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:
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?