An open letter to my fellow bloggers

Please turn comment moderation off.

A few weeks ago, I left a comment correcting a Microsoft Tech Evangelist’s blog post, where a suggestion was made to unnecessarily expose a surface area of SQL Server. My comment suggested that the surface area didn’t need to be exposed, but it was not published immediately (the blog comments are moderated). I let this go for a few days, then I saw a new comment saying something along the lines of, “Great post, thanks man!” So I e-mailed the author directly, and he admitted that he should fix the suggestion. He did, kind of – I still find it ambiguous. My comment remains unpublished, so readers may still be unintentionally misled into believing that the specific surface area needs to be exposed to take advantage of the other technology he was evangelizing.

On Sunday I left a comment on another Microsoft blog, and it has yet to appear. This one is a lot more benign, but the point is the same – if the blogger is too busy to moderate comments, why is there a comments feature at all? How many comments are sitting in this person’s “approve” queue? An issue with blog posts is they get stale very fast. If a reader has a relevant point to make, and you don’t publish the comment until a week later, what good is it? Most of your readers are not checking back day after day to see if anyone has left a comment. I’m not sure about your RSS reader but I have enough in the unread queue that I’m not spending a lot of time doting over 0ld items.

Moderation kind of goes against the point of allowing comments on your blog in the first place. So why do people moderate?

  1. SPAM
    Let’s be completely honest here – nobody cares about the spam. Do you not trust your readers’ ability to ignore an enticing but obvious link for a fake Rolex or Gucci bag? Besides, your spam filter should be worrying about that, not you. So a few spam comments get through – who cares? So a few hundred spam comments get through – ok, time to get a better spam filter? I know some folks (e.g. @AndyLeonard | blog) are adamant that they will never let links to questionable sites get picked up by spiders and be indirectly linked to their own site. Again that goes back to having a better spam-trap in the first place, but I know some can’t control this. For anyone who can, use Akimset and keep it up to date. Even if some spam comes through and someone clicks on it before you delete it – do you really think the reader is going to blame you?
  2. Sensitivity
    I understand that some people are overly sensitive and don’t want to risk their readers seeing a negative or corrective comment. I try to treat blogging like public speaking. You can’t put duct tape over a heckler’s mouth, so why are you doing it to your readers? If someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer, or brings up a point that you disagree with, this is an opportunity for dialog – one of the whole reasons you’re part of the community, right? Maybe another reader has the answer. Maybe another reader wants to hear why you have a different opinion. You don’t necessarily need to be the first responder. We don’t all have to agree, and we don’t all have to be perfect. This is not the Borg.
  3. Damage Control
    I suppose there are some cases where you want to prevent competitors or would-be-saboteurs from saying really negative things on your blog. But I think that falls under #2. Haters are going to hate, and you should rely on your readers to be able to distinguish between nonsense and legitimate criticism. If someone is being a real you-know-what, I think deleting the comment after the fact (or better yet masking the dirty words) is still better than moderating – even if they’re doing it anonymously. If they’ve attached a name to it, now you have quasi-permanent evidence of their behavior.
  4. Keeping Your Private Business Private
    One colleague I talked to has received offers for work on their blog, and this is the sole reason they moderate. I can understand that. However, there is probably some fault on both sides here – if you are a contractor openly looking for work, your prospective clients should already know a better way to contact you than through a comment on your public blog. And, quite frankly, they should know better.

I’d be interested to hear other reasons for moderating. I know that I have already convinced at least one fellow SQL family member to stop moderating comments, and I’d like to convince you too! I’m not asking you to be on standby 24/7, serving as your readers’ Q & A host. You don’t even have to respond to the questions and comments if you don’t want. I just feel it’s unfair to your readers to suppress comments for days, stifling the conversation and preventing other readers from seeing those comments (even if you’re too busy to read them). Some of you moderate but are still really good about turning it around quickly – however you will be leaving your readers hanging when you take a vacation, get sick, or have a power or ISP outage.

12 Responses

  1. Joshuha Owen says:

    What about systems where after 1 approved comment that poster doesn’t have to be approved any more? I think its a nice middle ground. I hate CAPTCHAs for something like a comment so I do end up getting a decent amount of spam (although Akismet helps I still get a few a day).

    • That works great when you have the same people repeatedly visiting your blog. In both of the cases I cite above, I’m not even sure if they have that capability, but it wouldn’t have helped me since I was a first time commenter on both blogs.

  2. Karen Lopez says:

    Right now I have my moderation set to “first comment” only. That means that the first time someone posts, I have to moderate it, but afterwards they can blather all they want to and it shows up immediately. Maybe I shouldn’t say that publicly….

    I also use Akimset after trying a bazillion others. It works. Highly recommended, worth the price. If you don’t have it installed, you are blogging wrong…see, this is nearly a spam comment just because I’m promoting it :).

    I get only a handful of posts that make it through Akimset. I think they are test posts from spammers who are trying to work the first comment system – they post a “great idea” vague comment, then will come back and slam the system full of spam.

    I will probably stay with the 1st comment moderation. Why? Because I’m really good at moderation. I run several community forums where every post is moderated because that’s what those communities demand. So I have a process. I have people who help moderate. The longest a comment may sit in my moderation queue is less than 12 hours and that’s usually due to my being on a plane and my moderators are sleeping. Or Tweeting or something like that.

    I have to agree with you on not setting up moderation if you aren’t going to actually moderate. It frustrates me both ways: people who set up forums/discussions/blogs, then never remove the crap or people who set them up and never let the good stuff post.

    Why allow comments if you don’t want them?

    Thanks for your “letter”. I hope it influences everyone to ensure they have the right configuration for their blog for how they want to work.

    • Good points Karen. I agree that if you’re doing it right, moderation might be the best solution. But in a lot of cases people don’t need to be moderating at all, aren’t doing it right anyway, or both. :-\

  3. You can say anything you want on my blog. Hey, I do. 🙂

  4. hshawjr says:

    As former teacher, I got in the habit of moderating all comments on both my school and personal blogs. You never know what or who is going to say something and I prefer to have the control over what is being said on my blogs and by whom. Especially, in the case of students or former students who decide they want to have fun at a teacher’s expense.

    To me moderating comments is about controlling what is presented on my blog, even though the comments might be created by someone else, they do not project the image that I want other to see in my blog. I will publish comments that disagree with me, but not spam or that vulgar/racist or completely off topic. I also choose not to publish those comments that are just linkbacks to sites that I do not wish to be associated with

    While you bring up some very good points, when It comes down to comment moderation, it is my choice and I will continue to have all comments moderated on any blog that I manage or own. I don’t get that many comments and usually post them within a few hours.

    • Sure, I understand your point of view, but on the flip side, if you are committed to approving unpublished comments within a few hours, you could be equally committed to rejecting published comments within that same time frame. I don’t think all that much harm has been done if a few of your readers see that some other reader is being an idiot.

      Having a full RSS reader I know all too well that attentions spans can be very short. While some of my posts still get comments years later, many are forgotten within a couple of hours. So if I fail to publish a comment quickly enough, I may have just thrown away an interesting and valuable conversation that could have otherwise developed – with or without me.

      I am certainly not expecting to eradicate moderation across the Internet. I do hope I change some people’s policies (especially at Microsoft, which is where I see this problem the most) or, at least, get them to take a harder look at some of the effects moderation has on their legitimate readers.

  5. I leave moderation on in order to prevent spam, although Akimset does a good job of catching most of it. But I get an e-mail every time I get a comment, and I almost always approve the comment within minutes, unless when I am sleeping, then I approve those the next morning. I approve all comments except spam, no matter whether the comment is positive or negative.

  6. Spam and haters are the reason I like moderation in general. I was pretty bad about checking comments myself a long time ago and I missed a comment much like one you describe you sent. The commenter got pretty annoyed and commented several more times about how I was censoring him, which I wasn’t…(on purpose in any case), particularly because some other comments started to appear (they were registered users). I ended up sending him a book to be nice, because it was an honest mistake and I actually valued his first post (the later annoyed ones were not so much valuable :).

    Like Brad says, getting an email from new comments fixed my issues with commenters, and I approve every non-spam comment, and reply to most any comment as well.

    The one that I am the most conflicted about is the rare (but annoying as all heck) “this is dumb” reply (and a book review just like this on a certain rainforest sounding bookseller’s site.) How is it dumb? Just even a slight reason would help. One bad comment/review is worth a hundred “great posts” if the person tells you how. I have never gotten a negative comment on a blog or book that didn’t change my mind, at least a small amount and make me better.

    In your example, you say that the surface area shouldn’t be exposed… The original poster should ideally allow your comment, and reply as to why the agree or disagree. If you aren’t willing to do that, then turn off comments…

  7. I do the same thing as Brad on my non-SSC blog. I’m paranoid, what can I say? For my non-IT blog, I know there are regular folks hitting them and they aren’t as security conscious as we’d like them to be. So what looks like a bad link to us doesn’t register with them.

  8. Information wants to be free man

    Seriously though, I’ve never moderated comments. Then again, I’ve never had major personal attacks or other stuff along those lines (amazingly enough, this is one aspect of my life where I’m not pissing people off all the time, go figure) that might lead to a desire to moderate. I’m pretty much in agreement with you. It’s better to just let the stuff go out there and clean up the occasional chunk of spam that appears.

    • That stinks I had little “format” commands around my first line. It should read

      [hippy voice] Information wants to be free man [/hippy voice]

      Let’s see if that one sticks.