Comments, Blogs, and You

Comments, Blogs, and You

I came across a post (via Daring Fireball ) by Joel Spolsky regarding comments below blog posts . While I think that he sort of misrepresented Dave Winer's post about blogs (Dave's post was about what it means to be a blog, and the fact that having comments don't make a blog), Joel does bring up some interesting points about comments:

I don't know how many times I've read a brilliant article someone wrote on a blog. By the end of the article, I'm excited, I'm impressed, it was a great article. And then you get the dribble of morbid, meaningless, thoughtless comments.[...]Thoughtless drivel written by some anonymous non-entity who really didn't read the article very carefully and didn't come close to understanding it and who has no ability whatsoever to control his typing diarrhea if the site's software doesn't physically prevent him from posting.

Joel really doesn't like those comments. But what do you think? I agree, sometimes comments can get pretty out of hand; but on personal, design-oriented blogs (like the kind I am trying to create and the blogs that I subscribe to), I very rarely see them get ridiculous. More often than not, the comments are actually helpful. Comments can help extend the post beyond original, going in directions that the author never even thought about. They can help point out mistakes in technical posts, and offer solutions.

Of course, there are times when that doesn't work out so well. Joel's example was pretty funny: a real estate post gone awry ( spiderpig referenced by the sixth comment). But I would say that it's the author's (or moderator's) job to make sure things don't get out of hand. There's a line that needs to be drawn in order to keep threads like this in check. Each person can draw it where ever they like, but I think we can all agree that comments that end in "go kill yourself" probably have no place in the discourse of anything.

I, obviously, have enabled comments, as have most of the bloggers that I actually know ( Eric Wiley , Brad Dielman , and Nate Klaiber to name a few) . But, not everyone does ( Dave Winer and of course John Gruber come to mind). Some, like Shaun Inman and Cleveland's own Eric Meyer rely on pre-moderating (I think; I didn't want to just put a "test" comment in...) to stem some of the unwanted comments, but this of course becomes more of a problem the more posts/comments that you have. In addition to pre-moderating, Shaun Inman also only enables comments for some posts, and closes them to comments after a fairly short amount of time.

Of the two newspapers I work for, only the Lakewood Observer has comments of any kind, and they're in the form of a forum, not right under the story. As an interesting side note on the Observer Forums, your real name is required, instead of any random user name. This is a fairly huge hassle for the moderators, but helps prevent the "thoughtless drivel" that Joel complains of (well...most of the time). However, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Scene have comments right below their articles (I'm not sure if they're pre-moderated or not). FOXNews does not.

So what's the right choice? I sympathize with Joel that the comments on his site have gotten out of hand. I don't see it enough in the sites that I frequent to be that worried about it, but what happens when a it does? Do you just wait and see if the problem keeps happening/gets worse? If you pre-moderate, do you do so with a heavy hand, or let anything that's legal go through? Do you do away with comments altogether, or stand by your subborn faith in human-kind?

Comments (archived for posterity)

  • Brad Dielman commented

    Great post, Dan. While I do enable comments on my blog, I have also moderate them. At first it was because I mistakenly left the option enabled, but now I just leave it there to filter out the random spam comment. Even with with the Akismet plug in installed, some spam does get through.

    For any other comments I always approve them. But then, I don’t get that many comments so its not like I have to contend with the problems that Joel mentioned in his article.

    If the comments ever did get to that point on my blog then I would really have a tough decision to make. I would probably let all but the most offensive comments through. I’ll refer to the comment disclaimer on the The Big Noob:

    Posting vile or biggoted remarks will get you banned from commenting in the future. It’s pretty simple: don’t be a buttwipe.

  • Nate Klaiber commented

    I think this will always be an issue. If you allow comments and moderate, are you really letting people have the freedom to speak their mind on the topic? If you pre-moderate, are people as inclined to check back or continue to comment? (I think in the case of Eric’s site, it would be yes - people will still be actively involved).

    I have been thinking about this myself lately as I develop a new iteration of my site. On one side, I think the comments help as it allows me to easily engage with the readers. Even with book reviews, there can be some good discussions. On the other side, it is nice to just keep the content in place and not worry about managing comments that are spam - or comments from people who don’t read the entire subject matter.

    The news sites that refer you to a forum topic are nice - as they prevent the anonymous comments from spiteful people. It forces people to be responsible for what they write and let the community make up their mind about their worth to the conversation.

    Maybe some posts should have comments, and others have it disabled.

    Good topic that has me thinking even more about the worth of comments….

  • Eric Wiley commented

    Reading your article brought to mind a particular post Eric Meyer made on his site a while back.

    It was a personal entry about a conversation with his daughter and I noticed that he had turned off comments. I thought it was very appropriate that he had done so - pretty much any comment would have ruined the mood.

    Intelligent feedback from readers is a rewarding aspect of using this kind of medium. For the first time in recent modern history publishing has evolved from a one-way broadcast to a conversation of sorts.

    Popularity in the blogging world is not something I would ever wish for, but it’s nice to know that if overtly deviant comments do find their way to my site then I’ll still be in control of what happens to them.

  • Nate Klaiber commented


    You hit the nail on the head. The biggest thing I am realizing lately is I don’t strive for popularity in the blogging world. For my personal blog, I would much rather have comments from people I know - as there is more context to the conversation. This avoids always having to try and explain yourself.

    I have just seen so many comments go awry and way off topic. Many of which go into heated debates, debates that have been going on for years. I really think some people try to save the world and the Internet through their comments.

    Still has me thinking about the next rendition of my site and commenting…

  • Eric Wiley commented

    hehe - yeah, save the world. A lot of news sites have taken down the ability to comment on news articles because they just became dominated by comments from two most extreme sides of the political spectrum, arguing back and forth.

    I cam back here to comment on the irony in that two weeks after my above comment I now have feedback turned ‘Off’ on my site.

  • dan commented

    @Eric -

    An interesting turn of events. Were you having problems with comments, or were there other reasons for turning them off?