6 Steps to Kill Your Community

There have been a number of new platforms popping up recently that claim to increase your user engagement, get you more comments, increase your traffic, and more, through means that I consider short-sighted and harmful. Since people seem not to mind, I thought I’d write a guide for how to increase the number of comments you get by 400-1,000% and ruin whatever shred of community you had on your site.

  1. Don’t Moderate. Allow anybody to post anything regardless of whether it contributes to the conversation or not. Stupidity, libel, hate, curse words are all okay because in the comments you have plausible deniability. Make sure people know that whatever they post will live forever, and anything goes. The few smart people you did have in your comments will enjoy responding to these folks. Advertisers love being next to a good fight, too.
  2. Allow Spam Through. I don’t mean the obvious viagra mortgage stuff, but the human-written and surface-thoughtful comment that “Florida Real Estate” or “Poll Widgets” decided to leave on your entry. Or the guy who comments on every post and has a 3-link signature. Or the lame startup that mentions itself at every possible opportunity, however tangentially related it is. Once spammers catch a sniff of this stuff getting through, they’ll descend on your site like locusts and instantly double or treble your “community.”
  3. Force Signup. You’re not a blog, you’re a social network cum media empire and even to leave the smallest comment you should make me fill out a profile, preferably with demographic information you can use in advertiser pitches later. (*cough* CNET) Please ignore useful services like Gravatar and try to get me to upload yet another profile picture because you think that makes your site more “sticky.” (In a sense of the word, it does.)
  4. Don’t Participate in Comments. Make it clear that your post itself is for annointed authors who don’t mix with the hoi polloi in the comments ghetto. Don’t link or highlight anything good from the comment section; those people silly enough to contribute content to your site for free should feel ignored. If an author does happen to drop in and make a comment, make sure it doesn’t stand out from the rest so it’s lost amid the sea of…
  5. Random Crap from Around the Web. Make sure any comments you have are buried by every random piece of “conversation” from around the web, especially retweets, Delicious links, Digg and Slashdot comments, pretty much anything will work here. Bonus points for unmoderated pingbacks, so every scraper spam blog copying the content of the post gets a free link in the comments.
  6. Design Like NASCAR. The more buttons, widgets, stickers, and visual clutter the better. I want to see every possible login system including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, OpenID, Google Friend Connect, and that Myspace thing. Because of their respective crappy terms of service, use the giant buttons they insist on. Also include a megabyte of “share this” icons for every obscure service in every language. People love options! Complexity is for closers.

As a bonus, here are a few extra that don’t make any sense to me, but seem to be popular:

  1. Abandon Search Engines. Make sure your comment system is externally hosted on a separate domain and injects comments in via JavaScript, so everything is completely invisible to search engines. For bonus points, even if you have an existing database, say WordPress, with all of your comments, make sure the external service doesn’t synchronize any of the new stuff back into it, so you’re at the mercy of the external provider forever and ever.
  2. Be Famous! You’ll get thousands of comments on almost everything you post and make sure only to let through the most sycophantic and saccharine, don’t tolerate real conversation or debate. To spice it up every now and then opine on a known controversial subject like abortion and let your audience loose on each other like gladiators while you watch from the stands.
  3. Put the Comment Form at Top. This ensures everyone making a comment hasn’t read any of the discussion so they’ll leave a comment anyway even if the exact same thing has been said already or a question has already been answered.
  4. No Subscriptions. Don’t allow me to get email notifications of new stuff, make me visit your site and reload the page constantly to see if there’s anything new.
  5. Make People Click Click Click. Ideally do 1-comment-per-page CNET-style and your pageviews will go through the roof, but if you can’t stomach that just make comments-per-page setting low or have some sort of complicated nesting scheme.
  6. Treat Everyone the Same. If I’ve left hundreds of great comments over many years on your site, please make me wait in the moderation queue like some random stranger off Digg. Don’t let anyone know I’m a regular, or talk to me, or invite me to test out beta stuff, or pretty much anything that acknowledges my existence or shows any degree of trust.
  7. Don’t Ask Anything of Your Audience. No polls, surveys, or open-ended blog entries. What do those plebes know anyway?

Shameless: IntenseDebate does all of the software stuff right, or will shortly. Core WordPress threading, moderation, and whitelists are already built in but also check out Subscribe to Comments and of course Akismet.

What are your pet peeves and rules?

150 thoughts on “6 Steps to Kill Your Community

  1. Great article. I may have been guilty of some of those things in the past.

    Until recently, I hadn’t realized that by being careless with moderation, readers may become careless as well when commenting. This leads to almost impossible to read comments and discussions that turns off the more intelligent / thoughtful readers from participating in discussion.

  2. Number six struck a chord with me. All these social media “evangelists” write some interesting stuff from time to time but I’d rather read their articles via feed rather than visiting the actual site. Too much social media *can* be a bad thing, fellas.

    1. The other Number Six struck a chord with me. “Treat everyone the same” – To much community stratification can be a really bad thing too. Anyone who contributes to the community should not be doing it for ulterior motives.

  3. Pet peeve:
    When people blog about wanting to be a famous blogger and how they intend to get there… and then they do the NASCAR thing.

  4. Thanks Matt, this is pretty insightfull and most of your points I absolutely agree with.

    We run a fairly large community (WP based ofcourse) at iPhoneclub.nl and initially I started moderating all comments. However, since the website and the community grew larger and larger (60K daily visitors), moderating new commenters simply became unmanagable. As aside, approved commenters sometimes proved to be sheeps in wolf clothes: sensible at first, but show their real character later (see point 1).

    I am currently really really thinking about implementing point 3 (Force Signups), although I absolutely hate it myself. However, it’s the only way I see a way of our current impasse.

    Truth be told: I really need to discuss this with you and other devs in IRC or in WP-Hackers – the WordPress comment system is lacking features catered to larger communities. I understand the comment system is not a forum, but (our) visitors treat it as such and we lack to tools/system to handle this in WordPress. My points:

    * There’s no moderator role like we know in forums (you have to grant this person editor rights, which is something I absolutely don’t want)
    * Signups don’t require a valid email address (there’s no double opt-in approval check). It can be done through a plugin (forgot the name), but as soon as the approved user changes his email to a bogus address, there’s no reconfirmation message sent (leaving us no real good banning option, except IP-banning through .htaccess, which is a futile thing in this mobile era)
    * I would die/pay $$$$$ for a *good* comment vote system, where users can set their own treshold to what level they want to see comments: all positive (1+), neutral (0+) slightly negative (-1) or all comments (-2)

    Again, all other points mentioned in your checklist: I wholeheartedly agree (and I can proudly see we do all the positive counterparts to your negative points)

    Thank you for the wake up call to many blog owners out there and here’s hoping WordPress will be even more community-friendly (commenter wise) in the (very) near future.

    Hope you will answer some of distressed help calls 😉

    1. Out of the box WordPress’ comment system is optimized for normal-sized blogs — when you get to the level you’re talking about I agree that sometimes plugins are necessary. (Or maybe an external system like IntenseDebate or bbPress.) For example WP’s role and capability system is totally flexible enough to allow for a user type that only can moderate comments.

      One thing I would caution against, though, is losing the simplicity that got your community to the point where it is today. There is something to be said for the radical simplicity of blog comments for involving new people.

      It is harder to moderate as the community gets larger and larger, but arguably that’s when it becomes the most important. It sounds like you’re on the right track, though, with the idea of involving more people with it.

    2. I’m in a little Italian community that is featuring the filtering system that you describe since 2006. Those filters may work on large communities but on an average number of users (like <100 lurkers/active users) this kind of feature ignites many "fear of the new guy" that becomes a -1 fury on all the comments that do not respect the forum unspoken diktat, which may be good to keep alive a stable userbase, but is bad if you want to grow that community since basically it "filters out" all the individualistic thoughts that are a must for a great community diversification.

      1. Hi Simone,

        Is this for WordPress? Could you please contact me for more information? Please shoot me an email at webmaster [at] iphoneclub [dot] nl or tweet me if you’re on Twitter: JeanPaulH. Thanks!

    3. Your situation seems critical. I know of a similar situation where a big community in my country switched to obligatory signups for comments. That did not hurt community too much though.

      Here is what I suggest. You begin by offering optional signups for visitors by offering a little advantage i.e. not logged in visitors will not be able to put their web link in the comment form and that will be available on signup. That will motivate a lot of people to signup to have their blog’s or site’s link in their comment.

      The success of this decision can help you choose whether you will force all of them signup or not.

      However, it would be a good idea to conduct a poll first where you can explain your reasons and ask their opinion.

      1. Thank you for thinking aloud. A website link is hardly an incentive for our visitors (few people actually leave their website info), but I’ll toy with the idea of offering another incentive just for logged in users.

  5. Good advices, Matt. I used to fall into number five (random crap from the web). In my defense, is funny crap I try to make as much original content as possible (and if I have nothing, the blog lies there).

    I think sharing buttons are useful. Not all of them; there are dozens of sharing sites, and writing in Spanish cuts down most of those options. I’m currently using nine options, using small icons, and I think they are helpful for those who use those sites.
    I think it’s not ok when those buttons are BIG, or have too much presence. I tried to avoid those issues in my blog.

    I started moderating comments after reading what you wrote previously in your blog about that. However, with my reduced amount of visitors is enough to allow or deny only the first comment. I haven’t found “good people” gone bad 🙂

    My “rule” is to write things I really like. Because it’s my blog, I think I have the freedom to post a silly joke if I like it, regardless of what the readers would think. Or break my superfluous posts with a thoughtful (but probably boring) rant.
    In less words, “be yourself”. We have Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to pretend to be cool.

  6. I’d like to add one thing which also pushed me away from (always) moderating comments: a lot of new visitors didn’t understand why their comment had to be approved and sent emails why their comment wasn’t visible (with additional remarks, like: won’t ever leave a comment again, why can’t you just trust people, yada yada yada). It’s not so much a nuisance as forced signups, but to some of our visitors it comes pretty close. It’s a thin line …

    1. Yes that’s why by default WordPress shows the comment to the person who left it regardless of its moderation status, so people always see their own comments right away.

    2. I don’t set all comments to be moderated on the way in, because I want people to be able to have conversations while I’m off doing other stuff. However, I do go in and moderate any spam or trolling that slips through.

      There’s pre-screening, and then there’s cleanup. As with many things, it’s a balancing act.

  7. Crap from the web is so true … I never see the point of all the retweets and pingbacks on Mashable for example.

  8. So, Matt, are you suggesting that Disqus, as opposed to IntenseDebate, is completely invisible to search engines?

    I ask because I am genuinely interested to know if the difference between the systems is that significant.

    1. I haven’t dug deeply into the other systems lately besides IntenseDebate, but I do know for sure that the latest version of the IntenseDebate plugin for WordPress is actually smart enough to leave your comments as-is, and then add their layer on top of the normal markup so your site looks exactly the same as it does today to search engines, the ID-goodness just comes in on top of it.

      Another nice side effect of this is if ID happens to be down it doesn’t take down your site or comments, just the extra features disappear until ID is back up. Also any comments made to the local DB in the interim would be auto-synced back into IntenseDebate, so it’s a self-healing system.

    2. Disqus. Try browsing with JavaScript turned off. You can’t even see the comments.

      So, no, Disqus comments are probably never going to show up in a search engine.

      1. Yes, Disqus comments show in search engines. I’ve tried in Google and in Lijit.

        Also, I checked and Disqus comments display just fine with Javascript turned off.

  9. Matt, registering to a site to comment kills it for me. I’ve been to many sites itching to comment, but the registration stopped me cold.

  10. Thank the heavens for Akismet. The best plugin ever!

    Thanks for the tips, Matt. I think that getting involved the the comments – and asking more of my community – are two things I need to work on.


  11. Subscribe to Comments looks like it hasn’t been updated in a while. I’ve disabled it because I feel unsure about mixing a plugin “compatible up to WordPress 2.3.1” and WordPress 2.9-rare (trunk).

  12. Matt, can we expect to see Subscribe to Comments in the core of WP in the near future? I haven’t seen too much on the dev side of things about it yet…but it would definitely be amazing to have in the core.

    1. No plans to have Subscribe to Comments in core, I think it’s plugin territory for now, still. Mark (the developer and core WP dev) agrees.

  13. Hi Matt –

    Good list. I was Product Manager for CNET News and Blogs up until very recently, and thought I’d flag that while CNET does require readers to create an account to leave comments (like many other sites and services – still personally not a fan), we streamlined the login process long ago and that demo info isn’t required to sign up.

    I’d recommend some Robitussin for that cough! 🙂

    1. Bernie, thanks for the update! And obviously CNET has some innovative stuff around Gamespot and their WP-powered blogs too, it was just the older (Jive-powered?) one comment per page stuff that drove me nuts.

  14. It’s a shame that this post is so necessary. It’s a sad day when the community is no longer about the community.

    1. If I can make it past the Comic Sans I’ll check out the Peck article. 😉 Since ID and WP.com are both owned and run by Automattic, you can expect them to have more crossover in the future.

  15. I couldn’t agree more! After reading number 4 of the extras on email notifications I was almost surprised because something like that isn’t build into the beautiful WordPress.

  16. (your header is gorgeous)

    That post is awesome… all the things that really make me want to dig my eyeballs out about some communities/blogs.


    I really hate CAPTCHA type things , mostly because I browse with a lot of things blocked, and by the time I realise that I needed to have it on the enter it in, my carefully crafted comment is gone.

    Same with registering. I don’t want to be a member of your blog. I’ll read it and comment on it, but I’m not a member.

    Thank you.

  17. Great article!

    Personally, I can’t stand barriers like registration-to-comment, and I am frustrated by pop-up subscription requests on first time visits before you get the chance to actually read the content. Why in the heck would I subscribe to a site before I’ve read the content??

  18. One of my personal pet peeves: ordering comments in reverse-chronological order, with the newest at the top, as seen on Gawker and YouTube. Like putting the comment box at the top, this guarantees that there’s no opportunity for natural conversation. (Also, it helps if the comment box is tiny, encouraging one-line comments with little substance.).

  19. I have a comment to make regarding Point 1: Don’t Moderate.

    There might be legal reasons why people do not moderate.
    If you start moderating you will be liable legally (I think at least). If you do not moderate the person who posted the comment will be liable.

    Am I right or wrong?

    1. I’ve heard variations of this as an excuse why larger media companies avoid moderation, personally I think it doesn’t make sense. A good lawyer could probably defend you successfully in either case. If you’re moderating it’s less likely you’ll have something there that will get you into trouble in the first place.

  20. Lovely advice, think I’ll pass this on to the blogger wife. Will research ID a bit more, as she’s had some interest in forum systems for some time. I second the compliment for Akismet, as well – it’s made cleaning the barnacles off the comments sections much simpler.

    Regarding billboard websites – GoDaddy, anyone? Was their website that drove me right into the arms of laughingsquid 😀

  21. Nice list. One of my pet peeves is really big graphics at the top of the page that force you to scroll past to get to the real content

  22. Pet peeve/comment stopper: If a blog wants me to use my real name or log in in with a service where I use my real name (Facebook most of the time). I get why some want this but the thing is, with a very unique name combination, and in general few people with our surname, I just don’t want some HR guy or whoever else to just have to do one Google search and basically find all my comments ever made (topic or site doesn’t matter). They of course say “but I have my name on my blog” but well, that’s their choice, or if they have some kind of business attached to their blog, they have a good reason (or maybe legal requirement) why they have their name on their blog. I don’t.

  23. This is rather hilarious. I definitely fell like I may be guilty of some of this stuff. It’s funny because there a so many how-to blog sites that actually suggest some of these things.

  24. I once tried to enable anonymous posting on a bbpress forum – no soup! The feature doesn’t exist. I am forced then to kill my own community according to rule #3! 😉

    BTW, you are absolutely right about that, if you force register, you will lose many many comments.

    1. This is mostly aimed at blogs, as forums can have different dynamics, but you still have a good point. Maybe bbPress should have an anonymous option.

  25. I’m not famous yet – can you tell me how to do so? I tried letting spammy comments through, that didn’t work. Then I tried posting my own comments just to spice up numbers – nope. Then I posted :WaReZ RuLeZ” on as many social networks as I could, with a sneaky link back to my site – nope.

    I so want to be famous – please will you help?? 🙂

    Great post fella, and so very, very true 🙂

  26. I know people have already said this, but the design like NASCAR thing made me laugh out loud. Some people think “if one widget is good, seventeen are better!” Good work, Matt.

  27. I’m personally concerned about using Intense Debate, just because it’s not a Free / Open-Source platform and I wouldn’t have any control over it. Unlike, say, WordPress, and its awesome GPL “bill of rights.”

    I think I’ll wait and just use other plugins to try to implement the same features. Thank you for the neat article though! I needed this.

  28. Great article, thanks for writing it. You’ve prompted me to poll my readers to find out if the ‘sharing’ icons are even used. I don’t use them personally but a friend strongly suggested I ought to have them on my site. Cheers!

    1. @stephanie – I just checked out your site, and truthfully, I didn’t notice the ‘share this’ link… its really hidden.

      There are heaps of different WP plugins that do the same thing, you should check them out and experiment.

  29. Great article. I just managed to convince a strong-willed co-worker of mine of several of these points.

    But man, if he reads it at all, all the “suggestions” you make here will likely seem like clever ideas to him (until he realizes they are what not to do).

  30. Fantastic post, Matt! You’ve caused me to rethink my usage of the Facebook plugin. I’ve been using the Facebook plugin for my site and I’ve had almost 2,000 users sign in with their Facebook ID since I set it up a few months ago. That’s a big number to me, but I’m still not seeing much value in it. I don’t require users to login to post and those who do login or post through the Facebook interface aren’t anymore involved than those who don’t. I’m thinking of dropping the plugin just because it slows the site down just a tad and the code doesn’t validate. I’m thinking my users won’t miss it. It is kind of cool to see their faces show up in the sidebar when they visit – even if they don’t post.

    Also – You’ve piqued my interest in IntenseDebate… I’m off to watch the WP plugin video…

  31. Just for kicks I ran the numbers for my addthis social media plugin against my average monthly visitors. It came up to .17% I’m removing the clutter asap.

  32. I love the tone of your post! Excellent advice and a timely reminder not to run away with too many widgets and get bogged down with sign-ups. Grateful for the pointer about IntenseDebate. Thank you

  33. Thank you, Matt. I have read a lot of articles recently on creating community (I have a great one but it is very small) and this is probably the most coherently written. Better yet, you didn’t expect me to trade my first born for the privilege to read it. The sarcasm was a sparkling bonus so I get to go away educated and smiling.

  34. This isn’t really blogging related per se, but I hate it when comment systems email every comment to -everyone- who has commented. Like on facebook. I’d posted some neutral comment about healthcare, and two of the commenters (my brother and a cousin, actually) got in such a spat I had to delete the original post to keep my friends from having to endure the nastiness. ;-( I would never want that on my personal blog.

  35. I’d add the following: “do not offer support for mobile platforms”. Why bother downloading and activating a pro-mobile plugin for a blog or website when it could cost you as much as two clicks? Just leave on-the-go readers off your site!

    Maybe we could add “use bad markup and tables instead of semantic clean code”. Just like the old version of MySpace (they got tons of users but let’s look at quality, not quantity).

    What do you think? Are these points “too technical to harm the community spirit”?

  36. I’ve been passing on your NASCAR observation since you mentioned it to me at WordCamp SF. 🙂 Love it.

    Most know about the all-inclusive tools to help reduce the sharing/bookmarking clutter (AddToAny and competitors). Depending on your community, it’s usually a good idea to offer a *few* services independent of the all-inclusive button. Again, emphasis on a few, with an absolute ceiling of 6 (NASCAR range, I know!). Link sharing helps drive community, especially if you can subtly encourage it and make it easy. People reward and respond kindly to great content, and one “Share” button serves as a very functional reminder.

    As far as consolidating login platforms, ClickPass is one elegant option that I’ve come across.

  37. Nice attitude you’ve got there.

    I thought the guy that owns facebook was an Arschloch.

    Anyhow, I find it very humorous that YOUR idea of how a blog should look, operate, whatever… should be the standard.

    What? you think because you forked a piece of code, than you’re now God?


    1. Patrick,

      So let me get this straight. You’re visiting Matt’s *personal* blog, and are getting offended because the man is sharing his opinion?

      He’s not commanding anyone to do anything. If he was, then your “Political Byline” blog would probably be near the top of the NASCAR-designed site list.

    2. I think it’s funny that this is coming from someone who made the same mistakes Matt listed. Comical.

    3. Patrick, I just saw your site and took note of its design. And I perfectly understand your beef against Matt’s post. It must really hurt, terribly hurt, to be told you’re doing it all wrong.

  38. Hahaha!
    # 6 is SO true!

    Gotta love the new trend with the social networking icons all over the posts and pages. ugh.

    The irony is that 1/2 your regular readers are guilty of just that.

  39. Number 3 is so annoying! By the time I’ve gone through the sign up process I’ve already forgotten what my comment was. That discourages people from making valuable comments.

  40. The director of a prominent cultural institution here in Milwaukee who hopes to increase his organization’s visibility and engagement with the community consulted with me for ideas. He has followed my blogs for some time — yet wondered why I had so few comments on my site, considering that a failing of some sort. I advised him that once he got his toes wet, he’d find that comments are not quite as useful as one might think. In fact, virtually any comment thread seems to derail on certain sites and on certain subjects. Not in my house!
    I keep my pieces factual, which makes it hard for commenters to put up nonsense. And I work very hard to keep Anonymous in his or her place.
    Thanks for codifying practices I have intuitively embraced from the beginning.

  41. Great rant 🙂

    I am currently investigating the 2 main external WordPress comment systems so would be interested to hear more from others on the Disqus / Intense Debate pros and cons. Anyone?

    1. It is really tough to decide between Disqus and IntenseDebate – Disqus generally seem to be more agile and are far better at communicating, whereas ID seem to fall silent for months but, just when you think they’ve entirely given up on their product, they reveal an ambitious new feature.

      ID are also not good at processing feedback and tend not to respond much in discussions on their own blog, whereas Disqus are very responsive. This means that ID tends to miss posts pointing out really obvious usability glitches and their using stop trying, while Disqus continually responds and improves their service thanks to a healthy feedback loop.

      If you are trying to decide which is the better long-term bet for your blog, I would guess that ID are going to be bigger, but only because Automattic have indicated that they intend to integrate the ID system into WordPress.com, which will give them 1 million + users at one fell swoop.

      This is the sort of area in which the numbers really matter so, in a sense, ID don’t really have to try, they’ve already won unless Disqus is bought by someone even bigger than Automattic, such as Facebook, which is possible but not likely.

      The newly revamped JS-Kit Echo is also worth a look.

      1. Echo (and Disqus) violate some of the rules here, for what it’s worth. IntenseDebate does do less fluffy PR, but has a lot more engineering weight on the backend, including the same infrastructure folks as WordPress.com, and rolls out a lot of quiet, but significant innovations, like the latest WP plugin which degrades 100% gracefully if the service goes down, and some new sync stuff that is running but hasn’t be announced yet.

      2. Matt, while I wouldn’t presume to question the community-building sensibility of the main guy behind the WordPress juggernaut, I think you’re wrong to dismiss Disqus’ ability to engage with their users as “fluffy PR”.

        WordPress may no longer need to push it’s benefits or to compete, it clearly dominates its category by a comfortable margin, but the competition between commenting systems is far from over and ID is trailing, despite the Automattic advantage.

        I appreciate that ID has a very small team and that time spent interacting with users is time that could spend on actual coding but there have been times when the complete radio silence, particularly in the six months between the Automattic purchase and their surprise launch of the ID plugin system, when the lack of any signs of life have hurt ID’s momentum, particularly when Disqus, by contrast, were so active and appeared to be surging ahead. I’ve watched fans on their Get Satisfaction forums become disillusioned and leave over this.

        Personally, I have had very good interactions with Michael and Jon, and when they finally do reveal something it is invariably brilliant, but would it really be that much of a burden to keep their users updated on a more regular basis and to respond to the hardcore of users who bother to post comments and suggestions? Surely building a strong core of engaged users has benefits in the long run?

        I note your concerns about the technical approach of the competing systems and, yes, I do buy that WordPress has a better infrastructure and a wider range of experience to draw upon, I was being a tad flippant in focusing only upon WordPress.com’s size as the trump card. There is also the question of trust and I do trust Automattic to make the right technical and ethical decisions. I also look forward to the new sync stuff you mention.

        In the meantime, however, Disqus and, to a lesser extent, JS-Kit are winning over significant slices of the market, partly through execution and partly through indicating their general direction. The ground they’re winning now will be hard to recover later.

        If the ID guys have a strong vision of where they’re going, surely it would be worth their time to give voice to it? And is it not also possible that stronger engagement with their users will actually help to clarify aspects of the design as it evolves?

      3. Integration was tough! I’ll take responsibility for there not being enough public communication in that time — I was encouraging the guys to stay very focused on the code and infrastructure things, as that’s what was needed to prepare a system that had a few hundred thousand comments total for the hundreds of thousands of comments a day that WP.com gets. There’s still work left, but we’re closer to the end than the beginning there.

        I have a lot of respect for the teams at both of those companies — huge amounts. But I also have a lot of confidence the space will look very different in 6 months. (Which I’d be willing to make a wager on. ;))

  42. I would like to add one more step, having a huge banner makes users scroll for sometime to reach the first peace of page content

  43. Thanks for the quick replies guys and thanks for putting me on JS-Kit Echo as that looks interesting too.

    I agree Disqus seems to be the better supported / more of a commmunity feel at present too hence why I have now swayed over that side of the fence but IF IntenseDebate start doing better PR, adding new features more regularly AND join up with WordPress.com then I will switch ASAP.

    1. Well, Andy, I have to say, in terms of better PR, what Matt said above, about encouraging the guys to just get their heads down and create an infrastructure that could cope with massive growth, that makes total sense.

      In the light of Matt’s detailed responses, my instinct now would be to opt for ID rather than Disqus – he has restated his commitment but, also, reminded us that what they are trying to do, including integration with wordpress.com, is not an overnight job. When they pull it off, however, you as a site owner are going to benefit from the massive network effect of sharing a commenting system with over 2 million other active sites.

      What this means in real terms is that visitors will almost certainly be already “logged in” when they arrive at your site, substantially lowering the effort barrier and making it easier for them to leave a comment. They will also know that their comment on your site will add to their system-wide reputation, making it far more likely that they will want to leave a high-quality comment.

      This is the ideal behind all the commenting systems but none has yet achieved the level of ubiquity necessary to revolutionize commenting and get previously passive visitors to engage in one big conversation. That is why Matt’s responses here are important, because he is suggesting that ID as a team and Automattic as a company are committed to something far bigger, far more fundamental that simply keeping up with the latest social media trends.

      So, based upon that, if you’re willing to be patient and play the long game, and want to avoid confusing your users by chopping and changing your commenting system in six months time, you should probably choose ID today. I’m certainly sold on it now.

      1. Nope, something must have changed on their end. I wouldn’t say we’re unblocked for sure though, sometimes in floats in and out.

  44. At first, I thought… “this guy has no idea what he’s talking about.” Then, I discovered this is what NOT to do.

    Thanks for the tips!!

  45. I can’t imagine how you find the time to read, much less respond to, any of the posts on your site, which is, by the way, the very most delightful visual experience I’ve had on the internet in GOD only knows how long. I don’t expect you found this theme thrashing its way to the top of the heap in any of the sources commonly mentioned among the intelligensia, huh?

    I rather suspect that this work is the product of a mind going too fast for 99.9975% of the rest of the world.

    Very inspiring.

  46. Gravatar would be a useful service if I didn’t have to send users away from my site to sign-up for it.

  47. Ok, we followed all six steps and successfully killed our community, what now?

    Thanks for the nice input!

    PS: This commentary system should only use 2 levels of indent when answering. Or a changed indent style. It’s often wasting lots of space by creating 5-words columns 😉

  48. The Uk Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) has a comment feature that does most of that and is very successful. For values of success involving “persuading large numbers of very mad people to post repeatedly”

  49. I run my blog without comments at all. I edited out the comments call from all my php files completely.
    I hope this doesn’t send the message that I don’t care about my visitors, I have worried about that.
    I get around 200 unique visitors per day, and it seems to be steady now.

    Do you think it’s necessary to have comments enabled? It’s just my own personal blog..

    1. Not always, in fact comments are a big responsibility. But maybe link to a contact form or something so you can have conversations with your audience.

  50. Technically speaking, wouldn’t using IntenseDebate put you “at the mercy of the external provider forever and ever“? Same with Gravatar, to be honest … neither of them are open standards.

    Which is not to say that they aren’t cool …

  51. Nicely collated, Matt. I’ve seen each of these more than I’d care to. Particularly time consuming are the splog-trackbacks. I don’t allow trackbacks on my main site for just that reason, but even with them allowed on my second site, it’s a hassle I could do without.

    All part of the day job, eh?

  52. Nice list, but I would probably add ‘hiding large portions of the site from the public’.

    I was recently asked to help with a site where the owner had 70%(estimation) of the site hidden from the public. Where non-members could see the titles of the sections but not see the content of the sections unless they were members.

    I guess that would go along the same lines as forcing users to sign up before replying, but to a far greater extreme.

    I was dumbfounded by the fact someone would actually do this. I tried to explain to them that content is what draws users in to a site but they thought the ‘aroma of exclusivity’ would draw a greater crowd.

  53. I’m so happy… I’m in the way of opening my first blog, and this dont´s article has been refreshing and informative for my cause, awesome!

  54. I have a special setting for that in my wp-config.php:

    define(‘COMMUNITY’, false);

    Works like a charm. But seriously, especially #3 resonates with me. I had a hard time deciding to put in the “share this” thing… Great collection, Matt.

  55. Great observations, very interesting and insightful, just as has already been said but I loved the sarcastic tone you had throughout, very interesting blog layout and admirable design, by the way!

  56. My peeves are usually with Mashable at times. I have to remember to uncheck the part to not subscribe to threads I comment at. Also, I hate signing up to comment at blogs. I do not ask people to do it at mine, so it really sucks I had to sign up for a blogger account to comment on some friend’s sites. I actually have persuaded some to change their comment options because of it.

    I have Intense Debate synced with my blog, but my own styling, I am still wading into the concept of it as it is still a bit new. I refuse to switch to Disqus no matter how many people I know use it currently.

    1. This is very true, although i try not to comment to much on mashable. It seems to me that there are so many comments that it soon becomes overwhelming and to original topic is lost!!!
      I use intensedebate as well (basic set-up), pretty go i think!!

  57. Great post – I definitely learned a thing or two and will be making a couple of changes. Hopefully I don’t lose my Penzoil sponsorship. 🙂

  58. All of this sounds all too frighteningly familiar. I joined an art “community” four days ago and already I’m being stalked by some delusional wacko who thinks I’m someone else. This site has been up and stumbling for about a year and boy do they need help. I think the administrators are taking all of the above seriously because they are employing all of them. “I only came to say I must be going.”

  59. Be a glorified link farm – like some of the big boys – and only post a link from a headline to a story somewhere else, or write one paragraph and link to the story somewhere else. Always. Numerous tmes a day. Everyone loves rehashed news, yum, yum.

  60. Oh, and please keep posting about how you’re too busy to respond to emails and offer tips on how I can get someone like you to notice me because after all, I like everyone else who reads your blog clearly want to be graced with a personal message from you and to ride your coattails. Geez. I’m here because I like what you’ve got to offer. Don’t run me away by lumping me in a category of moochers who want to ride the coattails of your internet fame.

  61. My best tip would be to just put up an “under construction” page with a cool logo and a simple e-mail address that takes messages you read but never even bother to answer. It enables you to count the people that are growing old waiting for something that will never happen. If you’re a really nice person, you could additionally implement a PHP script that auto-updates a “we’ll be online on xx.xx.xxxx” message so the date is always kept in the future… making the hard-dies really believe something will happen.

    An even better idea is to simply let your domain expire without prior notice… leaving any possible user baffled with a “can not be reached” error in their webbrowsing client.

  62. I see that you suggested to keep comments per page low, and yet i see all the comments on this page alone…

    I personally never liked to break comments into pages, this way all the conversation remains on one page and helps to quickly refer anything… and looks like you are doing the same on your blog, wonder why you wrote that in the 5th point…

    1. I think the issue of how to present hundreds of comments on a blog post so it can be contextual and readable, is something nobody has been able to resolve as of yet. I wish to see a single page comment screen but they’re not worth anything if they’re in hundreds and a new visitor is not even reading them. The only solution I see is if people are subscribed via email in the beginning and they’re now getting emails (as in this particular example).

  63. I would add:

    Allow 4 levels deep comments, so that replies look like this:

    Comment 1
    –Comment 2
    —-Comment 3
    ——Comment 4

    instead of like this:

    Comment 1
    –Comment 2
    –Comment 3
    –Comment 4

    This is actually apparent at this blog, which kind of disappoint me, since I admire your blog.

    I mean, think about it: Do you really think Comment 4 (in the example) is exclusively replying to Comment 3 and ignoring everyone else? Of course not – any sensible commentator would take a look at the whole thread of comments before adding their own reply.

    The situation becomes even more chaotic when you get this:

    Comment 1
    –Comment 2
    —-Comment 4
    –Comment 3
    –Comment 5
    —-Comment 6
    ——Comment 8
    –Comment 7

    It screws up the chronological order that comments 2 levels deep still manage to somewhat retain within their own indented thread.

    Therefore, 2 levels deep is the maximum number of levels I think we should have – anything beyond that is pointless. So okay, maybe one person in a hundred will want to reply in between Comment 3 and 4, but it won’t kill them if they reply after Comment 4 instead and just refer to Comment 3 using @username or something like that. It becomes pretty obvious who’s talking to who when it’s neatly organized in an indented thread.

    Comment two levels deep allows people to reply to original comments and the replies above them while straying away from the “reply to the reply of the reply of the original comment” situation, just because some people are too lazy to click on the reply button of Comment 1, and just click on the first one that catches their eye: the reply button of Comment 4.

    Comments 2 levels deep isn’t ideal, because then people have to scroll all the way up to Comment 1 to make click on the reply button. Moreover, when clicking on the reply button of Comment 1, the comment form appears under Comment 1 and not Comment 4, further confusing potential new commentators. I realize these disadvantages, but people aren’t completely dumb – if they really want to reply, they’ll figure it out. And the end result is still so much better and tidier than with comment four levels deep like on this blog.

    Your thoughts on this? Have you considered this issue before, and if so, why did you go with comment 4 levels deep? If you Ctrl+F on this page and search for the commentator “Andy Symonds” you’ll find the “replies to the replies to the replies” very evident, with you taking part in it as well!

    Also, could you elaborate on Bonus #3, where the comment form is at the top? You have a point, but with popular blogs that have 300 comments, I doubt anyone will take the time to read all of them just so they don’t repeat another person.

    I admit, as much as I want to read all the comments on this blog post and reply to some of them, I want to do it at a later time, when I’m less pressed with other stuff. My priority then, for the moment, is to leave my comment, and then come back to check out the others. Scrolling down all the way just to find the comment form isn’t very efficient. What do you think?

    What about having the same comment form at the top and bottom? (if that’s even possible using WordPress, correct me if it’s not). Would that be a good idea, or do you think people would be less likely to read the other comments?

    1. One more thing I’d add, since I just stumbled upon this problem:

      Don’t use the Ajax Edit Comments plug-in so that commentators are unable to delete their comments or editing some silly little spelling mistake within 5 minutes of posting (or any other time limit you choose)

  64. One of my concerns since the beginning of my website project was to create a site that wasn’t going to annoy the user. For example, requiring them to sign up for yet another account with my site just to use the main feature. I want my users to get in, use my site, and then check out the other sections. Or leave. I want happy users.

    One of the features of my site uses the P2 Theme (Love it) and I do want to control who can comment. My thought is to use a login that let’s users sign in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc accounts they already use. Something like JanRain RPX, which I’m setting up and looks promising.

    Is this a good way to tackle it. I just don’t like the idea of a pain in the ass sign up process, and I don’t like the idea of spammers, and anonymous comments.

    So a balance would be nice. I guess I can also delete comments and clean up when needed.

  65. let me clarify the “Or Leave” part of my previous comment. I want happy users that come to my site, handle their business and leave HAPPY. Not frustrated. Just wanted to clarify that. Come to my site, use the feature, read the blog, leave comments, and then leave happy. In and out. No hassles.

  66. After listening to Gary Vaynerchuk ‘s “Crush It” audiobook I started paying more attention to how I interact with people online – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or a blog – they all have their own subtle differences – but it’s all the same in a sense that you’re dealing with real people.

  67. My “favorite feature” of some websites is the requirement for complex passwords. You know the ones where is must contain at least 1 lower case letter, 1 upper case letter, 1 number, and 1 symbol, and be at least 8 characters long.

    And since that’s not hard enough for anyone to remember they really should make it harder. The number must proceed either a symbol or the letter “H”, the symbol muust be the 3rd charecter in the password, and the password must end with a lowe case charecter.

    Those “secure” passwords, probably get written down much more often than any other passwords…now thats secure.

  68. Hey Matt. I had to search for this post because I remember it, or one similar when you went off about those who don’t moderate comments. Since then I have been a comment nazi. I didn’t blog much in 2011, but as I just happened to notice that my blog went to a PR5. I’m sure it has something to do with my comment moderation… at least that is what I’m telling myself.

  69. Thank you for these tips!

    As a blogger, I have to be careful not to fall into the “Nascar” trap. Putting up gigantic buttons everywhere looks awful and it’s almost like you’re throwing yourself at your readers.

    The Nascar part reminded me of this comic that Mathew Inman (The Oatmeal) made a while ago, 8 Websites You Need To Stop Building: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/websites_stop
    Websites full of gigantic RSS buttons and enormous tag clouds, etc. It jolted me to rethink the design of my humble blog 🙂

    I just have one tiny problem with the idea of keeping the comment box at the bottom: I am a commentator who likes to keep referring back to the original post while commenting. It helps me to respond more directly to the post, and make sure that I don’t just jabber away. So putting the comment box at the very bottom is inconvenient, especially if there are hundreds of comments.

  70. Very funny :), though these are things that I think a lot of us struggle with on our own sites. I at least do with the “Don’t Moderate” issue… I hate censorship, but I know that it sometimes detracts from the site to allow rude comments through (and sometimes, they’re not wrong).

    – Matthew

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