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January 12, 2012

How Tightly Do You Control Your Blog?

Royal castle guard at Stockholm

We’re in the middle of the Pitch Your Shorts pitch session with Entangled Publishing.  If you have a 10-60K word story with strong romantic elements, check out that post for details on how to pitch to six(!) editors.

During the pitch session, I’ve had to lock down comments to make sure things run as smoothly as possible.  Normally, I love encouraging conversations in the comments, so this temporary change made me think about how we balance comment policies and our desire for interaction on our blogs.

Some authors don’t allow comments on their blogs at all, while others let everything and anything go through.  Most people delete spam comments, sometimes without checking to make sure the comments are really spam.  Some people engage with trolls, while others delete all negative comments.

I don’t think there’s any “one right answer,” as everyone has to do what makes sense to them.  But maybe by learning others’ reasons for their policies, we might discover an approach that works better for us.

Know Your Options

Spam Policy

WordPress blogs can use the Akismet plugin, which catches 99.99% of spam comments.  (That’s not an exaggeration.  I get 30-50 spam comments a day, and I’ve seen only a handful of false negatives or false positives over my year and a half of blogging.)  I don’t know if Blogger blogs have a similar plugin (maybe someone can share in the comments).

Personally, I’ve decided to check spam comments before deleting, as several legit comments have landed in the spam folder.  Besides, many of my spam comments are…er, entertaining and educational.  *smile*  I blogged before about what we can learn from spam (one spam comment inspired the story I’m pitching!), and I translated another spam comment into Instructions for Zombie Apocalypse Looting.

Moderation Policy

The Discussion settings in WordPress can be set to disallow anonymous comments (requiring a name and email address), close comments on older posts, require a first-time commenter to go through moderation, moderate all comments, or disallow all comments.  I know Blogger can be set to moderate comments on older posts, but I’m not sure about the rest.

On my blog, I’ve decided to disallow anonymous comments and require first-time commenters to go through moderation.  I enjoy the give and take of opinions from my readers, but I also want to keep spammers and trolls away.  I think that’s a happy medium that hopefully doesn’t impair the conversation.

Some people use a third party like Intense Debate or Disqus to manage comments.  I’ve decided against using a comment management plugin for now because some people might not comment if they have to sign up for yet another service.  (I know I resisted for a while.)

Negative Comments

Next up on the line of tricky decisions is how to handle legitimate or semi-legitimate comments when they’re negative about us, our work, or our readers/other commenters.  Some people simply don’t want negativity of any kind on their blog.  Others don’t want to be seen as having too thin of a skin, so they let insults through.  And still others like encouraging controversy and debate.

I’ve written some posts that are controversial, meant to start discussions of pros and cons, and some that ask for others’ opinions to see if anyone can get me to change my mind.  It would be disingenuous of me to ask for opinions and then delete any comments that disagree with me.

Personally, I’ve set the line at insults.  Of the two comments I’ve deleted, one was an obvious troll who insulted me for liking the latest Star Trek movie (which wasn’t the point of that post anyway), and the other was a pseudo-anonymous commenter who yelled at me for referencing Wikipedia as a source in a post.  (Apparently, they wanted to copy my post for a college essay, but their professor doesn’t allow Wikipedia to be used as a source.  They were mad at me because the post was “written annoying well for something i can’t use.”)  Yeah, I’m real broken up about those two comments.  *rolls eyes*

Editing Comments

Beyond negative comments, the slipperiest slope is whether or not we should edit someone else’s comment.  When someone comments on our blog, are we “allowed” to mess with their URL, links they include, or modify their content?

Like the legitimate-but-negative issue, this is a tough call.  Our blog is our online home and what happens there reflects on us.  We each have to find the line that matches with our needs.  Some of us want to have a professional image or brand.  Some of us worry more about insulting our readers by messing with their comments.

It might help us decide how to handle the situation if we think of our blog literally like our home.  We might take into consideration whether the commenter is a regular (Do we consider them a friend in our home or are they more like a random guest?) and whether we know what their intentions are (Did they include that link to be helpful because it’s relevant or to be a drive-by spammer?).  In other words, would we let them get away with that behavior in person or would we escort them to the door?

As I mentioned in the post for the pitch session, I’ll edit comments if I know the commenter wants to change it.  Several times, someone has posted a second comment with a correction right after another comment.  I’ll often edit their original comment to match what they want and delete the follow-up comment.  I usually let them know I’ve done this, and they’ve been grateful for having their typo erased.  I consider this a service I provide to make up for the fact that my comment system doesn’t allow editing.

Usually, as long as a link is relevant to the post and helpful, I’ll allow them.  The one time I deleted a link, it felt more like someone starting a sales pitch in the middle of a party in my house.  Nope, I don’t have to allow that.

A handful of times, I’ve had new commenters to my blog say something that seems relevant but is a bit off.  In those cases, I’ve checked the URL they list with their name and email.  If the URL leads to a website that feels spammy, I’ll simply delete the URL so their comment can be approved but their name won’t link to anything.  I figure that’s a good middle of the road decision to avoid upsetting someone who might be a real reader of my work, but also prevents me from being taken advantage of, just in case they weren’t legit.

I’m sure some will think I’m too lenient (maybe they don’t allow any outside links) and others will think I’m too much of a control freak (umm…no comment *smile*).  My point is that we each have to find the line we’re comfortable with.  Some bloggers might not have considered these issues or assumed they had to let everything through.  Maybe by talking about our options, we can find the approach that feels right to us.

What are your blog policies?  Do you moderate comments?  What makes you not let a comment through?  Have you ever edited a comment?  Are you a Blogger user who can provide insight to those options?  Do you want to try to convince me to change to Intense Debate or Disqus?

(And I apologize if your comment gets caught in moderation because of the temporary lock-down due to the pitch session.  I’m out-of-town for my grandmother’s funeral, but I promise I’ll approve your comments as soon as I can.)

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Angela Quarles

Great points, Jami, as a relatively new blogger I haven’t yet had to face some of these situations so this has helped me be forewarned and forearmed 🙂 Yesterday Kristen Lamb talked about how to spot a troll, which was also helpful and relevant to this post too. Thanks!

Laura Pauling

I’m like you. I moderate new comments. And the ones that sound fishy I mark as spam and then delete. It’s mostly the spammers I want to keep out. 🙂

Carradee

Personally, as a blog writer (and commenter), I love Disquis. You don’t need a Disquis account to comment on a blog with that service, it can be set to alert you when there’s a new comment on one of your blogs or a reply to your comment there or elsewhere, and it’s extraordinarily easy to install and use. (At least on Blogger. I haven’t looked into installing it on my newly-WordPress’ed site, yet.)

But I understand the reluctance to change comment platforms. I’m personally to the point where a blog has to be either Disquis or like this one (commenter fills in name, e-mail, website) for me to comment. Sometimes I’ll comment on others, but only if I really want to say something—particularly with Blogger’s knack for eating comments. (Which is why I switched to the Disquis-hosted comments on my Blogger blogs.)

I have no problem letting negative comments stand on my blog, and I’ve so far only edited when someone posted a reply to their own comment to correct a typo. (I mentioned in my reply to the first comment that I edited the typo for that person, and I deleted the correction comment.) The only other time right now that I can see myself editing someone’s comment is if it used objectionable language.

Your policy on comment links sounds completely reasonable to me, if also forgiving on your end. 🙂

Buffy Armstrong

Like Angela, I am new to blogging. I don’t get a ton of comments. Most people who comment on my blog are respectful even if they have a difference of opinion. Blogger uses some sort of SPAM filter and so far it as worked. I would have no problem deleting a comment that was vulgar or really out there. I’m lucky I haven’t had to deal with it yet.

Scott Bury / ScottTheWriter

Great strategy. I like your comparison of your blog to your home. It provides a helpful lens.

Personally, I don’t get much spam in my comments at all – hardly ever, lately. I’m not sure if that means my traffic is pathetic, but it’s now about 100 times greater than it was the last time I got a spam comment.

Keep posting!

KarenG

I don’t know if I’m lucky or just non-controversial or what but I’ve not had to worry about negative comments except for just a couple times. Once a couple commenters went back and forth on an issue and I found it more interesting than disturbing– kind of like watching a fight between two equal opponents who you know were both destined to get hurt in the process.

Kristin Nador

Jami, this is very timely for me. I am starting to get some commenting momentum on my blog, and for the first time had a commenter who pushed the envelope for me. Disagreeing with my take on a subject was fine, but he posted 4 long comments (almost as long as the post) which each had 2 -4 links back to his blog, most of which didn’t really have anything to do with the subject at hand. I wasn’t really sure what to do about it, if anything. I decided to leave the comments.

I want to have a lively discussion on my blog, but I also don’t want to just be a stepping stone to gathering backlinks for someone. It felt that way, but I thought maybe I was being a control freak.

In hindsight, I think I should have had a more detailed comment policy in place that visitors can read and pointed the questionable commenter to it as soon as I had a hint of something feeling ‘icky-spammy’. I’m going to work on my policy today.

I love the analogy of our blog being our ‘home’ and how we would treat and allow visitors to our home. Now I’m going to have to figure out who might be the door-to-door salesman ringing the doorbell in that annoying-demanding way and refuse to answer the bell. 🙂 Thanks for the insight.

Heather
Heather

I moderate my comments first, but the only ones I’ve had to leave unpublished are a couple more…uh…personal comments made by my loving husband! And he knows they weren’t going to get published when he made them!

Kait Nolan

By and large I don’t make edits and corrections on my blog, with two exceptions–1) if I’m asked by the person who left the comment (who for whatever reason doesn’t want to post a corrective comment) and 2) When they spell my name wrong. I get a lot of Kate. Not a big deal, just a tiny edit, and most people don’t know that they do it.

Jordan McCollum

I think you absolutely NEED a written comment policy on every blog. If someone gets on your case for deleting a comment, you can always point to the policy.

At first I thought “I’ve never edited someone else’s comment on my blog!”

And then I remembered. I’ve edited comments—kind of a lot:

* Every once in a great while for punctuation.
* When someone submits a correction to their comment/URL/name right after commenting.
* In accordance with my blog comment policy, sometimes (generally if I don’t know the person), I WILL delete a signature link. I give commenters the opportunity to leave a link with their name, and I feel spammed if they end their comment with just a link back to their blog. I usually note in the comment that I erased the link according to my policy. This is something I picked up from my days working in Internet marketing; my boss (as a blogger) did this, too. However, I don’t do it (or see it) as much these days.
* If a whole comment is spammy and it’s slipped past Akismet—and especially if it’s comically off-topic—I will edit the person’s URL to IAmASpammer.com or something like that.

I do NOT moderate comments first and I dislike the stifling effect it has on conversations.

OTOH, I’m happy to allow comments with on-topic links, comments that disagree with me civilly.

Suzanne Johnson

I used to moderate comments, but I don’t anymore. I use Blogger rather than WP, and it picks up spammers beautifully. I’ve never had to remove a comment, although I wouldn’t hesitate if it was insulting or inappropriate. So far, so good. My philosophy is to make it as easy for people to comment as possible!

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

Everyone agrees with what I say on my blog, so I get few comments.
Well, ok, I don’t have very many folk who regularly drop by my blog, probably ’cause I’ve not been pushing it much. Especially lately
(I’ve been busy with big things. Big things, I tell you. Working on starting a business related to writers, artists, performers, musicians and other creative folk).

Anyway, I do moderate a long running forum (I’ve moderated for what, 8 years now?) A lot of the folk in the forum have been emotionally stressed for much of their lives, and may not have developed good social skills.

Hence, lots of trolling, in-fighting, and general poor behavior.

I’ve dealt with this by developing a moderation policy, and I stick too it…to the letter.

I don’t censor ideas. Even if it’s expressed poorly, I won’t delete it. I may comment to rephrase it in a less caustic way, but I wont censor it.

If you misbehave, you get one or two warnings, then a ‘cool-off vacation’ of a day or two, and if you continue to misbehave, I’ll kick you to the curb .

And I do reference the logical fallacies http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ periodically, especially when someone’s makin’ it personal (ad hominem).

Oh, and I push the fact that everyone’s experience is different and valid.

Nicole Basaraba

I feel soooo lucky that I haven’t had any negative comments yet. Sorry to hear about your grandmother. Sending warm thoughts your way.

Marcy Kennedy

My policies seem very much like yours. I moderate comments from first time users, and I’ve checked links on comments that I feel might be fishy before allowing them. If it turns out they are fishy, I consider them a driveby and they get spammed. A couple of times though I’ve found fishy looking links to be completely legit. So far my WordPress site hasn’t let any real spam slip through, but I have had real commenters end up accidentally in the spam folder. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to rescue them, but their comment does get up.

maureen

I moderate comments…but that is because I’m a children’s writer and even tho my blog is not geared to children I still am careful about what goes on the site with anything associated with my name. Blogger does a great job with spam and I only have to deal with the occasional troll coming in. Of course being a children’s writer I also stay away from more controversial subjects…which is why I publish a blog roundup once a week…hehehe I don’t mind linking to other peoples opinions (wildly nodding Amen in the the background) and if I link to Chuck, I always post a language warning 😉 Jami has great opinions and writes beautifully so I never need to slap a warning on what she says.

Teresa Robeson

My condolences to you and your family for the death of your grandmother, Jami. I miss both of mine very much.

I didn’t used to have to moderate; pretty much everyone who showed up to comment were super nice and I ended up being bloggy-friends with nearly all of them. Then, I closed comments on my main blog for bit since, like you, I try to answer everyone who comments, and I didn’t have time to do that for a while. Once I opened it back up, I couldn’t believe the amount of spam I had, so I ended up moderating to keep the spam out. I’ve never edited anyone’s posts though.

I use Disqus on my writer’s blog – that, combined with the fact that it’s pretty new, is what helps keep spammers away, I think. :}

Tamara leBlanc
Tamara leBlanc

I thought all the points you touched on were very relevant, and I really like the way you handle things on your blog. I think it’s INCREDIBLY informative. I always, always learn something, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I think you do blogs proud.
But unfortunately, as you mentioned, there are trolls in them thar woods, and some of the little buggers just don’t appreciate great writing…seriously, someone dinged you for using Wiki because it didn’t fly with their professor? Geesh!
I guess you can’t please every Tom, Dick and Harry little troll that stops by.
But you do please me.
One thing I love about you, is that you always comment back. I know it must be tedious some times, and you probably have other things occupying your day, but somehow you always answer.
I appreciate that, and I’m sure your followers do too.
Thanks for the wisdom (and there are only two bloggers I ever thank for wisdom. You and Kristen Lamb)
Have a great evening!
Tamara

Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

Wow, quite a runaway sense of entitlement with some readers… it’s kind of staggering.

I don’t get enough comments yet to worry about how to handle them. Disqus takes care of the spammers, and the rest I can weed out myself. I haven’t even gotten any trolls. Maybe I should start being more controversial. 😀

That said, I don’t mind dissenting opinions at all, as long as they’re civil. But if someone comes around just to stir up trouble, they’re getting the boot.

Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

Also, as a side note, I’m intrigued that you say you require first-time commenters to go through moderation — yet, I’ve replied maybe six to ten times on your blog, at least, and I still go through moderation every time.

Melinda S. Collins

Hi Jami!
Like Daniel, I don’t get enough comments on my blog to really have to moderate them. With that being said, however, some comments are automatically flagged by IntenseDebate for me to moderate. I actually had one on my blog this past Wednesday (my first) where I asked to approve the comment.
I’m sure that once I have enough comments I’ll probably begin moderating the comments to ensure there aren’t any spammers or trolls 🙂

Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse)

I usually get asked to moderate comments if they have more than one link in them — sometimes just the one.

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[…] Jami Gold explores a topic that every blogger must consider: How Tightly Do You Control Your Blog? […]

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[…] Post a link to your site from the comments section on other people’s blogs. This can raise your Google page rank but is walking the edge of blogging etiquette. Make sure the link is pertinent to the comment discussion and look for a blog comment policy to find out if the link is welcome. Multiple links in a blog comment give a spammy appearance and may get you banned from making comments on blogs. Jami Gold addresses this in her post How Tightly Do You Control Your Blog? […]

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[…] got a lot out of Jami Gold’s post on how tightly we control our blogs. She touches on everything from how much you moderate to controlling negative […]

Taurean Watkins

I moderate mostly to avoid spam, and I’ve had a few cases of that, and it just helps me keep tabs on comments since I update my blog so infrequently these days.

I also wanted to speak to linking things in comments. I only link to my blog if I’ve written about a similar topic that would be another take on the topic in question.

Or sometimes I link to someone else’s blog if I think it’ll help someone out. But I’m very careful about what I link to. Especially on someone else’s blog.

I think when being smart and thoughtful about it, links in comments can be a fun way of extending the conversation, since half the battle in good conversation is hearing many sides of the same of overarching issue(s). That’s what I think, anyway.

I want to attract more readers to my blog, but in a non-shady way, it’s what I call a “Fun to READ about but NOT to live in real life” issue.

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[…] written before about how we have the right to decide how our spaces are run. We can come up with spam policies, moderation policies, commenting policies, etc. Having a […]

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