I’m a long-time lurker. I prefer to sit back and skim through comment sections, passively absorbing, and over the years I’ve seen a fair number. After a while, you start to get a feel for their dynamics. Typically, a blog post plays out something like this:
- Blog author posts something.
- Long-time commenters pop by with their two cents.
- Their chatter starts to wander off topic.
- Someone pops by with a strong opinion that’s vaguely off-topic.
- This kicks up an argument, which gets ugly and spirals away from what the original post discussed.
There are exceptions, of course; endless threads have no topic to wander off of, and if the thread is obscure and the topic well-defined the comments can stay topical indefinitely. The comment community plays a large role in this, too. A small band of thoughtful regulars are a blogger’s dream, while a large number of over-opinionated randos can (and often do) ruin any thread. If acrimony starts to trump argument, even a small community can turn dysfunctional.
It doesn’t help that our tools are few, blunt and prone to breaking. Voting systems can be gamed, while banning users or keywords is an all-or-nothing affair that barely works. Allowing comments for a limited window sounds great, but it doesn’t allow the regulars to build up much of a conversation. Banning all comments kills off the local community.
Aaaaand that’s about the extent of it. Maybe someday I’ll create a browser plugin that provides a personal ranking system, which automatically mutes or even hides users based on how you’ve rated their prior comments, but that’s low in my queue.
How am I going to encourage that small, thoughtful community to form? Here’s my current plan:
- Regular blog posts don’t allow comments, unless justified by the contents. This prevents comment threads from spiraling away.
- The “Community” post is an endless thread. Only one of them is active at a time.
- To provide a little structure, links to the regular blog posts will get dropped into the Community post as they go public. These can be ignored.
- The Community post will be linked somewhere along the side menu, but it won’t otherwise be advertised. This should keep the randos to a minimum, but without throwing out regulars too.
- The top of the Community post will outline the moderation rules in play. Those rules stay consistent over the lifetime of the Community post. If I want a significant change, the current Community post is locked and a new one is created. The new will link to the old, and vice-versa.
The first Community post is the one you’re reading right now.
The initial mod rules are fairly ill-defined and flexible, to keep the rules lawyers at bay. My guiding principle is to maximize information; it takes time and energy to read a comment, so you should try to convey as much as possible, as clearly as possible, in the least space. Critiques beat opinions, evidence wins over assertion. Strict enforcement of that doesn’t work with endless threads, but it’s still the ideal you should keep in the back of your mind.
The corollary is another matter, though: quit it with the oppressive language. If you lack the creativity to think up an alternative to “crazy,” you shouldn’t be posting here. Violence in any form is a no-no, and both stalking and harassment are low-grade forms of violence.
Speaking of which, I’d like to swipe an idea from football. They have a carding system to handle misconduct, which I think works in this context too. If you’re handed a yellow card, that’s a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. A red card gets you banned from this thread, though not the entire blog. A black card is a permanent ban.
Got it? Then game on!