Sunday, 20 January 2013

A Comment on Comments

It's probably the case with all blogs that the proportion of regular readers who comment is tiny.  Mike Johnston's The Online Photographer gets around 30,000 hits a day, but typically far fewer than 50 comments on any post.  It's the same with following links: I recently got a very flattering mention on TOP, complete with a link, but only 300 people followed it.  There seems to be a "One Percent Rule" at work.

Anyone who has given a seminar or a workshop will know the problem:  a few voluble individuals can silence a group of 20 or 30 other participants, unless the seminar leader takes steps to ensure full participation.  The majority of people need time to develop their thoughts, which may be uncertain and provisional, and quite often need to be asked a direct question before summoning the courage to speak.  In a situation where one-to-one interaction is impractical (for example, I'm hearing of so-called "seminars" in our university with 200 participants) strategies must be adopted that at least recognise the problem.

Now, I'd like more people to comment -- there are regularly 200-300 readers every day, after all, occasionally more -- but I suspect I need to set out some clear guidelines about what may be said, primarily to establish a "clean, well-lit place" (in Garry Trudeau's formulation) where the shy will feel emboldened to speak up and the voluble won't scare them off.

OK, so here we go:

1. Obvious "spam" or sales-pitches will be deleted on sight.

2.  Comments must be in English.  I make exception only for gallery people wishing to offer me an exhibition (Hi, Rupert und Manfred!  Wie geht's?).  Don't worry if your English isn't great: you might even want to try using Google Translate.

3.  Comments must be relevant to the post.  "Relevance" is a flexible term, and can accommodate irony, humour, and tangents (remember those?  a bit like Spangles, but sharper), but attempts to steer the conversation away from the topics addressed in the post will be frowned upon.

4.  Comments must be addressed to me, or to the world at large.  Comments may certainly take up ideas or threads introduced by other commenters, but should not be addressed directly to other commenters.  As in any well-run meeting, you must speak "through the chair".  I have thought hard about this, and I think it's the best way to enable the sort of civility that will encourage the timid or uncertain-of-mind to speak up.

5.  Comments must be civil.  I'm prepared to be taken to task over my views, but not to be abused.  The same goes for other commenters.  Trolls (i.e. "someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion")  will not be tolerated.

6.  Comments should be meaningful or amusing.  Mere noise such as "nice pics!" or "Great post!" will be ignored, and may even be held up for ridicule (by me only, however:  droit de seigneur).  That's a joke, by the way, except for the "ignoring" part.

Those seem reasonable to me.  Established commenters, please take note.  In future, I will draw the attention of any new commenter who breaches these guidelines to this post, and then delete their comments if they persist. A comment which breaches these guidelines in part only may be deleted even if the rest of the comment is sensible or even brilliant. Obviously, I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason I see fit, guidelines notwithstanding.  If I feel the need to add more guidelines, I will edit this post.

Addition 11/2/2013: 

7.  Bear in mind that comments are indexed by Google.  It may feel like a private space, but it isn't.  If I think a comment will attract unwanted attention, I may ask the commenter to delete it and resubmit a revised version.


Zouk Delors said...

"Obviously, I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason I see fit, guidelines notwithstanding."

Oh, dear. I thought you were about to introduce the Rule of Law to Idiotic-Hat, but it seems you prefer a despotic fiefdom? And don't say "if you don't like it, why don't you in and live in Russia?"!

Zouk Delors said...

Ah, well, I suppose the fact that the last comment wasn't immediately struck out shows it is a benign dictatorship at least, which can accept public criticism.

In your mitigation, I would observe that the making and enforcing of rules is a very different skill to producing entertaining and thought-provoking material. One of the main problems with self-publication is that there is no editor to provide what, otherwise, only "a friend with a special kind if love" can.

Zouk Delors said...

And, of course, subs: to pick up stuff like "kind if love". Kind OF love. Obviously.

Mike C. said...


Whatever, just go with the guidelines.

FYI, your email is refusing to accept incoming messages. No need to discuss this here, just letting you know.


Zouk Delors said...

Ok, Mike, cheers. If it's important, use SMS, a whole lot easier for me anyway. You can delete this bit now - it's outside guidelines.

Nathan deGargoyle said...

As one of the 200 or 300 who read but rarely post I take Rule 5 as my excuse. If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Or maybe I'm just a lurker?

Mike C. said...

Nathan deGargoyle,

You may not have noticed, but you have just made a comment.

I won't pretend to believe that "everyone has something to say", but I think anyone who sticks with this blog (a) probably has something to say, and (b) knows that I am a propopent of John Cage's dictum:

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it"...

Lurk away, though, if that's your preference. Some people just like to watch!


eeyorn said...

Having blogged for well over 10 years now, I'd say your guidelines, which are in the main reasonable, will probably not attract more comments. The fact is yours is a fairly specialist blog and as such will only attract a limited audience. If you're after a wider audience and more comments, I'd suggest you consider linking your blog to Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Mike C. said...


It seems that "part of your network is on our block list", presumably because it has been used to send spam, etc. (we've recently come under massive spam attack -- yuk!).

In other words, I am being prevented from sending mail to your network.

Sorry about that,


Zouk Delors said...

Ok, Mike. Didn't know I had a network, just a bog-standard email account. Seems more likely the problem is at your end: perhaps the uni has tagged me as a spammer because I sent you 3 in quick succession the other day? I'll investigate further when I get to a computer, as the android app only gives the basics.