional value to the debate before I comment, and then you ask me for my opinion. What am I to do? Well, being the loudmouth that I am, I’ll take that as an invitation to comment…

    I’m minded to agree mostly with Bruce and Martin: the people who will be prepared to comment with commenting rules aren’t the people who you’ll have problems with - and also with with the Akismet fan club :-)

    I have to say I particularly enjoy it when people disagree with me, providing they are reasonable - I had a great debate over bigotry and theism/atheism on my site recently, and we both managed to see each others point of view, and put forward arguments to express our point of view, rather than abuse.

    Actual, reasoned debate is the best part of blogging… well, that and you get a platform to launch your opinions and rants to all and sundry…

  21. Something I didn’t think of initially, Roger. You use Google ads on your site.

    I don’t have a problem with this personally, but some people could argue they’re a kind of spam - they are not necessarily relevant to the article at hand, and they are an attempt to make the reader buy a product. The only differences are that you personally benefit from the google ads, and they are open about being ads.

    I’m not for one moment suggesting you need to drop them, but spam needs to be considered as what it is - unwanted and intrusive advertising, and compared and contasted to other advertising methods as well.

    If your google ads were presented in such a way that it wasn’t obvious they were ads, then I don’t think you’d have such a moral case (are they rel=”nofollow”?), but as it’s clear what they are, I personally don’t have an issue with them, just thought they needed to be considered alongside spam :-)

    After all, it’s your site, you do what you like with it, mate!

  22. Akismet was initially Wordpress-only but is now available for a wide variety of blogging software, Movable Type (>v3.2) included: http://akismet.com/development/

    I must admit that I was sceptical as to how effective it would be but I’ve been pleasantly surprised, it does a great job and provides an effective interface that makes it easy to train false-negatives and correct false-positives. Well worth a try. (Assuming you upgraded to MT3, that is.)

  23. November 21, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Achenar: :-P

    Jonathan:

    The other thing I’ve noticed are people who use author names like “web designer” to capture some traffic.

    I get those too (and variations, like “web design india”). I sometimes delete them, sometimes not.

    Daniel:

    What are your thoughts on comment moderation? Do you think it increases the barrier to timely communication by too much?

    Yes, definitely.

    Bob:

    Everyone is different, but on my blog I welcome a good contradictory post or even an argument if it can remain civil.

    Oh, I welcome that too. Provided it remains civil, that is. Things tend to get out of hand when something ends up on digg.

    Aaron:

    Interesting idea about a value rating system. I think it would be too much work and make people reluctant to post comments though. Who wants to spend the time to write a comment only to see it visually demoted?

    Jonathan E:

    Comments should be invited, not stifled.

    Absolutely. I wrote this to let off some steam, not to stop legitimate comments. When you need to spend an hour almost every day to handle comments it gets frustrating when everybody doesn’t behave (though most do).

    Michael:

    For me, comments are not only something like an addition to the discussion, they also have the meaning of showing the author that his or her work is good, no matter whether the comment just includes a “I like that” or more

    Yeah, maybe I should have made it a bit clearer that I mean the “Nice article” comments that link to a spam site, not the genuinely appreciative comments.

    Binny:

    You say that your site is spammed manually?

    Yes. Almost all of it is manual.

    Martin:

    How would you require a time/effort investment without severely disrupting the overall experience?

    Not sure. I’ll think about it and see if I can come up with something.

    JackP:

    Actual, reasoned debate is the best part of blogging…

    Yes. Reasoned being the key. The vast majority of comments are just that, but there is a large enough number of “bad” comments for me to have to spend way too much time keeping things under control.

    Google Ads are a lot easier to get rid of than spam comments if you don’t like them (AdBlock, PithHelmet). So I don’t think putting ads on a site means you have to accept comment spam, if that’s what you’re saying ;-).

    About Akismet:

    Everybody says it’s great. I can’t use it since this blog is still running an ancient Movable Type install, hacked to pieces. I’m not going to upgrade it until I get a couple of weeks with nothing else on my schedule. I think I’ll have fewer problems if I switch to something else.

  24. Skipped the comments:

    Read any existing comments first

    Quod erat demonstrandum - this demand

    a) ignores users, who are just not there to read any comments (which makes the demand almost insulting); and

    b) is author-centric, since the author wants unique and reasonable comments (of course), while visitors just don’t care, which is absolutely their right.

    It is and must be legitimate to be interested only in a site’s “primary content”. If it is not, the corresponding site should disable comments.

    Now, where’ the romantic topics.

  25. November 22, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Jens: I do not agree. It does not ignore users - comments become part of the content and should be considered before posting a response.

  26. Roger: just to clarify, I was suggesting google ads are different to spam, but the purpose (to generate traffic) is similar - and therefore it’s not unreasonable to be able to offer a defence of them - like you have done, in demonstrating how they can easily be blocked (and they are also generally more “honest” as well).

    As regards Jens’ comment, I’m somewhere between you and him: even if a previous commenter has said broadly the same thing you’re going to say, it may help to judge overall opinions or strength of feeling if many commenters express similar opinions.

    I however agree with you that I consider comments part of the content - but Jens obviously doesn’t. I wonder if there have been any investigations done on whether or not people are likely to read the comments associated with an article? - I’d suspect bloggers would be more likely to and “readers” less likely to as they are less used to the interaction.

  27. November 22, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    ‘JackP:*

    even if a previous commenter has said broadly the same thing you’re going to say, it may help to judge overall opinions or strength of feeling if many commenters express similar opinions.

    Definitely. A couple of examples of the kind of redundant comments I’m thinking of:

    • posting a link that has already been posted one or more times
    • posting a quote from an external source that somebody has already posted

    Maybe I should have added one more guideline: “Do not interpret every word literally.” Or I need to use more smilies :-D.

  28. another guideline:

    • Insert the text you are commenting on beit the article or a comment
    • add the name of the commenter or writer of the article

    Not everyone does this!

  29. I find your articles very informative and helpfull, however I’m too much of a novice to offer good comments, but your comments are usually helpful. So there you go.

    Though when I see blog posts with more than 10 comments I usually can’t read them all. Which is why it’s best for people to only post good comments.

    If there was a user rating system where readers could rate comments on a 5 star system it would take the burden off the blogger and make it easier for people like me to get the info they want.

    Thanks again, back to lurking…

    -M

  30. I do find myself sometimes: 1) not reading all the comments when there are a ton of them and; 2) wanting to say something short and sweet like “awesome article,” choosing not to add anything constructive to the piece or join the discussion per se, but just thankful it was written and wanting to be expressive of such. This last one obviously doesn’t benefit the readers, but it should make the author feel good knowing that the post was read and appreciated.

  31. Hi. developing a star trek site, and will post my table below. how do i code the table so it is accessible for jaws users? the information, is the actors and characters from the five star trek sites. if you could help me out, give me tips, or suggest, how i could fix the problems, let me know asap.

  32. November 24, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Johan:

    Insert the text you are commenting on beit the article or a comment

    Yep, that helps unless your comment makes the context perfectly clear. I know I’m sometimes lazy and don’t do that.

    wolfy:

    If there was a user rating system where readers could rate comments on a 5 star system it would take the burden off the blogger and make it easier for people like me to get the info they want.

    Something like that would be interesting to try out, but I think it is more relevant on a forum than on a site like this. It’s an idea worth considering though.

    Mike:

    This last one obviously doesn’t benefit the readers, but it should make the author feel good knowing that the post was read and appreciated.

    Yes, I appreciate that. A lot! What I don’t appreciate are phony comments of that kind, linked to a spam site.

    Marvin: Creating accessible tables is way off topic for this specific post. However, my article Bring on the tables should get you started.

  33. Good job! Joking ;)

  34. November 26, 2006 by blaise

    I think only returning visitors care about these rules and they probably already have some manners.

  35. Your post about comments, plus some of the other comments here, got me thinking. A lot of the time I read blogs by experts in their field, which are read by yet more experts in their field. If I get to a thread late there’s nothing I can add that hasn’t already been said (and more eloquently too). I still would like to be able to ‘me too’ without adding to the problem of comment spanning.

    When you mentioned Digg and civility, I thought why not have ‘Digg’ internal to a blog? Have a way that people can ‘comment’, but instead of adding a comment entry they can select a predefined comment (like ‘Good Job’ or ‘I agree’), or maybe just a generic ‘Kudos’ for a post and when they submit, they get added to a tally for that predefined comment?

    That way you still get the intelligent discussion (and spam, sorry) to a post - but you can also give the shy/ late-to-the-party people a chance to give you their opinion without it cluttering up the comments/ discussion.

  36. After a particularly massive batch of blog spam to one of the sites I manage that runs an old v2.x version of Movable Type, I finally became sick of having to directly edit the SQL comment table and rebuild MT’s entries. (Deleting individual comments takes way too long.)

    So I shoehorned Akismet into Movable Type v2 using the Perl module: http://stefpause.com/akismet/akismet-for-movable-type-v2/

    Note: I’ve not yet coded it up to work for trackbacks yet, will try to get that finished soon.

    Think this’d be a decent possible solution for you, Roger?

  37. November 28, 2006 by Michelangelo

    I would also like to suggest that simple corrections to factual errors or coding and spelling mistakes should be sent to the author by email and have no place in the comments. What do you folks think?

  38. November 28, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    blaise:

    I think only returning visitors care about these rules and they probably already have some manners.

    That’s true, unfortunately.

    Colin:

    Have a way that people can ‘comment’, but instead of adding a comment entry they can select a predefined comment

    Yes, that sounds like something I would use if it was available

    ManxStef:

    So I shoehorned Akismet into Movable Type v2

    Ah, great! I’ll take a look at getting that installed soon. Thanks!

    Michelangelo:

    I would also like to suggest that simple corrections to factual errors or coding and spelling mistakes should be sent to the author by email

    Yes, that is preferable. Noting the mistake in a comment is better than not saying anything about it though.

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