Should you enable HTML in your blog comments?

Some colleagues of mine have been engaged in a very interesting discussion that’s worth exploring if you’re a blogger: should you allow HTML in the comments left by other people? For that matter, should you automatically make URLs clickable?
I believe that the answer is related to where along the continuum of moderation and editorial control you place yourself. If you’re a strict control nut and axe any comment that’s not favorable or complimentary, well, then you’re fine allowing HTML in comments because you are already keeping a close eye on things anyway (you’re also missing the point of engaging in an open dialog with your weblog, but that’s another issue entirely). If you’re a laissez-faire free speech fanatic and allow anything that isn’t overly crass spam or pornography, then you are going to have your work cut out for you if you allow people to add HTML.
Before I go further, though, let me explain what I mean by HTML comments.

One of the most engaging and interesting aspects of a weblog is that as a reader, you can always add your own proverbial two cents, your own views, opinions and reactions to a piece that you read. Blogs aren’t required to allow comments, but just about all of ’em do, certainly those that are worth reading with any regularity.
A typical comment is just text, just words. Ranging from a few words to many paragraphs, they’re sequences of sentences typically without any formatting whatsoever, no italics, no bold, no color, no pictures.
If you allow your readers to include HTML (hypertext markup language, the language of Web pages) in their comments, however, they could have words in italics, bold, or even different colors. Fun, yes, but there’s a danger: if they can add markup, then they can also add links and images.
What you don’t want to see are comments like “Great stuff. Check out my sweet new Lolita site, all guaranteed under 16!” with “Lolita site” a link to their appalling content. Imagine if you’re a Fortune-250 company and have a blog that includes a comment linking to a porn site, for example. A stockholder visits your Web site, clicks around, ends up on the blog and before they know it, they’re being confronted with the kind of material that guarantees a tense situation at the next shareholder’s meeting. Not good at all.
Worse, what if the comments include images, pictures or photographs? Now the garbage can come to your site directly and someone who is viewing your material is suddenly assaulted by, well, let’s just say that there are people out there actively promoting sites that I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy visit, let alone any of you fine readers who come to this site!!
To be fair, modern blogging tools allow you to specify which HTML tags you can allow in comments. For example, I’m running Movable Type and it includes the following settings:

Allow HTML Comments in an MT Blog?

You can tweak the settings, but by default, MT allows the following HTML in “HTML enabled comments”:
    a href, b, i, br, p, strong, em, ul, ol, li, blockquote, pre
Mostly benign, but again, you really need to ask yourself if you want clickable outbound links, especially when sneaky spammers can do tricks like this:
    <a href=”ghastly-porn-site”>my profile on Yahoo!</a>
If you’re not paying attention, you see “my profile on Yahoo” and never think twice about the link in their comment, until someone clicks on it, goes to the ghastly site and adds you to their lawsuit. Not good again!
On the other hand, some basic HTML does make commenting more fun and more interesting to read, so I have been contemplating allowing the three basic formatting tags (bold, italic and monospace) (that’s <b> <i> and <tt> if you’re new to this game).
In the end, the question of whether to allow HTML in comments is a function of how closely you plan on policing and watching your comment stream. If you really don’t want to be bothered at all, I suggest you leave it disabled and let ’em eat cake, uh, live within the confines of plain text. If you pay closer attention to what’s said, how, and where things link, then sprinkling some HTML capabilities into your comments might well make for a more visually interesting and engaging blog.
How about you, dear blogging reader? Do you have HTML enabled in your comments? Why or why not?

21 comments on “Should you enable HTML in your blog comments?

  1. I allow comments, and I appreciate relevant links in comments, but I also moderate comments. I get too much comment spam to turn off moderation. Your “ghastly site” example is not just a bad link; it’s spam, and even with the HTML stripped out, I wouldn’t want it on my site. The comment adds no value.
    Since I’m moderating already, it’s easy to look over the HTML in the process. If my readers want to mark up their comments, I’m happy to let them.

  2. I’ve not run into any issues by allowing HTML, I also moderate my comments. The spammers don’t appear to try posting HTML or cross-site scripting, just their nonsensical link garbage.
    One thing I do like is that folks can even embed video in my comments… so if they’d like to answer with a video, they can.
    That said, the most active commenter on my site is ME. I love responding to comments and I often include HTML in my posts.
    PS: I also love “Subscribe to comments” with a default opt-in so that I can stay in the conversation. If you answer this… I won’t have any clue unless I come back.

  3. I moderate just to catch the stuff that Akismet doesn’t get.
    Also, I have the concern that somebody could potentially hijack my blog by embedding CSS in html tags.
    Not sure how real a fear this should be, but it’s on my mind.

  4. I agree with the others – it’s all very well to promote free speech and an open dialogue on your blog, but there’s just way too much spam to allow unmoderated comments these days. There’s always the odd spam that makes it through Askimet.
    I think the key is your own editorial policy. You can moderate comments but still have a non-censorship policy to your moderating – spam is pretty easy to define and is deleted as part of the policy.

  5. I still have HTML enabled in my blog, but really, I do not know why. The average reader of a non-tech oriented blog does not know how to add those tags anyway, and is perfectly happy to live in the plain text world. In fact, I have never had a legitimate commenter use any form of HTML.
    Now that I think about it, I cannot think of a good reason to allow HTML in comments.

  6. Oh, I repent of my wayward thoughts! I just did a little playing with the settings on my blog and found out that if I do not allow HTML (or even just strip href links) the link attached to the poster’s name is also removed.
    That seems little cruel. Some people just want to comment out of the goodness of their heart, but loads of folks out there (indeed, everybody who has commented thus far here) would like that simple little link to their site.

  7. A valid argument, but an easy solution… Moderate your comments.
    I moderate my comments because it’s safer way to do it. After that It’s my readers choice to leave a comment with a link or without.

  8. I believe the answer to allowing HTML in your comments unfiltered is a strict No. Someone could just do ‘ <plaintext> ‘ or ‘ <xmp> ‘ or a javascript pop-up prank.

  9. I think there is huge potential in allowing HTML in a blog. I, for one, can’t find a free blog service that will allow me to embed HTML within my blog content. This will change soon, when people realize the full potential of adding High Definition Flash movies (with sound even) to further enhance the blogging experience. If anyone knows of a blog service with full HTML capabilities..

  10. I get too much comment spam to turn off moderation, I love responding to comments and I often include HTML in my posts. it’s all very well to promote free speech and an open dialogue on your blog, but there’s just way too much spam to allow unmoderated comments these days, The average reader of a non-tech oriented blog does not know how to add those tags anyway, Some people just want to comment out of the goodness of their heart.

  11. Moderation is the key, but it’s a hassle. If someone makes a worthwhile comments and wants to make a plug in their user name only, I don’t see why it’s a big deal.

  12. the internet has not been around since 1980–it was created on July-13-1984 while at the Library of Congress copyright office in WashingtonDC–get your facts straight before making such statements

  13. Well, since I was logged on in 1980, sending email to friends and helping evolve Usenet, I think all you’re doing is quibbling semantics, David. As with many technologies, it’s hard to pin down the moment something happened because it’s an evolutionary process: Before the Internet was the ARPAnet, the DARPAnet, and other high-speed (relatively speaking) networks.

  14. Dave Taylor. Nobody who comes across your page needs to read your ridiculous sex-negative point of view, and to see you be so stubborn enough and have the questionable nerve to openly consider, in your “lousy” opinion, “lolita sites ‘guaranteed under-16!'” as “appalling”! The fact that you deliberately chose “under-16 lolita websites” as examples of highly unwanted material is absolutely ridiculous! Those particular lolita sites may not be considered “acceptable”, but the images they display are NOT as far to be considered “appalling”, unless you’re some crazy sex-negative ignorant.
    Your remark is a ridiculous exaggeration, and it’s highly unnecessary. Those sites advertise lolitas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will contain images of those under the age of ten, so think about what you call appalling before making an extremist ignorant blind statement, and get out into the real world to find out what really is appalling! This is what you choose to use as an example of what people who market themselves on the internet using HTMLs don’t want to see in blog comments, links to lolita under-16 websites?? There are far worse websites and far better examples to use as things you “don’t want to see” in your blog comments than using lolita web links as bad examples and presenting yourself publicly as some ignorant sex-negative prick for placing that example!
    But, of course, nobody who visits your page EVER complains about this, right? Naw, all of your “fine readers” out there just agree with you INSTANTLY, never raising a doubt to even the slightest intelligence level to question the example you used. Of course, “fine readers” never visit porn sights! Oh no, they wouldn’t do something like that, and they certainly would never EVER visit an under-16 lolita website, intentionally, right?? That is why they are called “fine readers”, right Dave? Sure, and you are the one here making yourself out as the judge on what people want and don’t want to see in blog comments! This is your approach, deciding what other people should want and don’t want??
    It sounds like you need to start making visits to a therapist or shrink and have them permanently remove your psychological sex-negative condition and insecurity and help you stop kissing ass to the stupid puritanical American right-wing media. So, American right-wing media advertises that anything to do with sexual content MUST ONLY be for those 18 and over, and YOU just HAVE to be such a jack-ass to not only buy into that, but to go to the end of the extreme and say that if it’s under 18, or definitely if it’s under 16, then it has to be “appalling”, just so you can kiss their dirty sex-negative right-wing asses, and so you can be welcomed with open arms into society! Which, of course, you think so FIRMLY in your head that this is “the way” to be accepted, that you MUST admit publicly that you find sexual imagery of those under 16 to be “APPALLING” in order to be fully accepted by society.
    Not to mention, which proves even more how repulsive this sex-negative right-wing bullshit media is in America, few states have one of the stupidest laws ever passed which state that “only 21 and over” can watch porn!! How appalling is that for an example!!?? No, Dave. You couldn’t have just said “unacceptable” or “inappropriate” regarding the lolita sites. You just HAD to go the stupid sex-negative puritanical distance and say that ridiculously exaggerated word, “APPALLING”!
    As I said, lolita sites under 16 may be considered unacceptable and inappropriate, but they are not as far to be considered “appalling”. You know what really is appalling, Dave? – Websites depicting actual images of REAL violently ill and morbid physical acts of torture being done to innocent people, the kind of gruesome material that is 100% of a NON-SEXUAL nature! Those gruesome websites that are NON-SEXUAL are the ones that are “appalling”. Those are the ones that are horrendous.
    It looks like you need to seriously learn what really is appalling out there. Morbid acts of violence are the things that are appalling, and THEY are what should be used as examples of what people don’t want to see as HTML blog links, NOT the wrong example of something sexually taboo, like under-16 lolitas, because that can give off the false interpretation that anything that is pornographic or of a sexual nature is “appalling”, which could not be more false and more ignorant for one to think so. You then speak about what’s fair, Dave? It is astoundingly unfair to use the “under-16 lolitas” as an example of what’s appalling and irresponsibly deface the view of all pornography, which is sometimes already on a rocky view thanks to the sick anti-porn propaganda imposed by many degenerate crazy sex-negative ignorants in the right-wing chapter of the American media.
    And what’s this about what if you were a Fortune-250 company?? Why don’t they all shove their stupid Fortune-250 or Fortune-500 companies up their uptight little corporate asses?? How about this? What if you were a multi-million-dollar Porn company and your XXX website had blog comments with active links that directed a respected buyer to some unrelated Fortune-250 company website?? This is the way you should be addressing the question, because you should know that the porn industry is literally a multi-billion-dollar industry in America, and the porn industry is also a major buy in the stock market for many investors today. Talking about some guaranteed tension there?? That stockholder you mentioned should start taking his medication to help him tame down his “guaranteed tension” when he attends the next stupid shareholder’s meeting, because there is no sympathy given to this stockholder who develops a “guaranteed tension” just for coming across a harmless porn site through the fortune company’s online blog comments, that was likely unintentional anyway. It’s not like this stockholder doesn’t visit porn websites himself or herself during his or her spare time when he or she is not being a stockholder! So, what is this “guaranteed tension” then??
    Also, which you should know, the likeliness of running into a porn site at some point is very great, considering the fact that 80% of all internet use by people around the world is purposely for visiting porn websites, and you may want to check your level of experience and awareness outside of your HTML knowledge and think twice before placing pornography in the same category as crass spam. Those are two clear separate polarities, like oranges an apples! In more clear terms, pornography, by fact, is a good thing, and crass spam, by fact, is a bad thing.
    It’s as simple as that, so don’t give out the misinterpretation and false advertisement to your public readers by making yet another stupid moronic ignorant remark that images of pornography are garbage, because the true garbage out on the internet and out in the world is everything and anything that deliberately opposes pornography! All that sex-negative right-wing puritanical anti-porn crap that I mentioned previously above is the true garbage out there!
    By the way, what kind of websites are you referring to that you would consider to be so appalling that, as you say, “wouldn’t wish my worst enemy visit”? Look, I don’t know if you just don’t have enough things to do in your spare time, but if you actually think that there are such things as websites bad enough that you wouldn’t want even your “worst enemy” to visit, then your worst enemy is really not all that bad after all, and you really do need to get out more, because there are plenty of disturbingly appalling non-sexual websites out there that would be a perfect show-in-the-face for one’s worst enemy. I sure hope for the sake of your own intelligence that you are referring to the gruesome violent torture and/or terrorist non-sexual websites that I mentioned previously above as the sites you wouldn’t wish your worst enemy to visit, because I don’t care if it’s prison sex, incest, bestiality, forced rape, or any other type of more extreme porn, there is not a single porn website in the world that could ever be so bad enough that you wouldn’t wish your worst enemy to see, and to actually think that there is one that bad is just sick and disturbingly sex-negative, because, as a matter of fact, none of those extreme porn websites I just mentioned as examples are that bad. They’re all simply a matter of when and where they are usually appropriate to watch.
    So, I am assuming you are referring to the torture/terrorist sites that are purely non-sexual as the ones you wouldn’t wish for your worst enemy, and if you do think there are websites bad enough you wouldn’t wish them for your worst enemy, then like I said, your worst enemy is not all that bad, because I will tell you this: There is not a single website out in the world that is even remotely bad enough for me to wish for my “least” enemy to visit!

  15. Jason, all I can say is “wow”. I clearly hit a nerve for you to write such an impassioned essay defending under-18 porn sites.
    In the bigger picture, this comment is an example of the kind of off-topic material, off-topic polemics that can show up on your own weblog, be you a corporate executive or “mommy blogger”, and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to take up the debate, delete the commentator, or even shut down the particular discussion thread. These are all legitimate ways to respond to a comment like above, and which works best for you and your company will be something you should determine in advance.
    But let me open this up a bit: if this were YOUR blog, would you leave the diatribe from Jason intact, or would you delete it and ban him from being able to leave comments in the future?

  16. I have to agree its not a good idea to imply that lolits sites contain illegal content, i dont think anybody would did have illegal porn content would be stupid enough to say that theyre under 16 so openly and publicaly.. unless they have a death with or want 2 go 2 jail that is!

  17. I have to apologize for the previous comment. I was looking for some advice on how to put html links into blog pages and my son who is studying web design placed a URL link into the post with the intention to preview it to see if it was successful. Instead of deleting it he posted it and could not cancel it. I have discovered though that an html link does not automatically show on your blog. What did happen was that the code disappeared and the name of the link did appear but was not activated.
    This begs the question though about whether the post is moderated first then the link activated if passes, there is no way of placing links on your blog, or my son did something wrong? You can see I am lacking in knowledge in this area so would be grateful for some advice on this.

  18. I’m creating a website and found this blog while looking for info if to allow hyperlinks in comments or not. I still don’t know but have to decide soon :). Personally I would disallow them since I prefer real discussions, but some links may be still useful. Spammers vs. legitimate posters – that’s the balance I need to achieve.

  19. Dave I think that persons should allow the html code show up. I know that in a flash there can and usually are a bunch of people logging on and spaming a blog with links. but if you take it completely away there is no way to do some resources of what is so vital to the increase in rank and placement on the search engines and that is simple linking on higher ranking sites. Now I believe as i have shown in this post that you can participate legitamatly in a blog while posting reliavent comments and still making use of what is a staple in the link building process. Thanks for asking and I am glad you posted the article. I think People need to stop spamming and start participating. Anyways thanks again DAve

  20. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with enabling HTML. I’ve got nothing against HTML and if people are so concerned bout spammers…well… I don’t really see much spammers taking the time to post comments with HTML. So it’s good.

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