Commenting

June 8th, 2009

Let’s talk commenting.

This is about the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one. One thing I love about blogging is the fact that it’s a continuous work-in-progress. Blogs are never all set. A blog is always still working on it.

I’m trying to decide what kind of commenting policy I want to have on my blogs. When done well, the comments section can be as powerful, entertaining, and educational as the blog itself. When not … oy. We all know what that’s like.

The price of a good commenting community is, unfortunately, eternal and unpaid vigilance on the part of the blogger. You have to moderate, and you have to moderate aggressively and consistently. This article in Slate describes, admiringly, the draconian moderation at Television Without Pity, which did not change after the site was bought out. TWOP moderators don’t just enforce civility and keep the spam out, they make sure you are bringing your A-game. No “Hah hah ITA Zak Quinto is soooooo hawt” on the TWOP boards, no sir. Ta-Nehesi Coates described his commenting policy as, “Don’t be boring, and don’t be an ass,” which I think sums it up pretty well. That’s what everyone wants for the comments on their site: interesting, insightful, on-topic.

So how to achieve that? Philosophically, I’d rather err on the side of deleting an “innocent” comment than publishing a “guilty” one. In practice, however, I do tend to let stuff through. The software on the Miss Conduct blog isn’t really the best for moderation. And certain posts, like the Monday question (check it out and weigh in on today’s, eh?), get linked to on the boston.com home page, which means that a bunch of newbies show up who aren’t necessarily followers of the Miss Conduct Way.

I guess what particularly bothers me is that when things have gotten a bit heated over at the other ranch, invariably someone pulls the “I can’t believe that on an etiquette blog …” card. This bugs me. It’s like the Susan Boyle phenomenon: we should treat all frumpy middle-aged women with respect and dignity, not just the ones who can sing. I don’t want you to not be an asshole on my blog because it’s an etiquette blog, I want you not to be an asshole on my blog because it’s not cool to be an asshole. Just because you’re commenting on RSVPs or wedding presents doesn’t mean you have to type with your pinkies in the air.

Okay. Enough of my maundering. Let’s air your dirty maundry. What do you think? If you’re a frequenter of the Miss Conduct blog, what have you liked and not liked about commenting there? Have there been comments that you think I should have deleted? (A note: I grade pass/fail. I’m not going to edit a comment, that’s too time-consuming. If there’s any inappropriate content, it gets dumped, even if the rest of it is good.) What blogs do you think handle moderation well, or have good comment policies?

More questions … Should comments be deleted if their only offense is lack of content (e.g., a comment consisting solely of “LOL!”)? Do you like it when the blogger participates in the comment thread, dislike it, or are indifferent? Is it annoying that I don’t open all posts up for comments? How much does threadjacking and topic drift bother you?

Comment away!


10 Responses to “Commenting”

  1. Eeeeka on June 8, 2009 8:45 am

    I think pointless comments are up to the blogger in question. If you want to remove them, fine. If you want to leave them, also fine. They are generally short and you can skip over.

    I rather like it when the blogger comments in the thread. It shows they are still listening and have more to say.

    Opening up comments? Well, sometimes I’d like to comment on posts that aren’t open and I’m too lazy to send email. But it’s not too common.

    Threadjacking does bother me, if threads are easy to follow. If it’s just chronological order, I don’t really care one way or the other.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. :)

  2. Jenny L3igh on June 8, 2009 10:17 am

    Bravo on the asshole distinctions! Definitely agree.

    My favorite blog for comments is babynamewizard.com. I do think that is an exception as the posters tend to be a self-selecting group who are particularly interested in the topic of names. It really feels like a community (unfortunately you can’t force communities to evolve quickly). However what I like that Laura (the blogger) does is:

    The comments are easy to see and read through.

    It’s easy to post a comment and you can edit it if you make a mistake.

    Laura chimes in occasionally, but also often follows up a discussion with a full length post as her topic for the day. That shows she is listening, but we also get a full post out of it.

    I am trying to decide how I feel about getting off topic… I guess I’m sort of a content snob– is the new topic interesting? I also think if someone needs help quickly I can understand sending a shout-out to the group in the middle of a conversation.

    As for short comments (LOL!) I don’t know how the technology works but maybe you could have something like FB does when you can just put a like or dislike thumbs up under someone’s status (hopefully that makes sense). Other than that as long as the comments are easy to read past they don’t bother me much.

  3. diane on June 8, 2009 9:11 pm

    Miss Conduct’s blog comments are the *only* blog comments I read regularly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought up the etiquette questions and comments in conversation — even more often than I bring up posts from Improbable Research, as improbable as that may sound. I enjoy reading the comments so much because I know they are moderated. I can rest assured that in this one place, I’m going to read mostly thoughtful and often very funny comments. I’ll be happy if you continue as you have been doing.

  4. magicbean on June 8, 2009 10:55 pm

    Heh, I resemble that remark about people who play the “PEOPLE! This is an etiquette blog!” card every so often. I think some of us actually mean it in the sense you prefer. I certainly do. I don’t want to name-call, so it’s just a way of saying “Don’t be an asshole, asshole” without the ‘asshole’.

    I loathe pile-on, snarky blog comments…even if the subject up for discussion is snark-worthy.

    But I like censoring stuff far less than I like snarkiness, especially having been on the “censored” side of things. I can’t think of many comments that I would have done away with on the MC blog. Every comment’s a learning opportunity if you use it right. Anything that becomes multi-post personal, or starts in with name-calling I would toss. Mostly, whatever policy encourages evolution of the blog and of the community, encourages more participation rather than less, encourages lurkers to come out and say something (discourages any in-clubbiness on the part of regulars)…is all good. (I can always hope that someday people will be less mean to other less visible humans.)

    I don’t mind that all threads aren’t open for comment (though I appreciate when they are open). When you’ve kept a post closed I often think “Yeah, I would NOT want to moderate that discussion!” I do like blogger participation. Boring is easy to scroll by, and in the mind of the beholder. Drift is natural. Someone will eventually chime in and say “Hey, but we were talking about giant pink ponies, not the economic crisis!” (some community policing works just fine.)

    Boingboing is moderated very, very well, I think. I like “disemvowelling” for lots of reasons. And their moderation policy is a fun read. The best comment on the BoingBoing comments policy:

    “BB comments are like a cocktail party. Sometimes we engage in serious discussions. Sometimes we engage in light-hearted banter. We’re always drunk.”

  5. Ajay on June 9, 2009 5:06 pm

    “…we should treat all (frumpy middle-aged women) with respect and dignity, not just the ones (who can sing).”

    OH yeah. Substitute any combination of attributes (parenthetically) and you have a perpetual etiquette device.

    Not to worry, though – I think your readers are here because of your unique attitude,expertise, writing ability, and DISCERNMENT.

    That’s what is needed in your moderation of comments – sure, a policy, but reserve the right to say Begone! unapologetically.

    I do admire the moderating at kateharding.net because they are merciless towards trolls. Shapelings also demonstrate that thoughtful posts usually generate thoughtful commentary – which bodes well for your own unpaid moderating here.

  6. OffTheGridGirl on June 10, 2009 9:48 am

    I think you’re doing a mah-velous job, my dear. Keep it up! I love when you chime in on the commnets — it shows you’re invested in the discussion and guiding it along.

    I also love when you do the occasional wrist-slapping, if need be. It gently tells your devoted followers what you expect from the comments section — a sort of “real time policy” in action.

    PS — Don’t buy that sweater. For the love of God. It screams “impulse buy.” (Though those can sometimes be good for us.) It just looks as if Carmen Miranda took up knitting. ;-) Ay, carumba!

  7. Fillyjonk on June 10, 2009 10:49 am

    I happen to think we do an excellent job at my blog of keeping our comments civil and content-laden, via the double-barreled approach of a draconian comments policy and an itchy trigger finger (note to delicate ears: both links contain Language). More specifically, first-time commenters go to moderation on our blog, and we delete liberally; we don’t delete comments of regular commenters but will happily ban if pushed. On the whole I’m really happy with this scheme. If someone makes a first-time comment that’s just “I agree!” or “LOL!” or “I like this blog!” we delete it, because come on, work a little harder to make a first impression, people — but regular commenters who are reliably bringing good content earn the right to “me too.” Even green-lighted readers get their butts on their shoulders sometimes, of course, as you know, but this definitely cuts down on both random hostility and inanity.

  8. Robin on June 10, 2009 12:26 pm

    You’re so right about the Carmen Miranda thing, OTGG!I don’t think I’ve ever been so ambivalent about a garment in my life. It looks like a Carmen Miranda knitting project … it looks like a leisure suit for an iguana … and yet I still cannot tear my eyes away from it.

    FJ, you guys are great moderators. You’re one of the few blogs where I regularly read comments. I like your point about regular posters earning the occasional “LOL!”

    I’m debating whether or not I want to write about the implosion over at Shakesville. I’m sorry, an eight-point, theory-laden commenting policy that reads like something out of a re-education camp is just bizarre. Whether or not I write about it will, of course, be settled not by any internal debate, but by whether or not I get around to doing so before it’s utterly yesterday’s news. Yet I debate it. Because I have to do something to take my mind of that damn sweater.

  9. OffTheGridGirl on June 10, 2009 10:35 pm

    Then it’s settled: You MUST buy the sweater. If a garment, even one with more turns than a lasagne noodle, has such an indelible hold on you, then the Shopping Gods deem it must be yours.

    And…especially after having met you in person this evening (which was lovely, btw, if oh-so-brief. Damn you, lack of babysitters!), I can honestly say you could pull off that sweater.

    Yes, as one who is, um, heavy with child, I wistfully wished I could’ve rocked that frock you wore to the reading. I must say you are as stylish in person as you are on paper! Sigh…as for me, three more months ’til I can savor a deep goblet of merlot and the faint hope of a waistline…

  10. Robin on June 11, 2009 8:18 am

    Thanks, OTGG! I bought that dress a couple of years ago for a special occasion and I do love it. I think of it as my Michelle Obama dress.

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