Further Comments On Comments

While I was on tour with Lock In, I turned off the comments here at Whatever, opening them for Big Idea posts and the occasional post when I was able to spend a little time babysitting the thread. Among other things I was curious to see what, if any, effect turning the comment off would have on visits to the site.

The answer seems to be not a whole lot. Traffic to Whatever overall was down in the last four weeks, but I expected it to be down, because it always goes down when I’m on book tour — I’m not posting as much and what I do post tends to be short bits about where I am on tour. Turning off the comments doesn’t really appear to have dropped viewership lower, as a percentage, than any other time I’ve been tour — or if it had it was negligible enough that I don’t see it.

In one sense this is not too terribly surprising. As I’ve noted before, Whatever gets thousands of visits and visitors daily, but only (generally) a few dozen commentors on any given day. As a percentage, the commenting class here — as it is pretty much everywhere — is small compared to the overall readership. The inability to comment is not a huge thing when you don’t comment at all. Likewise, I suspect that most of the commenters were cool with the comments being off for a bit if I couldn’t sit on them like I usually do. So overall: Not a huge surprise, although it’s still interesting to me.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll be keeping comments off, mind you. The commenting class here may be small relative to overall readership, but it is of high quality, if I may say so myself, and for those folks to who do read for the comments (and I’m one of them), I would hate to deprive them of that enjoyment. So comments are back on. Comment away, you crazy kids!

That said, I am going to make one major change: After 14 days, comments threads will automatically close. I’m doing this for two reasons. One, in nearly all cases, the conversation in any comment thread is done two weeks out, and the only non-spam comments the comment threads accrue are from people who generally don’t have anything new or useful to say — indeed, late hits in my experience are generally some form of trolling. They won’t be missed.

Two, I turned comments back on here and less than a half hour later had more than 200 fresh comments in my spam queue. The good news is that WordPress’ spam catcher caught nearly all of them, but on the other hand, it was a reminder that I get a couple thousand attempted spam messages a day here. The site has close to nine thousand entries, many of which still have (had) open comment threads. If you’re a spammer, that’s a lot of shots on goal. Limiting the spam opportunities to just a few dozen active threads will make my site maintenance a lot easier, and these days I don’t have as much time to moderate as I used to.

So if you have anything to say on a comment thread, say it in the first couple of weeks, or forever hold your peace, at least here on the blog.

Here’s another change I’m going to make. From time to time while I was traveling (or otherwise busy), I’ve wanted to comment on some contentious topic or another but held off because I simply didn’t have the time to sit on the comment thread. As a result, and because I am rather more busy with travel and work these days than I was before, I find myself not writing up those pieces. I think Whatever’s range of topics has suffered a bit because of it recently.

So, here’s the plan: If I find I want to write something on a contentious topic but I don’t have time to moderate a comment thread, I’m just gonna write the thing and not turn on comments, or wait to turn on the comments until I have time to moderate. Simple! So simple, in fact, that I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t think about it before (In fact, there have been times when I’ve done that, but it never occured to be to think to myself “hey, you know, this is a thing you could do whenever you needed to.” Because I’m an idiot, you see).

When I have the comments off (or delayed), how will you comment? Well, of course, there is Twitter and Facebook and your own blogs and even (gasp!) email, which is how people used to comment to me before comments were on here at all. Who knows, it may even lead to an increase in hate mail, which, to be honest, I hardly get anymore (this is not an actual complaint).

In any event, that’s where I am on comments.


44 Comments on “Further Comments On Comments”

  1. Now if only I had something interesting to relate… Oh, here’s something: I gave a copy of Lock In to my mom for her birthday and she loved it! She’s not into SF (at all) but loves murder mysteries and conspiracy stories, so good job on the genre cross-over!

  2. I’ve been lurking on this site for a couple of years now. Breaking my silence to encourage your writings on contentious topics. Been great to put your novels and blog on my “must read” list. Glad you enjoy writing this blog – I sure enjoy reading it and the comments.

  3. A post about comments seems like an apt place to stick this here attempt to determine whether I can comment here with Lynx and, if so, how well it works.

    This should be a new paragraph.
    This probably should not.

    This should be a new paragraph with formatting.

  4. Interesting. It appears that I can, indeed, comment, and the formatting works, but italics do not display (with a change in text color) in Lynx, only bold. I guess I should check whether underlining is visible to me as well. Also, typing this up has made clear how word wrap is handled — it isn’t. Instead, I just get super-long lines that scroll off my screen to my left (when typing; I’m hoping this will not be the case when viewing). That’s mildly annoying, but shouldn’t be too much of a problem if I just compose comments in another program and then paste them here (or, you know, use a web browser whose last major version came up some time in the past two decades).

    Further experimentation indicates that pasting in text does not work (or, at least, I cannot figure out how to make it work — anyone with ideas, feel free to let me know) when working directly from a login shell, only from a terminal opened within Xwindows. That’s unfortunate. I guess I will have to test pasted text later.

  5. This was typed up in a text editor, and hopefully will display as three(ish) paragraphs and not just one.

    Also, I apparently botched my underlining in my previous attempt at a test (or Lynx thought incorrectly that it was botched; it’s hard to tell), so Iâm trying that again, along with trying to determine what âpâ and âbrâ tags do both in Lynx and in a graphical browser.

    With any luck, this should conclude my experimentation.

  6. I see comment sections as a mixed blessing (even on my own humble blog), but I’ve noticed that some tend to be better moderated and attract a higher average of well-spoken, considerate people. Case in point: this very comment thread.

  7. Final discoveries:

    1. WordPress does <p> and <br> tags automatically, and suppresses any manual ones it finds inappropriate.

    2. WordPress also appears to suppress <u> tags.

    3. I need to remember to turn “smart quotes” off before producing text to copy and paste into a text-only browser next time!

  8. I’m glad that you’re back, and even gladder that you have found a way to cut the Gordian Knot of moderating on particularly contentious issues when you are pressed for time.

    I think I’ve said before that, in my view, your fiction benefits from your nonfiction writing here on Whatever; doing joined up thinking has to be worked at, and you do the work.

    ‘Lock In’ has a lot of layers; it’s a fascinating world and I very much hope you will return to it. I don’t think you could have written it five years ago…

  9. I like the comments turning off after 14 days. It cuts off the few spam comments that make through the filters on old threads. (An example of spam making it through is a comment asking how you run this blog or enjoying their browsing the site. They’re spam because the user name always leads to some spam site.)

  10. I’m not a frequent commenter, although occasional. I’m really happy to hear you are going to continue to keep comments on, with tweaks to make things manageable. Even when/where I don’t comment often, I really love to read blogs and sites that have cultivated a decently sane commentariat who treat one another with reasonable respect.

    Its a rare and wonderful thing and adds to the goodness of the world. I enjoy it very much as well as recognizing the work it requires to maintain. Which is to say, I value your blog posts and I also value the commentariat here. Enjoy reading both and happy to hear they are likely to be around for the foreseeable.

  11. I rarely comment, but I always read the comment thread: it’s a lagniappe, a delightful extra. Two weeks seems like more than enough time for the usual lively and (mostly) well-reasoned discussions to run their course.

    (Not the most ground-breaking contribution, I grant you, but I couldn’t resist a “Further Comments on Comments” comment.)

  12. All good notions in the post. I come here as much for the comments as for your very worthy blatherations. Comments elsewhere…..not so much. You have some excellent grizzled veterans here, Mr. Scalzi. ‘o)

  13. Perhaps you could save the while-I’m-away posts as drafts. I suspect you won’t get full on commenting action to old posts, whereas new posts on slightly old topics might even get better comments due to increased amount of info the commentariat will have.

  14. Your comment changes are sensible. No problems with that.

    About Lock In. Not only was the protagonist disabled and you had to write from a different point of view, the partner was a drinker and a smoker. I’m not disabled, but I am a drinker. I doubt someone would drink tequila as their drink of choice if their main purpose was to be drunk. It’s got too many other constituents that would contribute to a hangover. Neutral spirits like vodka or gin would be more likely.

    I enjoyed the story. As someone who reads (too) many noir/hardboiled detective novels, I fully expected the protagonists father to somehow be involved in the nefarious activities..

  15. Miles Archer:

    “I doubt someone would drink tequila as their drink of choice if their main purpose was to be drunk.”

    I know people who would disagree with you.


    No, usually when I want to write about something I want to post it when I’m done typing. Also, bluntly, thinking about the commenting before the writing is putting the cart before the horse.

  16. having a moment as I wanted to comment on Lock In… now am confuzzled… shall I put this comment here?

    First, I will admit that I shared the prologue of Lock In around, bad xandra… did tag & credit you (hoping will not inspire wrath).

    Second, where I shared the prologue was in some groups that I am a member of and admin on FB for those who are on the Autistic Spectrum, specifically Adults.

    My OP is as follows:
    Reading this right now, good so far… very intriguing neurotech discussions… definite parallels with Neurodiversity rights…

    TO BE CLEAR: I am not making claims that autism is a disease by drawing parallels… what I do find interesting is that there is a fictional development of a new neurotype, new technologies to address that neurotype, class divisions based on neurotype, etc.

    (Also included links to an NPR review, as well as links at Tor in the OP)

    I super enjoyed Lock In & given how much Neurodiversity Rights is part of my life there was an extra layer to it for me.
    It’s been a bit since I popped in over here & have no idea if comments on Neurotypes & Neurodiversity popped up in previous blog posts… will go have a look… no idea if Autism or other Neurodiverse Neurologies were part of the formulation of the concept for the book…

    Best wishes & thank you for your words!!!!

  17. I used to set comments to go into moderation on posts over 30 days, but then, my blog wasn’t very high-traffic and it was easy to keep up.

    I’m also glad to hear there will be posts on contentious topics again. One of the things I came here for originally was because I liked seeing your organized breakdown of complex topics.
    I would guess that you probably don’t get much hate mail anymore because you haven’t posted on any contentious topics lately (general interest ones, not ones that are mainly of concern to particular communities).

  18. As is true of many, I seldom comment, but always enjoy reading the comments. One of the reasons I rarely comment is because very often someone else has already expressed what my comment would have said. Generally, I do not care for redundancy.

  19. Mostly I enjoy Whatever’s comment community and think that closing threads after 14 days makes a lot of sense. And it will be interesting to have new contentious postings, since shouting with laughter is supposed to be good for the heart.

    When I set up my blog (back in the Pleistocene), I set comments to go into moderation after 14 days. There have been two people who’ve had to be sprung from that queue, and the spam trap has caught every execrescence of spam. On the other hand, I don’t have a huge readership. Probably for the best.

  20. Dave Crisp:

    The Canonical Bacon Page is set up as a page (rather than an entry) and so has different rules via the WordPress backend. The comments there are still open.

  21. I actually have noticed the relative lack of controversial topics lately. I assumed it was just because you were sick of the drive-by trolls. They are pretty unpleasant, but worse, I think blogs that regularly attract an asshole contingent tend to be subtly shaped by their presence. The proprietor and regular commentariat become sort of defensive and mean and that’s no fun.

  22. MRAL:

    It’s less about the what the trolls say (they get malleted) and more about thread monitoring in general. There are people who aren’t trolls who still need to be kept on topic.

    Mind you, and also, some “controversial” topics I’m just not engaged with this year. As an example, I’m finding it difficult to get wound up about the mid-term elections this year. Usually in an election year I have something to say, but this year it’s largely “unnnnnnngh.”

  23. We do have plenty of other places to comment on the Scottish elections, nobody outside New Zealand has ever understood what was going on in their mess this week, and Nate Silver does all the inside-baseball anybody could want on the upcoming US election.

    14 days is a good enough length, especially because when you’re not travelling you tend to post several interesting things in that time period, and the discussion follows.

  24. Yaaaaaaaaay!!! Commmmmments!!!!

    You have no idea what it’s been like. I’ve been getting through Whatever in two minutes flat every morning. Which means I’ve had to go on and do actual work!!! *shudder*

  25. I enjoy reading comments. When you close comments, I am not able to access the comment thread to read it. Is this just me and my browser, or is it the same for other people too?
    Especially for the contentious posts with big comment threads, it would be great if you could include an external link into the comments after you close comments, so people could still go in and read the comments after the 14 days were up.


  26. I hope you will keep the comments open for Being Poor and the thread on the suckiness or not of writing by teenagers. Those seem to draw new readers and benefit from the slow accumulation of extra commentary.

  27. Mazarin: When comments are closed, you can click on the post title and scroll down to view them. (Or click on a comment in “The Blatherations of Others” if there’s been a coment in the thread recently enough.)

  28. For the posts where you open Comments later, will you begin counting the 14 days on the date posted, or the date Comments are opened? … just so we know how to plan. :-)

    Also, I agree with Doug above – iconic pieces like “Being Poor” are often gateways to the blog, and thoughts of new commenters have enriched those threads even years later. My 2 cents.

  29. I don’t know if other people do this, but I tend to come to the page only to read the comments, or if I think I might have something to say. Having a time limit seems a perfectly acceptable compromise, while leaving the comments for those of us who enjoy them.

    Having said that, I’m… not really surprised about the change in visiting behaviour while comments were closed, but more accepting that other people have different reading patterns. (It does not surprises me when the majority does things differently, much the opposite.) I think it would be interesting to note if people who commonly comment just read online by default while us occasional commenters fall into other patterns, but I suppose there isn’t really enough data for that.

  30. I enjoy your humor, but I found your blog less satisfying with the “difficult” posts less frequent.

    If I have to choose between no post and post without comments, I’d much rather have the pleasure of reading you. Comments are like the icing on the cake, pleasant but not necessary.

  31. I have loved your ‘views from the window’ posts – and your observations :)

    I’m a lurker, and rarely comment, but I do read everything :)

    So thank you for everything :) and totally accept your new ‘rules’ (which imho, I wish other bloggers should follow!)

  32. I think the reason there are only a dozen-or-so commenters per post is that there’s a saturation point. Occasionally I see a post that makes me say “I really want to comment on that”, which makes my neighbor say “think quietly, dummy”. But there are already 200 comments from 10 people and no one will read comment 201 – at least I wouldn’t, I didn’t read comment 200. The only people still reading are those 10 people, and they’ve settled in to a conversation and will likely skip past non-conversation posts. So if I post, I’m just posting to myself. It’s more productive to annoy my neighbor (“not productive for me, dummy”).

    If I’m quick enough to be at the top of the thread, I’ll post. Usually I’m not that quick.

    Did people stop posting “first!” at the beginning of every comment thread everywhere? Or are they filtered out?

  33. You make some very salient points about commenting. Popularity breeds unwanted cyber-pests, and cyber-pests are the scourge of the modern cyberworld. Also, I echo the commenter above me (DPWally) in that sometimes when I read a popular blog, like yours, I do have a tendency not to read/comment on post that has at least 150+ comments on it, simply because roughly 50% is a multiple redundancy of at least 6 different variations of a theme.

  34. I – almost – once wrote hate mail, then decided that my effort would have rated a C-minus at best. Not worth the bother. Better to pass along links of interest.

    Commenting here means that – everyone – gets to grade your blatheration. Far more democratic.

  35. Kevin Lighton:
    Thanks for telling me about clicking on the post title. This seems to work. I usually click on the link that says “view comments” which of course disappears when comments are closed. Surely I am not the only one who has been confused by this? Is there some “reading blogs 101” course that was on the day I was sick?
    Of course, if comments are closed there won’t be any recent comments in “blatherations of others”


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