Comments

February 05, 2008

There seem to be two schools of thought regarding comments on personal blogs. Prominent sites like Daring Fireball don't allow comments, and moreover, explain why. Other equally prominent sites have huge comment threads on nearly every post published.

Zanshin.net is by no means prominent. After nearly eight years of having a blog I have only a handful of comments. For several years, prior to switching to Wordpress, I had comments completely disabled on my site to avoid dealing with comment spam. I eventually renamed the functions that supported comments and trackback pings, as my referer logs were full of crap, and my commnets were all link bait for stuff you'd expect to get from a guy wearing a trench coat in the alleyway, who starts his patter with, "Psst! Hey, buddy...."

Since the widely available themes for Wordpress all seem to include the comment form, and since Wordpress provides the Askimet spam plugin, I decided to enable comments once again. Part of my daily routine now is to periodically visit the administration pages for my site and check to see if there are any comments waiting for moderation and if there are any commnets caught in the Askimet spam filter. Mostly I get spam comments in the filter.

The caught comments are usually obviously spam; links to prescription drugs or male member enhancement products, or online gambling. However, once in a while there is a borderline comment, like this:

I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with this commnet. However, the http link provided with the commnet leads to a site all about franchising, which in and of itself isn't objectionable. What is objectionable are the links to other, spammier sites, on the franchise site. My first thought was to just delete the commnet outright. Links to spam, even one generation removed from my site? Fail. But the utter lack of comments on my site made me pause.

What if I kept the comment but removed the objectionable link? The site is mine after all. I don't have much of a comment or privacy policy here, and to me that is now the problem. If I had a page that outlined what was and wasn't acceptible, and the consequence of violating those terms, then I would feel perfectly justified in editing the comment to remove the link. Without the terms already in place, however, I can't justify altering the comment author's thoughts. I wouldn't like it if someone copied my thoughts and then took them out of context (i.e., changed the copy in some fashion), so I don't think I should engage in that behavior.

As much as I'd like to accept the comment quoted above, I can't without altering it through the removal of it's associated link. (Yes, I recognize by using it as an example in this posting I have in effect, published the comment. Some hairs are easier to split than others.) In order to avoid this problem in the future I have crafted a privacy policy and some terms of use for zanshin.net, that includes a section on trackback pings and comments.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.