Crowdsourcing Our Comments Policy

I’ve always admired the brevity of the comments policy found on Dr. B’s blog: “Comments are great; obnoxious comments get deleted. Deal.” However, what would count as an “obnoxious comment”? Ah, there’s the tricky part.

When Jason and I first started talking about ProfHacker, one of the things I was adamant about was the comments policy. “No snark allowed,” I said. Over the last 6 years or so I’ve become increasingly frustrated by what seems to me an increasingly malicious and superficial level of exchange in the comments sections of some of the most widely-read news sites and blogs.

No site in which I have editorial influence is going to allow such comments to flourish. We’ve yet to articulate an official policy, however. This is where you (the ProfHacker readership) come in.

The Idea

We’re going to try crowdsourcing our comments policy. Why? Because we believe that you know what you’re doing when it comes to contributing worthwhile and productive comments. The reason we believe this is because out of more than 2,600 comments that have appeared on ProfHacker, fewer than 10 of them have been the kinds of comments that drive me (and others) crazy.

You’re good at avoiding snark, in other words. What’s snark? I’m thinking of the kind of discourse David Denby takes on in his most recent book. It’s commentary characterized by a condescending, abusive, and dismissive attitude. It’s the cheap shot masquerading as wit. It’s cynicism disguised (poorly) as wisdom.

It’s not what ProfHacker is about. We are committed to fostering an environment characterized by generosity, creativity, and (as corny as it might sound) kindness. These are the qualities that we found in evidence at THATCamp 2009, and that I’ve found in abundant supply when working with–or just asking for advice from–people working in the digital humanities.

The nuts and bolts of how this will work

If you don’t already have a PBWorks account, sign up for one, then go to and compose or edit as you see fit. Once the policy has reached a stage that feels something like “complete,” we’ll adopt it as our official comments policy. And, you should know, we’ll publish the policy on the site with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

That’s it… No, really!

Okay, here are a few words of advice about group authorship in a wiki environment

  • Collaborative authorship can be weird if you’re not used to it.
  • Please just go ahead and start adding, editing, or removing materials from the collaboratively-authored document you’re working on.
  • You don’t need to suggest something in a comment, or critique the way something’s phrased. Just jump right in and make the changes you think are necessary.
  • This is not a delicate writing environment; you won’t break it.
  • PBWorks automatically tracks changes, and we can roll back to a previous version whenever we like–barring unforeseen catastrophic failures of some kind.

Any questions?

If so, please leave them in the comments below.

[Creative Commons licensed flickr photo by jtravism]

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