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Why we run comments through a filter


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April 30, 2005

Why we run comments through a filter

Stephen Baker

There's a doctrinal tug-of-war going on as mainstream outfits like ours take our plunge into the blog world. I've been reading through the comments, and picking up some common laments. We don't run a true blog, some say, because:

a) we put comments through an approval process, slowing up spontaneity and raising the suspicion of censorship

b) we have bandwidth-hogging ads on our site that sometimes make it slow.

Guilty as charged. Truth is, we carry mainstream baggage and we always will. This doesn't mean that the mainstream won't change, but it will always have two key concerns: protecting the brand and making money.

Yesterday we asked if we could let the comments run unchecked, as so many blog sites do. The response was quick and emphatic. No. The magazine doesn't want to run the chance that even a tiny minority of the postings will be racist, hateful, pornographic, libelous. So the vast majority of readers, who can be trusted to be responsible, must post their thoughts and then wait for Heather or me to give them the ok. It's a pain and I'm sorry about it. But it's not going to change as long as this site is part of BW. (If any of you have suggestions for how to satisfy BW's concerns while keeping the comments path open, please send them along!)

Censorship? If Heather and I had our druthers, we'd let everything in. Criticism makes for better reading and generates discussions. So far, we've held up one comment (for profanity). As long as the filter is there, some of you will not be satisfied, and some won't trust us. That's just a handicap we'll have to work with.

The ads? We haven't even asked about them. But I'm sure the answer would be even quicker and, if possible, more emphatic.

10:35 AM

mainstream media

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? Do Blogs Need Comments? from BloggersBlog.com

BusinessWeek's blogs probably need a filter or spammers will eventually find them. They are really running a blog and a "forum" at the same time and most good forums have moderators to remove spam and problem posts. Their only risk is that they might l... [Read More]

Tracked on April 30, 2005 01:39 PM

I'd recommend doing away with the "Continue reading" hyperlink. It makes it harder to read the story and of course, it is very print publication oriented.

Thanks for the great cover story about blogs.

Posted by: Ken Leebow at April 30, 2005 12:13 PM

Simple solution for the ads: run ad-blocking software. I don't see any ads on your blog (or any other) precisely because I choose to run ad-blocking software.

That's a problem users can correct on their own.

Posted by: Dave at April 30, 2005 01:19 PM

Although some blogging purists might try to take you to task over approving comments, many other bloggers to the same thing on their blogs because of comment spam and the reasons you have already cited.

Frankly, I think what you're doing is the best balance possible. People have to recognize that BW is not just someone's blog. It's a large business, it's a brand, and it could be a target of a lawsuit if someone says something stupid and it is posted.

While delaying comments could stifle a rapid-fire dialogue, it also has the benefit of people returning often to see when (if?) their comment is posted!

I personally, got into a fray over comments. I noted, and blogged, that I thought the level of discussion and comments was falling to a new low and challenged bloggers to be more respectful in posts in comments. http://blog.larixconsulting.com/blog/_archives/2005/4/15/585070.html

And I wasn't talking about self-censorship, just respect for ideas and opinions. Interestingly, the comments on my site about it were very positive, it was the posts other places that weren't so.

One last thing that we all have to remember: blogs and comments are forever. Even if deleted, they linger in caches and archives and can come back to haunt you later.

Posted by: Tris Hussey at May 1, 2005 12:42 AM

I don't see any ads either. That little Adblock extension for Firefox does for unknowing smiles when viewing sites.

If you ran blogspotting without the overt connection to BW, would that free up the rampant comment fires?

Posted by: Switch at May 1, 2005 04:53 AM

BusinessWeek filters its blog to keep out comments that are "racist, hateful, pornographic, libelous." Thank you BusinessWeek. Now how about filtering for accuracy? Oops: Can't do that, can you? We can only imagine the burden you are under right now, just keeping up with all the too-much-time-on-their-hands characters like me sending you godzillions of messages. All you can do is judge them as "ok" or "not ok" and post the ones that pass your filter-lite. For this you went to journalism school and worked your way up to a great reporter or editor position at one of the most respected publications? You're better than this! BusinessWeek's editors can control for accuracy in their own publication because they have oversight of the info-gathering and prep-process from beginning to end -- and staff and a budget. BusinessWeek's blog operators can't meet the usual BusinessWeek standard because there's only two of you and thousands of us -- and you're probably still supposed to be doing regular work in addition, right? BusinessWeek and other mainstream media should be saying to the world: "Whoa! Blogs are interesting, ok...maybe you want to use them for marketing, ok...but people need to understand that blogs are going to be 1000% more likely to spread falsehoods than us mainstream media." Defend yourself! Let me be blunt: Professional journalism: GOOD. Blogs: BAD. Professional journalists: Qualified! Bloggers: Not qualified. In a number of European countries (western ones!) journalists have to be licensed. It's not like that in the US and that probably goes against our grain over here... but there is a lot to be said for oversight of journalistic quality -- and there is NOTHING of oversight in the blogosphere. THAT is a VERY SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM that deserves BROAD ATTENTION and a HIGH DEGREE OF PUBLIC CONCERN. That's the end of my comment...maybe it does not fit perfectly under 'filter' - so feel free to edit it and put it wherever you want: I respect your ability to take that decision because you are pros. I value that. I like knowing that the people behind what I am reading know what they're doing and have oversight that they in turn have to be concerned about for their own livelihood. Ok now that's really the end of my comment. But here's an example of how even the biggest blog cannot filter for accuracy: Look how Gawker published a falsehood and then came back with a "flash" (no apology) when the victim protested. It's tangentially about 'business' so I think you'll get a kick out of this... Bye for now.

Nom

BAKER RESPONDS:

Talk about a case in point. I couldn't find the Gawker post that Nom cites. I looked on Technorati, and only found this link, which includes some of the same material. http://martinirepublic.com/item/whew-bettered-again

Nom, if you can send us the link to the post you cite, we'll post it. Thanks for your comment.

Posted by: Nombert DePluume at May 1, 2005 09:50 AM

Where or how do you get the add blocking software?

Posted by: pat at May 1, 2005 10:17 AM

The lack of oversight deserves a "HIGH DEGREE OF PUBLIC CONCERN"? I can't fault Mr. PenName, uh, I mean Mr. DePlume on his accuracy, but a blog is the electronic equivalent of a margin note in a library book, not a threat to society. Indeed, I believe it to be the opposite, a valuable back channel available to many. I don't remember who said it but the saying is "Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one".

We already have many official and professional channels, BusinessWeek being one of them, and they are resprected much more than a simple blogger. But, the pro channels can be wrong, they may be mislead, biases exist, and they can be pressured by many factions.

Perhaps a blogger has different information available. So if big channels say one thing and a blogger says another, I'll probably believe the big channel. One the other hand, if several hundred bloggers (especially those bloggers who's opinion I respect) says something different, I may have to go with the back channel.

There are many cases when information about happenings or events were brought to light by information sent or discussed on the internet which then lead the pros to investigate.

No data exists in a vacuum. Whenever I see something in a magazine, tv, or a blog, I always have to evaluate it to see if it fits with the other data I already have. Part of the is how much I trust the source of the data and how much do I trust where they got the data from. Just becuase it's written doesn't mean I believe it.

Posted by: Don Melvin at May 1, 2005 04:27 PM

"The mainstream baggage" -- brings up an important point. Who owns the words of the people making the comments. I didn't have to sign over ownership of my words, so I'm assuming they are still mine and I'm grant BW limited rights to their use on the site. That should imply that I'm responsible for my words, and any implications -- be it offensive or libelous. Is that true? (I can see the looks the on the editors faces -- and the lawyers for that matter.)

Your comment on censorship raises another interesting point -- regarding editorial control over the content -- both yours and those making comments -- apparently someone in editorial didn't read your article in the May 2nd issue of BW: "Companies over the past few centuries have gotten used to shaping their message. Now they're losing control of it. Want to get it back? You never will, not entirely."

For this blog to be a success, censoring and having editorial control over the inhabitants of the blogosphere has to stop. If it doesn't I for one will be in the camp that regards this "blog" as being outside the blogosphere.

My suggestion: cut loose blogspotting.net from BW. Let it have a life of its own, independent of BW. It can have the affiliation, it can have the ads, but it needs the independence to be a true blog and to be embraced by the blogging community and BW readers. Let's face it, when I want to read BW, I pick up the magazine. If I want interactive content, I may drop by here. Can't really have interactivity when there is parental control over what's allowed.

Posted by: Andy Dabydeen at May 1, 2005 05:29 PM

Testing censorship: BW sucks.

;-) Just checking.

BTW ... even after I've posted other comments here, I still get:

"Your comment has been received. To protect against malicious comments, Businessweek has enabled a feature that allows your comments to be held for approval the first time you post a comment. We'll approve your comment when convenient; there is no need to re-post your comment."

Posted by: Andy Dabydeen at May 1, 2005 05:32 PM

A lot of sites filter comments. However, they don't all have this on the comment confirmation page:

"We'll approve your comment when convenient..."

Convenient for whom? What exactly does convenient mean in hours, days, weeks, months?

This is very arrogant language and probably at the root of some of the criticism you've been getting.

How about committing to a 24 hour approval process. If it's not there in 24 hours, then commenters know they've been rejected.

BAKER RESPONDS: I'll ask about that "convenient." I agree that it sounds wrong. Then again, I'm getting blamed for censorship from another reader for not approving his comment between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. I guess I could have checked messages before I went to bed--and didn't, mostly because it was inconvenient.

Posted by: Dominic at May 1, 2005 09:50 PM

no need to apologize -- if you don't filter your comments, your blog will be inundated with spam, not to mention the occasional obscenity & racist junk. you wouldn't hand out keys to the printing press, would you?

Posted by: Laurie Mayers at May 1, 2005 11:56 PM

Ha - Steven it is indeed a great case in point - congratulations on 'checking me out' -- but I'm clean: Here's the Gawker link that eluded you. Scroll all the way to very bot-most bottom of the page to see the quote I clipped.

Bests,

Nom

http://www.gawker.com/news/culture/publicists/contest-nikki-finke-awful-pr-award-results-101632.php

Posted by: Nombert DePluume at May 2, 2005 02:49 AM

no need to apologize as long as you give a clear explanation of how you are going to filter the comments, and for which reasons.

It could have been interested to give us your thoughts on that point on your last businness week about blogs. the problem that y'oure dealing with today is a question that many medias, companies and brands will have to face with their blogs coming...

Posted by: monk at May 2, 2005 08:42 AM

Steven-

It'd help, I think, if you gave people a link to

a list of things that for which you and Heather filter. On one hand, remember that the readers of this blog understand that it's a blog and filter accordingly on our own. On the other hand, I think you and Heather need to trust your training. If you see someone going off the deep end, maybe you post it and challenge with a comment. Wouldn't your editor do the same thing to you? So, let people know in your short list of rules that you can and will challenge any posting real-time, and that you can and will pre-empt anyone who you feel gets too far out there. If this is really about reporting what's immediately going on, maybe those for whom it's more about bringing their soap-box than it is about talking about what they see going on should be told to join a different forum. Common sense?

cheers and keep going

Pete Zievers

Posted by: Pete Zievers at May 2, 2005 09:26 AM

With comment spam, especially on a blog that is being so widely read like this one, you simply have to moderate comments.

The "purists" are not always realists.

B.L. Ochman

What's Next Blog

Posted by: B.L. Ochman at May 2, 2005 11:44 AM

Well... one way of working around the filter factor is to filter out only the first post someone makes on the blog, after that comments from that person can go unfiltered. It would be very rare that someone, who makes a respectful first comment on the blog, to then go and leave offensive, porn-related, etc. comments.

Posted by: Jorge Rodriguez at May 2, 2005 03:38 PM

Jorge makes a good point above.

I really don't think comment spam and unruly comments are as big a problem as many seem to think they are. Google's recent actions that give no value to links in comments has really slowed down the amount of comment spam I see all over the web and the majority of your readers will comment in a reasionable manner.

That said, a quick look at the comments on most any Yahoo.com article will show you how quickly things can get out of hand if left completely unchecked. Of course, considering the dismal quality of Yahoo's staff writers, I can see their management really doesn't care how bad the comments become.

A bigger concern is in-fact the Ad Blocking. Without ads none of this will continue to exist. I wonder what the "Free Internet" boosters will do with their time then-- go back to watching TV or just complain about it being gone?

Posted by: Billy The Blogging Poet at May 2, 2005 07:53 PM


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