Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blog Moderation

This post is about blog moderation. Skip it if you're not interested.

Like every blogger I started blogging without any readers. And just like every blogger I weren't blogging anymore, if I still had no readers. Feedback is important even for the most in himself resting person. And while I do have all kinds of statistics for my blog, the most powerful feedback are comments. But not every comment is .. appreciated.

From the very beginning I had the policy to permanently delete every comment that I considered worth deleting. This means that there won't even be some placeholder, like "An admin deleted this comment". The comment simply vanishes into the depths of Google's servers. I also don't have any binding policy that my readers can look up, like in an official forum. There's no rule #23 that you could have violated. I have no interest in pretending that there's any other reason for the disappearance of your comment than that I disliked it. That having said, I love debating. I would never delete a comment just because it expresses a different opinion; not even if this opinion is expressed in strong words. In fact, I dislike it if readers start to play fanboy and defend my position in front of other readers.

Since only about 4% of all readers actually leave comments, every one who does is absolutely appreciated. I sometimes wonder why some readers send me page-long mails, but never comment on the blog. It's not that I don't appreciate feedback by mail; it does even have some advantages. But unless the other party is genuinely interesting (like being an experienced developer), I usually don't really have an interest in long conversations by email.

Now, since comments are so appreciated, it's always a pain to delete them. My single biggest concern, however, is to not delete a comment I should have deleted. Yes, you read that correctly. A lot of bloggers make this mistake and it creates an environment in which other readers assume the same commenting style. It may increase the number of comments, but at the cost of their quality. If you want a wonderful example check out that controversial MoP trailer at Youtube. It has over 40k comments by now. The quality is about as bad as comments can be. Which doesn't mean that it isn't fun reading a few or even adding *grin*. Perhaps some professor will soon invent some stress therapy that encompasses commenting on controversial youtube videos. Go check it out if you want. The continuous stream of bullshit is strangely relaxing.

Anyway, one reason only 4% of the readers actually post a comment every now and then, is certainly that I delete all nonsense comments, like those that consist of nothing but “I disagree”. (Yes, there exist less polite versions of that comment.) Yesterday, however, I realized that I post a lot of “I agree” comments on other bloggers' posts. I started to do that several years ago when I realized that many very good posts don't get much feedback. This is really a big flaw of comments as feedback mechanism: If a post is very good and says everything there was to be said about a topic, it sometimes doesn't get any comments. Take Shintar's latest post, for example. A lot of work, went into it and it is very worthwhile reading - but what could I possibly add as a comment?

If readers leave comments like “I agree” on my posts I never delete them. I appreciate them a lot. It means that the post was so good that they simply didn't find anything to add. But it's also strangely asymmetrical considering that I always delete “I disagree“ comments. Looking into this a bit more one would hopefully find out that the symmetry is purely superficial. I hope.


  1. I agree and I disagree are not truly opposites in meaning. "I agree" says that your opinion is A and mine is A as well. "I disagree" says that your opinion is A but mine is not A. Maybe it is B. Or C. Disagreement without elaboration is ambiguous.

    I guess I'm trying to say that I agree. :)

  2. It's one of the problems of blogging: controversial posts create opposition, which incites people to give feedback. Less controversial, but well thought-out posts will not raise opposition, and there's less feedback. So there's always a risk that you try to become more controversial to raise the perceived influence. It's one of the problems of politics.

    Also, I assume it's synchronicity rather than causality, but is there a reason you changed your feed from full text to excerpts?

  3. It is in fact synchronicity. I'm just playing around.

    I don't use a feed reader myself and I am interested in how many people actually read my texts all over the internet without ever visiting the blog.

    Since I recently switched to another format that inlcudes more posts on the front page and a clear cut for every post, it was a good opportunity to just send the 'abstract' out, and not the whole text.

    But I'm interested in reactions. I have no idea how many readers actually used the full feed and to what degree they depend on it.

  4. I prefer to have the full text, even though, for most posts, I check the site itself later to browse the comments. A feed reader is especially useful while I'm on the bus or in similar places where I only got my phone with me.

    If it's about statistics, I would be surprised if google, of all places, couldn't give you a good feed analysis. After all, they have feedburner, and with Google Reader a popular feed reader, too.

  5. I'll probably switch it back in a few days, flosch. Until then, try this URL

    Adding ?/m=1 forces the browser to visit the mobile version. Theoretically this should happen automatically if you use a mobile gadget.

    The comments should, btw, be part of the feed. At least that's what the settings say. All this reinforces my impression that blogger isn't exactly the best service. I might eventually move to Wordpress.

  6. Ah, cute, thanks.

    Yeah, I don't like blogger at all. I'm not a huge fan of wordpress either, but that's more because I started to adapt a theme to fit my preferences, and when you look under the hood, you see how ugly it is. ;)

    At least it works, and it does trackbacks. I'm still in disbelief that google hasn't picked that up.

  7. If you move to Wordpress, you'll lose my ~15 pageviews a day! :o

    You see, Wordpress inconceivably does not allow Blogrolls to be sorted by "most recently updated." Combined with your already impressively good blogroll, I find myself coming here just to see if other people are updating. The blogroll thing is almost enough to get me to come back to Blogger from Wordpress, even though I like Wordpress better overall.

  8. Odd timing, of course. I'm one of those new 4-6%ers who only recently became a part of said group.
    I would have been more actively and sooner involved, I feel, except I have felt your blog has housed many fanbois and apologetics of late. There are choice names that spawn a recurring theme. It's hard to participate in a blog whose author lays a very pleasant and open tone while penning logical and methodical statements about his viewpoints with loudmouths who see no truth other than their opinion.
    Proper moderation keeps bad attitudes from becoming contagious and equally invites good attitudes to voice their collaboration in discussing the subject laid out before them.

  9. Thanks a lot Ahtchu! The reason for the recent heat, and the reason for me deleting over 10 comments today, was certainly the WoW rage-quit video.

    I knew that this would cause a little heat, but also really wanted to send the strongest message I could to Blizzard. Just writing about me intending to quit in 12 months hadn't had any effect at all.

    Anyway, I hope to continue the more analytical thread of this blog soon. In fact, as soon as I am done with WoW, which is still the most successful MMO of all time by two magnitudes. I feel these posts are needed to stay grounded and not lose yourself in the abstract theory of game design.

  10. "I prefer to have the full text, even though, for most posts, I check the site itself later to browse the comments."

    Same thing here. But I only do so AFTER reading the post that generates enough interest for me to want to read said comments, *and* I have to jump through some hoops to get to the full text where I work (which, obviously, is where I do most of my blog-reading).

    I'm afraid if you keep the excerpt-only feed I'll end up visiting the blog fewer times in the end, plus not reading some posts that might have interested me because the excerpts didn't convince me it was worth the jumping of said hoops.

    I don't mean to sound like a spoiled, entitled little reader here, but take this feedback as an argument to The Old Way Things Were, please. :)

  11. I don't mean to sound like a spoiled, entitled little reader here, but take this feedback as an argument to The Old Way Things Were, please. :)

    Done :)

  12. Just going to say the same as the other commenters but because it's a very important topic:

    Can you please switch back to full posts in RSS? I have to click on the web page anyway to comment something to subscribe to comments by e-mail. :) But I prefer to read blogs in my RSS reader on not on different web pages with different designs. Especially not if the design is NSFW...

  13. First, let me add to the chorus that says the full text feed is better. I try to read a lot of blogs (over 100, but many don't update much anymore), and an RSS reader is a necessity. Having to click through to read the full article, especially a blog like this that sometimes updates many times per day, would just take more of my limited time.

    Second, I would advise against deleting the "I disagree" posts. It may be that people are testing the waters to see if you will tolerate disagreement. No sense in writing a long post with a thoughtful argument if the blog owner is just going to delete it; sadly, this happens a lot from my experience. Obviously you should delete any abusive comments, though. The alternative is to put up a policy somewhere that explains your rationale, but that gets into the problem with "rules" you mentioned.

    Personally, I love discussion and prefer to leave a comment rather than deleting it. My thoughts as a fellow blogger.

  14. Thanks for your opinion, Psychochild. The RSS feed should work as usual by now.

    On moderation, I don't think I ever deleted a comment that contained more than just a few lines. I am very reluctant to delete a comment that obviously required some effort - even if I otherwise consider it very poor. This happens very rarely, by the way.

    I am, however, growing a bit sick right now when it comes to the WoW discussions I obviously spark. It should be possible to discuss these things in a better way. If I read the comments on my blog and feel like 'meh', something's wrong.

  15. Full text feed is far superior, and I also use your blog as a highway list to see who has updated a post recently, so for the love of god don't go to wordpress.

    As far as people only commenting when they disagree, I was wondering where Azuriel had got to on my blog recently ...

  16. I modified the layout a bit making it easier to access the blogroll at the cost of the archive.
    With the recent change to displaying abstracts for every post the archive isn't as important as it was before.

  17. I leave the "I disagree" posts on my blog, and only delete the "I disagree, you idiot" version.

    But if you wanted to know how many people agree and disagree, why don't you do it like YouTube and install a like/dislike button, or agree/disagree version? You'd probably get more than 4% of your readers willing to click a button.

  18. An interesting idea, thanks Tobold.