Terms of Use and Universal Comment Link Philosophy

I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to a fairly recent philosophical issue that the Blogosphere has yet to adequately address. Namely, what is the root purpose of allowing author links from commenters – especially given the rising tide of Comment Spam?

In this post I will attempt to enumerate the reasons, causality and consequences to justify the argument that the Blogging community needs to unite under a common philosophy regarding the use of links and author names in comments. I will also suggest an introductory framework to deal with the issue, most notably the institution of Terms of Use for all Blogs.

I believe it is important to focus on this problem quickly since the unethical, and possibly illegal, acts of sites like BuyBlogComments.com loom on the horizon.

Justification for Author Links

Every major Blogging system includes the ability for commenters to assign a URL to their comment which is almost universally used to turn their name into a hypertext link. I would argue that there are two primary reasons for Blogs to include an author’s URL:

  1. To encourage commenting. This reason is fair and valid because everyone wins. The Web site gains a little more content, the Blogger gets to engage in a stimulating conversation, and the Visitor receives some traffic back to their site so people can “research” them.
  2. To get to know the commenter. A community can develop around personal interactions in the form of comments. As people are able to get to know one another the experience becomes more personal and “humanized”. Mutual respect and even friendships can develop from this type of interaction.

Commenter Reasons For Providing Links

The philosophical problem comes into play when we consider that a Blogger’s reasons differ from the primary reasons that people want their URLs to be included in comments, which I would argue are:

  1. To get referral traffic.
  2. To lend credibility via their online persona / reputation.

The Disconnect

Since the Blogger’s and Commenter’s reasons don’t match, there is bound to be a disconnect. And we therefore see issues arising:

  • Commenters frequently use URLs for sites they would like to publicize, as opposed to sites that tell who they are.
  • Bloggers often mark comments from legitimate visitors as Spam in social spam fighting services such as Askimet when non-personal URLs are used. This can have the effect of blacklisting legitimate users.
  • Markets are springing up to take advantage of this gap with Commenters being paid to falsely list author URLs for clients in blog comments.
  • Blog posts, especially popular ones, are filling with empty comments that add no value.

The Solution

The solution to this problem involves bringing together three key parts:

  1. Implement a “Terms of Use” page to clearly outline expectations. I’m not aware of a single blog that has one, though it is irrational to expect any particular behavior without communicating expectations. Users need to be educated about where the lines are drawn so they can be held accountable. I’ve instituted one here as a sample.
  2. Consistent enforcement of standardized rules across top blogs. In the same way that most discussion forums share core rules, it’s important that the top bloggers send out a consistent message. Other blogs will follow the lead.
  3. Develop better user management and enforcement tools for blogging software. WordPress and other blogging packages should install a default “Terms of Use” page, and banning and other enforcement tools should be added to the core.

Rationale for Enforcement

I believe it’s important to explain to people why they are being asked to do something rather than just telling them to do it, so here are just a few reasons that serve to justify adherance to the policies outlined in any Terms of Use documentation.

For Commenters

  • You are investing in yourself when you use a link that really describes who you are. All of these links build up over time and strengthen your online persona.
  • Because of collaborative SPAM filtering, such as Akismet, commercial URLs will likely end up killing your ability to post comments on blogs all across the Web. If just a few people mark your comments as spam you will end up in a global blacklist.
  • People wanting to learn more about you will actually spend time reading your site if they go there for that purpose, so you can link to and promote your other projects and they may actually get some quality traffic.
  • If people follow a link to learn more about you and arrive at a commercial site they will be immediately turned off and leave, meaning the traffic served no purpose.
  • If you use and link to your real persona bloggers will consider you equal in terms of valuing the opinion of another real person. If you fail to reveal your true identity then you do not deserve, nor will you receive equal treatment because you have no skin in the game.

For Bloggers:

  • Allowing commercial links from commenters gives your site the appearance of a Spam farm. This will ultimately impact the perception of your site and damage your popularity.
  • Comments are NOT necessary for a site to be popular! They are a luxury simply for you to receive feedback. Fewer, but high quality comments will be far more personally rewarding than tons of spammy one liners.
  • Commercial links in your comments can, in some cases, damage your sites ranking in the search engines. You can develop a bad link neighborhood and lose valuable search engine traffic.
  • Real, personal URLs of visitors are very valuable for getting to know the people your blog is attracting. You can make friends, do favors for one another, and really connect on a personal level.

Final Thoughts

For all of the aforementioned reasons (and more) I would encourage everyone – Bloggers and Commenters – to adhere to the following Rules:

For Commenters:

  • Read and follow Lorelle’s rules for commenting.
  • Ask yourself, “does my comment add value to this article or give the author constructive feedback?”
  • Ask yourself, “would I post this comment if I wasn’t getting a link back?” If the answer is no, then don’t do it.
  • If at all possible, advance the conversation. Take the time to explain how or why the article impacted you, or give a counter-argument.
  • Providing links to additional authoritative or relevant resources is always appreciated, but do so in the text not in the URL field.

For Bloggers

  • Communicate your Author Link policy to your visitors via a “Terms of Use” page. Let them understand your expectations and help educate them on the etiquette of being a good commenter. Feel free to link to this post rather than reinventing the wheel if it helps.
  • Maintain a Zero-tolerance policy on commercial links from commenters. Delete the comments or at least edit and remove commercial URLs from every comment on your site. You’ve already communicated your policy now enforce it with conviction.



There are 33 comments

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  1. Sheila - Mode-2011.com

    Thank you for this extra-ordinary posting about this very special theme. I never was thinking about it like that. Please keep on writing articles like this. There are millions of weblogs around. It is very hard to find out which blogs are worth and which not. I have favourited your page to keep uptodate with your future releases. CU Sheila

  2. What Is Sucking Your Blogging Confidence Away? : The Blog Herald

    [...] Recently, John Pozadzides of One Man’s Blog has been on a campaign to help bloggers consider adding a “Terms of Use”, “Comments Policy”, or “Blog Policy” to our blogs to help readers, commenters, and users understand where the blogger stands on what they will and will not allow on their blogs. In Time Wasting Blog Comments, Comments Policies, and Comment Etiquette, I covered some of what John proposed in his article, Terms of Use and Universal Comment Link Philosophy, and he also covers the subject of link spamming in comments in Terms of Use and Universal Comment Link Philosophy. In this post I will attempt to enumerate the reasons, causality and consequences to justify the argument that the blogging community needs to unite under a common philosophy regarding the use of links and author names in comments. I will also suggest an introductory framework to deal with the issue, most notably the institution of Terms of Use for all blogs. [...]

  3. Lorelle

    Excellent, John. Very well done.

    I have no problem with anonymity on the web. I believe it is important to protect yourself FIRST. However, as you have so wisely said, there is a difference between anonymity and using search terms and keywords in your “name” and signing your comments with a resume including links, and participating as a commenter interested in the content and the ability to trace the comment back to “you” and your blog.

    The first reeks of greed and narcissism, and the second, continues a conversation beyond the blog post, if the reader so desires.

    As for blogs not having a “terms of use”, many do. Mine is called a “policy”, which covers more than just comments but also legal issues. Others call it their “comments policy”, “legal”, “terms”, and other words to describe their policies, conditions, and terms of use.

    Still, these need updating as technology and culture changes around blogs. I need to update mine on my main blog, so thanks for the reminder.

  4. John P.

    I think you’re right on target Lisa. I actually believe that the vast majority of people we encounter online are really decent people with good hearts. The problem is that the really evil people (>5%) set up robots and make a real mess of things. We have to constantly remember that this is the very vocal minority – and that is why Spam should not be tolerated, or rewarded. I think there should be seriously harsh penalties.

    I also think this is very on-topic because if we all acknowledge that the world is like this, then it’s easy to understand why we have to each go to greater lengths to ensure that people are aware that we are one of the good guys. Hence, the use of our name or handle, along with a link that backs up our claim about who we actually are!

    John

  5. Lisa Marie Mary

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this post and the ensuing conversation – I haven’t felt, though, that I’ve had a logical and intelligent opinion to contribute. I am definitely more a feeler than a thinker and so I do have this to say:

    While it is true that one of my favorite places in the world (the internet) is disgustingly infected with spammers, scammers, and scumbags – I have also found it to be true that another type of individual roams these web waters. And that is the person with a genuine heart, plugging away day after day, much to the chagrin of the family usually, to make a go of this ‘work online’ thing. This person starts to make a little progress and is so excited! They meet John Doe or Jane Doe online, who is just a step or two behind them – and bends over backwards to help them get ahead. Then John or Jane reciprocates, or pays it forward.

    There are so many wonderful people like this online, in the blogging world, in the WAHM world, in the internet marketing arena – and in the various crossovers of these. I have been moved time and time again witnessing, and receiving, the help that is freely doled out. Exhibit A – this blog. Shouldn’t we pay tuition, or something? ;)

    So what I am saying is, if a genuine person such as these I’ve mentioned comes along, I am more than willing to spread the link juice. I know they’ll return it to me, or return it to others, or make it big (big to me=fulltime income) and teach others how to, as well.

    That is one thing that has truly amazed me in my years online – the generosity of IM’ers, bloggers, and WAHM’ers! I have never, nor expect I will ever, seen so much ‘helping out the next guy’ in any other line of work.

    This comment could be totally off-topic, or completely on-target, depending on how you look at it, I guess. ;)

  6. Trevor McNotDonald

    I agree with your reasoning behind your actions – If I was in your position I would hate people just trying to abuse the commentator authors links, etc. I think comments are healthy on any blog, but only when they are used correctly. If theres nothing for a commentator to gain, then they wont comment – unless they are REALLY interested in the subject.

  7. Luke

    Yes I get the idea mate, and I’ll be sure to create an ‘About Me’ page soon. I don’t know why I’ve always just pushed that idea aside, but you have given me good reasoning to go ahead with it.

    And about Tupac, I wasn’t sure if you was being funny or not :D. I’m glad you know you’re stuff, and I just thought I would let you know for future reference incase you was obvlivious to his demise.

    Luke.

  8. John P.

    Actually, I guess I did know that but just forgot… I remember him from back in the day when he got his start with the Digital Underground. Who would have ever guessed he’d turn out so big?

    Anyway, I think you get the point – genericly speaking – that people might want to know who you are, and giving them an about page makes it easy for them to contact you.

    John

  9. John P.

    Ok great! That is exactly why I have the about page there! And it works just like that for everyone, so you get a real live demonstration of why you should have one on your site as well! :-)

    John

  10. Luke

    John,

    I appreciate your reply. I guess you are right about the About Me page, and now I think about it I really can’t come up with an excuse or a reason why I haven’t created one. I used to have an ‘About’ page, but that was simply information regarding the site. You know, when I get home from work I’m going to do that :).

    And yes, I have read your About page. Infact that was one of the first things I did when I first stumbled accross your blog. It enforces my trust in you, and I believe supports the bond between you, your blog, and us.

    Regards.


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