Web Design

Dealing with Criticism

Last updated Jul 28, 2006.

By Dave Taylor

For more answers to your web design and development questions, visit AskDaveTaylor.com.

One of the first things that I had to come to terms with when I started blogging in earnest is that there are a heck of a lot of critics out there. Not critic in the "critique" sense, though, but in the "bully" and "criticize" and "complain" sense. While we all believe in the benefits of a free press and freedom of speech, there's a remarkable amount of homogenous pressure on the Internet too, most particularly in the blogosphere. Diverge from the popular view and you'll most definitely hear about it. This is true whether you're writing about politics, sports, religion, or even your favorite movie or music CD.

To get a sense of what it's like, imagine a bar full of rude people. Or, better yet, a busy coffee shop where no one lets you and your friend have a private conversation. You mention your opinion of the latest popular novel and someone loudly disagrees with you from across the room. You explain your corporate financials and investment policy in the Pacific Rim and the barista herself starts lecturing you about Chinese human rights policy. You share plans for the corporate picnic or ask your friend for feedback on the latest draft of the annual report, and three people pop their head in the door and tell you how you've become part of the evil corporate hegemony and are destroying the ozone layer to boot.

And that's when everyone's being nice.

What does this mean to you? It means that when you start blogging for yourself or even for your company, you are going to inevitably encounter people who are going to take potshots at you, people who have never really had an outlet or opportunity to talk back to your company, to you, or even to a company in your market space before. This is true regardless of whether you stay tightly on focus with business topics related to your product or service, or whether you expand your writing a bit further and talk about your industry, market news, and even figures in the public eye.

Do something radical like talk about your own views and opinions, and it won't take long for people to show up and tell you that you're wrong and that you aren't even aware of your own opinions, because, well, you can't possibly believe what you wrote about, could you?

Sometimes the criticism is polite and thoughtful, as can be demonstrated with the current debate I'm having with spyware researcher Ben Edelman and a few others about whether Vonage is a spyware purveyor or not: How Vonage Isn't Spyware Scum.

Other times, however, people can use language that would make a sailor blush, bluntly and aggressively informing you just how wrong you are and how terrible your company truly is. Like it or not, they're out there and the more your business blog gains visibility, the more you'll experience these commentators, critics and, yes, trolls popping up.

What? Am I actually suggesting that you delete some of the comments that others leave on your weblog? Yes, actually, I am.

The Importance of an Editorial Policy

To have a successful weblog that engages your community, you need to have some sort of comment moderation or general editorial policy. Some bloggers endorse a policy of allowing absolutely every comment to stay, regardless of content, but since there are spammers out there who will quickly overrun any open comment site, I believe that's not something a business blog can afford to do and I discourage it.

Therefore, if you think of it as a continuum where "completely unmoderated, anything goes, nothing is deleted" is on one side and "tightly managed, most is deleted" is on the other side, the question becomes where should your policy land?

I recommend that you consider being fairly close to the "tightly managed" side, personally, because I believe that if you're paying for the blog and if it's a part of your business, then you should be ensuring that it reflects well on your firm. Think of your site as the editorial page of The New York Times: allow dissent and disagreement, but require that people speak pleasantly and remain polite.

On my business blog The Intuitive Life I'm glad to report that it's very, very rare that I get anything hostile or crass, but on my Ask Dave Taylor site not a day goes by that I don't have to delete a comment or two that are full of obscenities, unrelated to the discussion, blatant attempts to gain a link from my site, or otherwise aren't contributing to the discussion.

The Problem of Linking

Let me explain that last category of blog comments just a bit. Search engines like Google believe that links from other sites to your site are an important vote on both your popularity and the content of a given Web page. If you link to my site as "boring blog", for example, it means something quite a bit different to a search engine than "best business blog" or related.

Not a huge issue, except that people with Web sites and blogs both have figured out that if they can get links from other sites pointing to them, their site will rank higher on search engine results. (See Blogging for Search Engine Results).

The result? People will come to your weblog and seek to get an easy link from your site back to their own. Sometimes they'll offer a useful comment or add to the discussion—which is obviously good—but mostly they'll just add a link to their site without anything else. Again, my advice is to just delete those comments, as they aren't adding any value to your site or discussion.

Wherever you end up on the comment moderation continuum, be fair and balanced in your application. I don't mind people disagreeing with me, for example, but I don't like it when they call me names or, even more importantly, are critical or insulting towards others who have left comments.

And good luck to you!

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