Comment Terrorism – How to be a Good Blog Citizen

Anyone who runs a blog and modifies the comments which come through to you on a regular basis knows that sometimes, people behave badly online. Unfortunately, the lack of censorship online and the safety of having a screen between you and the world can sometimes lead to rash statements, comments made in poor taste or simply the joy of finding a platform where people can behave badly under the safe guise of anonymity.

Couple the ease with which people can make unpleasant comments with the huge prevalence of spam on our blogs, and it can make it difficult to wade through the feedback which you get on your site to find the truly relevant information. Sometimes as bloggers we need to take some time to look through our spam folders and unearth anything of value, as occasionally great remarks will be relegated to the trash pile unfairly.

As inhabitants of the blogosphere, we also have an obligation to know how and when to post up comments appropriately. Sometimes, the lure of comment terrorism can seem irresistible. Imagine if you have a client who has let you down financially, through, for example, not paying a bill.

The evil side of you understands that as a blogger with a strong following, you have the ideal platform for a naming and shaming exercise which could bring your assailant to their knees with a few choice posts. Add in the power of Twitter and Facebook for reinforcing your campaign, and you suddenly feel a rush of power, knowing that you control your site and all which goes on it, and have the capacity to damage someone’s reputation for good.

A nice feeling? Well, yes. Constructive? Not really! Campaigns like this may be a great way of highlighting the wrongdoings of others, but rarely bring much customer satisfaction when your readers get bombarded with off-target and venomous posts. Apart from looking unprofessional, it makes us seem like people who are not ethical or great to do business with, and a personal rant on the soapbox platform of your blog rarely yields positive results. The most likely scenario is that the subject of your comment terrorism gets off unscathed, while you end up looking like a small-minded bigot.

With all this in mind, here are some tips for playing nicely in the playground of blog commenting and tweets…

Keep it relevant

Never visit someone’s site to post comments which are not related to the post topic. This is the realm of spammers and psychos, and is best left to them as the experts. People aren’t interested in hearing about a great new software download site when they go online to look for tips on dog grooming. Stay on topic, and you’ll gain followers. Deviate, and you run the risk of being added to the trash along with the Viagra adverts.

Keep other people relevant, too!

Support readers on your blog to offer the same courtesy – when people go off-topic, bring them back through a few choice nudges in the right direction. This supports your blog to stay focused even when things have the potential to get heated.

Keep it polite

Don’t ever, ever bring personal or subjective views on to comment boards. The blogosphere is by and large a polite place, and an overly personal rant or attack on another person simply undermines your credibility. Would you want to buy services from someone who can’t rein in their opinions? No? Neither do your customers.

Keep it professional and product or service-related

If you have an issue to deal with professionally, take it off line rather than succumbing to the temptation to air your views through your blog. Your daily ups and downs are fascinating and engrossing for you, but don’t really hit the mark when your customers are deciding whether or not to make a positive purchasing decision.

Fixing View Comments in Disqus Plugin

I’ve made no secret of the fact I love the Disqus commenting system plugin. However each time I upgrade it I have to go through the same rigmarole of changing the plugin due to one specific problem. So this will explain how I fix the View Comments problem in the Disqus plugin for WordPress.

Update #1: This is fixed to show how to do it in WordPress 3.1 and the current version of Disqus 2.61

Update #2: Please see the comment below from Rutgur for the latest fix

The Problem

On my Blog page the comment count works fine, as you can see in this picture:

The 44 text is displaying perfectly on the Blog, category and archive pages. However on the single post page by default instead of the comment count it says View Comments and is cut off, as you can see below.

So to fix this (or at least change it to the way I prefer, as some people may prefer it saying View Comments), inside the wp-content/plugins/disqus-comment-system folder you need to edit the disqus.php file. For those not comfortable doing this, make a backup or you can always re-install a new copy of the plugin if things go wrong. On line 697 you will see this section of code:

function dsq_comments_text($comment_text) {
global $post;
 
if ( dsq_can_replace() ) {
return 'View Comments';
} else {
return $comment_text;
}
}

It’s the View Comments wording here that is displaying. Luckily we can easily change this to show the correct number of comments:

function dsq_comments_text($comment_text) {
global $post;
$number_of_comments = get_comments_number();
return $number_of_comments;
}

So once done, my single post page now looks correct, displaying the number of comments:

There, looks lovely again. This isn’t really a bug as it’s designed to say View Comments there, however in the default WordPress comment system this would show the number of comments here, so we are simply re-creating that functionality.

What Can Bloggers Learn From Amazon?

Amazon blows my mind. I buy almost everything through it, downloadable (DRM-free) music, ebooks on the Kindle, gifts and lots (and lots) of household items.

What really blew my mind was that when looking for batteries, there are nearly 1,000 reviews of a rechargeable AA battery. Yes, not nearly 100, but nearly 1,000 reviews! Of a battery. One you’ve probably never even heard of. These batteries to be precise.

Who would have thought that 10, 5 or even a couple of years ago that people, for no reward, would willing write a review of batteries for someone else’s website? Not me, probably not even Amazon.

My mind is boggled!

So what lessons can you learn from that? A few ideas:

  • People love to give their opinion.
  • Make it easy for people to leave their thoughts and comments (see my blog comment systems post).
  • Actively solicit opinions, and respond to them. Make them feel valued.
  • Being perceived as an expert is important to a lot of people. Check out the different battery tests people have written about in the battery reviews!
  • People can surprise you and do something you may have not thought they would.
  • Predicting the future based on what people do today is not the best idea.

What other lessons can be learned from this? Any ideas?

Blog Comment Tools For The Talkative Blogger

Blog comments are often described as the life-blood of a blog. After all, a discussion is half the point of having a blog and interacting with people is one of the most enjoyable parts (see my post on Why You Should Leave Blog Comments to read more about this part of commenting).

Blog Comment Systems

These systems essentially take over the whole commenting section of WordPress, replacing it with their own features and style. Often they can be a little tricky to get looking the way you want them but offer features and enhancements that you can’t get through the standard WordPress system.

Disqus

Disqus

Probably the best known and most widely used (including on this site) blog comments system, Disqus allows your readers to login to your site using Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, OpenID or just leave a comment the usual way. If they sign up for a Disqus account, the beauty is that they will be logged in to any website that uses Disqus. So it saves the pain of having to type your name, email and URL each time you comment on a new site, as your login details are carried over.

You can even set it to update the comments list in real-time, though I don’t have that feature at the moment.

I love how you can set it to auto-tweet out your comment with a link back, so people who are not part of the conversation can join in. It can also send to your Facebook updates, and you get email notifications when someone replies. I like how I can manage them like normal inside my WordPress dashboard, without going to another site (though it technically is loading an external site, it saves me going elsewhere). You can also customize it pretty easily if you know CSS.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. Some people have had problems with it loading correctly, often people can be confused by the new system, and I had problems of my own regarding email notifications when there was a system wide problem with Disqus.

Intense Debate

Intense Debate

Intense Debate is similar to Disqus but it is run by the folks who created WordPress. I used it for a short time but found that not many other sites used it. As it also allows you to be automatically logged in to other sites using the same system, like Disqus, I only found one other site I commented on that used Intense Debate. This massively negated the benefit of the system, and one Disqus has a big advantage with from the sheer number of sites using it.

It actually works very nicely and is easy-ish to customize and integrates very nicely with WordPress. But it won’t get more users until it has more users to make it worthwhile. If that makes sense.
[Just announced: Intense Debate users will be automatically logged in to comment on WordPress.com blogs. That’s one way to suddenly get logged into 10 million blogs…]

Echo

Echo

I actually had Echo (formerly called JS Kit Echo) installed for a while. At first I liked it and then I wrote a post about the ways I thought Echo could be improved. The system has many advantages, it pulls in blog comments and mentions from Twitter and Facebook (so do Disqus and Intense Debate), though it does this in real time without refreshing the page. You can include HTML, photos and even video in comments which is very nice, however it has some major flaws.

– Converting your old comments to the system is not quick, easy or perfect.
– You cannot manage them inside WordPress.
– You cannot edit them. Not even your own!
– You cannot separate trackbacks.
– You cannot have more than one level of threading.
– You cannot disable comments on an individual post or page.

These are hardly earth shattering features and most are ones already built into WordPress so it seems odd to take that functionality away. So it’s not recommended for the lack of basic features.

Overall
Disqus is my favorite choice and has some great improvements over the standard WordPress commenting system. However there are ways to “pimp” that system using plugins, that I’ll take a look at below.

Blog Comment Plugins

While the above are also plugins, they take over the whole commenting system of WordPress. If you’re using the in-built WordPress system then there are some plugins that will enhance your commentators experience. Akismet is the default anti-spam plugin that comes with WordPress, but below I’ll concentrate on functionality changes.

Action Comments

The first option in the image above is a great paid-for plugin called Action Comments (affiliate link so be wary of “upsell” offers on the page to try to bundle in other products you may not need). It’s pretty cheap and easy to install and set up. If the box is checked it will sign the person up for your email list (usually AWeber) and, if you have your list autoresponder set up, send them your free guide. This makes it easy for people to be added to your list, and provides a thank you to first time commentators.

Comment Luv

You may have seen the second item in the above image on many sites, where a Comment Luv check box and logo appears. It will automatically display the latest post from the URL you enter in the Website field of the comment form for other readers to see and potentially click on. There are even versions for Intense Debate and Echo (but not Disqus as far as I could tell).

Subscribe to Comments

One of the best plugins ever, Subscribe to Comments adds a checkbox underneath the comment box that allows the commentator to get emails when new comments are added (the bottom box on the above image). Bear in mind that if you’re logged in to your blog as the admin, you will not see this checkbox on your single post pages, more likely a message saying “You are the author of this entry. Manage Subscriptions”. Brilliant and indispensable.

Do Follow

If you want commentators to receive a backlink from your site as a thank you for leaving a comment, then the Sem DoFollow plugin will remove the default NoFollow attribute applied to links in comments. This may increase the number of messages you get, but also possibly increase the number of spam messages you get too as people comment only in order to gain a backlink.

AJAX Comments

If you feel your visitors will benefit from previewing their comment before submitting, then AJAX Comments Preview is a nice way of doing it without reloading the page. There is also AJAX Edit Comments, that goes even further, adding lots of inline editing options, but the latest version is paid-for.

Comment Timeout

One way of preventing spam on older posts is to close comments after a certain amount of time. Comment Timeout allows you to close them on old posts, but keep them open if they have had recently approved comments and are still popular with readers.

Extended Comment Options

If you feel you need more options for comments, such as editing settings for posts in bulk or automating closure of comments (similar to Comment Timeout), then try Extended Comment Options. It may not work on the latest version of WordPress. It did for me when testing but it’s not officially compatible yet.

Comment Rating

If you would like your readers to rate comments and help moderate them by flagging inappropriate messages, then Comment Rating allows you to allow them to do just that.

Simple CAPTCHA

Some people like to add a CAPTCHA verification form to the bottom of their comments form if they’re having trouble with spam that other plugins aren’t catching. The Simple CAPTCHA plugin easily adds one of these to your site, though beware, it could put people off from commenting. Again, it worked for me when testing but is not officially working for the latest WordPress version.

Blog Comment Hacks

Sometimes plugins aren’t enough, and you need to get dirty with the code to make the comments do what you would like. Don’t worry though, some of these are much easier than you would think!

Change Your Blog Comment Wording

Are you sick of seeing “0 Comments” and want to change it to be something more encouraging? Then follow my guide to changing default WordPress comment wording.

php code

Threaded Comments

Previously a plugin, now it is built in to WordPress (check it’s enabled under Settings > Discussion). Some themes still don’t support this, but you can easily add it with some know how. Kim has a great guide for how to add threaded comments to a theme here.

Change Author Comment Appearance

Often bloggers want to change how their own comments appear on their own blog so they stand out and can be noticed easily. This is now very simple in WordPress, just add a new CSS class and color for the author style. See this short guide on highlighting author comments.

Separate Comments and Trackbacks

I don’t like those nice trackbacks appearing as if they were a normal comment. To separate simply follow this guide to separating trackbacks from comments. Not for those who feel faint when viewing code, but it’s very easy.

Should I bother changing my blog comments?

It’s entirely up to you of course. Check our other people’s blogs, see what they do and see if you like it. Read Antti’s great post on how to get more blog comments and discussion, and then decide if you need to do something that makes it better and easier for you and your readers to get to know each other.

Have I missed any systems? Any other great blog plugins you know of? Are there any other useful hacks I haven’t mentioned?

Why You Should Leave Blog Comments

This was originally just going to be a list post of reasons to leave comments on other people’s blogs (and still will be), yet a couple of incidents has made it more timely. Recently I had a very interesting discussion about internet marketing over at my post about the Third Tribe.

[Sidenote: I encourage you to read that post if you have time, as I received a couple of comments (via email not in the Comments) about how I was unfairly dismissing the Third Tribe and how I should be more understanding. Perhaps I didn’t explain myself clearly or they hadn’t read my article fully. While there have been a lot of posts slamming the Third Tribe, mine was not one of them. I applaud the idea behind it, I just think the communication behind it and the implementation could have been much better – though no doubt that will improve in time and probably already has. The fact I’m mentioning it in the second post in a week proves that is has good traction, and at over 2,000 members at $27 per month (now at $47 per month) I’m sure members will receive plenty of great stuff for their money.]

What was also interesting besides the discussion itself was the issue around the comment system on my blog. I have DISQUS installed and it just so happened that they had issues on the morning of the post. This caused one commentator to get an approved message while I was fast asleep only to come to the site to see it missing and then think it was deleted. And then complain about it.

Engadget

It was all sorted out in the end, but then I saw Engadget, probably the biggest gadget blog on the web, has turned off comments for a while. Some large sites like YouTube and Digg can attract the most atrocious comments you’ve ever seen, the veil of anonymity (or illusion of it) seems to take some people to places I’d rather not go.

However after a long break from regular blog commenting I’ve returned to be a daily commentator and I’m loving it. There are plenty of posts out there to encourage more blog comments, how to use blog commenting for your own benefit, and lots of “rules” about what you should and should not do when leaving comments, but I wanted to look at the reasons for leaving comments on other sites.

  1. It’s fun! Honest, I think I had forgotten just how fun it is to leave a comment and start or join a discussion.
  2. Get to know people. I don’t just mean big bloggers in your niche (though that can happen), but everyone, new and established. In your niche and other niches
  3. Sharing your opinion helps you think through what your opinion is. I’ve often been halfway through a comment and realised I’m no longer actually sure I think that. Putting something down “on paper” has had a cognitive effect that I don’t think would have occurred otherwise.
  4. Get inspiration. Often a discussion brings inspiration for writing posts yourself. Also the fact you’re reading more widely in order to comment more means you’re exposed to more places to get ideas.
  5. Get links back to your site. If you need a straight business reason in addition to the above you can get links back to your site. Most sites have a NoFollow policy for the URLs you leave as your site on comments, this reduced the amount of spam comments out there (though not by much I don’t think), but there are plenty of DoFollow sites out there. Also, even if you don’t get a “backlink”, people who read your comment may come and visit your site anyway, I know I do.

Stop thinking of blog commenting as a chore

I don’t know where the myth came from that the best reason for commenting is to drive traffic to your site, but it’s not for me. #1 and #2 should be enough for people to leave comments, it’s not a painful task that is just another chore that is to be completed each day. At least it shouldn’t be.

Are there any more reasons for people to comment? Why should people take the time out of their day to go and make a comment on your site about something you’ve said? What are the reasons that you go to someone else’s site and make a comment? If it’s just for traffic then I think you’re missing out .