Applying a comments policy

A few respected bloggers have come out against including comments on blogs. Partly due to their popularity, they have suffered from a long spew of noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish. So far I’ve been pretty happy with the quality of comments here, but I’d like to maintain that.

Dave Winner, Joel Spolsky and Jeremy Keith are certainly not happy with allowing comments, and Digg seems to be a good example of how ‘comments go bad’. Luckily I haven’t had much of a problem with this, partly because this site is not remotely as popular as ones like Joel’s, and partly also because my writing style doesn’t seem to encourage comments. I’m not sure why, but I’m not too bothered by it either.

The principle issues I took from the above articles were that comments are often:

  • Off-topic. (This wasn’t said explicitly, but covers many of the evils.)
  • Rude or unthinking.

But there are some sites that comments work well on. In general, the comments on Roger Johansson and Eric Meyer’s sites often add to the posts, sometimes even causing updates to the posts or subsequent ones based on good quality comments.

The common solution from those against comments on blogs seems to be that people should post their opinions on their own sites. I’m not convinced by this, partly because there are quite a few occasions when I want to contribute a snippet, link or fact to an article as a comment, without the overhead of creating a whole post dedicated to that.

The second aspect is creating interlinked conversations, so if I did create a post in reply to something, how would the original author or their readers know? Trackbacks accomplish this, but why allow trackbacks and not comments? My last post also added a great deal in the comments, in an easier to follow fashion than pinging back and forth between different blogs.

The best thing about the web is links, and the best thing about blogs is that they allow conversations. However, you need to be able to follow them easily, and I don’t just want to rely on Technorati.

I want to allow conversations, allow good quality comments, and prevent or remove the dross. As a personal publisher, I can accomplish this a lot more easily than commercial or public organisations can. (Visualise a little pinky being raise to the mouth and an evil laugh.) However, just to be clear: Critical comments are fine as long as they are thought out and have some substance.

My Comments policy – Draft 0.1

This site is my own, it is not a democracy. If you want freedom of expression get your own site. Having said that, comments are welcome provided that they are:

  • On topic, i.e. you have read the post and are commenting on the same topic.
  • Adding something to the post, i.e. “you suck” and “you rock” are equally useless.
  • Polite, or at least professional.
  • Not overly promotional or outright spam.

Any comment that does not fulfil these criteria will be removed at my discretion.

If a comment is largely good with a mistake or two, I may correct it.

If you provide a valid email address, I will try to inform you of a removal or correction.

Thoughts?

Does this make sense? Is it worth it? Have I missed anything?

Depending on the comments, I might make a permanent page out of this and add it as a link to the form.

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12 Contributions to “Applying a comments policy”

  1. Joe Dolson wrote:

    That’s fundamentally what I’ve chosen to say in my own comments policy. I absolutely agree that the “on the spot” conversational nature of a blog is what really makes it valuable and differentiates the medium from a traditional article-based publication. But it’s definitely necessary to maintain a concrete policy at some level.

  2. JackP wrote:

    Your comments policy sucks/rocks/delete as applicable.

    The problem with a policy is that the sort of people who’d abide by it are the sort of ones you don’t need to tell about it in the first place.

    My own is similar though: it says please comment, feel free to disagree, please stay on topic, don’t use ad hominem arguments and let’s not be downright rude.

    But my site is less serious in tone (more eclectic?) than yours, so I also specifically say that poking light hearted fun at my expense (particularly where relevant to the post) is encouraged…

    I’ve got to admit though, I’m dubious about sites not allowing comments (not allowing unmoderated comments, fine – I can understand people being put off by abuse/spam etc), but not allowing comments at all feels to me as though the person is saying:

    I’m so important, I want you to come and listen to my pronouncements, and don’t bother me with your petty concerns, inferior mortal!

    I’m sure that’s not precisely what they mean, but that’s how I always take it…

  3. Ben 'Cerbera' Millard wrote:

    I don’t think bloggers should feel obligated to have comments. And if you do have comments, bloggers shouldn’t feel obligated to privide a comments policy. This is a blog, not a Republic. :)

    But if you choose to have comments and choose provide a policy, that’s cool.

    Your writing style is kind of What Alastair Thinks of This. So I read each entry and usually learn something useful. There’s not much I can add — they are a statement rather than a question. They are valuable just as reading material, imho.

    Entries on 456 and other sites usually have a very deliberate “but what do you think?” at the end. Entries like that on sites covered in adverts always feel a bit slimy to me.

  4. JackP wrote:

    Ben makes a sound point: you do have an authoritative tone. It’s like “look, I’ve investigated this, and these are the results”, as opposed to “this is what I think”.

    That’s not a bad thing, though; it’s just a particular personal style.

    And I’ll clarify what I meant: I don’t feel bloggers should feel obliged to allow comments either.

    However, I think it’s reasonable to inform people that if they don’t, then it may give the impression to some that they are issuing proclamations, because it appears they want people to listen to their opinion, but are unwilling to listen to the opinion of others.

    Not everyone would take it that way of course, but some would. It has to be the decision of the site owner. Me, I like the two way conversation, but I don’t expect everyone to be the same as me either…

  5. Maaike wrote:

    Of course it’s up to every blogger to decide for themselves whether they allow comments or not. But I personally like it when they do and I tend to visit comments-enabled blogs more often. Not necessarily because I want to add something myself, but because I prefer conversations to monologues and I’m interested in different opinions on a subject.
    I think your comments policy makes a lot of sense, but of course it won’t put off evil spammers.

  6. procommenter.com » Applying a comments policy « AlastairC wrote:

    [...] Applying a comments policy « AlastairC [...]

  7. ADAC wrote:

    While a written comments policy is a friendly gesture, it seems to me to be rather unnecessary.

    Spammers will not read the policy, and will not care. For the most part someone who has read your post, if they are inclined to comment should have more to say that “you Rock”, even if it is just why they fell that way.

    Personally I like sites that allow comment better, it give more of a community atmosphere, you often learn as much from the comments as you do the initial post.

  8. Eric Meyer wrote:

    Thanks for the compliment, Alastair. I’ve just published an article on this topic that was, in large part, inspired by your post and those to whom you linked.

  9. AlastairC wrote:

    Hi ADAC,

    It may just be a gesture, but I think it’s a necessary one where you might be removing or altering someone’s comment. It’s just a transparency thing.

    Thanks Eric, I hope you don’t mind me adding the link to your comment ;)

  10. Mike Cherim wrote:

    I must say I still appreciate comments on my blog and I usually get enough good insights from them to warrant any hassles. But the good news is that there aren’t any hassles for me so far (at it for a couple of years now).

    I don’t have a commenting policy and haven’t yet seen a need. But then again, if I did have a need, I doubt the miscreants causing problems would: 1) read them; or 2) follow them.

    I generally don’t use my own blog to respond to someone’s post or article. Unless I have a lot to say or want to spread [the word] something. For the same reason: the overhead investment. I typically feel it’s warranted, relevant, and appropriate to post my remarks in direct response to the post… using their comments feature.

    Personally I love comments. Usually they’re valuable and they help me write what people want to read (even though some stuff I write is for me only). This last bit I can get from stats, but I like the human element.

    But each to their own. It is as it should be: completely up to the author. I don’t think the author should feel obligated to support commenting, just as readers aren’t obligated to comment. And to take it one step further, authors should feel free to have editorial rights over the comments. If inappropriate or in violation of a policy — published or not — delete.

  11. AlastairC wrote:

    authors should feel free to have editorial rights over the comments. If inappropriate or in violation of a policy — published or not — delete.

    I agree, I just want people to know what my criteria are – transparency.

  12. Alex wrote:

    Well. This is a good approach. I would add “PC” comments. I mean no offensive ones.