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Comments on Comments

I want to seriously talk to you about the responsibilities of hosting comments on your blog. It’s fun and it’s a great thrill to get a response to something you’ve written, but it also has responsibilities, both by you and the comment poster. We can’t control the comment poster, but we can control our response to the comment. That is our responsibility as a website owner and/or administrator.

Dealing with comments means identifying and dealing with unwanted spam such as comment spam or inappropriate or off-topic comments. You may, or may not, have a responsibility to respond to comments, so it may add more to your site’s workload. Then there is the debate of what comments should stay or be removed dependent upon your site’s policies and standards. There are a lot of questions to be asked and answered, and with all things, it begins with a plan.

The Debate Over Deleting a Comment

In a moment we will cover the issues of comment spam, but let’s look at the times when you are faced with an inner debate over allowing a comment to remain on your site or deleting it.

In order to support your debate before it starts, it helps to have a general policy on comments and privacy. By allowing comments on your site, visitors should know you will protect their privacy by not showing or using their email address, even though it may be required for commenting. You also need to set some ground rules and/or guidelines for what you will allow or not allow on your site.

On our main site, we have a Legal Policies page that outlines all our legal issues and stands on our site. It includes our Privacy Policies and Comments Policies. You may use these as an example.

We are really open about a lot of our comments, but few of our topics attract controversy. Commentary, sure, but not great debates. If your site invites such debates, be clear about what you will tolerate. Name calling might, or might not, be encouraged. Only you can decide how far you will allow specific topics, language, accusations, negative talk, or arguments. Whatever your limits are, make sure they are in your Comments Policy.

Still, even with such policies in place, site administrators are often faced with the choice of “to delete or not delete”. That’s the hard part.

Here are some tips to help you write your Comments Policy and answer some of the inner debate issues over comments on your site.

Is it appropriate?
It’s up to you, as the site administrator, to decide if the comment is appropriate. But what does “appropriate” mean? If the topic at hand is about travel photography and the comment is about how stupid the power company is, that would be an inappropriate comment for the topic at hand. Or appropriate might mean offensive language or accusations that are unnecessary and just “wrong” in the situation. It is up to you to decide what “appropriate” means, and you need to be clear about why.
Does it help?
Clearly a comment about the stupid power company on an article about photography doesn’t help the subject. If the comment is on topic, encourages more discussion, teaches, or provides helpful information, it should stay. If it kills the discussion and doesn’t provide any help to the topic, why bother? Delete it.
Offensive
“Offensive” is one of those nebulous words that means different things to different people. For some, offensive means profanity, while for others, it may mean any comment that goes against their personal beliefs or opinions or site content and purpose. It could also mean slander or derogatory intent. Again, you have to decide, but whatever you deem offensive, get rid of it.
Will it hurt someone?
This seems to be a simple criteria to evaluate. If a comment says something mean and nasty about someone, then it probably should be deleted. But if it says something mean and nasty about President Bush or a famous or public figure, then it might not directly hurt them. The good ole freedom of speech and rights to say anything you want against anyone in the public eye might entitle you to leave the comment, if your site caters to such discussions. But what about prejudice and racial slander? Jokes about ethnic or religious groups may hurt someone, too, even if not directed at a specific person. Your post or article might be about the Muslim dominance of terrorist groups and someone may make a comment about how horrible Muslims are. While that might apply to your topic, it is a sweeping judgement against all Muslims and you have to decide if it is appropriate, offensive, and acceptable or not.
Will it encourage offensive or off-topic discussions?
Many site administrators enjoy the repartee of the debate on their site, but if comments will foster negative and offensive discussions, inciting a riot on your site, you might not want that. Angry debates and accusations may lead to off-topic comments and a whole lot of trouble you might not want. Or you might want that. Only you can choose to delete the comments or close the discussion.
Freedom of Speech vs Censorship
Your Comment Policy may need to tackle this issue, but only if you need to justify your moderation, editing or deleting of comments, or absolute control over your site’s content. The courts haven’t gotten into violations of freedom of speech and censorship over comments on websites, but that is probably in our future. Right now, you, as the site owner, control the content on your site and only you can set up your standards, guidelines, and ground rules. If freedom of speech and censorship rights are important to you, then say so and set the rules for your site accordingly.
Time Waster Comments
While not as politically important as freedom of speech, offensive nature, or incitement to riot on your website, you still have to decide if a comment is a time waster for you and/or your readers. If the comment is helpful, fine, but if it is a waste of space on your site, adding only fill and no value, then it might not be worth leaving in place. Eliminating time wasting comments saves space in your database and on your site, and can speed up the access of web pages, though by small amounts. A lot of time wasting comments, though, can add up. Again, look at the intent, value, and contribution the comment makes to the topic at hand. If it is a time waster, consider getting rid of it.
Can you sleep at night?
Early on, I sometimes left comments on my site that then kept me awake at night. I debated and thrashed in my mind about the worthiness of the comment and the comment poster’s intent. No more. I have to look at that comment on my site for a VERY long time and if it bothers me enough to interrupt my daily activities, including sleep, it’s GONE. I trust myself to know what is best for me and there is no comment on my site worth agonizing over. It’s my site and I have the power of the delete button under my control. So do you.

Do not make excuses, justifications or defend your removal of a comment. It only calls attention to it. Just do it. It is your site, your policy, and your peace of mind. You will have to look at the comment on your site for a very long time while the commentor may be off elsewhere having forgotten what they posted on your site. You control what appears on your website. Make it the BEST you have to offer and encourage everyone participating on your site to do the same.

Responding to Comments

Not every comment posted on your website requires a response, though at first, you may want to respond because it is SO exciting to get feedback. Monitoring and responding to comments, though, can become time consuming and obsessive.

First, determine when a response is necessary. A comment without a question needs no response, usually. A comment that makes a statement that is totally off-base may need a response to keep thing on track and topic. If you wish to encourage discussion, then your response will help direct the flow of the “conversation”.

Second, determine WHY you are responding. Is it because there is a question, or because you want to correct their supposition? Or is it because they piss you off? Remember that comments are simply letters combined into words on your website. They have no emotions behind them unless you give them power. Words hurt, but they hurt with the power our assumptions, expectations, and imagination give them. If they really make you angry, delete them without a response. If you want dialog on your site, even if it makes you angry, then you need to understand and accept that, and compose your words wisely.

THINK before you respond.

Consider your response carefully. Take time to evaluate the BEST response. Do not let your temper get control. Remember, this is your site and you have the power to control what appears on it. And that responsibility and power means controlling your comments as well as theirs.

Lastly, consider the value of responding. Just like with comments, does your response add to the conversation or information? Does it help? Is it appropriate or offensive? Will it hurt? You can post your response and then delete it later if you regret it, but think before you respond.

Before I make it sound like comments are hard work and horrible, let me add that comments are wonderful. They provide interaction and communication between you, the site owner, your work, and the audience. Not everyone will respond to everything you post, but when they do, it’s a thrill.

Some sites specialize in generating content that encourages discussion and they have tons of fans who bombard their sites with commentary, compliments, and discussions. Others discuss their day-to-day activities and enjoy it when someone says, “Been there, done that” or “That helped, thanks!” Review sites are dependent upon them, seeking people’s comments on the subject and helping others get a feel for the product, service, or subject before deciding for themselves.

Don’t run from comments for fear of comment spam and the increase in workload. While our site doesn’t demand commenting for our content to have value, many ideas for articles have come from people’s comments on our site. Comments add color and flavor to a site. Comments are good things.

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21 Comments

  1. Posted September 18, 2005 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Comment Spam is a plague for blog hosters. But if you have to consider such a list of things when you post, or if you have to check all those attributes when you review a comment… oh well. It’s a work.

    I would just like to see an official antispam resource in collaboration with search engines to completely cut out comment spammers from the web.

    But, even if your guidelines are good, you can never tell. You could always hurt someone with innocent purposes.
    So… let’s keep comments as they are: removing offensive/fake/spam comments is one of blogger’s duties.

  2. Posted September 18, 2005 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    These are not so much guidelines as thoughts that should be considered as you plan how you will handle comments on your site. It’s up to you to maintain a level of integrity and consistency in your blog, whatever your standards are – whether it is allowing ranting and raging or extreme moderation.

    For the new blogger, comments can be terrifying, not just for comment spam but also for the fear of deciding what to leave and what to not and will I hurt someone’s feelings if I delete it, and when is it censorship.

    If we aren’t talking about it and creating a discussion, then how will we know where to draw the line?

    Interesting thought on collaborating with search engines to cut comment spammers. I don’t know how that would happen since search engines collect information AFTER it’s out there. I think that Google and Yahoo’s page ranking models do a good job to keep spammers out of the search results.

    The problem is two fold in stopping spammers. The source of the comment spammers come from websites and email services using bots to spider out and do their evil. A burden needs to be put on website hosts and IP and email providers to help put that fire out and kill income generated from such use of their services. They need to learn to say no.

    And the biggest source of incentive for comment spammers is US. We, the people, who click on the spam links and buy the crap that comes into our email. A major campaign, and I mean bigger than “Say No To Drugs” needs to go out that says “No to Spam Purchases” and makes it nasty, offensive, and maybe even illegal (talk about infamatory!) to buy anything from anyone that comes uninvited through comment spam on blogs and sites and your email inbox.

    If we can remove the incentives that keep this business going, like creating a “permission list” that people SIGN UP FOR that invites spammers to spam, then I would be happier. These opt-out programs are a joke. I want to opt-in – which will NEVER happen.

    Want to help me start the “Say No to Spammers” campaign? ;-)

  3. Posted October 14, 2005 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I dont mind promotion on my blog comments as long as the topic is relevant. Somehow I got on a poker spam list and I had to put in checks to prevent 300+ spam comment attacks per day which was quite the pain to manage

    Jim

  4. Posted December 14, 2005 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit confused about how your are going to manage comments on comments. I suppose this is the first blog where I came accross this very idea of comments on comments. :)

  5. Posted December 14, 2005 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Maybe it should have been titled “How to Respond to Comments” ;-) to be more in keeping about the process of thinking before you comment, and then rethinking before you hit Submit.

    Managing comments on comments is about managing yourself and your opinions, as well as controlling the overall theme, presentation, and content of your blog. It’s an important thing to think about.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people respond unthinkingly and unwittingly, becoming their own trolls. I have spent hours agonizing over how to respond to a few comments in my time, wanting to keep things level and fair and host free speech and opinions, but sometimes censorship wins, something I struggle with all the time. Luckily, WordPress allows me to put comments into moderation until I decide, giving me the time I need to battle out my inner debate.

    It’s hard enough sometimes to come up with content to fill a blog. The responsibilities of comments adds to the fun and the work. I love the comments, and I love how they challenge me to think, and often change my thinking, but it’s a struggle to step back. So comments on comments deserves its title. ;-)

  6. Posted August 29, 2006 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    In response to ‘Aldo’, it really is a double edged sword. On one hand bloggers are blessed with a wealth of great content from interested visitors, and on the other hand you can also be subject to a hell of alot of spam. I’m a web designer by trade and have recently switched from the traditional method of using dreamweaver to publish sites, to using wordpress. The reason for this is simple. Google loves fresh content. Websites I make for my clients are now able to generate fresh content by themselves as customers have the ability to leave a comment about the product they have just bought. My clients love this. They also have the ability to moderate comments and show only the positive comments about their products. And ofcourse, weed out the comment spam. But it’s all worth it in the end.

  7. Posted January 26, 2007 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    If you don’t like the comment, then just delete it, after all it’s your blog, and you control the comment.

  8. Posted February 13, 2007 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    As a side note, it is important to learn what freedom of speech actually means. The US constitution says that the government cannot impose restrictions on the freedom of speech. However, one ones website, one can do whatever one wishes in this situation.

  9. Posted February 13, 2007 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    As does the US government. ;-)

  10. Posted October 1, 2007 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Spam really is a problem. Even on blogs that use a program to stop them.. there is always 2-3 that gets through and breaks the chat experience for everyone :/

  11. Posted January 13, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, a lot of people respond unthinkingly and unwittingly, becoming their own trolls. I have spent hours agonizing over how to respond to a few comments in my time, wanting to keep things level and fair and host free speech and opinions, but sometimes censorship wins, something I struggle with all the time. Luckily, WordPress allows me to put comments into moderation until I decide, giving me the time I need to battle out my inner debate. – true

  12. Posted February 13, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Yeah, comment is great. It is very helpful in socializing in blogosphere. Also useful in building links. Fight spam, not blogs.

  13. Posted October 15, 2009 at 2:02 am | Permalink

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  14. Posted August 31, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I just made comments on my site dofollow.

    I don’t care whether the commentators use keywords or not as long as their comment adds value to my article or to the discussion.

    Can anyone suggest a good method of including a comment policy before the comment box where the users could read right away what type of comment is expected?

    • Posted August 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry that you have been led astray about nofollow/dofollow. It doesn’t work. Didn’t and continues to not work, so it’s a total time waster and not much to brag about as the most knowledgeable folks know the truth.

      To add a link to your comment policy or text describing your comment policy, you can have it coded with a hook into your comments in a Child Theme, edit your original Theme’s comments.php file to add it (not recommended), or do what most people do and add it to your footer in the footer widget if your WordPress Theme permits footer widgets.

    • James H
      Posted October 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Lorelle,

      Although I was reading this back and forth many times, I was not able to figure out what you are in fact saying:

      “I’m sorry that you have been led astray about nofollow/dofollow. It doesn’t work. Didn’t and continues to not work, so it’s a total time waster and not much to brag about as the most knowledgeable folks know the truth”

      What is wrong with rewarding good commentators with a do-follow link? And where’s the waste of time? Just installed the do-follow plugin, and it took me not more than half a minute…

      Thank you for the valuable tips about the comment policy. It seems, however, that it needs to be re-done with every new WordPress build?

    • Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      @James: Let’s see if I can have this make more sense. You just did a good thing, like you mowed the neighbor’s lawn. To reward you, the neighbor holds his hands over his head and grabs the air – of course he’s not really grabbing anything, it’s just air, the same air you have all around you. But by grabbing it and making a big deal out of it, then handing it over to you like it was a precious thing, you gratefully accept the air and bow your gracious acceptance of the air. You turn around, ceremony complete and think “WTF?”

      There is no nofollow/dofollow. There never really was. It’s just air. We all got it and it is all treated the same. Rewarding someone with nofollow/dofollow is like giving them air. It’s nothing. It’s nothing because Google was the only one to try it and it never worked. They tried all kinds of things but it just didn’t work and other search engines looked at the air and said, “It’s just air!”

      Today, you can dofollow/nofollow until your heart’s content but it will change nothing but make a ceremony out of exchanging nothing. Trust rank and other things go into the algorithms today.

      As for this article being out of date, I’ll take a look at it but it’s held up well since 2005 with major changes in WordPress. People tend to “get it” and it was mostly replaced by How NOT to Comment on Comments. Thanks and I hope I didn’t take the analogy too far.

    • Posted October 4, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Lorelle, for your lightning speed reply.

      Yes, now your point is made very clear.

      However, I would not pick up so quickly the idea of no-follow being just air. The no-follow attribute still has its role to play.

      You may want to read the webmaster guidelines given by Google (the information there is as fresh as from July 23, 2011)

      In any case, if somebody writes a comment that I approve, she won’t have even a shade of doubt that the link she gets is of full value. Even though at times I check selectively where those links lead :)

      By the way, what source(s) do you base your opinion on?

    • Posted October 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the link and it doesn’t change anything about what I said. It’s still air. It is something people have made something out of that carries little or no weight. And the source was Matt Cutts and the many industry conferences I’ve spoken at and participated in since the beginning of the Internet. I’m not a lightweight on this subject. :D

  15. rudolphevj
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this
    blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Pictures are loading fine on my site. If you are having a problem with your WordPress.com site, please contact the helpful staff on the WordPress.com Forum. Don’t go around randomly asking for help from any blogger using WordPress. It only delays you getting the help you need.


36 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] With WordPress 1.5, without any plugins, comment spam dropped almost to nil. There were maybe 5 comment spams a week. Remember, these include the occasional idiot time waster trying to link my site to theirs or just posting stupid stuff, comment spam that can easily get through most spam catching software. I have a top page ranking site with over 700 articles. That kind of popularity and visibility attracts a lot of freaks, whackos, and time wasters. Now, almost nothing. Comment spam, for the most part, is controlled and controllable. [...]

  2. [...] Comments on Comments [...]

  3. [...] Do not be tricked into feeling like you have to respond. Many people think that because they have a blog with open comments, they have to respond to every comment. Not every comment needs a response. It’s up to you to decide when to respond and when not to, and this might be one of the “not” times. [...]

  4. [...] Comments on Comments [...]

  5. [...] To safeguard against comment etiquette disasters, i’d like to point the FT contributors (and hey, why not, the readers) to a couple of posts from WordPress guru Lorelle on the do’s and don’t’s of the comment box: Comments on Comments and How Not To Comment on Comments. [...]

  6. [...] Lorelle on WordPress: Comments on Comments [...]

  7. [...] Commenting on other blogs do several things. One, they create links back to your site, though the new use of the NOFOLLOW link attribute instructs search engines to ignore and not follow the link, making it irrelevant. But for those who do not use NOFOLLOW, the more links coming into your site, the better you may look for search engines’ ranking. [...]

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