Descending Into Madness

AnarchyIf there's one thing the high-readership blogs have in common, it's a high volume of comments. After all, this publisher-reader relationship is one of the things that make blogs so attractive in the first place, and a primary reason for the heightened interest by media concerns large and small. But there's a dark side, of course. As the proprietors of many popular blogs have discovered, those comments aren't necessarily constructive, well reasoned, or even civil. As the blog descends into chaos and madness, its commanders are left with some hard decisions: start moderating, editing, and possibly deleting comments before they see the light of day, require registration, or pull the plug on the comments entirely.

It's a quandary. The moderating and editing solutions carry their own risks; some perceive this as censorship, and technically it is. Disabling comments altogether is even worse, because it does away with one of the key benefits of a blog; it's a devolution back to the old one-way broadcast model. User registration, or similar methods of identifying commenters before they're allowed entry doesn't seem to be a popular solution; anonymity is an important part of the process for many, and for some, the only way they're willing to participate at all. Since personal privacy is so widely considered to be in jeopardy, it shouldn't be surprising if people seem reluctant to hand over its remaining shreds just for the opportunity to sound off on a blog.

But you can't allow your blog to be hijacked by flame wars, libel, and spam, so comment moderation seems to me the least of the available evils. In a low-volume environment, it doesn't take much time and effort to screen comments. It becomes a rather significant problem if you have hundreds or even thousands of comments to wade through every day; in that case, it's a full-time job. While there are privately run blogs that receive more than the average number of comments, most of the small-potatoes operations could deal with comment moderation on their own; they wouldn't have to bring in someone to do the job. But for a large commercial operation such as a newspaper or magazine, it would become a necessity sooner or later; as the business morphs into a new media operation, someone has to deal with all those e-letters to the editor, and the e-pile of comments on the blogs.

Maybe this is another good reason to keep editors—and copy editors—in the blog loop. In addition to their more obvious value in keeping articles and other blog postings free of error and oversight, good editors and proofreaders are generally capable of scanning pages of text at an alarming rate. This rapid-reading talent is ideal where the sheer volume of reader feedback threatens to bring a blog to its knees. It doesn't take them all day to bring order to the chaos, and sanity to the madness of blog-comment anarchy.


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