Tag Archives: Fagstein

Another unemployed journalist

Farewell, dual-display Mac G5

As of 1:30am today, I am no longer an employee of The Gazette (a division of Canwest Publishing Inc.)

It happened so long ago that most of this blog’s readers probably don’t remember, but I was hired as a temporary, part-time worker at The Gazette in January 2008. Back in 2005 I was picked as an intern, and stayed on for an extra year on contract before I was let go the first time. When a vacancy came up a year later because of two parental leaves, I got an email from my old boss asking me if I wanted to come back. I didn’t hesitate.

The contract was supposed to last nine weeks. But it got extended, and extended again, and again. Finally, with the person I was replacing returning to the payroll, my contract wasn’t renewed past Jan. 31. The nine-week contract ended Sunday night at 105 weeks plus a day.

All this to say that the split is amicable (sad for both sides, but amicable). It’s not in any way related to Canwest’s creditor protection filing, nor anything I did. That said, it isn’t completely disconnected from the crisis facing media, and copy editing in particular (the Miami Herald yesterday looked at how many grammatical mistakes make it into a newspaper on a daily basis because of the reduced number of copy editors).

Though I’m obviously not happy about getting dropped out of my dream job, I’m grateful for the opportunity I got to live it for those two years. I want to publicly thank my colleagues, whose help, guidance and awful puns are what I will truly miss most about working there, and what I will most look forward to if I’m ever given the opportunity to work there again. I especially want to thank Assistant Managing Editor Katherine Sedgwick, who was my boss for most of my time there, and who emailed me out of the blue two years ago asking me if I wanted to come back. Her ability to judge character is obviously well above par.

As for my future, it’s up to me to write it now. I have no plans to leave the city unless some irresistible opportunity shows up. And my goal is to stay in the field of journalism. But that’s a tall order with everything that’s happening to the news media.

But I’m not thinking too much about that yet. I didn’t take a single day off while I worked at the Gazette, and so my immediate plans are to make up for that by taking it easy for a bit. My last paycheque doesn’t come for a week and a half, and it’ll include all the banked overtime I never ended up using. That, plus all the money I’ve saved up means I’m not desperate for a job right now, and I can take my time figuring out my next move. And spend more time with my family, I guess. That’s what the politicians do, right?

In the meantime, my loss will probably be your gain. I’ll have more time to blog about stuff. My browser is just about ready to burst with all the tabs it’s got open. I hope to clear some of that out and post some of the ideas that have been circulating in my head this week.

My relationship with The Gazette also hasn’t been completely severed. I plan to continue freelancing for them (notably compiling the Monday Calendar), and am exploring other opportunities, as they say.

Some people have asked if I would consider blogging full-time, monetizing this little experiment I’m running. I’d do it in a second if I thought it could be profitable, but I don’t think that’s feasible yet. I may change my mind on that depending on how desperate I get for cash, or how desperate people are to advertise here.

I certainly won’t be holding my breath for that.

Unless I can turn holding my breath into a job.

UPDATE: I’m really feeling the love, in the comments below and on Twitter. Unfortunately, I can’t trade that in for a career just yet.

Thank you for my donation

Hello Steven Faguy,

Welcome Hall Mission thanks you for you generosity. Your gift of 650.00 CAD will be processed by our accounting department and an income tax receipt will be issued shortly for any gift of $10 or more. We invite you to consult our website www.welcomehallmission.com to learn more about all the services provided by the Mission.

Thank you and have a nice day.

Cyril Morgan
Executive Director
Welcome Hall Mission

The Second Annual Fagstein Subscription Challenge is over. Thanks to everyone who participated.

From my calculations (which are not really exact science because FeedBurner’s stats go up and down pretty wildly), this blog picked up 37 subscribers over those two weeks (22 of whom used Google Reader, the most popular feed reader) to bring the total to 1,163. So that means the subscriber donation total is $563 + $37 = $600, which is a suspiciously round number.

I’ve also decided to tack on the $14 I saved by scamming the AMT earlier this year. I figure charity is a more fitting use for the money than either the transit agency of myself.

Throw on another dollar for all you wonderful new subscribers as a bonus (except you, you know who you are), and you get $563 + $37 + $14 + $36 = $650. And that’s the donation that has been made in your my name to the Welcome Hall Mission, where I understand they’re totally going to just blow it on hos and bling.

The Second Annual Fagstein Subscription Challenge

I got so much money, I'm giving it awaaaaaaaay!

I got so much money, I'm giving it awaaaaaaaay!*

Last year, I found myself in the enjoyable position of having some extra money laying around, so I decided I’d give some of it to a local charity. Being a self-centred narcissist obsessed with attracting attention, I decided to tie it to the number of people subscribing to my blog.

My eight-week contract as a part-time copy editor at the Gazette was extended a few more times, and though it could see its end after the upcoming two-year mark, I’m grateful for the chance to make all this money doing something I enjoy, so I’m doing this again.

I set up a Feedburner feed for this blog (it should be transparent to existing subscribers, so no need to change feed addresses), and it reports an astonishing 1,126 subscribers, almost three times as much as 12 months ago. Since I have about seven friends, I have no idea who most of those suckers people are, but I feel humbled by the fact they – you – like to read all the junk I post on here.

Last year, I donated $1 for each of my 402 subscribers to Dans La Rue (and, because I like round numbers, I rounded it up to $450). That was enough to get me on their mailing list and on a special pamphlet listing their few hundred largest donors. This year, because I’m cheap [come up with better excuse here], I’ll donate 50 cents for each of those subscribers ($563), and add $1 for each new subscriber between now and a week before Christmas (Dec. 18, for those of you who can’t count).

My chosen charity this year will be the Welcome Hall Mission, which helps the people most in need in this city.

I won’t be giving you sob stories about the poor families in desperate need of assistance. I won’t be showing you pictures of starving African children. I won’t be interrupting your regular programming to ask you to pledge in exchange for a tote bag. Hell, I’m not even asking you to give any money yourself, I’m giving away my money for you (but if you wanted to feel less guilty about that, you could match the measly 50 cents I’m donating for you, and maybe throw on a dollar above that for the two freeloaders on either side of you).

So give it a try. Set yourself up with Google Reader (like 710, or 63% of my feed readers) or another RSS aggregator of your choice, and subscribe to this blog. If you want to unsubscribe after I’ve given my money away for you, that’s cool.

Tell your friends if you want, but I’m not doing any marketing for this (why would I want to aid in the bleeding of my money?). I’m just doing this as a thank-you to my readers, and a way to silence my liberal guilt.

And if other fellow bloggers want to match my challenge (50 cents per existing subscriber, 1 dollar for every new one), I welcome the competition. But if you’re too cheap to put your money where your blog is, I understand. Cowards.

* Eagle-eyed Fagstein readers will recognize part of this picture as the one used in this blog’s header. The picture was taken for use in my freelance invoices. No, really.


He didn’t use that term, though his message had enough unnecessary capitalization and punctuation marks that he might as well have.

I was just finishing off my shift at work on Sunday evening when I checked my email. You might think this funny, but the first indication that something was wrong was that I’d just gotten a bunch of new Twitter followers.

Figuring some witty comment of mine had been retweeted by admiring followers, I checked, and found this, followed by a few others like it. A frantic typing of my blog’s address later, and I got the message that my blog had been compromised.

Supposedly I deserved this because of thing I’d said about Islam. I find that highly unlikely. In any case, rather than try contacting this young chap through the cool hacker email address he so helpfully provided, I’d just restore the website from a backup.

Except I had to get home first. A much more anxiety-filled metro ride at 11pm on a Sunday than I had anticipated. Part of me is glad I hadn’t found out about this at the beginning of my shift, or I might have been completely useless and/or had a heart attack.

Warning: This story has a lot of technical jargon in it.

Once I got home, I did some investigating. I could still access my account on the hosting server. Files, including all images, were still there, as was another site on the same server. Eventually I narrowed it down to two things that I had lost: the custom WordPress theme (which controls how the blog looks and how it functions on a user-interface level) and all 2,663 posts as well as a few drafts. Other information like tags and settings were still in place. But, of course, the posts make the blog.

Restoring it should have been simple: restore the database from the latest backup and reinstall the theme.

You know those sentences that begin “what kind of moron…”? Well, I was the answer to a few of those, particularly “what kind of moron doesn’t back their database up on a daily basis”. I had a copy of a relatively recent stylesheet, but thanks to WordPress’s innovative in-browser theme editor, the customizations I’d made bit by bit over the years were only on the server and were now gone.

As for the posts, my most recent database backup was two months old, and that would have meant a lot of lost data, especially comments.

I spent about an hour scouring the website of my web host. But SiteGround (yeah, I know there are better providers now, but they were cheap and easy at the time) doesn’t have contact information unless you want to buy something, and their tech support system is designed to make it as hard as possible to waste their time with your silly emergencies. It was only when I found a section that offered backup restoration – for a price – that I could get any help.

The most important help came relatively quickly once I punched in my credit card number. The database was restored to a version from about 24 hours earlier, and the posts, comments and all the other database data came back.

As for finding out the vulnerability that caused this in the first place, they weren’t too helpful, offering a form-letter sales pitch about all the things they do to secure their servers, and changing a database password in case the intruder managed to get it somehow.

Rebuilding the theme took a while, and I had to repeat some steps I’d taken before, using an old page in the Internet Archive as a guide (yes, it’s been that longer than a year since I’ve had a significant redesign).

With a full backup sitting on my computer, I was still tweaking past 4am when he struck again. Same guy, different message. I don’t even remember if it was interesting.

What followed was a bizarre, surreal cat-and-mouse game where I’d reset the blog’s administrator password, only to have him reset it back again. Eventually I decided the easiest way to deal with this for the night was to lock out my WordPress installation from its own database. That put an abrupt end to it, but also made the blog inaccessible to everyone.

(To my horror, I thought that hadn’t been enough. I replaced an authentication key – a string of random characters in a text file that’s stored used for browser cookies – only to find it being rewritten back within seconds every time. It was only the next day that I realized that in my zeal for protectionism I had set permissions on this file to disallow writing from its owner, and I was ignoring the error messages that the file editor was giving me when I’d save.)

I eventually called it quits at about 6am, lying in bed with my laptop running out of battery power. I’d planned to sleep for a full eight hours, go to work and then deal with the issue on my day off. But I woke up four hours later and couldn’t get back to sleep again, despite valiant efforts. Throwing in the towel, I opened the laptop and got back to work. Rather than try working with a potentially compromised system, I started from scratch, reinstalling a fresh version of WordPress and then working on populating it with data (50MB of text, mostly in the forms of posts and comments).

Though the posts had been restored, I kept the website inaccessible and locked down as I went to work on Monday. Better to have my blog be blank for a day than have someone potentially have free reign through my database while I’m away from my computer for 8 hours.

Word seemed to spread quickly there, and I got a lot of concerned questions from coworkers and blog fans. (Thanks everyone, by the way, nice to know people care so much about this little thing.)

After I got home, I implemented a few simple security measures (nothing my readers will notice) and changed a bunch of passwords, so hopefully this won’t happen again. After reinstalling some plugins, moving the image and other data files back into their proper directories, and a few minor tweaks, it’s back to its old self again.

Since I hadn’t written any posts over that 24-hour data gap (it’s been a busy few weeks at work, sorry), all I lost was a bit of a draft post and about a dozen comments, and even those were salvaged from elsewhere (an open browser window and email notifications, respectively). If you added a comment during the day on Sunday and it hasn’t appeared, it might have been lost. So feel free to comment again.

Now, hopefully, I can get back to my life.

Well, in theory, were I to have a life to get back to, I would be doing so now. Instead, I’ll do laundry and groceries.

What do I have to do to get you to stop honouring me?

The Mirror, May 14, 2009, Page 14

The Mirror, May 14, 2009, Page 14

I give up.

Last year, I asked you specifically not to vote for me in the Mirror’s Best of Montreal poll. You (or at least some of you) wilfully disobeyed me and I placed eighth on the list of best blogs.

This year, I decided to avoid the reverse psychology and say absolutely nothing about the annual readers’ survey when it came out. That failed miserably, because this year I placed No. 2 (behind Midnight Poutine, who are again humble about taking the top spot) and the paper has an interview and picture for all my friends to see (it’s at the bottom, below the giant head of Ted Bird).

The article by Lorraine Carpenter is complimentary (though “Fagstein” wasn’t a schoolyard taunt – they really didn’t need to invent a new name to make fun of me), and Rachel Granofsky’s photo – well let’s just say she took about a hundred shots of me and that was probably the best one (the best photos of me are the ones where part of my face is hidden).

The full list of most popular local blogs, for those interested:

  1. Midnight Poutine
  2. Fagstein
  3. ThriftyTable.com
  4. Mike Ward (*cough*)
  5. Pregnant Goldfish
  6. Said the Gramophone (*cough*)
  7. Nouveau Queer (*cough*)
  8. Spacing Montreal
  9. Black Sheep Reviews (*cough*)
  10. Bitchin Lifestyle (*cough*)

Honourable mentions:

It’s sad that in order to place on this list you essentially have to whore yourself out to your readers (half of the top 10 asked their readers to vote for them in this poll, though some tried to remove the evidence after the fact – I’m looking at you Mike Ward). Two others – Spacing Montreal and Pregnant Goldfish – pimped themselves last year but not this year and subsequently fell in the standings.

But hey, it’s a popularity contest, and that means Céline Dion is on the list for “Most desirable woman”, Jean Charest is on “best politician”, Global on “best TV station”, Metro on “best newspaper”, 3 Amigos tops “best Mexican” and McDonald’s places in multiple food categories.

Unfortunately, that means many high-quality candidates are left off the list. Among them Montreal City Weblog, Coolpolis, Patrick Lagacé, Dominic Arpin, Indyish and Urbania (feel free to nominate your favourite unhonoured blog below).

All that said, I’d still like to thank those who think so highly of this blog and voted for me (which, in the interests of full disclosure, I should admit includes myself – but only once!)

If you’ll excuse me, I have to go pick up a few extra copies for my mom.

The April fish

April Fool’s Day is truly a holiday for me.

Tuesday night, after getting home from a long day exploring suburbia on an expiring multi-zone transit pass, I hunkered down until 6am writing stories to be published later that morning. The idea was to fool without causing any panic or long-lasting effects.

It seemed to work. I got a few emails, particularly about my secret metro tunnel story, which seemed to be the big hit of the morning. Though I really spent most of my time on “Fagstein ME!” and its associated comment form (thank your lucky stars I confined that design to a separate page and didn’t put animated GIFs all over the blog). Interesting tidbit: the posts from that page were all taken from tweets of people who follow me on the Twitter.

The posts served their purposes: they fooled a few gullible people (whose names I will keep to myself for now), and they brought a smile or two to the faces of those who got them. And nobody died or anything.

And, of course, I scored the jackpot of having a Patrick Lagacé post all about me and how awesome I am, as well as some mentions in lesser media.

The first year of this blog, the April 1st post was a very believable one about having gotten arrested during a rather extreme scavenger hunt (so much so that the organizer emailed me to apologize). Last year I sold out by joining PayPerPost and hawking products for pennies.

Now I’m being asked how I’ll top this next year.

Good question.

Quchjaj qoSlIj!

Yesterday was February 12, the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the -1th birthday of the 2010 Olympics, and the second birthday of this blog (the day I turned in my soul and embraced arrogance and sarcasm).

Today is February 13, Friday the 13th, 1234567890 Day, and my birthday.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the 150th birthday of the state of Oregon, and the 20th anniversary of the Salman Rushdie fatwa.

So much to celebrate. Go ahead, have some cake.

Blog software upgrade

I just upgraded to WordPress 2.7, which has a whole new backend and some new features for comments. One is a reply feature, which allows you to respond to specific comments (I haven’t tested comment threading yet but hopefully it won’t explode). The other is comment paging, which will split comments to multiple pages when the discussion gets too much (ahem).

Let me know if you see any bugs as I’ve had to update the template myself.

Fagstein’s 2009 suggestions

The fine folks at Hour asked me to provide some “suggestions” for The Man various powers-that-be for 2009, which would then be used as free holiday filler quoted in an article to come out on Christmas Day.

The piece, which puts me the bottom with the rif-raff and interest group leaders, includes pretty well verbatim what I sent them.

Specifically, that:

  • Gérald Tremblay and Benoît Labonté think for a few more seconds before their next project to blatantly pander to voters before next December’s election
  • STM provide real-time updates online about metro service disruptions
  • Montreal police and other emergency services post their breaking news about car accidents, fires and murders online so that curious Montrealers can check for themselves what’s going on instead of having to wait for one of the media outlets to take dictation from the PR guy
  • more Montrealers start up niche blogs about their communities and their areas of expertise
  • TQS and Global TV, who are third in the franco and anglo TV ratings for their local newscasts, realize that slashing budgets isn’t the only answer and start experimenting by covering the news in some unique way
  • 940 Hits die a slow, painful death for having replaced 940 News with crap
  • Montreal music radio stations stop desperately clinging to the lowest common denominator and take a chance by allowing their DJs some freedom in choosing what goes on the air
  • Montreal newspapers, radio and TV stations stop giving lip service to the Internet and put some real focus online – the Journal [de Montréal] could start by dealing with its union issues that are preventing it from launching a real website
  • local TV stations start creating local programming that goes beyond the evening newscast that gives us the weather, fatal car accidents and fluff every day
  • Montrealers stop complaining about the snow and take public transit if they’re so annoyed at having to shovel out and move their cars all the time
  • Amir Khadir brings hard work and new ideas to the National Assembly instead of spending his time as an MNA whining about how the government isn’t helping poor people enough
  • the next major public transit expansion project take fewer than 20 years to plan and execute.

Any you’d like to add?

Fagstein’s Subscription Challenge: Thanks to all 402 of you

$450 of my money, and I just gave it all away! Im crazy!

$450 of my money, and I just gave it all away! I'm insaaaaaane!

I was supposed to do this on Saturday, but work kept me on a pretty hectic schedule. Now that I’m home for the pre-holidays (I’m back in the office on Christmas afternoon), I have some time to deal with unfinished business.

Last week, you’ll recall I promised to give $1 for each RSS feed subscriber (through Google Reader and other online applications that report them) to Dans La Rue, my charity of choice this year.

Having just checked the logs and done some quick math, I whipped out the ol’ credit card and made the donation tonight.

There wasn’t exactly a stampede of new subscriptions (most of the people who read the blog are subscribed already), but about 17 of you came on board to bump the number past 400.

Counting Google Reader (304 split over three feed URLs), NewsGator (41), Bloglines (36), Netvibes (18) and miscellaneous (3), that makes 402 subscribers that I know about. I bumped the donation up to $450 (mostly because it seems weird giving exactly $402 to charity). For my embezzled hard-earned I-can’t-believe-they-pay-me-for-this-job money, I get a nice tax receipt, my name gets printed in a book somewhere, and oh yeah some kid gets help.

On behalf of my inflated ego, I’d like to thank you all for reading this here blog and making my opinions sound important enough for journalism students to think I’m some sort of expert.

P.S. To my fellow bloggers with your so-called charity campaign, I just donated $1 for every RSS subscriber. Can you beat that, chickens?

Fagstein’s Subscription Challenge

During all of 2007, I was technically unemployed. A mixture of EI, freelance work and tax rebates from the government (I never quite figured out how that all worked) kept me afloat.

In January, I got offered an eight-week contract at my favourite job, as a copy editor at The Gazette.

I’m still there.

Facing the continually impending unemployment that contract workers must always prepare for, I’ve been pretty responsible with my money, putting most of it away in the bank. It’s gotten to the point where I can start considering things like RRSPs for the first time.

Being a bleeding-heart liberal, I’m also overcome with guilt that I’m not giving the money away to help homeless people or something. So, I figured, why not just go ahead and do that?

Rather than just cut a cheque, though, I figured I’d have a little fun with it, and involve the dozen or so people who read my blog.

My challenge

So here’s the plan: One week from today (Saturday, Dec. 20), I will donate $1 for every subscriber to this blog’s feed through web services that report such information (Google Reader, Netvibes, NewsGator, Bloglines) to Dans La Rue, a Montreal charity that helps street youth, up to a maximum of $1,000 (you know, just in case this hits Fark or something and I have to contemplate taking out a mortgage on a home I don’t own just to keep my promise).

By my calculations, I have 383 subscribers through those four main feed readers already, which means I’m $383 in the can. Let’s see how high I can push that number up (I’ll be keeping a close eye on traffic and other indicators, so don’t think about artificially inflating those numbers through fake subscriptions).

If you don’t subscribe via RSS and don’t know how, check out What is RSS and the video RSS in Plain English to explain it to you. My feed’s address is http://blog.fagstein.com/feed/

Your challenge

Now this second part is, of course, entirely optional, but while you’re getting me to donate a buck on your behalf, consider making a $10 donation on your own to a favourite charity. Don’t make me give out those “cup of coffee” metaphors to show you how insignificant $10 is.

If you want a charity idea, here are my suggestions:

Let’s work together to make Christmas merry for everyone. Especially my ego.


I admit, I’m pretty vain when it comes to my blog. I don’t advertise it or spend hours obsessing over search engine optimization. I don’t use Feedburner (yet) or Google Analytics to obsessively pry into my readership. But I take a look at my server logs and I’m pretty curious who comes here.

My traffic is a modest 1,000-2,000 visits a day, 20,000-30,000 unique visitors a month. For a locally-focused blog, I guess that’s pretty good (so everyone keeps telling me), though it’s nowhere near the readership of even a tiny local newspaper.

Whenever I start thinking I’m all that, though, I usually get a good swift kick in the pants when someone much more popular links to me. A single link from Patrick Lagacé, for example, can easily double my traffic on a given day. MtlCityWeblog also ranks highly in terms of incoming links.

And then there’s Fark.

Fark is like Slashdot (for whom the “Slashdot Effect” is named). Small-time web hosts fear these popular websites because of the insane spike in traffic they are reported to provide.

So you can imagine my concern when I saw that a bunch of people were coming here from Fark.com. It turns out a thread had been posted there linking to my recent CRTC roundup featuring the new Canadian porn channel. That thread then made it to the main page, which resulted in thousands of web surfers being directed here.

Thousands, but not hundreds of thousands or even tens of thousands. My statistics show only 7,000 people clicking through to the page (Fark’s counter is above 8,700). Turns out that’s about average. Some popular ones might see 15,000, and those promising pictures or other goodies might go up to 70,000. But barring some “epic thread” it doesn’t go much beyond that.

Perhaps Fark isn’t as popular as it once was. Perhaps with the Internet as huge as it is, there are fewer large gathering places with the power of God behind them.

Oh, and to save you some time, here are the thread’s highlights:

  • Rita MacKneels
  • The Great White Load
  • Roll Up the Rimjob
  • Edmund Fits Gerald
  • 2 Girls 1 Puck
  • Montreal Triple Expos
  • Summer of 69
  • The Littlest Homo

There, I just saved you 20 minutes.

In related news, my blog hit its 200th Google Reader subscriber recently. It kind of gets me that I have more blog subscribers than Facebook friends. Added to subscribers through other feed readers (Bloglines, Newsgator, Netvibes, Livejournal — in that order), the number comes up to somewhere between 270 and 282.

And that doesn’t include people who read the blog the old-fashioned way.

Now how do I cash in on this new-found fame? Where are those groupies they always tell me about?

Nobody wants to read 1,000 comments

Patrick Lagacé brought up a point about comments on blogs, and how he’s not entirely sure what good they do him. Being a popular blog, it gets a lot of trolls and other pointless and unhelpful commentary. Comments easily reach into the dozens, sometimes hundreds.

That was also the subject of an interview Pat did on CIBL with Michel Dumais (Mario Asselin has the details) in which Pat totally name-drops me (near the end of the audio clip):

Dumais: … Vous êtes très fréquenté, vous générez beaucoup de commentaires. Mais ça serait pas intéressant pour vous peut-être de commencer à fréquenter aussi des autres blogues et à laisser des commentaires? …

Lagacé: Oui, j’essai de faire un peu. En fait le seul blogue ou je le fait, j’estime que c’est le meilleur blogue de couverture médiatique à Montréal, c’est le blogue de Steve Faguaiylle … Faguy… son blogue c’est Fagstein — qui couvre les médias montréalais, surtout anglo, mais un peu québecois… francophone aussi. C’est le seul ou je vais. Les autres, je sais pas. Un peu de manque de temps, un peu de manque d’intérêt.

(If my blog were a movie, that quote would go at the top of the poster.)

Although the number of comments on Pat’s blog causes a bit of professional jealousy on my part (second only to hair jealousy), it’s very rare that I’ll read the comments attached to one of his posts. Not so much because of the trolling (though it is apparent), but because there’s just so darn many of them. I don’t have time to read all the posts on blogs I’m subscribed to as it is. I certainly don’t have time to read 50 comments attached to each post, especially when they don’t have anything interesting to add.

And then there’s situations when the number of comments simply gets out of hand. The decapitation-on-a-bus story I talked about earlier now has 1,700 comments, most of which are repetitive. Has anyone read them all?

One easy solution is to stop approving troll comments. We set minimum limits (usually legal ones) for the types of comments we approve in moderation, but why set the barrier so low? Why not set them to the same level as we do letters to the editor? Just because there is space for more doesn’t mean we should bury any truly interesting comments in a pile of useless junk.

But even then, the number of comments can still be unbearable in very popular blogs or news stories or anywhere else one might have an attached discussion forum. When that happens, it’s time to start removing comments that aren’t really interesting (comments that simply agree, disagree, approve, disapprove, or otherwise give a comment without explaining it or adding anything new, as well as those that repeat things already said by others).

The standard response to that is: That’s censorship. It’s not though, it’s moderation. Nobody’s stopping you from posting your useless comments about my blog post on your blog or on some other forum somewhere. When I disapprove a comment it’s because I find it of no use to my readership.

But some still think that’s too far. So is there another method to get these runaway comments under control?

Well, Slashdot answered that question years ago with its comment system. The website, whose format looks very similar to blogs even though it predates them, has a threaded comment system, so comments can be traced back to their parents and sorted according to thread. This level of organization (and the ability to turn it on or off as needed) helps a big deal when dealing with a large number of comments.

More importantly, though, Slashdot has a peer moderation system that allows users to rate each others’ comments. Positive reviews increase a comment’s rating, and negative reviews decrease it. The result is that each comment is assigned a numerical rating (from -1 to +5), and readers can filter comments based on that rating. Set it to zero to get rid of just the trolls. Set it to +5 to get only the dozen or so truly exceptional or interesting or useful comments you need.

I’m surprised that every large-scale blogging system ever made hasn’t copied this system in some way. Instead, you see unthreaded comments with no rating system. The only judgment made is whether they meet the minimum requirements for posting, and that’s not good enough when our attention is so limited.

My blog, though it gets quite a few comments, doesn’t get near enough to start implementing stricter screening or peer moderation, but if I had 500 comments a day, I would certainly seriously consider it.