HOWTO be a good commenter

On John Scalzi's Whatever, a list of ten excellent rules for being a better commenter -- it's certainly stuff that I'll keep in mind the next time I leave a comment somewhere:

1. Do I actually have anything to say? Meaning, does what you post in the comments boil down to anything other than “yes, this,” or “WRONG AGAIN,” or even worse, “who cares”? A comment is not meant to be an upvote, downvote or a “like.” It’s meant to be an addition to, and complementary to (but not necessarily complimentary of) the original post. If your comment is not adding value, you need to ask whether you need to write it, and, alternately, why anyone should be bothered to read it. On a personal note, I find these sort of contentless comments especially irritating when the poster is expressing indifference; the sort of twit who goes out of his way to say “::yawn::” in a comment is the sort I want first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

2. Is what I have to say actually on topic? What is the subject of the original post? That’s also the subject of the comment thread, as is, to some extent, the manner in which the writer approached the subject. If you’re dropping in a comment that’s not about these things, then you’re likely working to make the comment thread suck. Likewise, if as a commenter you’re responding to a comment from someone else that’s not on topic to the original post, you’re also helping to make the comment thread suck. On a busy blog or site, there will be many opportunities to talk about many different subjects. You don’t have to talk about them in the wrong place.

3. Does what I write actually stay on topic? As a corollary to point two, if you make a perfunctory wave at the subject and then immediately use it as a jumping-off point for your own particular set of hobby horses, then you’re also making the thread suck. This is a prime derailing maneuver, which I like to dub “The Libertarian Dismount,” given the frequency with which members of that political tribe employ it — e.g., “It’s a shame that so many people are opposed to same-sex marriage, but this is just why government has no place legislating relationships between people, and why in a perfect society government steps away and blah blah blahdee blah blah.” If you can’t write a comment that isn’t ultimately a segue into topics you feel are important, ask yourself why everything has to be about you.

How to Be a Good Commenter (via Beth Pratt)


  1. Of all the sites to which I subscribe, BB seems to have one of the better commentator communities.  There are a few rotten apples in the bunch, but there is also a large, diverse and eloquent contingent that does an excellent job illustrating differing opinions.  While my deep-set personal beliefs haven’t changed dramatically, I have been challenged and educated, and that (in my mind) is a good indicator of healthy, intelligent discourse.

    1. True, but I sense an underlying “My way is the only right way” in the “rules”. IMHO, a multi-dimensional filtering approach is needed, by the author(s), publisher and community. Something abit more advanced than “like”, “dislike” and “flag”.

      I sometimes find myself liking something that is inappropriate or disliking something that is appropriate.

    2. BB seems to have one of the better commentator communities

      …and it has a healthy disregard for rule 2. I like the fact that I may end up reading about a subject only tangentially related to the original post- this is one of the reasons I read the comments.

      1. If it’s a natural segue, I completely agree.  Conversations natural ramble, and you can learn some fascinating information and new perspectives.  If it’s a blatant attempt to hijack the conversation to be all about you and your interests, that’s a dick move.

        1. I would divide them into illumanitive or humourous digressions, that I often enjoy, vs. argumentative digressions, which i usually don’t.  Unless I really agree with the argument.

      2. yes, this! 

        Sorry, I couldn’t help it, but I do agree. I think there is a very fine line between adding to the conversation through tangential commentary and just derailing it altogether. Maybe that’s all in the eye of the beholder, or the eye of the moderator.  The moderator who, coincidentally, is just one intimidating eyeball, staring out at you, challenging you to be on-topic…or else.

        Simply, rules should often be broken.

      3.  I’m guilty of going off topic sometimes – though I try to stay on task. But communication is organic and if it goes on long enough it is going to branch into other areas.

      4. I find rule 2 seems to go out the window mostly due to the implied ridiculous nature or humor to a post but technically they are still there. Technically  racist/sexist/violent posts on something like a Fox News story and their forum could be considered “On topic”…

      5. I don’t generally care if people go off topic as long as it’s not about guns, Ron Paul, etc.  If the digressions are more likely to keep people mellow than inflame them, they’re fine. 

        Occasionally, some subjects are a little stricter.  We don’t really need to hear about what you had for breakfast in an obituary thread.

        1. Damn. Wait a minute here! ‘Breakfast With The Obituaries’. There is something to monetize here….
          Ah hell, I guess the Dadaists (or Surrealists, whatevah) already did it better with the phrase “Exquisite Corpse”. But then, just look what Poppy Z. Brite did to THAT :)

      6.  Hey, it’s one reason I am starting to comment a lot here. I like to go off topic, but it only works it it has some relevance to the entire thread if not the actual topic. Discussions are much more fun when far ranging and not narrowly limited. I should know. I talk to Republicans and it is mostly not fun. Unless you like shouting. Phone hang ups. Completely being cut off for life. That kind of thing

  2. Don’t we have better things to worry about than commenters when 47% of US Americans don’t pay taxes LOL Hussein Obama has you people all brainwashed!!!11!!!

    1. Really? Where did you confirm the statistics to support the so-called accurate 47%? Perhaps you should do a bit of research before jumping on the misinformation band wagon?

      1. Nope. That allows you to rate the article. Not individual comments. New Disqus just has a star for articles which is kinda like RT tweets praising yourself. Half the story.

        Combined with a dislike/downvote button all you find out is how people react not what they think.

    1. How serendipitous. 
      Also Gamefaqs is a great example of how when rules are strict and bizarre the fora mutate in strange ways. (for those who don’t know, on the gamefaqs board if you just merely mention or joke that you’re under the required age of 13 you get banned)

        1.  Sadly, you are correct!  Variations of this type of comment are all over youtube.  No artistic license taken.  You know in 2001, the way the computer is more human-like, and the humans more machine-like?  I think something like this is happening with spam-bots and people on the internet.  Well, on youtube anyway.

  3. What about snark factor? Rule 11 –  If you think your comment has a snark factor of less than 10, then do not post.

  4. My main rule is to wonder what Steve Martin would say, and then post that.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s actually something Steve Martin would say, the point is there needs to be more Steve Martin in the world.

  5. Rule 11: Never criticize the website you are commenting on. Remember, a healthy level of sycophancy is essential to being a poster in good standing!

  6. This is a bunch of really nice guidelines on how to comment well. But it worries me that these things might be seen as an etiquette guide to judge others by, or even as hard and fast rules.

    It’s the difference between “I prefer to spell my own posts properly” and “you are bad for your misspellings, and you should feel bad”, or even “that’s your tenth typo today! Banhammer!”

    To me, the list is also a list of things to check the life of the thread. Cleaving well to those guidelines is a good thing: but if all posts adhered to it like glue, it would feel dead, or at least cliquey and insular.

  7. I didn’t read the article or any of the comments above mine.  But I just wanted to say that I think people should be allowed to comment however they want to!  Dagnabbit!

  8. Apparently, “Whatever” has conveyed a misleading message to his community?  Maybe he needs to change it to, “Whatever is for me, the rest of you hoi polloi respond on my terms”.  Man, I bet their staff has a hard time finding dates for their staff parties.  But he has achieved his quest to “taunt me”, and I have never even read the blog.  Kudos!  I mean, if kudos are allowed….

  9. Once, a Facebook ‘aquaintance’ posted his opinion of the bass player Jaco Pastorious. A few people brought up other bass players. OP says, “Hold on, everyone. This post is about JP and please don’t talk about anyone else.”

    Sometimes trolling is merited.

  10. Dissenters are always first accused of bad manners. It serves to marginalize at least if it doesn’t just shoo off the troublemaker.

  11. Cory, this post of yours is not to my liking.  I expected better from bOINGbOING . 
    I’m very disappointed and with this I’m cancelling my subscription. 

  12. My own comment policy, laid bare before the masses, for easy down-modding:

    1. Am I drunk? If so, comment regardless.
    2. Is the article about Japan? If so, comment pedantically.
    3. Is the article about science ™? Comment positively.
    4. Is the article about religion ™? Comment snarkily/mockingly.
    5. Is Disqus a pain to log into? If so, refer to rule one then proceed accordingly.

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