7.26.2010

Creating your comment moderation policy

When you first start blogging, you'll probably have either zero comments or just your mom chiming in from time to time. But sooner or later, you'll have to figure out what to do about the comments you receive.

When I talk about comment moderation in this post, I don't mean the how of moderating comments, though that's a good idea for another post. For the purposes of this discussion, you might moderate comments by turning them off completely on certain posts or on your blog as a whole, manually approving each comment as it comes through and not allowing certain comments or commenters through your gate, or deleting comments once they're already posted. It doesn't matter for now. Whichever method you choose, you are framing a comment policy, deciding who gets a say and who doesn't.

There are some who protest that a blogger's choice to moderate comments amounts to censorship. This is hogwash. Censorship is when the government or authority prevents the little guy from being heard. Your blog is more like your living room, and you get to choose whom to invite inside. Once someone is there, you also have the choice to kick that person out if things get rowdy. Whether certain commenters or would-be commenters like it or not, you as the blogger are in charge and make the rules.

If you have a private blog, your rules can be entirely of your own making. If you have a more collaborative or public blog, such as the blog of a well-known newspaper, there are probably already rules in place for what does and doesn't get (or stay) published online or in its pages. For instance, newspapers and magazines generally try to present a balanced picture of what readers are saying in response to articles in the letters to the editor section — but they still don't print every letter that comes in, so even there, choices are being made.

So how will you form your comment policy?

There's no single answer, because everyone's blog atmosphere, and every blogger's tolerance level for discord, varies.

The easiest way to deal with comments is to let absolutely everything through. This allows the blogger to avoid any responsibility for policing, and everyone is allowed a voice. Unfortunately, "everyone" will include spammers and trolls, and this sort of atmosphere can be very unwelcoming for the discriminating reader. Don't get me wrong — many very popular sites have this sort of anything-goes comment atmosphere, so it's apparently working for some people and blogs — but you have to ask yourself what kind of atmosphere you're trying to promote. To go back to the living-room analogy, is your blog a party den, where everyone's whooping it up and chugging beer? Then, sure, let the comments be a free-for-all. But, if you're running a blog on, say, poetry writing and you picture your blog "living room" as a sedate conversation between intellectual artist types, I can guarantee you they're going to sidle out the door of your raucous party rather than staying to contribute. The anything-goes sites are better when you want hit-and-run participation (think YouTube, as one example), and the moderated sites are better when you want to build a community; either is a possibility, so consider what you're looking for in your audience.

Let's say you've decided to do some sort of comment moderation. On the other end of the spectrum, then, are blogs that delete without mercy any comment that disagrees with the blogger. This can also be a frightening atmosphere to step into as a reader unless you're prepared to brown-nose and nothing else. If you're never sure your comment will see the light of day, you're less likely to want to bother trying. And as a blogger, it's probably a chore to support that big head on just one neck.

So, somewhere in the middle then, eh? All right, here are some possible avenues to explore as you cobble together your own middle-ground commenting approval system:

  • Decide whether you're going to allow anonymous commenters. Some do, and some don't. I usually allow it if I think it's a comment left in good faith (particularly if it's left on a post about a sensitive topic), but not if I think the commenter's posting just to be inflammatory. Some people think anonymity gives them a license to be obnoxious with impunity, and I like to prove that isn't the case.
  • Decide what level of spam filtering you want to do. This doesn't refer just to whether you use a spam filter or word verification. Inevitably, someone will sneak through anyway. I for one do not allow comments from people with SEO names ("dining room tables," I'm talking to you!) or who post seemingly "helpful" comments pointing people to the same manufacturer's site as the answer to all problems on a certain topic. If someone wants to post about their company or product, I'd much prefer it to be out in the open and related to the subject at hand, and then I don't object. Sneakiness gets my goat, and earns a comment the axe.
  • Some sites thrive on discord and debate, and some aim to bring together like-minded people in a supportive environment. I can honestly say I understand both sides, and it's really up to you what sort of environment (living room) you want to foster. If you enjoy arguing into the night in real life, you might invite lengthy comment threads that throw facts and opinions back and forth. If that sort of thing gives your stomach butterflies and fills your sleep with nightmares (no, seriously, been there!), then encourage a more encouraging atmosphere. One way to do the latter, besides or instead of deleting comments that don't align with your beliefs, is to respond to comments in the calm and supportive manner you wish the discussion to proceed. If, on the other hand, you wish to encourage a rousing debate, you can stir things up in the comments by being as inflammatory as you hope others will be. Note that having an argumentative comment thread can be intimidating to readers who are conflict-averse, so do this only if you don't mind not hearing from such readers, and if you don't mind attracting commenters who are there just out of a sheer love of arguing. The downside to a calmer, supportive environment from the reader's perspective can be a sense of stasis, of not needing to read or respond to comments because of an expectation that everyone will be agreeing anyway. Think through what you envision your blog looking like, and see if you can't find the position that will keep you and (most of) your readers happy.
  • Some blogs deal regularly with sensitive topics and have a comment policy to exclude any comments or commenters who can't play by certain fundamental rules. For instance, if it's a fat-acceptance blog, the comment policy might warn off those who will post comments that are condemnatory toward fat people. If it's a body-acceptance blog, the comment policy might be broadened also to exclude comments that are condemnatory toward bodies of any size. If you have a particular ethic in mind with your blog, you might want to exclude comments that violate that ethic. It's up to you. Some bloggers prefer to allow through such comments and then debate and educate the commenter on the offensive language or position. Again, some of this decision will depend on what you want your living room atmosphere to be.

Finally, once you decide on a commenting policy, it's best to state it somewhere on your blog, in a dedicated post or page, or even just a paragraph in the sidebar or above your comment box. That way, you can refer to it if things start taking a downturn or if someone protests a comment deletion. I know, you're referring to your own writing to prove your authority, but for some reason, it works. If people know you've thought this out beforehand, they're more likely to go along with your decision.

What is your comment policy? What do you value in the comment space of blogs you frequently read? What do you wish was different?

Top photo courtesy Premasagar on flickr (cc)

7.22.2010

The Secret Duke, by Jo Beverley

I thought I'd throw up (blargh! just joking) a little review of The Secret Duke, by Jo Beverley, before I forget what I think!

This book is part of the Malloren world, set in the Georgian period (mid-1700s, Malloren-wise). (Here's a full booklist at JoBev.com, and you can read an excerpt at her site as well.) I'm so used to Regencies that it's quite a treat to delve into a different era from time to time, and I love Jo Beverley, and I love the Mallorens.

So! To go a completely different direction, I'll discuss what I didn't so much like about this novel in particular.

But, first, I guess I should give a little intro and tell you what I did like. That's only fair, right?

Ok, the titular secret duke is the Duke of Ithorne, or Thorn, who likes to disguise himself occasionally and switch places with his illegitimate brother as Captain Rose and go on sailing adventures. The heroine is Bella Barstowe, who has escaped, due to a small inheritance, from under her pious brother's thumb after an unfortunate escapade (partially told in the prologue) that ruins her reputation. The characters were likable, and I enjoyed finding out what happens with Thorn. There was even a continuation of the Manx cat tale.

But:

This book contains the denouement of Lady Fowler, and I was a little disappointed (illogically) that there wasn't more to Lady Fowler than previously implied. She is in fact an ill-tempered, prudish woman. I thought maybe there'd be some sort of sly twist, and she'd turn out to be a cunning heiress who just liked messing with people by sending out gossip sheets disguised as calls for societal reform. But, no, she's just as she appears to be. This isn't Jo Beverley's fault, you understand. I'm apparently hard to please. Bella goes to work with Lady Fowler, believing her to be a true hope of reforming society and helping women escape from cruel men's dominance, before she discovers that Lady Fowler is in fact in the end stages of syphilis, losing all reason, and susceptible to the planting of treasonous seeds by newcomers.

The novel seemed a little oddly paced to me. Bella hates her priggish brother, Sir Augustus, and then finds out something scandalous about him that makes her plot to ruin him, with Captain Rose's help. There is a looong setup with this foul-Augustus angle, followed by a somewhat uncomfortable ending to that particular thread. But then there was still half the novel left to finish. The novel in general felt like several different stories pushed together: Bella on her initial escapade, Bella confined to her brother's house, Bella working with Lady Fowler, Bella's adventure with Captain Rose against Sir Augustus, etc.

The story demanded a lot of leaps of credulity in terms of the believability of disguises. Bella alters her beautiful appearance when she goes to work for Lady Fowler by applying a sallow base of makeup and donning spectacles (and moles or warts, I believe?). Bella also poses as Thorn's plain-ish wife, and as a nymph at a ball. But she's a gently bred young woman, not a cosmetics expert or super-spy. Thorn plays Captain Rose, even though the real Captain Rose actually exists and has to interact with the same people Thorn does in some instances. They're only half-brothers, too, not fully identical twins or anything. I kept thinking someone (besides Bella, in one scene where she meets the true captain) would notice something amiss in Thorn's portrayal, particularly the people who work with the captain on his ship.

As I scan the Amazon reviews, I see I'm not alone in my quibbles, even among fellow Beverley diehards.

Now, even with my issues with this book, I was still captivated by the story and love Beverley's writing and characters. I guess even with a great writer, not every book can be the best book.

So there you are! If you're a Malloren completist, you'll want to read this to hear Thorn's story and meet the enchanting Bella. If you're just being introduced to Jo Beverley, I'd pick a different book for your first meeting.

7.18.2010

Putting your internet fame to work

Click image to see the comic bigger at its home on BasicInstructions.net.

copyright Basic Instructions

I wonder which blogger I read wants a Japanese toilet seat.

7.06.2010

Lauren's link love: Keeping it real

Lauren Wayne profile outtake HoboMama.com This is me being a genuine weirdo.
Once again, I'm bringing you a Sunday Surf-like experience of the best recent links I've found for the bloggers and writers out there.



Leave any recommended posts in the comments (yes, even your own — I'd love to take a look). Thanks for the great articles, all of the above, & happy reading!
Lauren

7.05.2010

Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts and writing about professions

Bed of Roses, by Nora RobertsI'm taking Rachel from Common Places' advice and just getting my thoughts out. I apologize if this review sounds a little rushed — because it is. The book was due back at the library three days ago. Whoops.

Bed of Roses, by Nora Roberts, is Book Two in the Bride Quartet, but I'm a rebel and haven't yet read Book One.

This is one of those contemporary romance novels I was talking about that exists in a decadently upper-upper-upper-middle-class American fantasy setting. It's bearable, though, because (a) the characters all work, HARD, for a living and (b) the protagonist's mother was, improbably, a Mexican-nanny-turned-wife.

In fact, as I read any novel, I often like to pretend I'm the film director setting up how I would shoot the book as a screenplay. If I did for Bed of Roses, I'd start with the story of Emma's parents meeting after her father was widowed (instead of that boring sleepover that's supposed to set the scene of the four friends but just kept confusing me as to who was who and which one was going to be the protagonist — maybe I shouldn't have skipped Book One after all). The flashback in the film would be grainy, sepia-toned, and wordless with a dreamy narration, and the romance would be palpable. It would break from there to Emma's face, daydreaming about them — setting up her inability to settle for anything less than pure romance.

Just to sum up my reactions to the novel: I liked it, but I didn't fall head-over-heels with it. Nora Roberts knows how to write, and she's got a varied collection of interesting women in this Bride Quartet.

I find contemporary romances a little harder to swallow than historical, I think because the authors always try so hard to make the heroes manly-men. In historicals, I guess I sort of buy it and figure they might be more nuanced if they lived nowadays. But when people act all macho in a contemporary novel, I just think, "I wouldn't want to know that d-bag." Which is not to say the hero was obnoxious; it's just a general tone I get from most contemporaries, and I didn't feel like this one broke that alpha-male mold.

On the flip side, current contemporaries (contemporary contemporaries?) often try so hard to make sure the female protagonist meets the feminist checklist of being sure of herself, a driven career woman, sexually sophisticated, etc. Which is fine. But often it feels a little bland in itself, like it's compensating for something — like, if we make it really, really clear that the woman is obsessed with her work, then it will be OK she needs sentimentality on the side. Again, just a tad stereotypical. If the macho hero doesn't feel like the type of man I would (did) marry, then that type of heroine doesn't feel like the type of woman I am.

I thought the romantic-plot setup of man-who-can't-commit vs. woman-who-craves-romance was a little … meh. You know, done before.

I don't know. I guess what I'm saying is I didn't particularly connect with either character, but I didn't dislike them, either. They were fine. The book was fine.

But I do want to talk a little about Nora Roberts' skill as a writer, in bringing an interesting profession into the series and doing a skillful job both of researching and writing the details of the business life. The women of the Bride Quartet jointly run the business of Vows, a full-service wedding planning company. Each woman in the quartet is responsible for a different aspect of the business, and Emma is the florist of the bunch (get it?).

Whenever an author needs to do a heap of research for a profession, there's a chance of either of two things going wrong:
  • cramming so many details in there that the readers get bored — it's a story, not a manual
  • being so bare bones that readers don't get a true sense of what the profession is like, or getting an inaccurate (or stereotyped) sense

I think Roberts spins it just right in Bed of Roses. Emma as a florist is utterly convincing (to me, as a non-florist) and the glimpse into a florist's life is fascinating (also, to me, as a non-florist).

There are little details that bring her world to life, like the fact her hands are always scratched from thorns and stems, despite working with something so seemingly delicate as flowers, and Roberts describes Emma using Neosporin the way other women use hand cream.

When the Vows ladies are discussing their business plans, Emma puts in a plug for an additional cooler — which I assume is some sort of cold storage to keep flowers from wilting. I don't even really care what it is exactly; I just appreciated hearing new vocabulary. It's like sitting in on a conversation with people from the circus. Isn't it fun to hear the nitty-gritty behind what from the outside seems like such a magical profession?

I think the choice of a wedding planning company was a master stroke, too, because there are so many ways to exploit that in terms of romance plot. But it's also a great way to bring interest to a novel through varied professions and a business in which women can be feminine while being savvy.

This is probably the shallowest part of this book review, but I thought the actual printing of the paperback was very nice. The size is a trade paperback, so larger than average, and the cover isn't glossy like most paperbacks but has that elegant muted sheen. What really stood out — at least as I was trying unsuccessfully to flip through the novel while writing this review — was that the edges of the pages are deckled. It's classy — the sort of detail a wedding planner, or a bride, might have chosen.

No, here's shallower: I was annoyed that it took so long into the novel before I could be sure Emma's hair was dark. Shouldn't that be upfront? I hate imagining characters wrong, or incompletely. I've read two books lately where hair color isn't confirmed till halfway through. And covers are no help in that regard, because (a) in both cases, the color is somewhat hard to see, and (b) I never trust cover artists to have read the book; I've been burned one too many times in the past. That was my overly dramatic way to say that covers often don't reflect the details of the characters' appearances as laid out in the text. Agreed?

What's the most interesting profession you've ever read or written about? What profession would you most like to research, assuming you would get to hang around the practitioners on the job? Come on, wouldn't the circus be awesome?

7.01.2010

Iambic pentameter

via http://xkcd.com/79/



©xkcd {Creative Commons}
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