Friday, June 10, 2005

The comments debate

There’s been quite a lot of debate in the blogosphere lately about comments on blog posts, and whether bloggers have the right to disallow them. Of special interest is this link from Indi Cubed, where a number of eminent bloggers expound on this and related issues. The peg was Amit Varma’s decision to disable comments on India Uncut, and fittingly enough the Indi Cubed post itself now has 50 comments with a range of fascinating opinions on blogging dos and don’ts. Do try to read the whole thing.

Many of the bloggers I know have recently had problems with offensive comments on their sites – to the extent of black-marking anonymous commenters, or sometimes even disabling the facility altogether; even the ones with the most interactive blogs sometimes just throw their hands up and say, okay it’s getting a bit much now, I need to take a break for a while.

I don’t know whether this is a trend (like ‘Blogger Burnout’) or something that’s just been happening in my own circle of acquaintances. But here’s my take: I’m starting to feel the pressure of dealing with offensive/antagonistic comments myself.

I never expected this to happen; I figured being thick-skinned, or using humour to drown out unpleasant sounds, was enough to guard against anything. But I’m discovering it doesn’t always work that way. It doesn’t work, for instance, when I’ve just come in from an hour’s traveling in foul weather, already stressed about work and deadline pressure, with personal problems to boot, and then I go to my blog and find that someone has used ‘Comments’ to pillory me for something unrelated to the post. Or launched a vehement personal attack just because he doesn’t agree with my views on a topic. Or put up a long, aggressive comment based on a single sentence from my original post, extrapolated into an easy, black-and-white judgement I never intended to make. At such times, being mature or insouciant is much easier said than done. The temptation is to drop whatever else you have to do and post a long, defensive reply that answers the comment point by point, line by line. (Apart from everything else, you don’t want the commenter to think he’s scored a point because you’re not replying.) Besides causing stress and unpleasantness, this sort of thing takes up far too much of one’s time.

In one of the recent ‘comments-or-no-comments’ debates, Yazad Jal made the point that a nasty comment reflects badly on the commenter, not on the author of the blog. Fair enough, but it still isn’t pleasant to have an abusive comment sitting on your site for other visitors to look at, possibly for several hours, before you discover and delete it yourself.

So am I going to disable comments on my blog? No way, because I’m not ready yet to let go of the high that comes with seeing a new, non-pejorative comment. Also, so far, the positives have far outweighed the negatives. Conversation is, after all, one of the best things about blogging - and meaningful conversations in the blogosphere help build tolerance for other people’s points of view and for the idea that one’s own opinion isn’t the final word on any subject. It’s heartening the number of people there are in the blogosphere who are willing to give other people a hearing, concede a point here and there and, if the other person’s views are really irreconciliable with their own, politely agree to disagree - without allowing the debate to degenerate into petulance or personal attack.

In fact, I’ve even had some rewarding exchanges with visitors who began by posting comments that were more strident/personal than I thought appropriate, but who were gracious enough to accept this when it was pointed out to them. A few days ago, for instance, someone put up a long, angry rant about an article I had written for my newspaper. I blew up and posted an equally incensed reply defending my position and also pointing out that he could have sent me an email, since my ID was mentioned on the site. To be honest, I expected an abusive reply in turn; instead, the guy sent me a much more measured, private email, apologizing for the tone of the original post and then proceeding to make his points about my article (which I, having cooled off, was now able to regard with more objectivity). At times like this one enters the Atticus Finch Dimension and realises that people can be “really nice when you actually get to see them”.

Some people of course will continue to be not so nice and post insulting comments for the sake of it. I have nothing to say to them; the ‘delete’ button will do the talking. But a couple of requests to visitors who don’t mean to be insulting:

1) Please don’t use ‘Comments’ as a lazy shortcut to deliver personal messages. Email still exists, and my ID is on the Profile page.

2) If you don’t agree with something I’ve written, feel free to express your opinion backed by your reasoning, but unaccompanied by personal attacks of the sort “If you don’t like Lewis Carroll you are a single-digit-IQed, cultureless, burbling jabberwock.”

3) It’s flattering when someone is moved enough by one of my posts to send in a 500-word comment, even if it’s to rant against what I’ve written. But please, please expend some of that energy in reading the post through so you get the gist, rather than just picking up a stray sentence and responding to it kneejerkily. It’s a big waste of time when someone posts a long, critical comment and I have to reply “I agree with whatever you have to say.”

And as Amit would say, thanks for your patronage.

“For all sad words of pen, tongue or keyboard, the saddest are these: 0 comments.” - The Anonymous Blogger


  1. Sometimes there is not much you can do from personal attacks. Let me give you an example.

    1. I have several posts about a topic which is controversial.

    2. Several people disagree( two of them actually having very fine blogs themselves let's call them A and B). A and B then make some logical points in the comments section but also spice it up with some personal attacks.

    3. I reply to them, perhaps not totally diplomatically cause it is a topic I feel strongly about and hey, they started it.

    Upto here is fine. I like personal attacks cause then I can bite back....releases pent up aggression. (I feel even worse when noone comments on my blog....)

    Now is where it gets prickly.

    4. Another person ,C, who reads my blog and who does not agree with me then does NOT comment on my blog.

    5. Instead C goes to B's blog and compliments B for exposing people like me while poking fun at my moniker. Then B and C have a discussion in the comments section of B's blog.

    A total "Shikhandi" attack.

    Now what can I do here?


  2. The previous comment---tried to make it 500 words and am hoping you will reply to it saying "I agree with you."


  3. Tell me jabby. Some idiot spewed venom at me for my harmless book-meme post..It is at these times as greatbong says, I release my pent up energies by giving a public reply. Must say, the genuine comments far outweigh the bad ones..even with my pintoo si traffic.

    Mr. Bong, I have an answer. Disclose identity of A & B. After all, you are doing it on a third blog, eh :p Then, as Amit Varma says, fun will come.

    Jai, just to cleanse up whatever lingering doubts you might have, pls ..pls don't ever shut shop. Coz, when Jai dies, Sholay ends.

  4. Great Bong: "I agree with you - sort of."

    I get the point about releasing aggression by biting back - the occasional scrap is good for the soul. Problem is, I usually just don't have the time or energy to take on aggressors, then reply to their replies and so on.

    Regarding your A-B-C hypothesis, I don't actually have a problem with that. People can say what they want to about me on others' sites as long as they aren't desecrating mine.

    Suhail: the blog wouldn't exactly die if comments were to be disabled, but I get your point. Sholay is forever!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I'll tell you my little secret - I sometimes comment on some "popular" blogs just to attract some traffic from that site :). Nothing offensive tho'.. witty things score high.

    See this for example:
    has paid well :-D. But then I'm chota-mota blogger, craving badly for traffic. Branding your blog can be such a marketing exercise!

    Hey, don't forget to visit :-p

  7. yeah feedback is so very important, and anonymous comments are a bit more honest, i think. when my name isnt there, then it doesnt matter who scores the point anyway. i am not scoring a point or losing one. because this comment is independent of me... (do i make sense?)
    anyway i love that book - to kill a mocking bird.
    a personal story, which i usually never mention (i think it appears as an attention seeking syndrome if i do it in person) My closest friend of over a decade gifted me that book and 2 PG wodehouses when i was leaving the town for another. When i came back, about a year later, she had already died in an accident.

  8. Thanks for pointing us disillusioned bloggers back on track. do agree with the last quote from the anonymous blogger - zero comments can be unbecoming.

    Great writings...


  9. Jai,
    I can imagine what an incessant problem the insulting comments pose to imaginatively dynamic bloggers like you. I fully agree with you when you say that there is great temptation to post long defensive replies. Any self respecting blogger would natuarally get tempted.

    There was a certain time in my life when I used to logon to chat hoping to find people like you so that I could have the pleasure of a few minutes of intellectual stimulation in my increasingly boring life. Little did I know the amount of people there are in our society with brains the size of peanuts and minds as wealthy as a crow’s. Many people have free time and posting comments on a blog is easy. So why not stir things up a bit and relax and watch the ‘dishum dishum’ ? Great entertainment for seemingly purposeless lives.

    I endorse your later statement “Some people of course will continue to be not so nice ………. the ‘delete’ button will do the talking”. That’s the only option left for such imbeciles.

    We are with you so please keep the thought provoking blogging insights coming !

  10. Thanks Aman,
    it's very nice to get even one comment like that - see, that's why I don't want to do something extreme like disabling comments altogether.
    Regarding "thought-provoking insights": surely you flatter me there, but yes I will keep posting - it's an addiction now, can't help it!

  11. You might need to ask yourself WHY do ppl leave such negative comments? Maybe your attitude is just irritatiing or offensive in some way. Most popular bloggers usually have some ego problem, which is worsened when someone says something against them. They cannot bear to see their name tarnished, hence they delete the comment. But post an ass-kissing comment and see how they lap it up. It's the way of the world.

  12. --But post an ass-kissing comment and see how they lap it up.


    "We are with you so please keep the thought provoking blogging insights coming"


    "Thanks Aman,

    it's very nice to get even one comment like that - see, that's why I don't want to do something extreme like disabling comments altogether."

    Hahaha, see? Flattery will get ya everywhere!


    "An Imbecile"

    PS. Remember, anonymous comments are usually the most honest.

  13. Anonymouses (unless you're the same person): In light of your observation that "They cannot bear to see their name tarnished, hence they delete the comment", do check this post. But thanks for the comments - will definitely consider them for next year's list!

    Btw, let me point out here that my ego problem long predates my becoming a "popular blogger", so you've got the chronology wrong - it's probably the case that people with ego problems just naturally go on to become popular bloggers (as opposed to bloggers becoming popular and then developing an ego). So if you're fretting about not being a popular blogger yourself, maybe you should give those ego muscles a work-out.