Dealing with confused yet enthusiastic commenters
August 23, 2010 11:32 PM   Subscribe

How do bloggers or community websites deal with comments from new users which are on-topic for the site but off-topic for the current conversation? It happens regularly on my blog. Deletion seems harsh: if the person is interested in the subject it seems like a missed opportunity to get a new member and teach them how to use the internet appropriately. What are some alternatives?

As one example, I recently posted on my blog about the intersection between the Australian election and the subject of my blog. I received a long, passionate (yet surprisingly correctly-spelled) comment with a personal story that is related to my general subject, but not at all to the actual post which was about politics.

I'm guessing this person is new to the topic and had an interesting experience and wanted to talk about it right away. So they typed 'topic' into Google, my site came up early in the search results, and they just typed into the first comment field they could find.

I don't want to delete it, because it's not spam or trolling. But if I approve it, it will kill off any on-topic conversation in the comments among my regular readers. Can I approve it then follow up with something that indicates I'm interested in what they've got to say, but that when it comes to the internet, they're doing it wrong?
posted by harriet vane to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there another recent post where the comment would be a better fit? Could you move it there? Could you quote the comment in a post of your own for people to react to?
posted by Bruce H. at 11:56 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I thought I'd posted an AskMe about this but maybe I was wrong. Is this what you're talking about? For an example, I posted on my blog something about Burger King and had a lady comment on my blog chewing me out for bad service at "my" restaurant. I think that's just sheer stupidity and there's nothing you can do about it. It happened to me many times on many different topics, and when I tried to respond that I didn't work for Burger King, I never got a reply from anyone.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:03 AM on August 24, 2010

Maybe delete the comment, but email the commenter with a big "welcome you're so wonderful" kind of email so they'll come back?
posted by goblinbox at 12:09 AM on August 24, 2010

You could make a sort of general "Thoughts from Readers" post, and move the reasonable off-topic ones there. (I'd delete the crank posts, and ones like IndigoRain describes; sometimes people just do a search and leave a grindy comment in whatever comment-enabled sites come up.)
posted by taz at 12:38 AM on August 24, 2010

I think these kind of drive-by comments are just part of life online. And from what I've witnessed, that sort of thing doesn't really derail conversations. I'd post a friendly "Welcome to the site" response. Maybe you'll turn a drive-by into a regular.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:41 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's not really an axe-grindy post, like the ones IndigoRain mentions - I just delete those. These ones seem to be quite reasonable comments from people who lack internet literacy but are keen to join in. Sort of a "My First Comment" situation, I suppose.

I like the idea of moving stuff like this to a particular section and making something nice out of it if possible.

I use Wordpress - is it possible to move a comment to a different post or would I have to copy/paste manually? It hadn't occured to me before, but some of the comments could definitely find more appropriate homes on older posts.
posted by harriet vane at 1:36 AM on August 24, 2010

I've seen plenty of spam that seemed to trigger off keywords of the post. Especially current events. For example, I had a post about the app store on the iPhone, and I get comments with a story about the antenna issue. And with an url attached to it that is to a spammer owned domain.

Some of these comments are pretty lengthy as well - all seems to be targeted towards you not deleting the post. In one case a while ago I've even kept the post, but deleted the user info and link. Since then I've become less tolerant, I'm getting 30 to 40 spam attempts for every legit comment. So check the URL and user info attached to that comment, you may discover you're mistaken about it not being spam...
posted by DreamerFi at 4:24 AM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, I definitely get those spammy ones too. Usually they're properly written but vague, they could apply to nearly any topic. And the urls are always spamtastic. Or they seem ok on the surface but it's obvious that they haven't noticed the location of the blog (which has a reference to Australia in it's title and logo, it ain't subtle). I usually delete those on the basis that either they're spam or from someone too stupid to know/care what country I'm in.

But the ones I'm concerned about here often don't have a url at all. I really do think they're coming from first-time commenters. I get plenty of spam and I'm pretty trigger-happy on the delete button, but these seem different to me.
posted by harriet vane at 5:03 AM on August 24, 2010

Random comments from new contributors don't tend to derail existing conversations. It's the same as when you're at a cocktail party in a circle of people. Someone randomly sticks their head in, listens for a second, says something, then leaves. The circle goes, 'um, yeah, who was that guy?' and then continues on.

Consider responding to the thread yourself with a reminder of - and link to - your rules for commenting. One warning is fair.
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:32 AM on August 24, 2010

Consider responding to the thread yourself with a reminder of - and link to - your rules for commenting. One warning is fair.

That's too officious, in my view. If my "confused-yet-enthusiastic" comment elicited this response I doubt I'd ever return to that blog.

...And perhaps that would be A-OK? I think the underlying question here is what does OP value most: Growing her readership, or maintaining a precise and uniform atmosphere.

I also agree with the others above that newbie comments are unlikely to derail a discussion among interested participants, who I'm assuming have the web-savvy to expect and ignore newbie noise.
posted by applemeat at 7:21 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get this sometimes on one of my blogs. It's a blog that's generally about music and science, but the individual posts are usually interviews with one particular person, and it may attract comments that are along the lines of "you should interview so and so". In those cases I find it's a bit harsh to the wonderful person I just featured in that post, to be suggesting someone else, so I don't always approve them, but may get back to the commenter in person.

On my other blogs, I guess it happens too, but I just don't care as much about the off-topicness and will just leave it.

It's your blog, you decide =)
posted by easternblot at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2010

I just let it stand. If it derails the conversation, then I take it as a sign that everyone's more interested in the derail than in the original topic. Which, fair enough. Maybe it means I need to tighten up my writing, or investigate the derail more (give the people what they want).

The thing you mention happens all the time in real life. Now that you're attuned to it, watch for all the times when someone says "A, B, C" and someone else says "Oh, that reminds me of D, and let me tell you a long rambling unrelated anecdote."

The problem, frankly, is that people just don't pay attention. Or they only pay attention until they find an excuse to start talking about themselves. (I don't think there's anything to be done about that, sadly.)
posted by ErikaB at 11:35 AM on August 24, 2010

The one thing I have learned is that every time I have wanted to delete a comment for any reason, even as benign as "you're seriously off topic," and I have left the comment instead, I will at some point later wish I had just deleted the comment the first time. Either it sets a bad precedent - people thinking they can use your comments section as their personal blog - or it makes the regulars stop commenting, or it draws other crazies who follow up with yet more off track stuff.

While commenters like to comment, regular commenters appreciate and value a well-maintained comments section. Even though they might all start railing about freedom of speech - remember that a blog that you spend money and time to maintain is not their personal soapbox, and you can delete anything, at all, for any reason whatsoever.

I've sometimes closed a post to comments and started another one JUST for comments if people seem particularly interested in the derail. That seems to make people happy. But I still delete stuff all the time.
posted by micawber at 6:26 PM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: I tried the "welcome" method on this person, to see how it went. They've engaged me in conversation but appear to be oblivious to the off-topicness. I might be too subtle. But as people here have pointed out, it doesn't seem to have deterred the regulars, who are just talking around the newbie.

This has been quite interesting to consider. I'd love to hear more about what people do on their own blogs for this stuff, if you think you've got a successful tactic (or non-tactic, in the case of just letting the comments through).
posted by harriet vane at 1:30 AM on August 25, 2010

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