On randos

In the distant pre-pandemic past, I used to take public transit. Public transit is a fascinating place where you meet people from many different walks of life. Just kidding, nobody talks to each other. This possibly varies from culture to culture, but in my experience people mostly want to mind their own business on public transit.

When strangers do talk to me, that’s alright with me, but my expectations start super low. The most common kind of comment I get, is basically homophobia. Another kind of comment is people saying that my husband and I are a cute couple–innocent enough but vaguely objectifying. Then there are the comments that I just don’t understand. I have auditory processing issues, and it can take a while to acclimate myself to someone’s voice before understanding them. But it’s hard to explain that to a stranger, and it’s not like I wanted to talk to them in the first place.

There’s a similar interaction that happens online: getting comments from randos. By “rando” I’m referring to people that for whatever reason, come across my internet writing–often via internet search. Typically they only read one article, months or years after its publication, and probably not even the whole thing. Comments from randos can be better than comments from strangers on a bus, but they usually are not. Randos systematically produce the worst comments I get.

Basically every blogger has the same experience, so I’m just explaining this for the benefit of people who don’t blog or haven’t blogged enough to attract randos.

What makes comments from randos bad? Just like strangers on the bus, there are a lot of comments that are basically just homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, or random hate. I delete most of these comments without ceremony, so you never see them.

Then there are a lot of unintelligible comments. I have some sympathy, because I think writing a good internet comment is harder than it looks. However, all the sympathy in the world will not help an unintelligible comment.

Beyond that, most rando commenters are just not getting it, for one reason or another. Sometimes they just missed the main point, probably because they’re not reading carefully. Sometimes they got the main point but the only thing they can say is to assert the opposite point. Sometimes they miss the timestamp, or else they just have an irrational belief that I care intensely about something I wrote five years ago. Sometimes they make incorrect assumptions about my beliefs. Or they try to recommend something very long, which I most certainly will not read because a rando’s recommendation is worth about 2 seconds of my time.

And some of these I could respond to, but if I do, I don’t do it for the rando, because the rando is unlikely to ever show up again. What, are they going to google the same phrase and click on the same article just to see if I responded? The knowledge that any interaction will be brief and one-sided really undercuts value of those interactions.

Comments from randos aren’t always bad though. And it’s worth noting: sometimes we are the randos.  So how can we play that role well?  A few basic tips:

  • Hardly anyone will complain about receiving generic positive comments. However, avoid making it so generic that it could literally be a comment on anything, since that’s what spam looks like.
  • You may find yourself having to read between the lines to figure out what the author believes. That’s okay, but please say that you have done so, and leave open the possibility that you have misunderstood. When randos make an assumption about me, and it’s not clear what that assumption was, that’s a bad comment.
  • Make a temporary bookmark, and check a few days later for a response.
  • Ask honest questions. Questions are relatively low effort for the commenter, and it’s hard for bloggers to complain about them. Also if you think about it, you’re far more likely to get an insightful answer to a question, than you are to persuade someone with an argument.

I also want to say, put some effort into it. But I know everyone’s time is precious, and why waste time on some rando blogger that wrote one article you read? So just remember that if you don’t have enough time to put effort into it, lurking is always a respectable choice.


  1. Bruce says

    Good points. To me, this brings up a related question. What guides a blogger in deciding the right time period before comments get closed on a post? Should it be impossible for anyone to comment on a post made six years ago? Six weeks ago? Six days ago?
    I think this would depend in part on the ratio expected between a blogger’s time and interest to read such comments, versus the expected number of such comments.
    If a rando or a regular makes a comment on a post from five years ago, that is pointless if neither the blogger nor anyone else ever reads the comment. So, what else do bloggers consider on this issue?

  2. says

    @Bruce #1
    I actually never close comments–with the exception of my first blog after I moved away, because I no longer have an easy way to get notifications for those comments. But, if a blogger would like to avoid getting comments from randos, they could probably close comments after 1-4 weeks–maybe longer for really popular blogs.

  3. says

    Personally, I never close comments on my blog posts. I dislike everything disposable—from disposable food packaging to disposable clothes to disposable writing. I see it as unfortunate that blogs in most websites are displayed in such a way that people stop finding and reading posts in a few days after publication. Basically, the result is disposable writing, texts that are no longer being read by new readers only a few days after publication. Of course, a blog post about, for example, the current presidential election won’t be relevant in a few weeks/months, but many blog posts should remain relevant for years. For example, if I write about art, my words should remain interesting for new readers for decades.

  4. says

    I’ve been a “rando” on other people’s items after I found an old post by chance (e.g. someone posted it in a group, it came up in a search, it was linked to in someone else’s item, etc.). Posting on months or years old items is just like posting on new: it’s only a problem if someone is caustic and foul mouthed.

    Unless you’re massively famous and read by tens of thousands or millions as soon as you write (e.g. John Pavlovitz), randos are inevitable.

  5. PaulBC says

    I have placed comments on interesting-looking blogs way long the discussion is over, much as I am doing right here. Occasionally years have gone by, and if the comments section is still open, I’m curious if I get a reply. It make my best effort to be relevant.

    Usually it is something that is discussed so rarely, I am lucky to find a discussion at all. E.g. I recall one on Moiré patterns from the kind of steel meshes one sometimes sees in public spaces (sheets with periodic patterns of holes). When you place them at a distance, you get the same periodicity magnified when you look through–or apparently so, I have not worked out the math). When I was lucky enough to find a post on this, I did not hesitate to comment, though years had gone by. Not sure if I got a response.

    Another time, I found a blog discussing a mutual acquaintance who had died years early. That’s not exactly “rando” since I had actually met the blogger before.

    I have a scratch app few people have seen that gets some comments now and then, generally very naive. I can’t say it’s something that really bothers me. Spammy facebook friend requests annoy me a lot more.

  6. says

    Yeah, that makes sense as a possible motivation for randos.

    Now you have me interested in what you learned about Moire patterns. (I once wrote about the subject as well.)

  7. PaulBC says

    @6 Interesting. When I try to find that blog using keywords: moire grid magnification (no quotes) I can’t find it, but I see many other references that look more relevant. It’s a wonder I didn’t find them at the time. Since I normally observe this on sheets with round holes, I wondered if it would work for irregular shapes: a cartoon cat’s head, or the map of Texas. Would these tiny holes show up as larger floating images? I think they probably would, though again I just haven’t gotten past trying to visualize it in my head, and I don’t have the tools to punch holes in sheet metal. The 1D case seems easiest to analyze. It also doesn’t illustrate “irregular shapes” very well, though I guess you could have regularly spaced clusters or irregularly space dots.

    I’ll take a look at your link too.

  8. says

    @PaulBC #7,
    This is well off-topic, but I’d expect the Moire pattern to look like the autocorrelation function of the shape, rather than the shape itself. Possibly rotated, depending on how the patterns are overlaid. I’m sure I could generate some examples (nothing too advanced, I would just use Adobe Illustrator). Well, it’s an idea for another post.

  9. says

    More on topic, it’s a common setting on many blogs to put first-time commenters in the moderation queue. And if the blogger is no longer looking at that queue, comments will just never show.

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