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Advice on Handling Off-Topic Comments

  1. I'm a novice blogger looking for some advice from you pros.

    I've had decent traffic to my blog but only two comments. I welcome comments but realize that many people choose not to comment on what I write, which are mainly informative pieces on doing business in Greater China.

    The first comment to my blog showed no evidence of having read the entire post on which the comment was written. Instead, the poster chose a few parts of my post that bothered her and took issue with them without really telling me why (along the lines of "That's just wrong!"). I deleted that comment because I think it is reasonable to expect people to read the entire post before commenting.

    A second, more recent comment is only marginally related to the post to which it is attached. The comment is highly political, and my blog is apolitical. I'm personally not interested in talking about politics; I'd rather pick up dog poop in the back yard than discuss politics. Anyway, the poster who made the comment seems like an intelligent, articulate person, someone I'd enjoy discussing other issues with, but he's chosen to engage me in an off-topic political discussion.

    What is your advice? I was hoping that comments to my blog would be related to the actual post I'd written. I suppose I was naive to expect that.


  2. Most don't comment on blogs but rather read. But my other blog has certain posts that have become like a forum. They talk about their lives or argue with one another about everything and anything not having to do with the topic of that post. I only delete or edit comments that are extremely rude/sexual to others or threatening or if they post personal information that could get them AND ME in trouble. But if your comments are not spam, then I say let it be because they'll come back which means traffic for you and others might then leave comments to debate or argue with one another.

  3. Leave them be. Naturally, you want people to comment about the post you made rather than use it to grandstand on a tangential issue or engage you in conversation about something completely different, but it's a mistake to insist that ONLY those comments which relate directly to the post be made in the first place. People will just not comment at all then.

    You have the option of replying to the comments in a way which relates to the original post, but not to the content of their comments. You can, if you want to be nice, say "I'm not really about discussions of politics, but you seem like an interesting person. What did you think of my point..."etc.

    As for those whose comments are so self-absorbed as to be blind to the original post, make fun of them for being clueless; it's GREAT for hits. I know what I'm talking about.

  4. I delete comments that are violently inflammatory, littered with obscenities or sexual references, or that could de-rail the general thrust of the blog.

    The ongoing war of words on the blog between militant vegans and people who are happy to produce/eat meat is a good example.

    I confine the comments to a handful of relevant posts (so the militant vegans don't get to rant, rave and screech about every animal/meat related post), delete the comments that openly and aggressively incite violence (both groups) and ask bloggers to re-write comments that are filled with obscenities (most don't).

    I don't mind heated comments or ones that go off on a tangent, post clarifying replies when people get the wrong end of the stick, try to broaden the focus if bloggers get too narrow-minded, and generally try to "guide the conversation" rather than end it.

    I've also written a couple of posts spelling out my policies and what I will/won't tolerate. I also make it clear that it's my personal blog so there is no automatic freedom of speech and no automatic right of reply. That really annoys some bloggers!

  5. I've edited one or two comments for brevity or where the commenter has said something potentially libellous.

    On my other blog at roadsofstone, a couple of my posts on the environment, politics and evolution have provoked nastily personal and inflammatory attacks from neoconservatives.

    IMHO you generally know you're winning the debate if someone starts insulting you, and as Raincoaster says, readers do like it when things hot up a bit, which they sometimes do when you point that out.

    It's important to be thick-skinned and quick-witted, then in thanking them graciously for their contribution, whilst stating firmly and extremely courteously that you will not descend to their level of abuse.

    That generally shuts 'em up.

  6. I often have off topic comments, which are almost always someone asking a random "I found this bug, what is it...." question. I let them stay, and usually respond to them.

    I have a comments policy posted on my site, and that seems to be working pretty well.
    Mostly I let the comments be and just respond to them.

    You can see an example in the *Tumbu Fly* post comments where someone got a little confused.
    I take that as an sign that I need to do a better job making things clear (Of course, Sometimes commenters are just cranks :)

  7. Every blog post on this weblog has a comment box that you can use to share your point of view with myself and my readers. In addition, a contact form has been provided for your use on a separate page. Comments that do not directly refer to my blog posts will not be answered on this blog.

    * I moderate all comments prior to posting them.
    * Email addresses are required but will not be displayed with comments.
    * All comments that I do choose to post are the views of their author and my posting them does not imply that the I agree with the contents.
    * Anonymous comments will not be posted.
    * Abusive and/or way off-topic comments will not be posted.

  8. Fantastic, folks. I really appreciate your responses. raincoaster provided an excellent suggestion about turning the conversation away from issues not related to the blog. timethief, with your permission, I'll adapt your comments policy for use on my blog. energetic, thanks for the reminder about putting insults into proper perspective, and membracid, thank you for the example of a comments policy. stonehead, what a fascinating blog you've got.

    I've decided to post the comment and respond with an attempt to get the commentary back on track. As mymylayouts points out, comments are an excellent way to extend the discussion, bringing up points you missed in the original post (especially if you are writing expository pieces like I am).

    I am holding out hope that one day, I'll actually get a comment that is relevant to what I'm writing about! In my view, the burden is on me to write posts that are worthy of careful perusal and thoughtful commentary.

  9. If you edit comments, you become legally liable for their contents according to the laws of the United States, to which we all agreed to be bound when we signed up for our blogs. I would never edit comments under normal circumstances for just exactly this reason. US Supreme Court has declared that commenters themselves are responsible for the comments, not the blog owners. Once you edit, you're responsible.

  10. @truettblack
    Permission granted and best wishes. :)

  11. Further to Raincoaster's post, that's why I either delete unacceptable posts or ask the author to re-write. Not only is it more safe legally speaking, but it's more ethical than editing IMO.

    And thanks for the kind words, truettblack.

  12. Thanks rain and stone--I never considered the legal consequences of editing rather than deleting comments. It's an obvious but overlooked nuance!

  13. @truettblack:

    consider giving us a link to your blog, either here or in the plug threads:
    Plug your blog
    Photography & art blogs
    What did you post today?
    Critique my blog
    Show off your CSS

    As you can see, we tend to be a chatty bunch, and some conversation might be sparked (can't promise anything).

  14. Speak for yourself Judy, I'm the strong, silent type...

    Really! ;)

    museditions: Rain and stone, I like the sound of it.

  15. I edit comments all the time that have addresses and phone numbers saying "call me". I don't know if it's really their information. And it's dangerous which they don't seem to realize .

  16. @stone - :~) I thought they were kind of cool together, too.

  17. judyb12, I didn't realize that you couldn't see the link to my blog. Here it is:

    The theme of the blog is cross-cultural communications in greater China.


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