All comments will be moderated and might be edited. If you're not happy for any reason and would like your comment deleted, please just send me an email and I'll remove your comment.
1. No ad hominem. Please don't be nasty or insult people, or phrase things in a way that will hurt anyone's feelings. Friendly, polite conversation among equals is the norm here.
2. TOP is not a forum! Please don't respond to other commenters unless you're being helpful. Your comment should be your response to the main post.
3. Don't promote. If you honestly think it's germane, fine, but please don't leave comments to gratuitously plug products, websites, etc. I also don't publish comments where the name or "handle" is a company or business name.
4. Try to refrain from political rants and provocations.
5. No profanity.
6. One point at a time! And, as a generality, it's wise to keep it relatively brief...readers tend to skip long comments unless they're very well written.
Finally, please READ OVER YOUR COMMENT before sending! This just helps cut down on the errors, misspellings, missing words, and general miscommunication. I do it too, on every word I publish on TOP.
The More Nuanced Version (For Those Who Really Care):
Any reader is welcome to comment on open posts if they have something to contribute. Indeed, that's half the fun and half the reward of a community like this. TOP gets lots of good comments—occasionally, so good that I convert them into posts in their own right (with the author's permission and collaboration, of course).
All comments are moderated, meaning, I read them before I post them. The goal is simply to keep the conversation pleasant, collegial, and helpful. I don't like "flame wars" and I don't permit them to get going in TOP's comment section. There are other places for that. If your comment is disallowed, I will usually contact you privately to explain why. Anyone who has sent multiple messages that don't get posted has been banned, meaning all their comments are automatically deleted without review.
Despite this, there isn't a whole lot of "censorship" going on. Ninety to 100% of all comments on every post are passed through. (And generally the censorship can only exceed 10% if there are fewer than 10 comments and one gets tossed.) Overall, I probably only disallow five or six comments each week, and we receive an average of 23 per post. Sometimes I go for days on end without disallowing a single comment.
We ain't so strict
We don't really have rules that are what my Dad used to call "hard and fast." Unfortunately, strict rules don't seem to work. No matter what package of rules I come up with, it's inevitable that occasionally a perfectly innocuous comment will violate them and some underhanded, sly, manipulative screed will not.
So, I have "guidelines." They're rough, and general, and sometimes they probably do allow my personal prejudices and partisan positions to shine through. Sorry about that. Nobody's perfect.
Guideline #1 is "no ad hominem." Ad hominem means "to the man" and it refers to direct personal insults. Thus, "that idea is idiotic" might be allowable (although it's not promising!) while "so-and-so is an idiot" would not be.
Guideline #2 is that the comment should respond to the posting. I originally had it in mind that I wouldn't allow commenters to respond to each other, but that's just not reasonable. However, comments that respond directly to other comments need to be friendly and helpful in tone, not argumentative, confrontational, or demeaning.
When a "back and forth" exchange between commenters gets going, it's sometimes hard to stop, because whoever's comment I disallow first will feel muzzled and hence be aggrieved. I have to do it anyway, because multiple-episode exchanges, especially accompanied by escalating hostility, are something I want to discourage here. It's possible the participants might not be allowed to settle their differences once and for all, right here and now; tough. They can settle it between themselves (i.e., privately) if it's so vitally important that it be done.
Another type of comment I might occasionally disallow is something that I know from experience will probably hijack the discussion. I've been participating in inter-computer discussions since 1976 (Xtalk at Dartmouth College), so I've kind of gotten a sixth sense about what sort of thing is going to lead off down some unrelated tributary.
A few more: I don't like what I call "drive-by comments," meaning quick, usually snide reactions written by someone who's apparently not a regular reader of the site, who might have come to a certain post through a search engine and just feels like lobbing an empty bottle over the wall before he departs so he can feel superior. (Most "get a life"-type comments are of this genus.)
I don't like "you suck"-type comments, either, regardless of how they're expressed. If I suck, or one of our authors does, the critic is welcome to go somewhere else: the internet is broad, and contains multitudes.
This ain't the place
I generally have an aversion to what I call "imported arguments," meaning long, complex, polarized, impassioned position-papers on certain issues that have been developed through long drawn-out disputation elsewhere. An example of this might be a post that mentions the Supreme Court drawing an 800-word comment about judicial activism. It might be interesting, and the commenter might even be right, but this isn't the place.
That brings up an important point: this is not a forum. Forums are places that encourage and allow discussion regardless of the topic or whether the thread stays on topic or strays all over the place. It's probably more helpful to think of TOP's comments as a "Letters to the Editor" section—amplifying, clarifying, reacting to, and expanding upon the topics of the articles. Not just open-ended jumping-off points for unrelated discussions.
And, like published letters, individual comments sometimes get edited. I elide or eliminate certain "bad" words not because I'm a prude but because they might trigger content-blocking software. (The site is read in schools and workplaces, and I try to be sensitive to institutional concerns.) I don't have time to fully edit every comment, but I'll often perform triage: I'll correct an obvious typo (example: "I went to went to the museum"), misspellings sometime if they interfere with sense (or if they just annoy me, like "loose" for "lose"), and awkward expressions written by non-English speakers (example: "eating the own foot" for "putting his foot in his mouth").
Another slight problem is that sometimes, folks write comments late in the evenings after they've, ah, had a few too many. These are not always easy to spot, but sometimes they are—sometimes very easy (!)—and in those cases I might just contact the individual in the morning and gently ask them to re-submit the comment. Oh, and I very occasionally don't post something just because, even when I concentrate, I can't figure out what the heck it means.
Lastly, I take a rather dim view of people expressing hostility or dismissiveness to photography, photographers, or the activity of photographing. That's what most of us are here for, after all.
Finally: it's no fun to get your comment axed, and I know that. It's like someone clapping a hand over your mouth when you're saying something. Please remember that I'm trying to look out for the experience of all our visitors first and foremost, and only in a secondary sense is a disallowed or edited comment a message to its writer. So please try to have some sympathy and patience if a comment of yours is disallowed or edited; it doesn't mean your opinion isn't valid and it doesn't mean we don't like you. Quite the contrary, usually. Comments, and the people who write them, are one of the major assets of a website like this one. I appreciate our commenters, very much. I'm just like every other reader of the site in this sense: we like hearing from you. Just be nice, is all.
Thanks, and please keep all those good comments coming!