Monday, May 02, 2005

Should there be a comment-filter?

A library starting a blog might ask, "Should I check readers' comments before posting?"

My initial view was 'No', because I thought filtering comments would rob the blog of spontaneity. I felt that filters were sure-fire "conversation-stoppers". I've visited blogs where my comments were sent for viewing before actual posting. It sort of turned me off.

But this Blogspotting post on why they run comments through a filter makes good sense as well. I like how they are open and honest about their position. Rather than beat around the bush and give tens of reasons why their policy on filtering comments won't negate the spontaneity of the blog, they admit that it might and explains why they still do it:
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.
I've changed my stand. I think if having a comment-filter makes an organisation more comfortable in starting a blog for the public, then it's a good thing. The alternative might simply be that the organisation won't start one, or they might just turn off the comments features totally.

Not all organisations operate like Amazon.com, for instance. It really depends on the objective of allowing readers to post comments, and the comfort-level of the organisation.

So, for libraries considering whether to filter comments for their library blog, it's important to publicly make their position (on comment-filtering) known to their users, before the user starts posting. State it upfront, rather than hide behind fine-print.

Of course the library has to have adequate resources to ensure quick turn-around times for valid comments to be posted. Instead of allocating a full-time staff to vet all comments (which potentially would become the bottle-neck), I'd suggest the following:
  1. An automated filter that screens out the obvious undesired words and phrases. Comments that pass this test would be posted immediately; and
  2. Each new comment would trigger an alert to staff, who could check the comments say, a few hours later (have more than one staff receive the alert, so that comments are checked within a day).
I think the above process offers a good balance for the organisation and the user. It avoids the problem of staff being the bottle-neck. And since majority of comments are made by responsible people (that's been my experience), it means we don't frustrate the majority.

Granted some undesired postings might get through, but it's nothing that the library can't live with for a few hours, right? Besides, if some other reader do complain about imappropriate postings, it's a good sign that the posts are being read.

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