Trolls suckI’ve always been slightly bemused by the fact that Seth Godin doesn’t accept comments on his blog.

How can a marketing guru – and Seth has as good a claim to that title as anybody – say no to ‘PIE’, aka participation, interaction and engagement? Audience feedback is a big draw for many readers, and writers should embrace it too.

Maybe it’s the fact that moderating comments has always been a challenge? And that’s putting it politely. I’d be the first to admit that we haven’t yet figured it out. We use the Akismet spam filter but have found it to be rather imprecise. 

Comments are a time sink, no question about it. Manual intervention is still required and there aren’t many short cuts. For some sites, this is now so out of control that drastic action has been required.

Today I noticed that Shaun Usher, the smart chap behind the excellent Letters Of Note, has decided to switch off user comments completely. Why? Because of the trolls.

In Shaun’s words:

In a move which thankfully won’t affect the vast majority of you, I have today disabled comments on Letters of Note. Permanently.

All complaints should be directed towards a section of society to whom the concept of even vaguely civil discussion means nothing. This collective waste of flesh, bone, and dangerously limited brain function have caused me to dread opening each and every “New Comment” notification I’ve received over the past twelve months or so, to the point where I now cannot continue justifying the moderation of these imbecilic, repugnant grunts when it takes up such an inordinate amount of my willpower and, more importantly, time. 

I’d rather spend my hours happily expanding the archives of Letters of Note than clean up after a keyboard-wielding gaggle of cowardly, dim-witted, knuckle-dragging reprobates who have nothing better to do than gleefully splash their fetid saliva all over my efforts and then roll around in the puddle until I’m able to press “Delete Comment.” I refuse to waste another minute. 

Firstly, I was amazed to see that the trolls have invaded the Letters Of Note blog, which is a real gem, containing as it does brutal memos and inspirational correspondence from years gone by. Where is the love?

Secondly, it is somewhat remarkable that in 2011 we’re still dealing with this problem. Not peanut-brained trolls, but the issue of how to best deal with spam (in all of its forms).

So what can you do?

Pre-moderate comments. Pros: you never publish shitty comments. Cons: takes time, and you may find yourself legally responsible for approved comments.

Remove ‘post anonymously’ option. Pros: creates a troll barrier. Cons: trolls are persistent beasts and will create a member profile in order to post comments. 

Improve your tech. Pros: reduces automated spamming. Cons: can create a serious roadblock for real users (e.g. CAPTCHA fail); can make the wrong judgement call on what is and isn’t ‘spam’.

Let the audience decide. Pros: crowdsourcing is free; implementing downvoting / ‘do not show’ tech is easy enough. Cons: is open to abuse; people will downvote things they don’t agree with; requires some kind of scale.

Add a ‘report comment’ feature. Pros: allows readers to raise appropriate flags. Cons: still requires moderation and swift action.

Install Facebook / Disqus / some other comment system. Pros: goes some way towards proving that people are real, and signed in. Cons: fake profiles; leaky data; reliance on third party kit.

Blacklist certain words. Pros: automatically places comments with spammy words into the junk filter or moderation queue. Cons: will require a plug-in or tech development (WordPress has this built-in: look under Settings/Discussion/Comment Moderation); it isn’t a precise science; trolls have a surprisingly large vocabulary; still requires manual intervention.

What else can we do? Which blogs / sites are doing a fine job of keeping the trolls at bay? For smaller operations, is there any alternative to switching off comments, when the losers become too annoying?