Blogimmuniqué: commenting policies and the other room concept

By Grant Jacobs 03/04/2010

I mean my blogimmuniqués to be about my own blog. Since I haven’t written a blogimmuniqué in a while, and this long weekend is seeing few visitors here, a post about commenting seems as good as an excuse as any for a blogimmuniqué.

It is an excuse: I’m not going to write about commenting on my blog so much as introduce an alternative approach to dealing with disruptive commenters that’s interesting but I haven’t seen on blogs.

Blog posts about commenting are a perennial theme so I’m not going to mull over over moderating policies but for those newer to blogs I’ll offer a little preamble. Cut to the chase if you want.


People set up blogs for all sorts of reasons and people have different personalities. Some would like conversations, rather than debates.

Count me in on that.


Generally, we get little discussion here. That’s the way it is with many blogs, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some bloggers prefer it, in fact. It’s also a bit of a function of the number of visitors. I once read somewhere to expect around one or two visitors per hundred to write a comment. That’s about right in my (limited) experience.

An unwanted side-effect of writing about some topics is that it opens your comments to people who basically want to use your site as a platform to push their own barrow, rather than converse about what you wrote.

You often wish they’d just start their own blog where they could rattle on all they liked!

If you just shut them out, you’re accused of ’censorship’.

People have rather strong feelings about moderation policies, with quite different ideas about what is ’right.’

What’s a blogger to do? Damned if you moderate harshly, damned if don’t. (Or, more accurately, your blog isn’t what you want it to be if you don’t.)

Robert Niles writes about newspapers blogs but his thoughts are worth considering.

I agree that if a blogger invites comments, as most do, there is usually some expectation that the blogger will take part in the discussion.

That’s all good and well if the conversations are the kind that the blogger is happy contributing to.

I don’t wish to initiate some angry debate about what should be accepted–it’s boring as it’s a perennial topic for bloggers–but so that readers less familiar with blogs are aware of what I’m referring to, here’s a random short list of the sort of things that bother some bloggers:

  • People talking off the subject. I personally don’t have problem with it in itself.
  • Some people–sometimes well meant, sometimes not–’demanding’ that the blogger ’answers to’ a tangential or unrelated topic.
  • Bullying others, the blogger or other commenters. Some seem to see the ’net as a place where they think they can hide behind ‘anonymity’ (which generally isn’t that hard to expose) and play ’sport’ with others.
  • Crude language.

And on it goes. Each person, blogger or commenter, has their own wishes.

One thing in particular bothers me: ’louder’ commenters putting off more kindly souls who are after conversation and might otherwise join in if it weren’t for the, shall we say, ’robust’ style of others.

Some bloggers encourage robust debate, they enjoy the cut’n’thrust, the gamesmanship. Others would like some way to separate the different approaches, with decent conversations and debate kept separate, which brings me to what I want to write about.

The other room concept

I’m not going to name the site I saw this in, as I’m unsure if it was official policy. The name of the site is besides the point and they may have moved on to a new way of doing things (it’s been a few years since I’ve been there).

The idea was to provide what I nicknamed the ’sandpit’ to send ’robust’ posters to play in if individual commenters started to scrap or generally be a nuisance. Disruptive players were not deleted, at least not initially, they were just moved to where they didn’t interfere with other’s enjoyment of the site.

It’s an interesting concept, but also one that is probably limited to large collectives.

The key thing is that you’re not saying ’no’ to these people, you’re saying ’in the other room, please.’ It’s like shooing the kids off to play in another room, or leaving the men arguing about football* in the kitchen or next to the BBQ. (Or the guys leaving the gals nattering about about whatever whoever-she-is wore at the Oscars.)

The ’main’ discussions stay largely free of disruption (not entirely) and provide a better environment to those new to commenting or who simply want a more peaceful place.

Discussion is most welcome below.


I’m well aware that the some argue that you should be able to set the tone of the discussion from the tone of the main article, and I’ve argued that myself at times. Experience shows in practice this is disrupted a number of ways.

*Round, not oblong.

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