No more anonymous comments?

Lately I've been wondering if the discussions in the comments portion of my blog would be more productive if everyone involved identified who they were, and also make it clear if they represented a company. I know a lot of people have appreciated that I don't moderate my comments though and I have always let folks express their opinions freely (sometimes if I catch it I'll remove profanity, but I always leave the comment posted).

What do you guys think? I saw that Bob Sutor is also taking this approach, and I think it may be a good idea:

The two drawbacks to this from my point of view are:

  1. I would actually have to review each comment before it gets posted (today every comment just goes through without my review, this way if I'm out for a few days, the discussion can still happen)
  2. Some folks have opinions that may not map to what their company believes, and for that reason would like to remain anonymous.

I honestly don't know what the best approach is here. What do you guys think?


Comments (20)

  1. Miguel de Icaza says:

    I believe that anonymous comments are important to have, its important to split the message from the messenger.

    But I believe there is value in moderating comments from trolls (regardless of whether they are "real names" or anonymous people).   Sometimes the trolls will bring up the same miss informed comments over and over again.

    And those I found myself on my blog were taking too much of my time.   So I have decided that I would not post trolls if I felt that the troll required a response.

    I suspect that blocking anonymous comments is sometimes a smokescreen for suppressing dissenting comments (which we have seen happen in other blogs).


  2. Doug Mahugh says:

    Another busy day for me, with very little time for blogging, but there’s so much going on in the Open

  3. There’s a huge amount of bad press waiting if someone can spin your position as censoring anti-OOXML opinion.

    Most people can recognize a troll easily enough – at least most people whose opinion matters, or who are open to being swayed.

    I’m an open source advocate but I’m neither pro nor anti OOXML – I think it’s absolutely the stupidest issue for ANYONE to be focusing on right now when there are so many real issues at stake like patents on media formats, the future of HTML, DRM, crazy copyright terms, software patents in general…

    But your blog has certainly played a big part (for both better and worse, on occasion) in shaping my opinion of the debate to the extent that it *does* matter. The fact that you ADDRESS criticism rather than suppressing it counts for a lot.

    And I think you’re overestimating the extent to which corporate interests and IBM in particular are responsible for the anti-OOXML sentiment. For better or worse, informed or not, the open-source grassroots is opposed to it.

  4. I’ve been struggling with the same question on my blog, too, but I finally decided that for me the right balance is to allow anonymous postings (for the very reason that is gives people the ability to post a comment without fear even if they are dissenting with the company that they work for), but I do moderate the comments. That adds an extra review cycle, but it allows me to keep spam or inappropriate language off the air.

  5. Maybe some context 🙂 I had this exchange with Mr Sutor when comments I submitted did not get approved because I disagreed with his view.

    ———- Forwarded message ———-

    From: Robert S Sutor <>

    Date: Jan 30, 2008 9:44 PM

    Subject: Re: comments on your blog

    To: openxml rocks <>

    I don’t have them anymore, but if you have them you can resubmit.

    You sounded like an exceptionally young member of the Microsoft marketing

    department in tone and content, so that’s why I asked. Perhaps you want to

    edit for argument and less for sounding like someone who would say anything

    as long as it could be anonymous.

    BTW, two things:

    1) the time for comments may have expired – it is 7 days

    2) I’m going to start requiring real names for commenters



    Dr. Robert S. Sutor

    VP, Open Source and Standards, IBM Corporation

    Office 585-243-2445 / Mobile 585-202-0900

    Assistant: Veronica DiNucci – 914-765-4620 /


    Second Life: Nigel Paravane

               "openxml rocks"


     >                                              To

                                         Robert S Sutor/Watson/IBM@IBMUS.

               01/30/2008 04:09                                           cc



                                         Re: comments on your blog

    Just someone who disagrees with you about ooxml. I choose to remain

    anonymous Bob but chose a pseudonym that makes my prejudice plain enough

    unlike WuMing Shi!

    I see a few people use handles on your site.

    Anyway, I sent two comments and you approved neither. They weren’t

    offensive so I assume you refused them because you disagreed with their

    content – you should make it plain that you exercise such a strong

    editorial policy – it isn’t obvious from your site. If you were open about

    this then people may see the constant reinforcement in comments as an echo

    chamber effect.

    I see Rob Weir is criticised for similar actions.

    Anyway, hopefully you can publish my comments with a short explanation that

    we corresponded offline, or alternatively you can clarify your policy on

    comments you disagree with.



    On Jan 25, 2008 9:16 PM, Robert S Sutor <> wrote:.

    Who are you?



    Dr. Robert S. Sutor

    VP, Open Source and Standards, IBM Corporation

    Office 585-243-2445 / Mobile 585-202-0900 / Alt Mobile 585-519-3290

    Assistant: Veronica DiNucci – 914-765-4620 /


    Second Life: Nigel Paravane

                "openxml rocks"


      >                                              To

                                          Robert S Sutor/Watson/IBM@IBMUS

                01/25/2008 05:56                                           cc



                                          comments on your blog

    Bob you have not approved comments I posted to your blog.

    Would you mind exppaining why, or even reconsidering?


  6. sorry by the way for the formatting – I think Mr Sutor uses Lotus Notes.

  7. Francis says:

    I’m also in favor of preserving anonymous comments. However, it would be nice if there were a way to "shunt" them off to the side. This way, ongoing conversations could continue without rude and disruptive interjections. Unfortunately, I have yet to see blog software that does this, so I guess one is stuck with an all-or-nothing approach.

  8. Christian says:

    Please leave it as it is.

    You have so few comments, it shouldn’t be a problem. And it’s interessting to read the comments.

    And I think most of these people are Anti-MS-trolls (not from a company) that still need to grasp how hard it would be to bend all of Office over to that ridiculous ODF-format. People who just don’t get how much the internal workings of an office application are connected with the file format.

    And what you write is on a much higher level and I think that even these troll comments – if refuted – add much information or at least have in the past.

    And then there’s my feeling that you are much much more professional handling the whole situation in comparison to Rob Weir, etc.

    They just censor everything and spin it around, while at your blog I was sure that all criticism stays posted. And I think that you can manage the trolls quite well and not get in heated discussion but reply sensible and calm and in a superior way.

    This is completely comparable to how MS did not vote against ODF, but IBM starts this ugly campain. IBM NEEDS to censor, you have nothing to hide!

    ODF is something thrown somewhere in a 10 year behind office app, OOXML is well engineered and performant and "real" (in a technical sense)

    Thanks for the interessting blog and the good work!

  9. Tod says:

    I do not mind if comments are moderated. However, I refuse to use my real name or list my company just in order to post. I will only post in anonymity.

    Often I see postings on various MSDN blogs that I wish to comment about. However, many require you to log in before posting. As that is is unacceptable, I go without posting, even though I feel that my comment may have been valuable. On a few rare occasions, I have gone to the hassle to create a disposable single time Gmail / Hotmail account just to send my response via e-mail. However, usually I will not go the hassle.

    Most recently I posted about the Unicode issues with password hashing. Now that I checked, I posted under the name "Ben". As part of anonymity, I just choose any name that first comes to my mind, so don’t expect consistency.

    I would suggest leaving it as it is now. However, if need be, moderation is not the end of the world. However, if you require logging in before posting, then I will generally stop leaving comments.

  10. says:

    OK, I think I’m going to keep it as is. I really value the feedback in the comments and I would hate for that to go away.

    There are times where one person will get out of control and it’s hard to follow the discussion, but those times are fairly in-frequent. If it ever gets to be too much I’ll just delete comments for that particular post (and I’ll let everyone know I’m doing it).

    Thanks again for the feedback folks, I really appreciate it!


  11. John Head says:

    I am against annon comments. It is your blog Brian. You make the rules. If someone can not use their real name (I do not see where we have to list company name so its not like they have a direct link to your bio), than what makes the comment valid? I think the conversation would have less clutter and trolls.

  12. S says:

    Whiny little girl.

  13. Yawar Amin says:

    You do have other options. Check out <a href="">Disqus</a&gt;, it’s a separate commenting system that plugs in to your blog. Comment moderation is available, so you can mod comments up or down like Slashdot/Digg/Reddit. Commenters can create a profile on Disqus or stay anonymous. Over time, your Disqus profile builds up and shows your `clout’, a sort of peer approval rating. <a href="">Dave Winer</a> is using it as his commenting system. It’s pretty nice looks-wise, too.

  14. Craig Mathers says:

    John Head,

    1) Why is a comment by anonymous poster and less valid than one by a non-anonymous poster? Also, does that change if the listed name is real or not?

    2) How do you determine if a name is someone’s real name or just made up?

  15. Please, keep the anonymous posters. As you say, it’s your blog and you make the rules … but I think it’s valuable to be able to share your opinion without revealing your name.

    Is the value of comments from posters like "S", "hAl" or "The Wraith" determined by their pseudonyms … or by what they write?

    John Head:

    "If someone can not use their real name […] than what makes the comment valid?"

    I think this is a very, very wrong assumption and it reminds me of the people who say "Why do you oppose video survailance in the streets and NSA wiretapping your phone? – as long as you behave you don’t have anything to fear".

    Anonymity is one of the pillars of a little thing called "privacy" and that should be preserved – even when blogging.


  16. A says:

    So long as people don’t change their pseudonyms randomly, then you can still associate comments with a particular person, and can respond to those comments knowing the source they are coming from.  I work at neither IBM nor MS, I don’t have a vested interest in either, and if I gave out my name it would mean absolutely nothing to anyone here.  So is my full name any more meaningful than just A (which, for what it’s worth, is a part of my real name)?

    And if someone’s real name happens to be John Smith, it wouldn’t be particularly useful, now would it 😉

    An anonymous post allows people to write nonsense with no truth behind it, but it also allows people to speak their mind when they’d be otherwise afraid to do so.  Why do you think voting is anonymous? On the other side of the coin, some people will still write nonsense with no truth behind it even if their real name is linked to the comment.  

    Non-anonymous posts will cut down on the number of posters, but not necessarily eliminate the trolls.

  17. John Head says:

    You guys are mixing the fact a journalist can keep a source anon and not have to reveal it with that source being anon to the journalist. Any good journalist, before he prints a story, is supposed to fact check the news. That includes validating who the source is, what they do, how they recieved the information they passed on.

    Anon commenting allows people to hide. I think it is the act of a coward. Put your name out there is you have something to say.

    The great thing is we can all have our opinions. But Brian doesn’t have to. This is his site. It is also Microsoft’s. If either decide they do not like a comment, or want anon commenting in any form, they can just turn it off. That is what makes a blog different than a newspaper. He and they own the space.

    I think a lot of the trolling going on both sides of this battle can be put to rest by requiring names. We do not need another place to have a /. style discussion. I come here to here Brian’s take on OOXML, which I consider to be a direct representation of Microsoft. I want to read a conversation about his thoughts. If I want anon trolling, I will go over to /.

  18. Len Bullard says:

    I have two blogs.  One for personal rants and the other for 3D projects.   I don’t allow anonymous posts and I state that policy in the header.  I took that position a year or so ago as the best middle ground between no comments at all (How Tim Bray did it for awhile) and allow all comments (how I did it originally).  Tim eventually put comments on his page.  I eventually made all of mine moderated by I withdrew the privilege of anonymity.  It stopped the trolls and the bandits from commenting and made the comments I did receive more thoughtful.  In short, it improved the quality all the way around.

    I think if I write something worth reading, it should have my name on it and that’s been my general position from the earliest days on dev lists.  There is just too much muckery on the web and elsewhere to give someone an opportunity to post anonymously.  By moderating, I make it my responsibility to sort out the exceptions.  If there were too many to moderate, I would turn them all off.

    One has to be responsible for the act AND the stage.  That’s professional.

  19. orcmid says:

    I see that you’ve decided to leave things the way they are.  I appreciate that.

    The one concern that I have is that I am a pseudonymous commentor but I am by no means anonymous.  You can find out all there is to know about me via my pseudonym.  It’s just this weird attachment I have had since I first used that nom de net 30 years ago.

    I notice that pseudonymity and anonymity are often confused (having gone through that one with John Dowdell in the past).  I would like it if people recognized the difference, since "real names" are not really real anyhow, right?  (And in that regard, I am still the only orcmid on the Internet, which is very cool.  There are many more Dennis Hamiltons.)

  20. Nomen Nescio says:

    Just my small contribution: I too am in favour of pseudonymous/anonymous comments (pace orcmid) as I believe the message contained within a post should stand by itself. I am also in favour of moderation as there are times when not publishing posts is, in my opinion, justified: for example, spam and graffiti. You laudably publish comments that disagree strongly with your position, some verging on being unacceptably rude, so I thank you for encouraging open debate.


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