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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Blogging: the protocols of posting comments

A flurry of comments from a reader on a topic that obviously hit a nerve, comments that I don't particularly want to post, has got me thinking about two things: the protocols of posting comments, and what Cool Travel Guide is about for me. But first, the protocols of posting. Let me describe the scenario... a reader writes a comment in response to one of my posts, and it's a very detailed comment, which I usually love. I don't agree with what the person has written, but that's fine, because they're the kinds of comments that provoke thought, right? So I respond. And because the comments have got me thinking more about that topic, and another related topic which I blog about a lot, I write a new post. The reader comments again, but this time there's a flurry of lengthy comments from the person to several posts. Now normally I love to receive a bunch of comments on different posts - don't we all? A flurry of posts often come from new readers who've just discovered the blog and are excited by what they read, or readers who haven't checked in for a while and are catching up, and it's wonderful. I do the same, do you? But in this case the posts are negative and somewhat antagonistic. They're on the same subject as the first post, and even repeat some of the same things. Add to that, a couple of comments are insulting to. So, here's where the dilemma lies... if I don't post them, is that an act of censorship? Now I may be a professional travel writer, but this is not a professional product. This is my personal space. I began Cool Travel Guide to write about things I can't write about in the content I get paid to write. It's a place for me to express myself and to engage in dialogue with like-minded people who love travel as much as I do. Which got me thinking about a 'real life' scenario. If I was at a party chatting with a group of people about this topic, and someone joined the conversation... that person expressed their difference of opinion and at first there was some spirited debate which was initially engaging. But then the person continued to make their point, imposing their opinions on others, taking the topic to a place that we really weren't interested in going. It was no longer a dialogue, no longer an exchange of ideas. The person was even a little obnoxious, and somewhat insulting. So it got to the point where I, for one, really couldn't be bothered engaging anymore... what would I do? Well, I'd probably wink at my friends and walk away, hoping my friends would follow and we could continue our conversation in another room. So that's what I decided to do with these posts. Walk away from them. What would you do?


previously.bitten said...

it's your blog and you have the right to post or censor whatever comments you feel you need to.

you make a good point about the party situation. personally i don't censor anything - but that's me. mind you i have never found myself in a situation where i need to.

press on, press on. a magazine editor would cut certain things - no need for you not to.

@pinkzibra said...

Interesting topic.

Bloggers & readers don't have to agree, which makes it all the more interesting to follow and learn something new along the way.

Should one allow negative comments to be posted? Definately. Bloggers must eat the ego...for the sake of discussion, suck in the good and the bad!

There is nothing more uninspiring than reading a one sided conversation, which is why I love reading blogs with all sorts of comments.

But sometimes there's the ocassional nutjob out there posting offensive, abnoxtious drool. Sure, let them get it off their chest once, twice....

But do readers want a constant stream of verbal diahrrea?? Probably not.

Given the scenario, I would do the same....walk away. Sometimes, silence is the best response.

Stuart said...

Good post -- what I think is interesting is that the type of comment you're referring to isn't spam (which simply gets deleted imo) but something more complex.

I had a very similar problem on Travelfish, where we had (yes, past tense now!) a member who had lots of great information to share, but he/she could also be extremely aggressive/rude towards other posters. When they found a post they disagreed with, not only would they forcefully disagree, but they'd also attack the original poster.

Over time, other members grew weary of the tone and started to complain to me asking "why are you letting this character poison the forum?". In the end I emailed the person directly and gave them the a warning -- if you don't listen to me, at least listen to your Mum -- if you've nothing good to say, say nothing! They never responded and the next day attacked another poster. Following that, I banned them. Yes, the forum lost a member who had considerable useful input to share, but being civil counts for a lot in my book.

It's not a censorship issue, not at all -- the world could do with a lot less vitriol and a lot more civility!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi previously.bitten

Thanks for your feedback.

You know, I've only found myself in one other situation before where I felt I needed to censor a comment... when a reader wanted to have a long discussion about the Palestinian-Israeli 'problem', something I certainly care about, but something I'm not particularly interested in getting into on this blog, a travel blog. If the discussion was going to focus on the travel experience there, or how travel has been impacted by recent events, or the joint Israeli-Palestinian grass roots tourism initiatives being developed, sure. But I'm not interested in discussing the history and root causes.

I guess that's what I was keen to find out what others did, and why I kind of like the party analogy.

Your magazine analogy is good too. Not every 'letter to the editor' gets printed, does it?


Lara Dunston said...

Hi PinkZibra

I totally agree with you that bloggers & readers don't always have to agree - and those 'dialogues' can be really thought-provoking, for sure. But I think in this situation I felt like we didn't agree and we each stated our opinions, but to then post another similar comment from the reader, and for me to post another similar response would just be a drag... it would be one of those 'we're going to have to agree to disagree' and I didn't see any point...

But to add to that, there was a tone, and even a direct criticism, that I found insulting... it was kind of like someone coming over to a dinner you've hosted, and not only criticizing your cooking, but even offering an analysis of why they thought it was bad...

Another 'real life' analogy... if someone did that at my home, I'd probably walk around to their side of the table and remove the plate from in front of them.

I guess it's not something that I'd do at somebody's place - or space.

Lara Dunston said...

Oh hi Stuart

Great story! I think you handled that well.

But I guess the difference is you have a public community forum, right?

And there are established protocols and codes of conduct that are pretty clear on forums.

What I'm wondering is if we have similar blogging protocols? I've been blogging for a while now, and it's something I've never really thought (or had to think) about before.

And I guess a difference is that a blog might be public, but it's not a professional space - well, mine isn't anyway - I'm not selling a service or guides as you are. Interesting, isn't it?

Thanks for sharing your story!

Grace @ Sandier Pastures said...

Sometimes I am tempted to censor comments in my blog too. Comments that go, "all at the expense of the oppressed laborers", in response to a post of any new building or development in Dubai that I blog about. I actually received a comment saying, "I don't understand why you can even live through that oppression around you!" if it's my fault if the laborers indeed are used, underpaid or oppressed.

We've got to do what we feel right with our own blogs. If you feel there's no need for the comment to show up, hit the delete button. Blog wars aren't nice and too exhausting in my opinion! Better spend your precious energy to those guide books you are already very busy with. :-)

Nevertheless, I wish harsh commenters would just shut up. Yours is a travel blog, never or rarely political!

Sandy O'Sullivan said...

Lara, this is a heaps tricky one. I think anyone who insults you should really bugger off... I think they have to realise that politeness is a pretty basic skill to have when you're communicating... and it's not the same as arguing a point. You know from teaching that there are plenty of students who can't see the difference, but it doesn't mean that it should be tolerated. And I think that there is never a good excuse for it. I assume it's from someone who has the need to be right, rather than the need to have a think about something.

Your blog is so thought-provoking, that I suspect that having a lot of negative comments up and are a bit mean spirited, are going to stop folks from posting and reposting. Mind you, I'm inclined to go back through your posts now and work out who the bugger is! I think they have to realise that this might be personal, but its still a service that you're providing to us and that basic etiquette (not bloody netiquette, just etiquette) is the most worthwhile way of getting their point across... even if they are inclined to promote it. Actually PinkZibra is right, it IS like someone coming over and telling you how to cook better, and folks like that just have poor social skills, and the only way that they improve them is to be told so. I honestly don't think you have to put up any disclaimers or any other things, you already do that, you say that not everything will be approved automatically, and I mean if I wrote something and it was dull or I said the same thing as someone else, I dunno if I would want you to post it, it is after all comments that are for the benefit of other readers or for an opportunity to grow the moment of discussion, its not more than that.

Monna said...

A friend who has been blogging for many years thinks of his blog as his living room... a virtual extension of his home space. He encourages lively debate and certainly does not shy away from controversy but when a person acts in a way that would be unacceptable in his living room, he says so... and would not post the offending comment. I believe that we must make a distinction between a reader and a client.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Sandy

Well, thanks for your insightful comments once again - and the compliments. Much appreciated. Really.

I do like both the party/dinner, and Monna's friends living room analogies...

I don't want you to think I'm a total wimp and can't take criticism - because anyhow most of the criticism was about a place, rather than me personally, although of course there was a bit of that - but I think it was more the fact that it was becoming ho-hum after all, and I couldn't see the point of the attack. If I was a host of a dinner party, and this person was going on like they were, I probably would have suggested we all adjourn for cigars (not that I smoke) or monopoly or something.

But you won't be able to guess who it was because I didn't put the offending posts up! ;)

Hi Monna

Yes, I love your friend's analogy, too. I find it helpful to look at it that way. Thanks!

Crafty Listening said...

You have a right to exclude, censor or otherwise edit!
If I am in a forum of some sort, and someone is being gratuitously obnoxious (and not being amusing or entertaining), I simply ignore their posts.
A good argument is fine, but if it descends into a petty squabble or a rambling rant, I recall what a friend once said to me, explaining his disinclination to engage with people who were irrational and over emotive; 'no communication with madness' - that thought has many times stopped me from pursuing a rabbit down a hole.

Terence said... IS like someone coming over and telling you how to cook better...
Hey Sandy, I resent, errr, resemble that statement!

ClearlyEnlight, said...

It is your blog you can censor anything you want.

One thing to keep in mind that among travelers there is a lot of Ego. A traveler who spends a week in a country does not know much of the culture, nor the depths of the country. It is easy to only see what a tourist will see, even if the person has been traveling long term.

Although, that traveler thinks they do know, and many think their travel style is better, although because of personal uniqueness everyone will travel differently.

julie said...

I think the answer to your question depends upon the purpose of your blog. On my blog, for example, I want to inform, inspire, and advance conversation about topics that are important to me. If comments--and I do receive them occasionally--are hostile, tangential, or aren't going to contribute to the conversation, then I have no problem deleting them.

missexpatria said...

I censor less on my Miss Expatria blog, because I have lots of regular readers who would defend me or an idea and/or engage in lively conversation. But on my Unfortunate Hotels blog, because I just started it and want to keep the feedback positive, I censor any comments that are mean. They're both mine, and private fun for me, so I'm the queen of the castle! But for posts I write professionally on other blogs, I don't censor.

Is that weird?

Lara Dunston said...

Hi all - thanks for the helpful advice!

@Crafty Listening - I like your friend's advice!

@Clearly Enlight - oh, the Ego is interesting... something I hadn't rely thought about, but would explain the persistent responses of the person.

@Julie - well, that's what I've done, so I'm glad I'm not the only one.

@Miss Expatria - no, that's not weird at all. Makes perfect sense.

Fortunately I haven't had any comments that have been mean, so this hasn't come up before - and in this case aside from the one insulting remark, they're more irritating than mean anyway...

Another analogy I was thinking about was when you have an unpleasant phone conversation with someone - it's not going anywhere and you really just want to agree to disagree - so you hang up. But then the person keeps ringing back and leaving more messages again... one, two, three... ugh! What do you do? Pull out the plug?

Craig in Cape Town said...

I am new around these parts :) But I have been running a few blogs and other websites for a while now, if someone makes a rude comment on my site/blog they don't get a warning - instantly rejected, harsh? Probably, but those are rules :)

ClearlyEnlight, said...

I pull the plug, I wont deal with immaturity.

AngelaCorrias said...

Hi Lara,
of course, comments are important for both bloggers and readers, but if they are insulting they don't go anywhere and they are just spam.

It's perfectly normal that people don't have to agree in everything but human courtesy is not that hard to practice.

I think I'd have done the same.


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Craig & ClearlyEnlight - welcome! And thanks for the feedback! Good advice.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Grace

(Sorry, not sure how I missed you up there, my comments are going up in an odd order - time zones perhaps?)

Believe me, I hear you!

One of the several comments I objected to from the particular person I mentioned in my post was exactly along those lines: why wasn't I sympathetic to the Australians in jail in Dubai, etc, and the person repeated the same kind of questions over and over again... of course I don't like seeing anyone thrown in jail without charge, ridiculous question to ask...

However, that's not what my blog is about, it's a travel blog, and a focused travel blog, and one of the things I reflect upon is the travel media and media and how they cover places...

I'm simply not interested in getting into the legalities or ethical issues and starting those kinds of discussions on this blog. Rather I'm interested in how the media covered it.

Don't worry, I totally empathize with you! Just keep doing what you're doing - I want to see more photos of the Burj! ;)

Hi Angela

You make a good point that comments are important for readers as well as the blogger - to encourage lively discussion and encourage people to be open - I think they do set a tone. And if the tone they're setting is one you don't want on your blog (I'm thinking of some of the forums when people can be quite snarky and antagonist toward each other) then, yeah, I think it's even more important to not post those. Although, trust me, I don't want to make a habit of that at all.

Jessie V said...

walk away. i am for peace, and peace begins within myself. so, for me to remain a happy person who loves to talk with others, i have to draw my own boundaries. i try to get rid of everyone that is toxic to me. life is too short!

jen laceda said...

Hi Lara,
I didn't know how else to contact you except through your blog, but I just wanted to let you know that I was offered a press trip by the PR company handling Israel's Ministry of Tourism. I leave March 8. To me, this is a great opportunity to blog about travel through Israel. Do you have any tips for me?

Mark H said...

On my blog, I publish all comments uneditted except for obvious spam (rare) and purely offensive and obscene rants. I don't think my readers should be subject to such remarks and I don't think it adds to the topic. Most importantly I think it is reasonable to edit out such commentary. This is much different to those who disagree. Like most commentators above, I think you have handled it well.

Lara Dunston said...

@JessieV - I couldn't agree more. Life is way too short.

@Jen - sorry, I published this by mistake, hadn't finished my first coffee this morning. I'll email you. You should be able to email me care of the blog (top right somewhere?) but I'll investigate that. Others email from here... I'll check it out.
And if you're reading this, I'm going to email you.

@Mark - thanks for the insight into what you do. This has all been really helpful.

I think I am going to set some parametres though. I read on someone's blog the other day, a message to the effect: "This is for my family and friends (etc etc etc) and if you don't like the content, go elsewhere essentially."

Of course I want my blog to reach more than just family and friends. (Actually apart from one uncle I don't even think my family and friends read it!) But there are certain topics I'm not interested in discussing here. I was criticized for not being more empathetic to the dodgy property guys in jail in Dubai, yet while I care generally I'm not interested in expressing that on this blog, I'm more interested in analyzing how the media covered it here. So I might do that, I think.

Thank you all for your really helpful advice on this much - it's been much appreciated.

Postcards and Coasters said...

I was reading a blog where a girl in her 20's was wanting feedback on where her and her husband should go on vacation with some free airline tickets.

She received a very negative comment about how bad the economy was and he went on to recommend that she stay home.

I could tell by this girls response that she was bugged but also gave him credit for making a good point.

Seriously! The airfare was free... how much could it cost?

Your always going to find negative people and when they start to bring you down or make you question why you blog then I think it might be time to ignore or censor.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Postcards and Coasters - that's unbelievable, but yes it is an interesting topic, isn't it?

I'd like to explore it a bit more in the future when I can distance myself from this particular situation and look at it with fresh eyes. I just noticed today on Technorati that this guy who accused me of censoring his comments apparently posted about the incident on his blog... amusingly he wrote how he didn't know how it is possible to impose his opinion on someone else, let alone in the comments of another person’s blog...

Um, by writing one aggressive email after another on 3 different topics on 3 different posts, that's how! I remember watching them come into my In Box that night, after I'd already uploaded one... as I saw each one come in, I thought, hang on a minute... this guy is like some kind of stalker - or heckler!

Like the example you give here, this same guy ranted in one post about me not fully addressing the facts surrounding the case of real estate developers being held in jail in Dubai, accusing me of simply towing the Dubai government line, while he claimed he was a big lover of freedom and he didn’t like that. Well, frankly, who cares what he likes. I'm not Amnesty International. That was not the point of my post.

Like the girl who just wanted travel tips, not a discussion about the world's economic problems, I'm a writer who was commenting on the media's coverage of the case, not commenting on the legalities of the case itself.

It's interesting isn't it? It has certainly led me to think about this blog and what its parameters are, and I might post on that soon.

Thanks so much for commenting again!

Europe Travel Tourism Guide said...

Good Points!!

Anonymous said...

Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?

Lara Dunston said...

Thanks for the offer to moderate my forum, but I don't have a forum, nor do I have the time to run one. There are some great forums around on other sites, so I don't think there's a need for another.

Thanks anyway!