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Terms of Use and Universal Comment Link Philosophy

Lorelle's 2 Year Anniversary!By John Pozadzides

Are you like me? Do you rant and rave against SPAMmers? Do you keep a loaded sidearm at the ready in case you encounter one? If so… please seek help, you’re taking this too far! :-)

But I digress. You see, for the last several days my blog was being absolutely accosted by what seemed to be terrible, evil comment spammers, and the Marine in me was ready to go on the warpath. All of these comments started showing up (like 100 per day) with commercial URLs in place of the Author link, and we were deleting them left and right. (I swear the folks at BuyBlogComments.com are targeting me!)

However, nothing we could do would stem the tide and they kept flooding in (Akismet wasn’t helping out much either). Then some of the new visitors who had been commenting profusely started questioning why all of their posts were being deleted both in the blog’s comments and via the contact form.

At first I just couldn’t believe I needed to explain why they were being moderated. But it turns out that these visitors were completely unaware that they were violating basic Blog etiquette. So I instated (and then clarified) some Terms of Use on the blog and lo and behold much of the problem seems to have gone away.

This got me thinking – why don’t all Blogs have Terms of Use posted on them? I mean, are we expecting commenters to just know by osmosis what they should and should not be doing? Frankly, isn’t it up to us to educate our visitors so that we build user loyalty and prevent the SPAM that is unintentional – or at least avoidable?!?

I’ve authored a much more detailed discussion about this topic which I hope can serve as a philosophical framework. But the bottom line is that we all need to work together to alleviate the preventable spam, and you already know what to do with the malicious stuff! (PS – have you installed a HoneyPot yet? Well, what are you waiting for?)


This article was guest written by John Pozadzides, who is incidentally happy to be Lorelle’s friend. :-)

12 Comments

  1. Posted August 15, 2007 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Excellent point. I’m really paranoid about what I will allow and not allow in comments as I understand that comments are content and I want the best for readers reading comments, and I want to help those leaving comments. But people still do stupid things in comments, like signing their name in the comment with 6 lines of links and marketing crap, and putting keywords in their name form instead of their name (DUMB!) I covered some of these things I can’t stand in How NOT to Comment on Comments.

    Comments are part of the content, they are also the conversation, so they should be the conversation and not billboards. I agree, I wish people were smarter in comments.

    What I have problems with is those who “discover” my blog and then plow through 8 or more posts leaving “wow, this is great”, “thanks for writing this” and other innocuous comments all within a few minutes. My comment panel is FILLED with their comments and I start to get suspicious. I waste time checking out if their blog is legit or splog and then wonder if they are commenting out of zeal and enthusiasm or just because they think they can get noticed.

    I appreciate the thoughtful comment, don’t you? Not the vague compliment.

  2. Posted August 15, 2007 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    I 100% agree with you. I have the exact same problem, which is actually what sparked this observation (about 8 newbies showing up in one day making boatloads of comments).

    So, I think this lends weight to my argument that all Blogs (even this one!) need to have a Terms of Use (or call it “Rules”, or whatever) page that outlines what is acceptable.

    In fact, there is no reason that you can’t also link to the Rules page directly beside the comment box (“Have you read the Rules before commenting?”) and also on the registration page (here is how I incorporated my terms) to remind people.

    I mean really, why wouldn’t anyone do this? It takes maybe half an hour, and if even 25% of your visitors read it and respect the terms that translates into saving a lot of headache! We might even end up with our regular visitors learning the terms and policing violaters by pointing out when they break them (this happens on the HTMLHelp Forums all the time).

    John

    PS – I love that article about commenting. I added the link to my rediculously long version of the post.
    PPS – Did you check out the HoneyPot thing? At the end of your speech at WordCamp you had asked for a solution to Spam. Well, here it is! :-) You can see a partial list of the Spammers I personally helped rid the world of here.

  3. Posted August 15, 2007 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I think all blogs should have a comments policy. I totally agree, especially forums and other highly comment-oriented sites. I wish I could add a link to my comment form to my comment policy on WordPress.com. The pains of a fixed Theme.

    The issue is that people can be stupid with or without a comments policy. It’s up to us to educate our readers and everyone on what is appropriate and not, as well as offer policies.

    I haven’t had a chance to check out the HoneyPot. What I really want is a flushing sound or explosion sound when I blow spammers out of my comment queue. :D

  4. Posted August 15, 2007 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I personally don’t believe in policies. People who post poor or bad comments don’t read policies I think.

    Instead I posted about how I believe people should be commenting and how to deal with comments and strive to do as suggest myself. Should it be an issue would I refer people to that when deleting or editing their comment.

    Since I luckily haven’t had to do that yet do I not have data on how well that approach works, but I do believe that it will work better than making rigid rules of conduct.

    Some things you cannot plan or make sure happens in a certain way. You may be master of your own actions, but when it comes to those of others will you have to react rather than act and since that also brings pleasant surprises sometimes is that perhaps not so bad.

  5. Posted August 15, 2007 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Comment policies are a must. Mine specifically informs people that comments that don’t contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way will be deleted. That’s specifically aimed at human-powered paid-to-comment spam. I would rather have excellent-quality comments than a higher volume of comments.

    Unfortunately, I’m still getting an awful lot of spam comments (what’s up, Akismet?), so I think it’s time to install some additional defense layers. Thanks for the tip on the honey pot, John. Good stuff. Lorelle is lucky to have you as a friend.

  6. Posted August 15, 2007 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Jan,

    I understand your point, and I partially agree. But I think you are writing off a whole segment of people for whom policies work. I would suggest that we could break down all commenters into three distinct categories:

    1) Spammers – We already know what to do with these people, and they are incorregable. The do not care about rules so Terms of Use would be ineffective.
    2) Bumbling commenters – These are the people you are referring to. They don’t think much or take time to read policies. You have to continue to deal with them the way you always have.
    3) Thoughtful commenters – These are the people for whom Terms of Use are effective. They want to engage in a dialog with you, and they want to protect their online reputations, but often times they just aren’t aware of the appropriate ettiquite.

    Let us not forget that bloggers carry a big stick when it comes to enforcement of their Terms of Use. We can simply delete anything we don’t like. So this provides incentive to commenters to live by the rules. So if publishing the rules helps for a segment of the users, why not do it?

    John

  7. Posted August 15, 2007 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I guess you could accuse me of taking for granted that every thoughtful commenter already knows how to comment (perhaps after reading my article) ;-)

    The problem with policies is that they tend to over complicate things or not being clear about how they work. I guess that I could have one that states that expect people to have read how to comment and how I deal with comments and suffer the consequences if that haven’t. :-)

    The alternative would be spelling everything out and do we want that? I may get in trouble at some point, but my policy (and that doesn’t need to be published I think) is to let people comment how they see fit until a certain point after which they are simple gone.

    Between the great or alright and the really bad is the tricky zone (I really explain this much better in my article, believe me), but not one where you shouldn’t be able to handle it in the comments themselves. Respond, argue, whatever, but do it in the comments and in my opinion you don’t need policies to do that.

  8. Posted August 15, 2007 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Jan: You do not have to go to great lengths in a comments policy. It does help to set the rules, however.

    The key to a good comments policy is that once it is done, it only needs to be referred to if someone challenges it. With it clearly evident, few do.

    I think that a good About, contact, copyright and comment policy pages should be default on any blog. It tells your visitors that you are serious about your blog and have integrity, especially when it comes to protecting readers.

  9. Posted August 15, 2007 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I do have about pages and contact pages, but since I use Creative Commons as copyright guidelines do I simply link to them instead of having a page about it.

    Not to be cheeky, but where is your comment policy? Perhaps would it work better if linked near the comment box – with all due respect to what you can do with a hosted blog like this one. Maybe I am just to tired to spot it though…

    Perhaps should I make my own laws instead of relying everyone to use common sense and be prepared to suffer if they don’t. I still doubt that people not adhering to it would come back to complain though. At least they didn’t when I deleted their track backs or when askimet caught their spam.

    Perhaps would it be an idea to show good examples of this. I read johns and although I still don’t see what they will help do I find them clear and to the point. Michaels was a bit more to my liking as they also stressed something positive and why you have to have rules to protect that positive. That would rather be the route I would take if I write any I think.

    I feel a blog post brewing :-)

  10. Posted August 15, 2007 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Jan: See my About page. There are also a listing of posts on comments that will help you write your comment policy. I also have a Comments Policy on my main site that you can use as another example. I probably have to update it as it was written many years ago.

    I would love to add a link to my comment policy on this WordPress.com blog.

    Basically, all it needs to say is “I have the right to edit, delete, or block any comment or commenter…” It doesn’t have to be a huge diatribe or a list of specifics. Just something that says “I have warned you…” :D

  11. Posted September 23, 2007 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    My personal opinion is comment policies are polite but not needed. You, the owner and in most circumstances the author of your site, are entitled to do whatever you want with comments. Be that allow them, not allow them and even moderate to your heart’s content. The bottom line is it is your site. You do not owe anyone niceties or fair warnings when common sense should be the ultimate policy.

    Sad but this reminds me of the warning they play at Yankee Stadium. Every inning a recorded announcement warns patrons that errand balls may fly into the stands and can be dangerous if struck by one. Obviously this not only occurred multiple times but the unintended recipients of fly balls were shocked that such an event happened at a baseball game.

    Are we left with an MP3 loop of the blog author’s prerecorded “comment policy” every time someone visits our sites?

    Sad times.

  12. Posted September 23, 2007 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Apples and oranges. A comments policy is not repeated ad nauseum. It is a link in your Pages or near your comment form. If people are interested, they read it. If issues come to a head, you have something to point to. It protects you, just as much as the fine print you never read on your sports ticket holds all involved harmless. You may not read it, but it still applies.


12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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