UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Moderated Comments? Closed Comments? No Thanks!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 Feb 2010

Copyright? There’s A Need For A Debate

On Friday I read a blog post on about alleged copyright infringement on Blogger. The post on the JISC Digital Media blog described how “In a draconian move, Google has recently removed several music blogs from its Blogger and Blogspot services“. The story, which was also featured in a Guardian article on “Google shuts down music blogs without warning, concerned the deletion of entire blogs which were alleged to contain copyrighted content.

The post concluded “it also starkly demonstrates the importance of gaining permission to use copyrighted material, lest you spoil your ship for a ha’pworth of tar. As always, if you’re not sure, don’t use it!“.

I disagree – I feel that copyright in today’s digital environment is a very complex topic, and simply suggesting that copyright resources should never be used is avoiding the realities of how digital resources are being used. In addition to the question of how copyrighted resources are being used, there is also the question of the extent we should continue to support a legal framework around copyright whose relevance is being questioned by increasing numbers  – Professor Peter Murray-Rust, for example, at a keynote talk given at the ILI 2009 conference argued that “Copyright as we know it must be destroyed for the sake of academic publishing and in order to facilitate the sharing of knowledge (as distinct from the business of making money from restricting the sharing of knowledge)“. As described in a report on the talk published on the FromMelbin blog Peter claimed that “Copyright is currently preventing the sharing of knowledge that could help to save the planet and that we as librarians should be agitating, displaying our “raw anger” and protesting for legislative change“.

Comment Moderation is A Barrier To Debate

I responded to the original blog post on Friday night, mentioning a paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web” by myself and Professor Charles Oppenheim which describes a risk management approach to copyright. However the blog contains a message that “Unfortunately due to high levels of spam all of our comments are moderated and only authentic comments posted” so as I write this my comment is not yet visible (it was approved on Monday morning).

It is true that blogs are subjected to automated spam attacks – back in June 2008, for example, I described how on this blog the Akismet spam filter had filtered  A Quarter of a Million and Counting. But for me this demonstrates the effectiveness of the Akismet spam filter.  Since this blog was launched in November 2006 comments can be made on any of the posts, with no moderation being in place – the only requirement is that the comment author must provide an name and e-mail.  This policy, I feel, is important in avoiding delays in the publication of comments.

For me this ease of commenting is an important feature of blogs, especially for blogs in which feedback, comments and discussions are encouraged. The benefits of immediate publication of comments therefore outweigh the risks that spam might get through the spam filter and save me the effort of having to manually approve comments.

I also feel that comments can be useful even for posts which were published a long time ago – so I do not switch off comments after a set period of time.  This can also be useful in allowing notifications from other blogs (via pingbacks and trackbacks) to be displayed, so that viewers can easily follow links to posts which link to articles on this blog.

Comment moderation and closed comments? Not for me.  What about you?


12 Responses to “Moderated Comments? Closed Comments? No Thanks!”

  1. Richard E said

    In the days when I had a Blogger blog, I had comment moderation on because there was no real way of spam filtering. I believe this is still the case. When I moved to WordPress, I installed Akismet et al, but – force of habit – I kept moderation turned on. I’ve yet to see a comment there that I haven’t published, so it might well make sense to turn moderation off.

    But my blog is small and of limited interest. If the topic is a hot one with a vociferous minority screaming their views at every possible opportunity, I’d suggest it’s a different matter.

    I’m interested in climate science, for example, but I increasingly find the comment section at the foot of popular articles on the subject completely unreadable. I really haven’t the time or inclination to wade through the crap anti-science comments to find the occasional sensible ones: the majority seems either misinformation or worse: repetitive, deliberate mis-information. I’m interested in how the media covers the topic, but it’s extremely offputting to find a signal-to-noise ratio of around 0.1 and finding sensible comments is like seeking a needle in a haystack. As a result I tend to stick closer to the source material and not the popular commentary.

    So sure, allow free unmoderated comment in discussions where participants are prepared to discuss the current topic sanely and usefully, like grown-ups. The majority of educational topics fall into this category, for example: I am not aware of any major funding for rabid deniers of the value of a particular teaching method.

    But where that’s not the case, I’m afraid that I would ask for more moderation rather than less.

    For me, it’s a simple equation: the degree of moderation I would like is directly proportional to the noise I perceive in the channel. Of course, my perception of “noise” will differ from yours… and perhaps there lies the rub. Though I would have thought the rational person would be able to tell reasonable criticism from trolling, even if they don’t agree with it. I’m fine with reading criticism, but the trolls simply turn me off, I’m afraid. And make sure I don’t read any of the comments.

    • Thanks for the response. I would agree with you that (a) some blog providers might not have decent spam comment filtering tools and (b) there may be blogs which cover topics which are likely to attract heated comments.

      Perhaps a more appropriate conclusion would be that although comment moderation and closed comments can hinder discussion, if your blog service doesn’t provide a spam filter, some form of moderation may be necessary. And if you receive large numbers of comments, agree some form of management of the comments may be useful, both for the blog owner and the readers – I noticed, for example, that the Guardian blog post on “Google shuts down music blogs without warning ” has switched off comments after 168 comments have been posted.

  2. PeteJ said

    I think the choices to moderate comments, or close them after a period of time, or allow them at all, or to allow trackbacks etc, are just that: matters of personal choice (or group choice if it’s a multi-author weblog, or maybe organisational choice if it’s governed by some wider institutional policies.)

    There may be a whole lot of factors involved in those choices: the popularity of the weblog, the topic and its “sensitivity”, the author’s past experiences of comments or spam, simply personal preference. And an author’s approach may change them over time – in either direction, becoming “more permissive” or “tightening things up”. A single author may adopt different approaches for different weblogs they author.

    Yes, sure, there are occasions when I post a comment & then discover that it is in a moderation queue, and my immediate reaction might be “Grr. I WANT to see that published NOW”, but I also recognise that is the owner’s choice. If I’m that bothered about my content being visible immediately (and mostly I’m not, tbh), I can go and write it in a space I control (e.g. my own weblog etc). Yes, it doesn’t then appear in the stream of comments, and I know it’s not quite the same thing, but it is out there – and I can still draw attention to it via Twitter or whatever, so I can contribute to “the debate”.

    It would be helpful, though, for owners to make their policies clear, so that I know what to expect if I try to post a comment, or indeed so that I can decide not to bother commenting at all – but then that is my (informed) choice.

    I think there’s a danger we project our own preferences and approaches, based on our own perceptions and experiences, onto other people. “I allow unmoderated comments and trackbacks on my blog for ever, and it works for me, so you should too”. We need to remember that weblogs (in their initial form, at least) are personal channels, and as such the options people choose to allow may vary from individual to individual too. What’s “good” for one person isn’t necessarily “good” for another person (as I hope a certain large service provider learned over the last few days).

    Vive la différence ;-)

    • Yes, I agree that it’s a question of personal choice. That choice should also be an informed decision, so I’m providing my thoughts as an owner of a WordPress blog and as a commenter on other’s blogs (on occasions I’ve decided not to make a comment due to such moderation).

      I very much agree with your comment that “It would be helpful, though, for owners to make their policies clear” – I hope updated the policy page for this blog making the policy on comments explicit:

      Comments will be unmoderated and permitted for all posts unless this is too time-consuming to manage“.

  3. I dont think its right to moderate comments, unless they are spam, but i mean really its going against freedom of speech

  4. If anything, this is an argument against putting your blog in the cloud. The moral, own your content, own your domain name (so much as is possible). Big companies… any companies… are skittish about potential legal problems. Not actual. Potential.

    I have often heard the risk equation: Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Cost , but I suspect that lawyers seem to take the either the threat or cost at some crazy high number that any vulnerability above zero is unacceptable.

    The is the second crap story about Google this week, after their buzz boorishness. I’ll still forgive them for wave, as I *get* that it’s a tech-demo and not really a product. But they should have explained that in much bigger letters. The tech is a gamechanger, the product the wordpad of the wave tech..

  5. Mark said

    I always say, if a blog doesn’t effectivly allow comments in a reasonable time frame it is not a blog, its just a web article. IWR is particulary guilty of that crime I think.

    Spam is a fact of the web. I always get frustrated when I can’t copy and paste someones email (particulary if they are in a public sector funded post). Yeah sure having an email open like that will pick up some spam but how much more? and most (and i accept that a little of a huge amount is still alot)will be caught in a filter anyway…

  6. Alex Brown said

    I run a blog with unmoderated comments. For me the advantage is that debate can happen quickly (even when I’m asleep) and I don’t have to expend effort on moderating!

    On one or two occasions a comment has appeared which goes beyond the bounds of taste/decency/law – blog readers are sophisticated enough I think to realise this is not the “fault” of the blog.

    Another danger is the upsurge in hand-crafted SEO spam whereby comments are made (“great article!”) with a link pointing somewhere I’d rather not be supporting. For this reason I turn off comments after 30 days to avoid having to go back and continually farm comments.

    – Alex.

  7. Wendell said

    @ Mark; “…if a blog doesn’t effectively allow comments in a reasonable time frame it is not a blog, its just a web article.”

    Er… well, it might be a web article. Or, it might be a sort of “online diary” or “electric journal” or “web log”… a ‘b-log as it were.

    @ Brian
    Surely what determines effective comment policy is the original purpose of the blog or not-blog or web-posty thing. My blog is where I post my learnings and reflections, and not a place for debate (which, in my lexicon, is not a “blog” but a forum – but that’s just me). How I handle comments is based on my purpose. In my case, I moderate. I’d rather not hear from someone than deal with unpleasantness. Does that mean my blog is a poor place to find discussion and combined wisdoms? Yes. That’s exactly what it means, and I’m okay with that.

    Different goals, different choices.


  8. Chris said

    Interesting debate. I have comment moderation turned off for most of the time on my blog, and just have word verification turned on, which seems to filter out most spambots. However, I have been known to delete comments when they have been particularly rude and abusive and have made personal comments about myself or others. In the middle of a one flurry of such comments I turned comment moderation on as I was going to be away for a while and wouldn’t have picked them up. I welcome debate and people disagreeing with me, but I do object to being insulted by trolls, so think there is justification for removing comments all together occasionally.

  9. Fuentes said

    And what about automoderation? Well I think this can only be done on high traffic sites like Youtube where users can thumb up/down a comment, however it’s a good way to do it.

    I think that a small site a good idea is to disable comments after some time as Richard E said.

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