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December 22, 2005

Filed under: meta»announce

Crowd Control

You may have noticed that there's been a variety of poorly-behaved commenters frequenting Mile Zero lately. In response, I'd like to make my comment policy perfectly clear, so that trolls can find the line.

  • I don't delete people who simply disagree with me: If you search back through my old political posts, or a few of the gaming threads (I can't remember right now) you'll see some arguments taking place there that sometimes got a little heated. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and although I'm not thrilled about the stress level it sometimes creates, I'm not going to cut them off. So if you have a reasonable response to something I've said, I'd actually encourage you to respond. Everyone loves to see comment counts.
  • With that said, don't always expect a response: The CMS system for Blosxom/Pollxn, which runs this blog, is really nothing more than a clever concatenation of flat text files. It's not sophisticated. My interactions with it are mostly limited to FTP and SSH, which is only as powerful as the user. I've learned to work a few clever tricks, but there is no automated process for comment notification, for example. If you leave a note on an old entry, I won't know until I go looking for it. Moreover, I've learned that silence is usually the best response to arguments I don't find sufficiently convincing or relevant. If I think the argument is going in circles, I try to just stop talking. Don't confuse lack of interest with lack of evidence (I'm looking at you, C-Dawg).
  • Remember, you have no edit rights: Anything you put here, and which I don't delete, will be around a while and may even begin showing up in search engines. If your comments are particularly stupid or offensive, but they don't get cut, consider the possibility that I'm keeping them just because I think they make you look like an idiot. I trust my archives to speak for themselves to visitors, and overall I'm proud of my output here. You should probably treat comments anywhere the same way--and for the record, there have been some great commenters here of whom I'm also proud.
  • Moderation: Comments that don't get deleted are the rule, not the exception. Yet the exception does exist. I will not hesitate to remove comments from visitors who are abusive without providing an argument, who litter unrelated threads with non-sequitors out of spite, or who don't meet a sufficient interest-to-hassle ratio. If you engage in these behaviors regularly, I'll make it a habit to delete your comments without even reading them, which is as close to banning as the system will allow. I may disemvowel comments instead of deleting them, if deletion would break the flow of the thread (i.e., someone's already responded to you). It's nothing personal. I'm just not paying money for server space and traffic every month so that you can harass me, and I don't need the stress. If that's your goal, I can point you to a variety of free hosting solutions where you can vent all the vitriol you want.

What makes a good commenter? I follow a simple rule before I click the submit button. I ask myself: "Does this comment really help explore the original post? Does it give other people something interesting to which they themselves can respond? Or is it just that I want to hear myself talk?" Too many people will leave comments when they don't have anything to say, just because they can. These are especially frustrating, not only for curious visitors, but for the original writers, who feel like their time is being wasted.

It's important to remember that a good commenter faces the same challenge as a writer. They must build credibility and show that they're worth the attention--and if they do so, people will notice. The flip side is you don't start with any credibility at all, which trolls usually forget. Words may sound cutting from that side of the monitor, but to everyone else they're just another anonymous voice with an axe to grind.

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