Quality Comments

I love reading the comments on each article I post. If you leave one, you’re near guaranteed I’ll reply to you directly and keep the conversation going.

The trouble is that after a day or two of an article being live, the spammers descend and the lovely, informative comment thread descends into “great article, agree with your points, visit my site”. It’s just not cool…

We’re working on a full redesign to Pro Blog Design, and one of the things I’m most interested in is this comments issue. How can I make sure the comment threads stay in that awesome-to-read stage from the first few days when an article is written?

In this post, I want to share some ideas, along with a quick look at their pros/cons, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think would work best? Would it put you off commenting?

Remove DoFollow

I Follow LogoDoFollow means that after your 3rd comment here, the rel=”nofollow” will be removed from all of your comments, allowing Google to follow the links back to your site (Back in the day, showing off a badge like the one on the right designed by Randa was quite a source of pride for bloggers!)

Originally, I set this up as a way of saying thank you for commenting. Now though, it just attracts a lot of spam (Mostly with names like “Web Design Boston”). And it’s not just automated spam. The fact that people actively hunt down DoFollow blogs shows that they aren’t interested in the comment, just in the number of them they can leave.

I’m not saying that a lot of legit commenters don’t appreciate DoFollow, just that this seems to do more harm than good now.

Update (19/3/11): Steven Snell left a great comment about why removing this plugin may be too late. The damage is done by having it in the first place. Check it out.

Asking for Cooler Comments

This is an approach I’ve seen taken on some larger blogs like Tim Ferriss’. If you check out his comment form, you see this:

It’s simple, and in no way guaranteed, but it probably works. At the very least, when I see that as a commenter, it’s good to know that the blogger is at least trying to tackle the problem.

The downside is of course the added clutter on the page. Though if it’s useful, then maybe it isn’t clutter?

(Random aside: Tim’s interviews with people who started up their own profitable online “muses”, as he calls them, are some of the best reads you’ll find.)

CAPTCHAs

reCaptchaCAPTCHAs are those rather annoying scripts that ask you to enter the words in a scrambled image.

Akismet does well against the majority of automated spam, but a CAPTCHA may help prevent the rest of it. That said, when implementing Google’s own reCaptcha on a forum lately, it took less than 30 minutes for the first spammer to sign up anyway.

The real downside for me is the annoyance to valid users though. Sticking with my farming line; I don’t want to throw away the wheat as well as the chaff.

Prevent Certain Words in Names

Yikes!The worst offenders (The ones who leave a dozen useless comments all over the site) usually use a name made up of keywords. You know the type; ‘mortgage loan’, ‘web design texas’, ‘pharmacy supplies’ etc.

Yesterday, someone actually left messages with the name “wart removal”. I sincerely hope that is not your real name.

By targeting a few common words (mortgage, design etc.) that shouldn’t be in any valid name, you could stop a lot of these comments being posted (No idea why Akismet doesn’t do this already?).

The simplest implementation would be with some jQuery. Not full-proof, but it would work on most real users (They won’t bother disabling JS for this. Speed is the main thing for them). Or we could look into doing the validation via WordPress itself (Knowing WordPress, it’s probably a matter of a few lines!).

(Let me know if you’d like me to look into this properly and put together a tutorial!)

Closing Comments after a While

Comments ClosedThe idea here is that after an article has been online a certain amount of time, the comments on it are closed automatically. It’s quite a popular technique on larger sites.

This makes a lot of sense if you stop checking the comments on your older posts (Like I usually do, it’s just unmanageable). People aren’t likely to get a reply, so you don’t want them wasting their time.

The downside for a technical blog like this is that tutorials can go out of date. It often takes a good comment from someone to point this out, or even to remind me that that tutorial exists and I ought to update it (Case in point, I really need to show you guys the not-so-new-anymore way to separate comments from trackbacks).

The question is, what time limit would you set this at?

Use a Reputation System (Disqus?)

DisqusForums have been doing this for years to reward the best members (How many forums have you seen where you can “Thank” a post for being helpful?). Sites like Stack Overflow have improved this further, but the idea is the same. When your contributions add to your reputation, you put more effort into them.

One easy way of doing this would be to use Disqus. Comments are then added to a user’s Disqus profile, along with any +/- ratings it gets. As so many sites use Disqus now, you may be careful with boosting your rating.

The downside is that it’s not the easiest to style, and besides the rating being displayed next to your name, it doesn’t actually do anything.

An alternative would be a plugin like Comments Vote, that allow people to rate good or bad on comments, and comments with a negative rating are then collapsed.

Marking the Best Comments

The idea here would be that when I see a great comment, I’d mark it as being great. This could then allow a few things to happen:

  • The comment’s design changes (Highlighted to stand out, similar to how an author’s comments are)
  • The comment is displayed at the top of the list (So instead of just showing the first comment first, you’d show the best comment first).
  • NoFollow could be removed again for these particular comments.
  • Some sort of list of all “best comments” from across the site could be setup in your sidebar/footer.

I’m not aware of anything that works like this at the minute, though let me know if you are! If the idea seemed like it would work though, I’d be happy to code it (And release it to you too).

Would it encourage you to leave a comment?

Only Comment Via FB Connect and Twitter

Facebook CommentsQuora is ia Q&A site with extremely high quality answers to the questions. It’s not known for its easy sign-up though. Sometimes requiring an invite, but even when it didn’t, it very strongly encouraged you to sign up with Twitter or Facebook.

Your Facebook and Twitter profiles are something that you put a lot of time into and want to look good on. Are you less likely to write spammy one-liner comments when it’s all tied back to your Facebook Profile? Perhaps?

But then, is that asking too much of a casual commenter who does have something interesting to say, but isn’t sure about giving yet another site access to their personal profiles?

One interesting I only discovered while writing this post is that Techcrunch has jumped from Disqus to the Facebook Comments plugin. Obviously though, they’re dealing with this same issue but on a far bigger scale, so they can afford to turn away more casual commenters?

What Would You Do?

I’m very undecided on the best route to take. The ideas above range from being very restrictive (Limiting to Facebook only), to quite possibly worthless (Removing the DoFollow plugin).

So where is the balance in the middle? As someone who takes the time to leave comments here, what would you be happiest with (Or most put off by)? (And I promise I’ll reply to you before the spammers do…)

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