Thursday, November 10, 2005

All Things in Moderation

So Blogger now allows its users to screen comments. That marks the end of an era, I say.

I can understand where Blogger is going with this. Recent spates of blog spam have hit the service pretty hard, prompting the administrators to implement an image-recognition system for comments last August. While this security option appears to have been well-received among many users, it's failed to deter die-hard spammers and generalized kooks, both of whom will go as far as to post individual messages on peoples' posts.

Still, I feel that the latter situation is a lot more tolerable. I mean, how many die-hard spammers and generalized kooks are out there, anyway? We can take 'em.

I do, however, find Blogger's latest move more than a little strange, for reasons I'll explain below.

Comments are seen by the public as an indicator of the quality or popularity of a blog; They create certain assumptions, you see. The presence of a lot of comments, for example, may be seen by users as an indication of a large stable of readers. Blog comments can also express praise, sympathy or condemnation, and the frequency or strength of such statements can easily determine the public's all-around view of the author.

The problem with this is that blog comments do not necessarily form an accurate snapshot of the blog itself. I mean, it's altogether possible to have a quality blog that simply caters to the wrong crowd. More damnably, in a universe where anyone can strap on multiple Internet identities, it is all too easy to sway public opinion through misrepresentation. I know of at least one blog that uses different names to give itself a lot of positive comments, for example, and I sincerely doubt that it's the only one of its kind.

And now Blogger comes up with a feature that allows writers to determine which comments are fit for their blog, and which aren't. I can't help feeling that there's something wrong there.

What stops certain bloggers, for example, from filtering out any negative criticism against them in this way? We're at a point in time where weblogs have begun to establish a certain degree of credibility for themselves, after all. Blog writers may be seen as informal journalists, unpublished essayists or run-of-the-mill reviewers -- all positions that carry a certain amount of influence regardless of anything. If one of us screws up, then the public has a right to give the offending party a piece of their minds... but will we necessarily let them do so?

Our only conclusion, I believe, is that the responsibility of blog moderation must depend on the blog writer himself. My problem with this setup is that it won't be immediately obvious as to what kind of person we'd be dealing with.

Let's take your favorite blog -- the one that has a lot of positive and encouraging comments -- for example. How do you know that the writer hasn't merely cleaned out what he sees as "bad" criticism? How do you know that the writer's friends aren't just placing a bunch of compliments on the the site? How do you know that the writer will see the words in your very next comment as being worthwhile?

The short answer is that you don't. You can't, or at least, not with the new setup.

Yes, that might be a serious blow to credibility, folks.

I don't see the new moderation system as being entirely negative, mind you. A number of people out there are remarkably immature, after all: They'll stalk you, they'll constantly flame you, they'll make random obscene gestures, and they'll make rude and undeserved remarks. The ability to moderate comments would probably be a godsend for bloggers who have respondents like these.

What I worry about are those people who would take a beneficial tool and twist it to their own selfish needs. There are more of them about than we think, or even expect.

Personally, I won't be moderating anything at the moment. I prefer that the users who post comments on this blog have some degree of freedom in doing so. I like constructive comments, yes, and I trust that those are what people put to virtual paper here.

But you won't necessarily believe me, won't you?

For all you know, that next comment you write down here won't ever make it onscreen.


Anonymous said...

exactly! what's the point of allowing comments in the first place if they'll be filtered anyway? either disable the comments or let the whole world dump its trash on your blogstep.

for example: one of the few things that initially made news blogs appear more credible than other online news sources was their readers' ability to make comments. shure, i can e-mail fox news the ten thousand dumbass details they forgot to cover, but i really can't be sure that they'll even air it. with unmoderated blogs, i can post those details for other people to see, criticize, and debate upon. for other readers, the value of my comments will lie more or less on their merit, not on how good they are for pr bs.

from friend to another friend: "you moderate your comments? nag-blog ka pa!"

Sean said...

Anonymous: (Sighs) For every blogger out there who honestly wants to see what people have to say, there's a blogger who finds the sound of applause more attractive than anything else.

Clair said...

It is tough, isn't it?

Sean, I have been using other blogging software and services and have been used to seeing the option to moderate comments. I moderate comments on one of my blogs. Why? Because I have been getting spam and I hate that. The only reason for me to delete those comments is because they're just spamming me again and again.

But it's true that there is a danger of sorts with the moderation of comments. For all we know some people use it to their advantage. In any case, I suppose that what we can do is be wiser in looking at things :) If you have a favorite blogger who moderates the comments on his/her blog - you'd actually not really know that, I guess. But you could also see from what other people have written about that person in their blogs - the good and the bad.

Sean said...

Clair: Yes, I'll agree that a system that moderates comments is extremely useful when it comes to getting rid of spam. Blogger, however, already has an anti-spam mechanism that appears to be extremely effective for its users. I fear, then, that Blogger's new comment moderation system is so redundant that some people may begin to twist it to their own ends.

Arashi-KIshu said...

Rome is burning!

mr is wreaking havoc on the cosplay community!

He's also found my blog again as well! waaah!!!! Can't change the url anymore!

Sean said...

Arashi-Kishu: I'm starting to think that that's the price of exposure -- you can't choose your audience.

Personally, as long as they don't start stepping out of line, you should be okay. And even if they do, then you can always blog about it.

I don't understand what all this has to do with cosplaying, though...

banzai cat said...

Well, my dictum is that they're always be people who are outright bastards, whether they be spammers or just stalkers, in life. Can't escape that fact. Which is why God gave us a sense of humor, I believe. ;)

Sean said...

Banzai Cat: I think that the spammer/stalker issue might be more sensitive than people give it credit for, actually. Do these people actively seek to be spammers or stalkers, for one? Do these people have any idea as to what they're doing? If so, why don't they stop doing it?

Spammers, I think, will probably find it difficult to justify their practice. Most spammers know very well that they're inconveniencing a lot of people, and they really don't care about that. But it's still possible to have a person who gets branded a "spammer" because he or she naively posts ads on a mailing list or message board thinking that no harm will come because of it.

Stalkers are even harder to pigeonhole. If I doggedly pursue another person for a potentially romantic relationship, at what point do I know that I'm stalking him or her? At what point will people think that I'm stalking him or her? And how do I know where I'm supposed to stop, for that matter? The rules aren't necessarily clear on this one, I think.

Arashi-KIshu said...

Read this~

Sean said...

Arashi-Kishu: Geez, I'm a month late in reading what's inside the link. Sorry about that.

I find it strange that there are some people who would do this sort of thing. It makes me wonder why, really. Stuff like that is, I suppose, waaay out of line.