Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Philosophy on Comments

How we handle comments on our blogs and websites greatly influences the experience people have when they visit. Yesterday, Rachelle Gardner posted about her Comment Policy. Mine, as you may have noticed when you commented, are somewhat more relaxed than hers. To summarize mine: 1. Be Nice (Okay, that pretty much says it all, but I’ll ad the second for clarity.) 2. Don’t say anything inappropriate or mean spirited to my guests. But this post isn’t about the rules of commenting on my blog. What I want to discuss is my philosophy on blog comments. The topic of blog comments has been going around lately and I’ve noticed that several people disagree with me. I thought it would be good to put my thoughts out there. Maybe I’ll persuade a few people to my point of view. Or maybe someone will show be the error of my ways and I change my mind, but this is my philosophy thus far.

Comment on Your Own Posts

If you blog, you know that the only sure way you have of knowing if people are actually reading what you said is if they leave a comment. Page loads don’t tell you much, but when someone leaves a comment, mentioning something you said, you know the person read the post. Likewise, when a guest leaves a comment, she doesn’t know the blog owner has read it, unless the blog owner responds. There are some comments that I don’t know how to respond to, so I am forced to say nothing, but I figure that as long as I frequently respond to comments by posting a comment then guests will know that I’m reading their comments, whether I respond or not.

Encourage Discussion

Some people may wonder how many times they can post a comment to a blog post or how long their comments can be. They may also wonder about getting into a discussion with another guest, that doesn’t involve everyone else. As far as I’m concerned, as long as they keep to the rules I mentioned above, people can leave as many comments as they want and they can talk amongst themselves as much as they want. As for length, for the most part, I don’t care. If someone wants to spend an hour typing a ten page comment, what do I care? It’s just more free content for me. Although, I might not read a long comment in its entirety. I figure my guests can scroll through a long comment, if they don’t want to read it, so I’m not going to get bent out of shape when someone leaves a long comment. What I most want is for people to feel free to present other points of view, even if that means an extra long comment.

Discourage Inappropriate Behavior

I’m not interested in Jim Bob’s House of Girls and if I see something inviting me to visit such a site, I will delete the comment. I also expect people to use language that is fit for use in the presence of a lady. There are some ladies who visit my site and I expect people to respect that. Language that I might let slide if it were just you and me face to face will be considered inappropriate and will be deleted. But that all fits under the be nice clause of my rules.

Encourage Links

Links is the area where you will find more people disagreeing with my philosophy. Some people don’t think people should put a link in their comments, especially links to their own website. I totally disagree. I’m not giving you permission to just leave a comment with nothing but a link to your site, but I want people to leave links to sites they believe adds value to the discussion. I link liberally in my posts and I want my guests to link liberally in their comments.

Links Provide Source Material

When people leave a comment, its hard to know where they are coming from or why they believe what they believe. If they leave a link, I can go read what they read. Maybe I’ll agree with the person or maybe I won’t, but at least I know why the commenter is saying what he is. “You’re absolutely wrong, see this website,” is much more helpful than just saying, “You’re absolutely wrong.” Once I understand, I might be able to address the comment.

Links Let Me Know Who You Are

I don’t really care for people putting links to their website as the signature of their comment and I usually don’t click on those links. I also don’t care that much for people saying, “I talked about this yesterday. See here.” I won’t necessarily delete those comments, but I don’t think they are the best way to go. What I would like to see is a comment like, “When I talked about comments on my website, one of the things I mentioned was that 5% of the visitors who leave comments are aquatic mammals.” Don’t ask me to follow your link, tell me why I want to follow your link.

I want people to link to their own websites because it quickly takes me to more information about that person, hopefully, information that tells me more about what they think concerning the subject. I don’t have to follow the link. My guests don’t have to follow the link, but it is there as a reference, if we want it.

Links Create Traffic

We know that incoming links encourage people to visit our site, but so do outgoing links. Let’s say you comment on this post and leave a link to your website. A few months from now, you will have forgotten about it, but you’ll be looking at your web stats and you’ll see some traffic coming from my site. Or you’ll be looking at one of these sites that track links. You’ll scratch your head and wonder why I would be linking to you. You’ll follow the link back and there you will find your comment. In the process, you have visited my site one more time. Now, imagine if we duplicate that scenario many times. Maybe the search engines happen to find a few of those links. The result is more traffic.

Links Are a Reason For Free Content

I don’t pay people to leave comments. I can’t afford to pay for it, but I love the benefits. Comments are free content. The search engines are looking for fresh content. If someone leaves a comment, my blog or website is freshened, even if I’ve been too busy to put new content out there. If commenters are providing me with something of value, I want them to receive something of value in return. Many people who leave comments are hoping it will direct people back to their site. I figure that if a person leaves valuable information for free, the least I can do is encourage him to leave a link, creating the win-win.

Be a Moderator, Not an Expert

This one’s hard, but often the best thing to do is to encourage comment discussion to focus on a topic, then step back, not offering the “right” answer. Let the discussion hash it out. If things seem to be getting a little off track, step back in and guide the discussion back in line. Some of the best solutions come out of a well moderated committee. Why not use a blog that way?

Anonymous Is Permitted, Not Preferred

I allow Anonymous to post comment. I want to keep it open for everyone. One of the things I hate is going to a website with a comment form, with a statement next to it that says, “Sign-in to comment.” I want to say something about the article or post. I don’t want to spend time registering for one more thing. Likewise, I don’t want my guests to have to register before they can speak, but I hope they’ll sign in anyway. I want to be able to see people’s faces (yes, I said faces and not socks or hats or children). I want to know that they stand behind the words they say. We may disagree, that’s fine, but I prefer when people don’t feel at ease to speak with out fear of recognition. If it isn’t good enough to say in front of your mother or your friends or you children, it isn’t good enough for the rest of us either.

Treat Commenters With Respect, No Matter What

“You are wrong and you look like road kill.” That’s hardly the thing you want to wake up to one morning. The temptation is to fire back a similar comment. I believe we should treat commenters with respect, even when they don’t respect us. They shouldn’t be that way, but how we respond impacts how other guests see us, more than it impacts the other person. Delete the comment if you must, but don’t respond in kind.

Moderation After The Fact

I don't read comments before I allow them to be posted. I haven't had very many comments that I've had to delete anyway, so I believe it is more important to keep the conversation going than it is to make sure the comments follow my guidelines. It is very hard for people to interact with each other if their comments are getting caught in the moderation filter.


Encourage comments. Encourage links. Encourage discussion. There are things we have to delete, but I want to encourage participation. Allowing more open participation will encourage traffic, while being diligent to delete inappropriate stuff will keep the blog from degrading into a shouting match.

Related Post: Rebutting a Flaming Review