The Editors | Essays

On Comments

Reader participation can be a valuable part of any blog, especially when the comments add value to the discussion. With the launch of Design Observer 3.0 this coming weekend, we introduce a new (and, we hope, improved) comments policy. First, some basic things about reader comments. Only a few of Design Observer's articles are written with the explicit goal of soliciting comments. We publish pieces because we think people will enjoy reading them; if a good discussion starts, that's great, but not the primary goal. While good comments are always welcome, some of our best articles have generated very few comments. We've always said around here that if you want to get a lot of comments, you need a subject that (a) almost anybody can have an opinion on; or that (b) has within it a circular argument that can be sustained infinitely without resolution; or that (c) attracts at least one or two trolls to really get (and keep) things rolling. If you get combine all three factors, you will get lots of comments, without fail.

As is true elsewhere on the internet, only a tiny fraction of our readers post comments. We get tens and tens of thousands of site visits a week. An article that attracts a lot of comments may get 100 of them. That's a lot, but it still means that tens of thousands of people visited without commenting. Moreover, there seems to be no relationship between number of comments and overall site traffic.

But we've learned that reader comments are an important part of our site, with many visitors enjoying them as much as the original articles. So keeping the discussion as interesting as possible is to everyone's advantage. Here, then, are the new rules for comments at Design Observer.

Keep them short, to the point, and on topic

In our earlier days, we had a problem with visitors posting alarmingly long comments, and instituted an informal rule that no comment could be longer than the article itself(!). The advent of Twitter, among other things, seems to have inculcated the online community with a new sense of self-discipline. Nonetheless, try to say what you mean as directly as possible, and then surrender the microphone to the next person. On the the other hand...

Avoid being carelessly, abruptly dismissive

Example: "This is stupid." End of comment. Or, even more typically, since this kind of offering usually comes with a hyperbolic kicker: "This is the stupidest thing I've ever read." Sorry, this kind of rude and lazy contribution does nothing to advance the discussion, and we intend to be quicker to delete them in the future. Now, in case you're wondering: will we be as tough on careless, abruptly positive comments? (E.g., "I love this!") Probably not. But no matter whether you are feeling positive or negative, if you are bothering to go public with your view by posting a comment, please enlarge on your position so other readers can agree or disagree more thoughtfully.

Please don't ask what the topic at hand has to do with design

If it's been posted on Design Observer, one of us thinks it has something to do with design. If you are still puzzled, refer to our basic position paper on the subject. If you are still puzzled, avert your gaze and pray that the next posted article conforms more accurately to your definition of design.

Don't get personal, antagonistic or defamatory

Just don't. Offline or on, ad-hominem attacks degrade any discussion. Attack the argument, not the person. Life is too short. If you can, why not be nice?

Don't overtly self-promote or violate intellectual property laws

Again, this is just common courtesy. If you want to suggest a link to something you're involved with, send it to one of the editors so we can consider it for our Observed column.

Be patient as we try to reduce spam comments

You may have been startled to discover comments at Design Observer on subjects that don't seem to have much to do with the topic at hand: sex, generic drugs, sex, online poker, and sex. These are the results of automated programs that post comments on blogs for some presumably commercial purpose (although the mechanism by which these entities make their money often eludes us). While we try to take them down as soon as we spot them, this takes a lot of time and can still feel like a losing battle. To deal with this problem more efficiently, we'll be instituting some anti-spam procedures, including a captcha-type test for new commenters.

Finally, consider signing your real name

At this point, online anonymity is considered by many a time-honored right, and we won't try to deprive anyone of their right to comment under a nom-de-blog. However, we've noticed as a general rule that signed comments tend to be more thoughtful, measured, and make for more rewarding reading. (Conversely, the most abusive comments are almost always anonymous.) We'd love to know who you are.

In conclusion

We've always reserved the right to take down comments but until now have done so very rarely. Going forward, we're going to look more critically at comments that don't meet these standards. We're convinced that our visitors share our admiration for good ideas well expressed. By improving the quality of our comments, we can make this a better experience for everyone.

Posted in: Technology

Comments [21]


Joe Moran

I think that you should rename this post. New title:
The Comments Manifesto
Vladimir Carrer

Rather than a blog by (insert names here), Design Observer has taken on a life of its own. Whether or not this is the goal, well populated and content-rich sites become entities to readers and responsibilities to the producers.

The friendly but critical dialogue is what makes the site valuable. I tend to not comment when I agree with what is being said. I hope other followers learn from this post.

Thank you for the design observer.
Eddie Jacobson

Thanks for posting this. Having worked on the erstwhile Speak Up, and other weblogs, I feel these guidelines are both necessary and helpful. For one, it sets the tone of the website and all conversations that expand into the comments. Secondly (and this is the parent and professor in me), people need to be told how to behave. I look forward to DO 3.0.
Jason A. Tselentis

Why not take more control by creating a log-in for anyone who wants to leave comment? You could deny accounts to those who are abusive of your terms, and I don’t think it would detour those opinionated enough to leave a comment in the first place. Is there some other reason why this wouldn’t work that I’m not thinking of?
Joshua Winship Carpenter

I loved this post! (sorry, I couldn't resist)
miss representation

One small request as you launch DO3.0: please increase the contrast between background color and link color! Particularly in the Observed column. Perhaps even a secondary color for the hover state!

Apologies for an off-topic-ish (and thus meta) comment but this is the first I'd heard of a new DO. Hope it's not too late to be helpful. Thanks.
Sam Potts

"We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard. "

I did not realize that DO edited some replies. I guess this makes sense in that Art Chantry told me he was edited quite a bit in an article a while ago. I guess he didn't adhere to the standards. When a submission is edited could DO at least tell us so?


Dear Swiss,

Good idea. We'll be as transparent as possible about which comments are being deleted or edited, and why.

Our policy up until now has been to send a note to the commenter offline if we took them down, but as was said in the article, the most problematic comments are often anonymous.

Michael Bierut

Why not use Recaptcha, a captcha system that also contributes to digitising books?
Chris Gaul

I love this!!!!
Baron Heidelberg

As a new-ish visitor to the site, and one who has not commented before, I find the above an eminently sensible way forward that might also prompt me to comment more often.
Mark Cotter

I'm confused. Are anonymous comments allowed on the new site or not?

Start naive, enthusiastic and open.
Finish, cowering, conservative, and closed.

When the power structures of the world shift those who have the most to lose start hoarding against the hordes. They resent pre-senting questions where answers will suffice. This is still a discipline concerned with solving problems afterall. Indeed, after all is done their is nothing to be said. No need to engage the (ab)users, to seek criticism, insights, improvements, other ways, means, methods. Authority is an assumption on the right to authority. The principle of principality directs the directive. The language of this post and reveals the the editors analysis of their readers: tolerated peripheries. Their distrust enables them to present their disengagement as an improvement on prior engagements. 0.3. Sequential. Linear. Owned. Locked.

Rather than embracing designers and others at large editors capitulate to the protocol of inherited systems. This model merely affirms an alignment to century old procedures. Publishing and Broadcasting. Message ---> Communication ---> Receiver. Beauty and Simplicity versus Noise and Complexity. The bumbling humanist reason that motivates this move comes to obscure and obliterate that which is other. Make everything proper, clean that up. Design is about communication. MAke it clear. A potential community of potential is reduced to invited guests. No dissent. No disruption. No trainers. No hoods. No photographs. Be polite. Obey. Exclude and protect. Order and control. Limit and determine. Own and direct. Yours not mine.

But this desire to control and direct destroys opportunities to interpret the totality of design discourse. "This is stupid" expresses how uncritical design discourse is. Removing it masks rather than eliminates. Not just for our present, but for a time to come. Researchers of the future are left with the sterile and vacant space of well designed appearances that tell us nothing about who we are/were/will be.

Reflect. Challenge. Create.

Reset your restrictions and disperse your control. Release access to a community of the concerned. Have faith in those that have built the value of this site alongside you, but remain sidelined and marginalised. Step down from the podium. Join the crowd. Jump into the stream and be swept away in the common.

Or die.
Non Anon

Non Anon, Could you give me an email at tim.r.donaldson_at_gmail.com, I would like your opinions on a project I am working on.

Looking forward to DO 3.0 btw.

Dear A.,
Anonymous comments will still be permitted.
Michael Bierut

Kudos to the editors for the thoughtfully articulated new policy. I love a gadfly (perhaps more than most), but lately it had felt like the chronic naysayers were controlling the conversation on nearly every post. Time to take back the editorial reigns.
Laura Forde

or "reins". Editorial help here? It's late.
Laura Forde

...and kudos to "non-anon" for a too long, not twitter-y, thoughtful, anonymous critical post that says something that must be taken seriously if DO is to maintain the energy that has propelled its expanding empire in the first place. there are tons of reasons the cranks like myself have to cower in anonymity; just take a look at the bloodlessness of most design criticism and its fraternity, collusion, or plain old conflict of interest. A guy could lose his job saying what needs to be said. So here's to the miss representations, and even that inimitable "nancy"...i'll miss em if you cut 'em. And how can we be sure that "Michael Beirut" really is just one person, anyway?

Dear plakaboy,

Any longer i try not to comment on blogs because I found even though I thought they were taking my ideas, I was really paranoid that they were taking my ideas, It didn't matter anymore. Twelve years of active commenting on the internet may give you a tough skin, but what good did that do St Bartholomew, anyway. Two hours in the sun everyday makes mine more supple.

DO can take this as a goodbye. To you, be careful: They'll hurt you and desert you. Well, they'll take your soul if you let them.
Oh yeah, but don't you let them.


With the launch of Design Observer 3.0 — can we now post images in the comments?
Here is an image test:
Carl W. Smith

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