Much Ado about Commenting


The new HighTalk comment moderators are ready for action.

Commenting or the ability to have readers expressing their reactions to blog posts and news articles is a cornerstone of social media.  It is this interaction and engagement with fans, followers, readers, constituents (or whatever else you want to call them) that makes social media so different from traditional one-way communications.

The concept is simple: Social media is a conversation.  Two-sides – or even multiple sides – engaging in debate.  And sometimes that debate is heated.

So it’s difficult to understand the sudden backlash against commenting (although to be fair the anti-commenting sentiment has been building for quite some time).

  • TechCrunch – the technology mega-blog – recently announced that it would purge comments from posts more than 10 days old.
  • Last week, Engadget - a consumer electronics blog – turned off commenting because of too many trolls on the site.  “Hey guys, we know you like to have your fun, voice your opinions, and argue over your favorite gear, but over the past few days the tone in comments has really gotten out of hand,” wrote Engadget Editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky.
  • One of my favorite media blogs MediaNation this week has ceased anonymous commenting.  “My expectation is that this will be a good thing, as the signal-to-noise ratio will improve and the quality will rise,” wrote MediaNation’s Dan Kennedy.
  • The New York Times blog City Room ran a post this week with a rather sarcastic headline: “In Defense of Trolls (And Other Online Meanies).”  The post was about a mother shocked at the mean-spirited and snarky comments left behind on a Times‘ article about her son’s high school basketball team.  As one commenter noted: “The blogs are a source of snarky commentary? Geez – what a surprise.”

The backlash on commenting has its roots in civility.  Or more accurately, the lack of civility.  The fact is many commenting forums have become cesspools of personal attacks, crude language, and angry invective.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Commenting is in the complete control of the blog or publication that allows it.  It’s strange that Engadget feels the need to shutdown its commenting and blame a small minority of trolls for the decision.  Because its Engadget’s own policies that created the problem in the first place.

How?

They allow anonymous posting.  They don’t moderate their comments.  And they don’t delete any of the comments that violate civil discourse (I wrote about how many publications get commenting wrong back in July in a post called “Why Newspapers Get Commenting All Wrong”).

Here’s are several ways to solve the problem:

  • Establish and publish rules for commenting – and enforce them.
  • Don’t allow anonymous commenting.  Require those that comment to leave their real names – or at least links in their nicknames that take people back to a blog or a profile that clearly identifies them.
  • Moderate the comments.  That means every comment goes into a queue to await approval by the blog or publication.  Comments that don’t meet the criteria for civility get automatically deleted.
  • Have the blog author or newspaper reporter actually engage with the commenters.  Isn’t that the point of allowing commenting in the first place?  For engagement, debate and conversation?  If the author of the post or article isn’t involved – then there really is no point.  The act of engaging – or listening, if you will – will immediately change the tenor of the comments.
  • Clean up your own act.  If you resort to name calling, cheap shots, and snarky commentary, you can be sure that your commenters will do the same thing.

Moderating comments can be a big job for enterprise size blogs like TechCrunch and Engadget.  The fact that they are turning off the commenting – and considering eliminating a crucial feature of “social media” shows that they are losing sight of the reason why they became popular in the first place.  It’s the back and forth and free form debate that makes blogs and new media publications so energetic and so different from old media.

But it takes work and effort to make commenting worthwhile – and to make sure the debate doesn’t sink to the levels of the lowest common denominator.

Do you comment on blogs?  Do you read the comments?  What do you think of commenting?  Is it crucial for a blog to allow it?

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4 Responses to “Much Ado about Commenting”

  1. Well, I’m new to blogging. But without comments it can make you feel like you’re just talking to yourself, the unpublished writer wondering if anyone even reads your writing. As long as people have something meaningful to say and aren’t crude or immature, I say comment away.

  2. Hi Alex:
    I agree! And thanks for the comment!

  3. I’m compelled to comment on a post about commenting.

    For the vast majority of social media I agree about requiring identification. But I struggle with whether to require people to use their real name (vs a handle or nickname) with their post. Allowing some measure of privacy to an individual who might not otherwise share information seems reasonable to me.

    Fortunately (or not)I don’t have to worry about enterprise level volume requiring full time monitoring but I suspect those that do would be wise to invest in it rather than shut it down completely – after all isn’t “engagement” the Golden Goose?

  4. Hi Jim:
    Engagement can be the golden goose – if that’s your goal. But I agree with you about allowing anonymous comments. They can be valuable and provide great insight. That said they need to conform to the standards that you have set for your blog, Facebook page, etc.

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