Monday, April 19, 2010

Anonymous Commenting: Why It Shouldn't Exist And Striking A Balance

The following is a guest post by Gordon from We Fly Spitfires.

Commenting on blogs is a curious thing. Originally, back in the Wild West days of the web (the early/mid 1990s... imagine cowboys with spectacles, crew cut hair and calculators in their breast pockets), blogs were nothing more than an online version of your personal diary and didn't offer any form of conversation or feedback whatsoever. The phrase 'web log' wasn't even used until 1997 (the term 'blog' only coined a couple of years later in 1999 - crazy huh?) and commenting was only first introduced in 1998 as a feature by Open Diary. Who would've thought that such a small addition would've become a mainstream feature in the now omnipresent blogosphere...

Almost every blog has a comment system now and it's practically expected, if not demanded, by the readers. What's a blog without the ability for users to support, praise, insult and spam the author? The blogger entertains or informs and the reader responds, sometimes even automatically via helpful bots that try to leave useful adverts for Viagra or German foot spas. Comments are as integral to blogging as butter is to bread or copious amounts of alcohol is to a good date. But should commenters have to own up to their comments? Should they be forced to register and confirm their identity before they can remark on your words of wisdom? Or should they simply be allowed to comment anonymously?

As a blogger I prize every comment. They give meaning and recognition to my efforts, support me when I'm feeling uninspired and spur me onwards with excellent conversation and debate. Even the spam and trolls make me chuckle as I block their IP addresses in my filter. However every commenter, regardless of what they have to say, always leaves me with a name and an email address because those are fields of information that I require in my comment form. You simply cannot comment anonymously on my blog although Heaven knows you could make up a fake email address if you wanted to (I couldn't care less).

Other blogs do offer the facility to comment anonymously though and I've heard plenty of my fellow bloggers complain about the consequences. Trolling and un-helpful, un-desirable or downright insulting comments go on the rise. Suddenly, in a world in which commenters are no longer held accountable for their actions, all Hell breaks loose. This, to me, is human nature. Without the constraints of identify and accountability, especially on something so unintimate as the Internet, many of us no longer care about whether or not we contribute positively to a cyber conversation or even if we hurt someones feelings. By being anonymous we distance ourselves from the reality of the situation and that remoteness removes part of our moral fiber.

I don't censor the comments on my blog unless they're blatantly spam, advertising or extremely offensive. I believe in the freedom of speech and the simply ideal that if you treat everyone in a positive manner and on equal grounds then they will respond with dignity and thought or not at all. I do, however, always require my commenters to leave me with a name and email in order to somehow validate their identify. Taking a moment to fill in that information is all I ask and it's not a lot. If someone has something they honestly want to say then it's minor time consumption that shouldn't stand in their way and, above all else, it's an important token of honesty and sincerity in the blogger/commentator relationship.

I also believe that there's a balance to be struck though and just like I don't accept anonymous comments, I don't require people to jump through 20 fiery hoops of death just to respond. Signing in with Google accounts, Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, OpenID accounts... it's all a little extreme, in my opinion. Does it deter the troll and the spammer? No doubt. But it also deters the genuine commentator and turns an act of innocence and liberal exchange of conversation into one of doubt and suspicion.

So there you have my take on anonymous commenting. The first person to leave a comment with the name 'Anonymous' wins a prize.

Happy blogging (and commenting).


P.S. There is no prize other than your own smug satisfaction ;)


Anonymous said...

Sometimes anon serves another function. It means you don't have to give an unknown blogger your details, and it means you don't have to waste time logging in to yet another site you don't care about.

Larísa said...

I allow anonymous comments on my blog. But just because you're anonymous in the sense that you don't leave out an email address, a link to a google account or something like that, it doesn't mean that you have to be nameless. You can find up ANY kind of name and I'd be totally happy. Sometimes when I have a well-commented post up, I can have four different "Anonymous" commenting on it. Since I try to reply to most comments I will have to address them "Anonymous 1, Anonymous 2, Anonymous 3" etc. How good is that?

I wish Blogger was a bit more clear in the interface so people understood that they don't have to log in anywhere. Just find up a name and write it into the box.

Rich said...

Sometimes anon serves another function. It means you don't have to give an unknown blogger your details, and it means you don't have to waste time logging in to yet another site you don't care about.

lol? if you don't care then why are you here? why even waste your precious time typing up a response and futzing around with the CAPTCHA?

I'll always leave anonymous posting enabled, because

1) I came from posting at NotAddicted, where it was famously enabled.

2) ICBF to "approve" comments one at a time.

I mostly find it funny that people are still afraid of the internet. I've posted my resume, home address, pics of myself, my wife, and my kid on my blog. Unknown blogger? lol? <3

We Fly Spitfires said...

@Larisa Yeah, the Blogger interface can be a little clunky with comments and I suspect a lot of people think they need to log in with a Google Account.

Personally I just use the name/URL option because it's the quickest and Firefox will remember by settings after I've commented once. Easy peasy.

I don't use my Google account login because I like to keep it separate plus I only use OpenID to comment on Tobold's blog. It was a pain to do but I enjoy his blog a lot so made the effort. OpenID is very flaky though and sometimes doesn't display my nickname properly.

oshin said...

I use anon because I`m shy :( Guess im in the minority ?

Klepsacovic said...

I dislike anonymous posting when it is done out of fear to stand behind one's words. Of course there are the dissent of power situations when safety is needed, but in 99% of cases, there is no risk beyond the risk of making an ass of yourself. When it is laziness, I dislike that as well. Still, I allow anonymous posting because, well I guess I figure it helps people talk. Fortunately my anonymous posters are usually not trouble-makers, usually.

In a different context of the official forums, I think people should post on their mains except in cases of "rate my gear/spec" when it's easier to just post on that character. Or sometimes I use an alt if the class/race is specifically useful for trolling.

Randomnamehere said...

Is posting anonymously any different from just making up some random name to post with?

I haven't found it to be.

HP said...

I just allow anonymous commenting because so many times in the past, I've written a long comment only to have it be deleted because I had to sign in or I didn't fill out one of the fields correctly! I hated that whenever it happened so I don't want any of my readers to go through that.

If there are any trolls/spam, I just delete, I don't really care as I don't get that many comments in the first place.

Carson 63000 said...

Randomnamehere, the difference, as Larísa said, is that because you have made up the random name "Randomnamehere", I can respond to your comment. If you'd posted as "anonymous", and there were a bunch of other anonymous comments, it would be confusion.

Obviously, all blog commenting is effectively anonymous. If you need to provide an email address to register, a trashmail address and a fake name makes you anonymous. I come from a BBS background, where everyone used handles and real identities were unknown, but the purpose of a handle was to make it clear which anonymous person it was that was posting!

ohmananothername said...

But Carson, I can switch names and cause even more confusion, because while 3 anonymous posts might be one, two, or three people, it's nature to see three different names as three different people.

Unknown said...

Andy H.K.:

"lol? if you don't care then why are you here? why even waste your precious time typing up a response and futzing around with the CAPTCHA? "

The following may apply more back in the days when there was less blog and more discussion board, but it's possible that people is intestested in only a single topic/post among all your posts. They many want to ask a question, but do not feel like registering in a place where they may only visit a single time.

I don't know if it's just me, but if I feel I can't make much contribution with my post, I don't register. It all started back in the discussion board days. There were thousands of it, and I could only commit on 1 or 2 places at a time.

The next thing we can blame on is laziness, I suppose. It didn't help that among those "thousands of board" almost all boards require login to post, and it's quite a hassle to do all those email verification.

Of course, with all the methods to identify yourself now, these points are kind of moot. In the end it's all down to laziness. it's simple to drop a line Anonymously, and most people don't bother to add an ID. Easier to post could mean more posts, but that doesn't help the quality.

Anonymous said...

Your blog feed ("1 week ban") and blog are not synched, it looks. Did you have to remove a BANlol post for a secret reason ;)

Hatch said...

I just have a separate google account that I use for dealing with the blogosphere and fansites because I don't want to give out my real name.

I can't think of a single personal blog I visit that doesn't let me comment using that google id.

Unknown said...

Ixobelle, in reply to your reply to the first comment. The anonymous commenter stated you are an "unknown blogger" in the sense that he or she doesn't know you in person. They simply came across your blog and had a very 'human' urge to express their opinion. They most likely couldn't be bothered signing up or putting in a name. Anonymous posts are useful because if you have them turned off, then you just might never see the possibly helpful opinion of someone who only just came across your blog through a search on Google and knew ALL about the topic you were talking about, but don't have an account on your particular site. In my opinion you need to have the gates fully open, and brace yourself for anonymous negativity: that's only an emotional downside. Nothing more than that. An anonymous person being negative means that someone in the world seems to hate your blog, or is pretending to hate it, or is just bored and wants to insult somebody. But think about the 6 billion others who haven't expressed their opinion ;). Taking a negative anonymous comment seriously (unless it makes you want to improve, which is ultimately positive), is nothing but tunnel-vision.

Most people don't post things like their address on the net for safety. Not all people are as safely connected as you are. There are people who would search for real street addresses to know who lives there (and all about them), to exploit that negatively. It's a bad idea to put in sensitive private information on the web, unless it's completely secure. People don't seem to understand that until it happens to them. Cybercrime and exploitation is seriously dangerous.