New Make: Online commenting policy and community guidelines

New Make: Online commenting policy and community guidelines

MakeGuyb.jpgOver the years, here on Make: Online, we’ve had a rather open, anybody can play commenting policy. As long as you didn’t use profanity, post patently offensive remarks, or spam, your comments were likely to stand. We also allowed for anonymous commenting.

While this approach allows for the greatest number of voices, we’ve come to feel that it doesn’t necessarily foster the best sense of community. People, especially those new to DIY, to electronics, to the maker’s movement in general; people who are exploring a project idea but unsure of the design or its mechanics, frequently don’t feel “safe” in speaking up here. We’ve heard this from makers personally and in surveys we’ve done. We want to try fostering an online environment where our readers feel that they can more freely share their ideas, ask questions, and basically, think and learn out loud.

We also believe that allowing anonymous commenting, while providing a convenience, and the ability to post without one’s name being associated, can also encourage rude behavior and personal attacks. And while we don’t think the atmosphere on MAKE is at all caustic (compared to other popular tech sites), we’ve decided to change our policy a bit in an effort to hopefully create a greater sense of community among makers, a place where people of varying ages, interests, and skill levels, feel comfortable and free to ask questions, seek advice, socialize, and learn.

So, for starters, we’re turning off anonymous commenting and implementing a “be nice” commenting policy. Before you post, right above the Submit button, it will now read:

Make: Online has a “be nice” commenting policy. Don’t say anything here you wouldn’t say to a person’s face. We will use our discretion in removing comments we find offensive, spammy, self-promotional, or mean-spirited. See more on our Maker Community Guidelines page.

The Maker Community Guidelines spell out in more detail what we’re hoping our readers will take to heart in helping us build a more amiable environment here.

This is not the only thing we’re going to be doing to expand our community-building efforts. We’re also going to be “datamining” comment threads more, to find new ideas for topic-areas to explore, to elevate comments into stand-alone posts for deeper exploration, and we’re even going to be deputizing commenters and turning them into guest authors from time to time. Encouraging more maker participation is also a big priority in our upcoming site redesign, so this is only the first step in that direction. There are also plans in the works for the site that we’re super excited about and think will inspire you to become even more involved in what we’re doing here. If you’ve been to a Maker Faire, or felt the energy of a Faire through our site and video coverage — that’s what we’d like to instill here — a similar feeling of excitement, engagement, skills-sharing, and friendliness. We’d love to hear your ideas of how you think we can best accomplish this.

128 thoughts on “New Make: Online commenting policy and community guidelines

  1. Daniel Lanigan says:

    I think it’s a great policy. I can’t speak personally as to whether or not it’s needed (as I read the RSS feed and I’m usually too lazy to click to read the comments :P), but the policy in itself sounds good.

    I love the Magazine and I love the Blog, but I’ve not really gotten involved with the site at all. I guess it’s always seemed to me more like something to read that to participate in.

    However, I don’t really have any great Ideas on how to change that at the moment. I’ll post again if I happen to think of anything though. But really, I’m sure that whatever you end up doing, it will be great.

  2. Daniel T says:

    I just happened to sign up today, so I could post my entry to your Extech give-away and in the past I’ve posted anonymously so this new policy seems fine to me. I’ve moderated many forums over the last decade (including the forum for … you know the people who make forums!) all of them had anonymous posting turned off, it doesn’t get rid of every troll, but it goes along way.

    I’m glad your also going to let the reader’s/commenter’s to become guest posters. Just today I was looking the the “editors and authors” box on the right of the screen and wondering how I’d get my name there!

    Do you guys currently have a moderating team? You ‘recruiting’?

  3. Simon says:

    I usually posted anonymously then this morning found I couldn’t (hopefully you’ve removed that anonymous link now – it’s annoying entering lots of text then finding you can’t post it) so I finally got around to signing up. I am looking forward to not having to use that CAPTCHA and getting failed submissions anymore!

    I haven’t looked in the forums much but I have to say the comments in the blog are generally some of the best, least spammy on any blog or forum I frequent. The new change should only make that better.

  4. StefanJ says:

    I have no trouble with the new policy.

    In fact, a well-moderated forum is the key to good discussions.

    My big complaint: The sign-in procedure. Uh, procedures. There are so many choices. First I have to recall which was the one I’d signed up for. (Moveable key? Open type? Key pass?). Then I have to remember the screen name and password I’d chosen.

    1. Simon says:

      I also found it a bit tricky creating an account. Maybe because I was on my EEEPC and the small screen size meant I missed the sign up link on the right hand side after i tried commenting anonymously.

      Wasn’t until I was on my ‘big’ computer I worked it out and even then it took some hunting. I first ended up at some sign up screen for O’Reilly!

      Simplifying that might be a good idea.

  5. alandove says:

    This is fine with me – I signed up awhile back, and have been posting under my name ever since. The one thing I’d like to do is change my profile picture, though. The Simpsonized version was fun for awhile, but I’m tired of it. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten how I originally set the picture, and the option to change it seems to be deeply concealed. I’ve checked the Make and MovableType sites, to no avail. Any pointers?

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Hmmmm. Are you perhaps using a Gravatar? Can you log in here?

      If not, do you recall how you set the profile pic in the first place? Was it through Movable Type?

  6. netserv666 says:

    As above haven’t really seen a problem in the past unlike some other popular tech blogs where the comments are harsh and arrogant esp. toward the contributors… Keep up the great job and applause for this policy ….

  7. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Thanks for all the support and input, folks. Much appreciated.

    We’re always looking for new content, for the site and the magazine, new Faire presenters, and new guest authors for the blog. Email me, gareth (at) makezine, with links to projects you’ve done, articles you’ve written, etc. This goes for everyone here. We want to include more of our readers’ work in our content, so don’t be afraid to reach out. You can always also use the “Suggest a Site” form beneath bios on the right rail –>
    That goes to all of the editors for consideration. That’s a good way to start the process of getting more involved.

    We know our sign-in procedure is not without problems. We’re working to correct and streamline things as much as possible. In your case above, can’t you write down which sign-in and which username someplace? Streamlining all of this is definitely part of our redesign plans.

    *I’m* not even sure how to change one’s icon. And I;m out the door at the moment to go to a Dorkbot DC meeting. Can somebody else on the staff help Alan?

  8. gunter says:

    “We will use our discretion in removing comments we find offensive, spammy, self-promotional, or mean-spirited.”

    But I have to say that I’ve seen plenty of comments (usually to other comments) that fit some of those (maybe not the offensive in the traditional sense) coming from non-anon comments, and to be even more honest, from those in power here. I usually post anon as I don’t really want the backlash. I really haven’t seem much of the civil degradation as I seen other places, maybe due to the perceived possible scolding from the staff?

    Do I want to post saying that I am offended by rat throwies and post with my real name? maybe not, and maybe I should, do I want to open myself to ridicule from both inside make and possibly outside (as usernames are often are used cross sites (almost by definition the way they are set up here)maybe not.

    I liked the anonymous postings, and didn’t see the problem (maybe taken care of behind the curtain)

    anyway, I’ll likely post much less often now, kinda sad.

    now I need to go make alka selzer in my mouth, just to liven up the day.

  9. Phillip Torrone says:

    @gunter – saying you are offended by rat throwies is totally fine and acceptable as you can see in gareth’s great outline. please don’t try and make it sound like it’s not – that’s simply not true.

    also, you don’t need to use your real name – register however you’d like, you just can’t post an “anon”.

    lastly, if you have a specific issue with a comment from “those in power” email that person – all of the MAKE staff’s email addresses are on the right —> it’s certainly possible for staff member of any site to take something personally or what’ more likely – a comment typed on a web site sound harsh but it wasn’t intended to be. we’re all human. it actually takes a lot to get a comment deleted here, out of the tens of thousands of posts i’ve made on MAKE and thousands of comments i’ve read – i’ve deleted maybe 10 – and no one objected, they were over the top crazy-pants.

    everyone on the team is approachable and fair, just email us if you have any problems, sounds like your sore about some past thing, now is a great time to resolve it :)

    1. BobsYourUncle says:

      If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.
      If you can’t take a little criticism, don’t post things on the Intertubes.

  10. RocketGuy says:

    I still get the occasional issue with login status/posting fail.

    Usually happens when I’ve been logged in for a while, I suspect that the site caches the login longer than the other login service does, and it fails on posting. Or maybe not, I dunno, just a guess based on general knowledge of how architectures can fail.

    Phillip, we tried to address this about a year ago, wanna take another crack at it?

  11. Phillip Torrone says:

    @RocketGuy – yah, i think the problem is (was, still is) caused by having 3-4 servers to handle the traffic load. it’s just a hunch but i think if you start to comment and then the servers are offloading traffic, the session gets lost.

    everyone on the team is committed to making the comments work flawlessly, i think we’ll figure out any remaining issues this year with everyone’s help.

  12. StefanJ says:

    Something that has been bothering me for a while:

    The Make: Community page layout.

    It’s kind of cluttered. You don’t get around to the Forum until you’ve scrolled down a page.

    The link to the Forum should be up top!

  13. Phillip Torrone says:

    @BobsYourUncle – “If you can’t take a little criticism, don’t post things on the Intertubes”

    makers young and old should be able to share things here without fear of someone being offensive or mean-spirited. “a little criticism” is fine – but let’s not start there, let’s start by turning your statement around…

    “If you’re looking for some help with your project and some useful tips, you can post things on the MAKE site, the community there is always willing to help with some good advice!…”

    1. BobsYourUncle says:

      A common theme coming from us (your customers) is that the Make staff could use moderating. Maybe anger management classes?

      Alright, I await your inevitable reply…

  14. jpersonna says:

    I tried to leave one last comment through the anonymous link. Imagine my frustration.

    Right now my intention is to never use this ID or to comment again.

    To be honest, I don’t really buy the spam and bad-comment argument at a site like this. I’ve never seen them.

    What I think is that every “portal” on the web is using a shift in perceptions to capture users. They think by making people members they’ll force-build a community.

    I betcha you’ll back off, just like the pay-wall news sites back off. Watch your good comment count fall, plummet.

  15. Phillip Torrone says:

    @jpersonna – “To be honest, I don’t really buy the spam and bad-comment argument at a site like this. I’ve never seen them.”

    exactly – there are dozens of spams a day, we delete *each one* we get an email every time someone posts a comment. everyone works hard so you don’t need to see them.

    you then say “What I think is that every “portal” on the web is using a shift in perceptions to capture users. They think by making people members they’ll force-build a community.”

    no one at MAKE is “capturing” users, or force-building anything. we don’t MAKE more $ because you post a comment. MAKE is not like most sites that is fueled by page views only. the goal is to build the best community. MAKE is not a portal, or any portal – we’re doing something very different and (i think) amazing.

  16. jpersonna says:

    I acknowledge that if I haven’t been seeing the weeds for the weeding, that is a factor.

    But let me show you a recent comment by a real live journalist. Mathew Padilla wrote for the OC Register and has a business book out. He’s retiring from the Register:

    The quote:

    “And thank you to all who bothered to say a kind word or two in the comments or via email. See you in the blogsphere. I may post, under a false name perhaps, on this blog, LoRe or Calculated Risk.”

    Good thing he isn’t coming here, right? Because “anonymous commenting, while providing a convenience, and the ability to post without one’s name being associated, can also encourage rude behavior and personal attacks”?

    Just curious, what’s the EFF position on this?

  17. jpersonna says:

    Maybe I’ll just leave it for now, but I think the lesson you can take is that at least some of us who think of ourselves as thoughtful commentators are put off.

    … we might not comment on things of casual interest because of the login burden … and we might not even comment at all as this runs into net privacy (EFF style) issues.

    I mean, maybe I need to set up a framework with solid anonymity before I trust YOU.

  18. Phillip Torrone says:

    @jpersonna – you wrote … “Because “anonymous commenting, while providing a convenience, and the ability to post without one’s name being associated, can also encourage rude behavior and personal attacks”?”

    again, you didn’t read the post from gareth carefully, you do not need to put real name or prove who you are. pick a persona, any name you wish and register. you simply cannot post an anonymous comment without registering, that’s it. this has nothing to do with the EFF or privacy. just get a throw away email address, pick a name (i used ptorrone on most sites for example).

    before you could type any name and just enter the CAPTCHA – now you just need to spend 5 minutes, once, registering to comment. this is not a big deal, most/all sites require this. we do not require facebook connect or SMS validation.

    you’re claiming to be a thoughtful commenter, so be thoughtful – join in and participate! we’re all here, we hope you join in and please do what you need to do to feel comfortable posting online.

    the “login burden” isn’t a burden, it’s a small effort to that helps everyone.

  19. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Funny you should mention the Community page. That’s going to be the next thing we work on, redesigning it and rethinking its various functions. We’d like people to be using the Forums more, and the Maker Events Calendar. And things like the MAKE Maps never get used and should be removed or at least moved.

    We’ve also roughed out a Community Directory ( that we’re going to be building out as well.

    Re: “Force-building a community”
    We’re not naive enough to even think such a thing is even possible, but we do believe that one can try to create better growing conditions for community to happen. This is an experiment in making a few tweaks to our posting/ commenting policy to do just that. We’ll see what happens.

  20. Gareth Branwyn says:

    To the person who sent a test comment to see if they’d get another prompt when they hit Submit in which to enter a username for the comment (and therefore not reveal their OpenID), I didn’t approve your comment, ’cause it would, in fact, have revealed it. I figured you’d prefer that didn’t happen. OpenID names are shown as: “Posted by [OpenID],” but as PT pointed out, you can create an account using any name you prefer in MT.

  21. jpersonna says:

    Phillip, I don’t think you should blame me when Make totally conflates anonymity and login in the original article.

    I took the ban on anonymous commenting at face value, well at face value as a confused message.

    I found it quite ironic, in fact, when a user called “netserv66” applauded.

    (The robot image, and “permission” continue to be offensive as well.)

  22. jpersonna says:

    BTW, we all look for clues in discussions that show us not only how other people feel, but also how open they are to other people. At Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson reminds us that rational people must agree on facts, but then can draw different conclusions. We can’t say someone is “wrong” in a different conclusion, or a different experience, the same way we can with baseline facts.


    “the ‘login burden’ isn’t a burden, it’s a small effort to that helps everyone.”

    You seem to be telling me there what my experience has been … even though I have experienced it differently, as various sites flip to login.

    But as I say, it show up in your stats. I’m sure you monitor page views – oh, and actual page views versus RSS reads. That might change. With a higher bar (in my experience) for the jump from google reader to comment, i might not leave the reader so often.

    I’d also encourage you to plot as I said above, your “good comment count.”

    If I’m the only one with this response, you have no worries.

  23. Phillip Torrone says:

    @jpersonna – it seems you are still not satisfied with what we’re doing. send me an email so we can discuss it if you’d like. i promise i will listen to your concerns and work to resolve them. we are sorry if there was any confusion and hope it’s clear now. this is about login and spam problems as well as providing a safe place for makers to share their projects without worrying about mean spirited comments and personal attacks. we understand that many users have concerns about net-privacy and net-anonymity.

  24. Carnes says:

    I’ll miss anonymous comments. I’m guessing there is a policy against sharing logins?

    My work saves/logs/monitors literally everything… i dislike putting any name/passwd combos through this computer. I doubt they would abuse my logins but i’d rather nobody but myself have them. And no, an SSH tunnel will not work as the computer itself has monitor software as well. And no, i can’t remove the programs or pop in a live CD, everything is controlled and access granted with asymetric keys stored on my ID. Any computer running an unathorized program or not reporting properly gets black-holed and they take the box away for rebuild.

    I realize my situation is not typical and so i don’t believe the make blog will keep Anonymous comments just to keep me happy. But i’d like to think there are more people than myself in situations where logging in is more of a problem than moderators realize. In fact, because nobody can anonymously comment on this new policy.. you might not have a real understanding of everyones feelings.. because they have gone unheard.

  25. NotWhoYouThink says:

    Guys, this is one of those things that everybody thinks is a good idea, but it’s actually a bad idea in disguise. I’m not saying that make: online will definitely suffer because of it, but let me put it this way… If somebody out there made a website that all they did was post links to your stories and let people comment on them as much as they want, but with a slightly better commenting system than movable type has, all of the good discussion would happen there, even though the blog posts would be here.

    The reason is that people remember when bad things happen to them, which is in this case, being censored. You don’t know me, but maybe I’m the kind of person who would say exactly what I would type to that person’s face. I don’t want to have this thing hovering over me… this idea that I might make a comment but I have to worry about being censored. If that happened to me and I’d be able to go somewhere else to comment on your articles that had a more acceptable posting policy, I’d go there. If not, I might just quit, or more likely, I’d read your blog, but never post again.

    This goes against your idea of fostering a community.

    So, first you run away all of the experienced people who might be too accidentally rude to comment (don’t discount this. not everybody has time to make all of their comments “nice”), and what do you gain? All those people who are afraid to make a first comment because of your previous policy? No. When I look at most of your posts, it seems like many of your stories have no comments at all. How does this fit with your ideas that the problem is these bad commenters? You should be trying to welcome comments. By turning off anonymous comments, you’re going to see far fewer people making a first comment.

    So, now you’ve run away some old commenters and most of the new commenters? This is not the way to build a community. It’s a trap for existing community members into something they didn’t sign up for. Are these people going to stay just out of kindness to help the newbies out, or will they leave along with any interesting discussion?

    Now for the constructive part of this criticism: I’d suggest two things. First, I suspect that part of what people see when they look at the comments on this blog is an extremely combative mood, and this is largely due to…. umm…. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PUT THIS IN A COMPLETELY NICE WAY, but a certain Senior Editor, who cannot resist battling people in the comments. And we all know how little effort is needed to make this one guy upset. It’s like with this guy, you’ve set yourselves up as a honeypot for trolls. All you have to do is look at the comments on this very page to see what I’m talking about. He’s made about half of the comments. How does that help you build a community???? It doesn’t. This guy always seems to reinforce the feelings of inequality between readers and publishers in your blog. You guys need to reign in this one person, and that would do a lot of good.

    Secondly, if you want to make this blog more accessible to beginners, why not explicitly help them out? Have an email address that they can ask questions to about an article without it necessarily being a comment. Have a person whose job is mainly to be as nice as possible and respond to newbie comments and emails. For the most part, I suspect that if a person is dissatisfied with their first comment’s results, it is not just because of mean-spirited replies, but also (mostly?) because they didn’t receive the help they wanted, at least not in a timely manner. Anyways, if you don’t think you have time to do this, just implement my previous suggestion, and I suspect that one specific person on your team will have a lot of his free time returned to him.

    1. Carnes says:

      NWYT, i have argued with PT a few times in the past and always came away unsatisfied. Not that he said anything wrong but it was the twisting and deflection of my words. It is subtle and an ability politicos would kill for. But sometimes i think he’s just not very good in social situations and it just comes off condecending in his replies. He atleast engages people in arguments and discussions.. even if his replies are dissatisfying, haha. The best indication that he is coming off wrong is the company he keeps seems to be well thought of. There must be more to this story i think.

      If i may suggest to Phillip, a new picture perhaps? one less threatening. The current one seems to tinge your words with hostility. I doubt it is giving off the effect you intended.

      1. NotWhoYouThink says:

        I think I might be clearer than my original comment: Essentially, if PT took all of the time that he spends making these types of comment responses, and instead just ignored the bad comments like everybody else, and like they deserve, then he could use that time to make nice, helpful comments.

        Readers of this blog have real actual easy questions that go unanswered. Why???? For example, in a commenter asks if the magnet will harm his car key with the security chip. If these guys get an email about every comment, why not have one person who is helpful enough to answer that? How does that make this presumably new commenter feel, to be ignored? There can’t be more than five or so of these types of comments a day, based on a quick scan of the recent blog posts. This is what I’m talking about. Community building is about little things.

        1. Gareth Branwyn says:

          Well, in response to the latter part of your question. You’re right. We could do more to track down answers to these very types of questions, and we plan on doing much more of that in the future. Honestly, it comes down to available time. We’re all heavily extended and can’t always respond as we’d like. But you’re right that for us to create more of a sense of engagement, learning, all those desires I expressed in the post, we’ll need to do more of exactly that. But other folks can (and do) too. Frequently, questions asked about a post get answered by another poster. And that’s certainly a good thing we want to encourage, too.

  26. Gareth Branwyn says:

    You are absolutely right about the confusion of anonymity vs. login. You don’t have to be your legal, God-given-name you, you just have to log in and be associated with an email address. I should have made that clearer. The wording the Commenting system has used here for years has been “Sign-in” or “post anonymously.” It’s that latter function we’ve turned off, not the ability to use an alternate persona here on MAKE.

    I appreciate the emails you took the time to send to me and PT. I very much agree with your suggested wording of how we might have turned this exchange around:

    “We are sorry for the confusion. This is about login and our spam problem. We understand that many users have concerns about net-privacy and net-anonymity. Many of our readers and contributors are EFF members and support their goals. We certainly don’t see MAKE at odds with that.”

    I couldn’t have said it better. I would only add, it’s not just a spam problem. As I said in a previous comment, it’s about changing the policy here to try and see if we can effect the tone, draw out more people to post who don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing so. It’s about changing the ways people use the site comments, especially as an opportunity to learn and ask questions. (And, I’m also a long-term member and supporter of the EFF.)

    And just on a personal note, I would have said something similar to your comment text above, but frankly, I had to leave last night, shortly after this change went live, to co-host a Dorkbot DC and was away until very late. It wasn’t the best timing for this, but we wanted to get it up this week, and I had to run the Dorkbot, so my schedule got shifted a bit. I’m about to be snowed under via Snowpocalypse 2.0 here in NoVA/DC, so I’ll have plenty of time to hang out and talk here.

  27. jpersonna says:

    I had a few emails (14!) back and forth with Phillip. He asked me to post my conclusion here:

    “OK, well thank you for your replies. After this exchange I am a little more sympathetic with your position. I’d encourage you to distinguish handshake/login form anonymity going forward ;-)”

    Keen readers will catch the nuance of course.

  28. jpersonna says:

    Thanks Gareth, your last comment reduces my nuance.

  29. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Re: the “Permission to Play” image
    That was specifically chosen to make the point that this is exactly that: an attempt at giving more people a sense of permission to engage here who might not have felt this in the past. We hope that they feel “permission to play.” This especially applies to younger people and those who feel intimidated by the subjects MAKE covers but who feel like, if they ask questions, or we post a project of theirs that our readers find problems with, they’re made to feel stupid.

    A perfect example of this can be found in the comments in the recent MIT IDEAS post. Some of the responses said things like “Lame!” “What a terrible idea.” These are students who did this work. I don’t think they’re going to be comfortable engaging in that discussion and trying to defend their idea after such comments. And what’s unfortunate is that the content of the comments is perfectly reasonable and useful. The harsh admonishments are so unnecessary. And, I think, if the posters had just used the basic rule of thumb of “Would I say this to this person’s face,” I assume the answer would be “no.” That’s all we’re hoping people will do here, try to be a little “nicer” in the tone of their comments and more patient and helpful in educating those who ask for guidance.

    And again, it’s an experiment. We’ll try it out and see what the results are.

  30. Phillip Torrone says:

    @NotWhoYouThink – you don’t need to beat around the bush, you don’t care for my comments, that’s fine – i can take the criticism. i’m always looking to improve. i’m not perfect.

    if you look at this exchange you’ll see that @jpersonna, gareth and myself chatted over email and his concerns are resolved. we handled this politely and professionally. how about some kudos for that? you can criticize me, but also throw me a bone for doing a good job too :)

    we’re going to listen to your feedback, and i’m confident that i do a pretty a good job being fair with everyone here, i also trust the team to tell me if i am not – and the readers aren’t shy either (thanks for posting here).

    as far as your suggestion for help via a private email system, that’s not a good way to share information – forums and comments are indexable, google-able and search-able. the goal is to get more people sharing their passions in a place they feel safe.

  31. Phillip Torrone says:

    @Carnes – hi, i don’t mind hearing this feedback. i’m glad i didn’t say “anything wrong” in any past exchanges (that’s encouraging) if you could email me a link to a past discussion i’d like to see where you think i was twisting and deflecting your words and this sought after ability politicos would kill for :)

    i think comments online always sound a little “harsh” no matter what you do, it’s like art, you bring what’s in your head to it – if you think i’m being combative, that’s the tone you hear no matter what i type.

    i try and add smileys and work to make comments warmer and warmer, but it’s hard. people have said when you do that, it’s even worse. so i do what i can to be fair and factual – and that may be “unsatisfying” as you mentioned.

    if you’ve met me, talked to me on the phone (some readers do, my # is all over the web) or tuned in to the weekly video chat i do you’ll see i’m 100% of the time thrilled to talk to anyone and very happy. that being said, i know i do not look like a beacon of joy in photos, it’s the way i was born, there’s not much i can do about that – DIY plastic surgery isn’t an option yet. i will consider a new avatar, it’s likely time i updated it.

    thanks for taking the time to post up here.

  32. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Carnes might be right about your icon pic. It looks like you’re boring a hole through my soul :-) If I didn’t know you to be the warm and fuzzy guy that you are (okay, maybe that’s not the BEST description), I might be scared. I think there was a picture of you smiling, once. Wonder if I have that around here somewhere. I think I saved it.

  33. rekinom says:

    No offense to anyone intended, but does this policy extend to the staff of Make?

    The only comment thread I ever remember seeing that turned me off was when Make posted a mockery of a subscriber who was canceling their subscription because an otherwise good magazine was heading down a partisan political road.

    I know you guys apologized for your reaction, and while I did not cancel my subscription, I no longer jump on the new magazines when they arrive like I used to. I would rather see a slashdot style community moderation with trolls modded down to oblivion and insightful comments lifted up, than the partisan aggressive devoweling and deletion of comments found on other sites that leads to an echo chamber of like minded but intolerant people.

  34. Phillip Torrone says:

    @rekinom – ok, since i’m here i can talk to that – you talking about the time dale posted up a note in the mail we received from a subscriber who didn’t like an article of ours. a lot of people commented on this, dale apologized as you noted.

    you say “No offense to anyone intended, but does this policy extend to the staff of Make?” – in your example, this was taken care of.

    and that’s it – we’re not perfect, it’s not really fair to punish us forever for something we did. i don’t agree with everyone at MAKE and i know for sure they always don’t agree with what i do :)

    but cut us a little slack, we are all passionate about MAKE, we love this, sometimes it’s possible to take things personally, we’re good, but not perfect :)

    if only one comment thread out of 20K+ turned you off, that’s not so bad. most sites are so bad, all the comment threads turns people off.

    how about we agree to celebrate some of the good stuff going forward and forgive any past things you’re still irked about?

    lastly, i have a new avatar folks.

    1. rekinom says:


      While I appreciate the reply, I believe I did offend you and I apologize for that, especially since it may have de-emphasized the point I was trying to make. My point is, that I trust the community more than the staff (any staff, Make or otherwise) to moderate.

      I am suggesting that if you want to foster community, you create a community moderation system and not a staff moderation policy. The reason why people are able to move on and forgive, as you say, is because issues are open and out there. That is a good thing! Deleting the post of a commenter instead of having the community moderate that post down removes that openness. Myself, I am not holding a grudge, but wary… especially seeing a policy like this, and that wariness dampens my enthusiasm. The sites I quit visiting are largely due to the moderation, not the comments. I would rather see moderation as the invisible hand of the community and be moderated down myself, than see the comments of others disappear mysteriously due to intolerance even if my own comments are not impacted.

      1. Gareth Branwyn says:

        We actually are looking into the possibilities of a Community Moderation System in our site redesign planning.

  35. _bloodyserb_ says:

    I actually gave up on this blog because of the high level of snark (heard about the change from boing boing). I’ll be happy to give it another try now.

  36. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Yes, in answer to your question, we’ll be applying the same “Would I say this to his/her face?” test in our comments too.

    And yes, the post kerfuffle you’re referring to was a mistake on our part. Pure and simple. We apologized. We’ll undoubtedly make plenty of mistakes in the future and cross our own lines, but hopefully, we’ll have the humility to admit our mistakes, and do what we can to correct them.

    It’s interesting that the apology in that case was precipitate by an excellent suggested statement by someone in the comments and I thought @jpersonna’s suggested clarification to my post was spot-on. Maybe we should start crowd sourcing our public relations (and I’m not being sarcastic).

  37. Alan says:

    I finally figured out how to change my avatar: gave up on Movable Type and created a TypePad login instead. If it all went well, my five-year-old self should be looking out from this post.

    @PT: Looks like you still have the same slightly irritated image on yours. Try sitting next to a window so you’re lit by sun instead of screen glow, and look into the webcam.

    1. Alan says:

      Then again, maybe I’ll just stick with no avatar.

      1. Carnes says:

        If you create an LJ account it will automatically pull in your default picture. You also have the side benefit of joining make/DIY communities there.

  38. Gareth Branwyn says:

    PT is a creature of the night (as am I). All our terrible wickedness melts in direct sunlight.

    I like the new screen-glow icon. Working in Troglodyte Mode, the way Gopod intended.

  39. Phillip Torrone says:

    @rekinom – nope, you didn’t offend me one bit. as gareth said community moderation help is in the mix, i know everyone is very excited about adding lots of new features to the MAKE site.

    that being said, digg is “community” driven only and i think it’s getting the worst of the worst, not the best of the best – i think that there needs to be both community rewarding and editor rewarding for a good commenting system. i like what gawker did with their star system, it’s the best example out there in my opinion.

    thanks for taking the time post here about all of this. with everyone’s help we can make MAKE even better.

    1. Carnes says:

      Yeah, a good mix of reader + editor moderation seems like a better idea. Like you said, completely user driven will end up terrible. Or even moderator only can end up horrible *cough 4chan cough*.

      I think the comment system here has survived so far because there aren’t that many commenters yet. If an article has 10 comments it’s practically on fire. But the comments don’t appear to indicate readership as RSS seems to be the way most are consuming the content.

      There might even be a way to re-add anonymous commenting when you redesign the system. Like all anon comments are automatically “closed” unless moderated higher. But anyone can still open the comment (all ajaxy like) if they wanted. Or if a comment was moderated too low it just dies and leaves a stump of text as the corpse. Good luck on all your redesigning!

  40. Phillip Torrone says:

    @NotWhoYouThink – you wrote: “Essentially, if PT took all of the time that he spends making these types of comment responses, and instead just ignored the bad comments like everybody else, and like they deserve, then he could use that time to make nice, helpful comments”.

    gareth’s reply is spot on, we’d love to answer more questions – but keep in mind “ignoring” bad comments on MAKE for the staff isn’t an option, it’s our job to set a positive tone here – and it’s part of the job of the community to help us answer questions, alert us of spam, snarks, etc – it’s a two way street. we’re all working to make MAKE better each and every day. the great thing about MAKE is the readers usually answer the questions better than we can!

    if someone has specific criticisms about how we work, our content, our staff, past successes and mistakes we will definitely spend the time to address each and every one of them. there are lots of other things we could all be doing besides reading and posting comments, but we love this and we’ll keep doing it the best we can :)

  41. Simon says:

    Just a quick suggestion/question about suggesting sites or projects. Would you guys be able to provide more feedback as to why you don’t use a submitted project please. Or feedback on ways to improve them so you might use the.

    I know in the past I have sent in various things that weren’t used but I don’t know why. Maybe they weren’t interesting enough? Perhaps as they are in my own blog they are seen as too self promotional? I think one time it was bad timing (a similar project was in the magazine already I think). Perhaps you just get too many projects sent in?

    Those are perfectly valid reasons of course but would be handy to know them. I asked once before and was told you get too many to post them all but I could post things to the Make Flickr page. Well, I am not a Flickr user for a start and I find that’s not a good way to include a lot of detail. A picture with a simple comment isn’t enough a lot of the time. I find it frustrating actually to see something cool someone has made but there not being any details about it. As I said I am not a Flickr user so perhaps I am using it wrong!

    The reason I write up my projects is because I think people might enjoy them and find them interesting and useful. I like showing how and why I did things, not just the final product. Not that I always do things the right way. I also enjoy writing them up! If you guys have ideas or hints on how to make them better I would welcome hearing them. I have a couple of things on the go I will be writing up soon!

    Also regarding the no more anonymous commenting thing. I always commented anonymously before but always with my real name/email. Signing up was no big deal. I was able to make my username the same as I always use. It’s working out fine for me. Don’t know why I didn’t sign up sooner :)

    1. Gareth Branwyn says:

      Mainly it comes down to two issues, quantity and quality. We got tons of submissions each day. Between site form submissions and various event announcement, we could easily fill up the entire day’s worth of content. But we all have our own projects, columns, features, Shed posts, weekly videos, etc. We need a wider, more diverse mix, so we pick and choose what we think are the best projects. They go out to a list of all the editors/authors and then we call dibs on the ones we want to write-up. If nobody calls it, it goes into a folder for future consideration. Some of these end up as posts, some don’t.

      Now that we’re more actively using Twitter and FB, we also put some links to projects we’re not posting to the site there, so that gives us additional channels for exposing people’s work. And the MAKE Flickr, as you mention.

      Simon, if you’d like to get together some of your best projects and send them to me directly, I’d be happy to take a look at them. My email address is gareth at makezine

  42. Gareth Branwyn says:

    In response to the issue of easily changing your profile icon, Tatia, our wonderful Web Manager, has created a new “Edit Profile” link that now shows up after you’ve signed in that will allow you to change your profile pic. Thanks, Tatia!

  43. BobsYourUncle says:

    A common theme coming from us (your customers) is that the Make staff could use moderating. Maybe anger management classes?

    Alright, I await your inevitable reply…

  44. says:

    Partially off-topic rant:

    I wish English had kept up with our modern world. We’ve got a few bits of punctuation to express mood of our writing, such as the exclamation point or question mark, but written language completely fails at things like sarcasm and humor. So often comments come across as rude or mean-spirited when that wasn’t the intention. And smiley faces can only get you so far.


    As for logging in, I personally don’t really mind. It’s less convenient, but on the other hand it does have some benefits. For instance, over at HaD there’s been a couple times that the discussion got heated, and someone else posted pseudo-racist discussion under my name. That really ticked me off. With a login system, that sort of username puppetry is at least minimized.

    I do appreciate that Make has made efforts to include various forms of login systems like OpenID and LJ. Options are nice.

  45. Phillip Torrone says: – exactly! it’s one of the reasons i like to do a weekly video chat, live video chats with friends (better than just a phone call) and of course we like maker faires… over 80k+ people.

    maybe we’ll have video comments one :)

  46. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to start with a rant – I’ve just registered to comment in this thread, and it did feel… well… not pleasant. Not because it’s too much work (it’s not). Not because I feel my privacy was violated in some way (it was, but not too much). Just some vague uneasiness – that I have finally managed to capture and understand a couple of minutes ago.

    Basically, this small change felt “expected” – and it fit too well with the image of MAKE that I have by this time in my mind. And that image was of a “father-son” relationship, with staff being fathers, and readers, makers, being children: loved, smart, but somehow just not quite grown up yet. So they have to be protected, for their own good, of course, from themselves.

    Discussion? Well, it’s certainly possible and encouraged, children are PERMITTED by their parents to play, but in the end father always knows best – and his word is final. If a child misbehaves – he gets punished. If a parent misbehaves – he says he’s sorry. Fair enough, right? After all, it’s their project, their site, and they do their best.

    Well, there is nothing wrong with making a site for children, but I’ve always believed that children are best treated as adults – only slightly better. At some point in their life they will encounter mildly rude but useful comments on the Internet – and it would be better if instead of shielding them someone would teach them how to separate the tone and the advice – or even how to talk with a “difficult but smart” persons to make new friends.

    The problem that bothers me is the approach that MAKE staff takes to the forum management. Instead of trying to forge the community of friends, they seem to be building a huge hierarchical “pseudo-family”. This is a very stable and manageable structure but it’s not open to change, to new ideas – the things that I, for one, want to associate with the makers movement as a whole.

    I want to believe that makers on staff are still makers – but this gets slightly more and more difficult with each passing day. The weird and wild idea grows up and becomes a standard business that has to play by the rules. Inevitable? Probably. Still, I’d like it to progress as slow as possible, please :-)

  47. volkemon says:

    Yah yah yah…we have to sign in.

    Went through the process, *failed* , asked for help…and now am secure that I am always ‘volkemon’ here. And even I got the picture of my cat as an avatar- it can’t be that hard to do.

    It has AMAZED me that the comments here have remained as ‘nice’ and ‘clean’ as they have. I found out LONG ago that the ’email’ line didn’t need my real email as long as the format was right. But I also bitc**d about the ‘failure to enter text’ messages that happened when I took 45 min to compose the perfect response. All in all, I can accept that the comments have to be regulated in a different manner.

    Ya know what? When I am home, the house rules (posted 1990) start with this: “This is my house- I rule” and I respect that here also. (next on the list is ‘Be kind to animals’… I am not bent on totalitarian attitudes)

    You like it here? Enjoy the comments? Content too? Well this is MAKE’s house- they rule. You are free to MAKE your own :). I have emailed before saying “Why is this here? it isn’t worthy of a post!” only to later find a whole new area of interest. Arduino was a “blah blah blah” topic until comments made me think…now I hope to use it where I work and make a few $$ (OK, actually $$,$$$. No joke. Dream BIG!)

    As a community, we enjoy the content. MAKE staff MAKEs it and should regulate it. Not the community. Dont like it? MAKE something different.

    You can only add, not subtract.

    If it is better, you will ‘rule’. We will all be better off with another great site to look at. If your efforts are wrong, you will fade quickly. (almost sounds capitalist, eh?)

    Maybe a ‘sunshine’ clause- as in ‘out in the open’- if a comment is removed, a simple set of reasons. Profane, spam, negative with no contributing value, duplicate,etc… and which who pulled it.

    @inventorjack- there are many ‘non english’ ways to express things-

    :| – blank ‘huh?’ stare

    : – (think Bill Cosby-Noah’s ark) “Riiiiiiight…..”

    and I know there are more that I havn’t used. If they aren’t understood, others will do as I have I am sure- GOOGLE (ok…’use the search engine of your choice’) and learn. It is how YMMV, IMO, IMHO, ROGLH and others have entered my online vocabulary.

    And for anyone needing to see PT smile, look up the video of him riding the square wheeled trike. It is fleeting, but there :)

    (Afterthought- it is soooooo nice to be able to hit ‘submit’ without having to copy the message in case the ‘text entered wrong’ message arrives… Worth any price there!)

    (clicks submit…)

  48. volkemon says:


    Heh heh.. we were typing at the same time. With registering, it is cool to know it is ‘you’ and not someone taking your ID, which I think may have happened in the past. The community is stronger IMO knowing who is actually there.


  49. volkemon says:

    And the ablility to edit posts… so I can correct mid thought corrections and ‘new keyboard’ typo’s…

  50. Gareth Branwyn says:

    Thanks for those comments. I think you do probably articulate what some others are also going to feel. I can understand the reaction, in that, generally, I’m very suspicious of authority figures, being told what I can/cannot do, which is why I could never be a card-carrying member of any political party, or am not much of a full-on joiner of things. I like to keep my options as open as possible.

    But that being said, and “vague uneasiness” aside, we’re not really asking for a whole lot here. Basically, it’s civility, how you would interact with people in person. If that feels parental to you, I’m sorry. I hope it’s a feeling you can overcome and that you’ll stick around and participate. We knew, in instituting these guidelines, we’d piss some people off and some people would leave. But we also suspect it’ll make others want to participate that haven’t before.

    The whole parent-child perception is relative too (ah… no pun intended). We could just as easily see it that commenters, making disparaging remarks — about others on the site, about projects we’ve posted — make those people feel stupid and small in another way that one group of people keeps another group down, keeps them quiet. Maybe more like grownup and child (not necessarily parent), or educated person and uneducated person. There’s a lot of elitism and intellectual snobbery in the geek community. That’s why we knew a book like Make: Electronics was so needed. We heard from SO many people who said they really wanted to learn electronics, but when they asked their “geek friends,” they were too often made to feel stupid, or the person just talked WAY over their heads, or didn’t have the teaching skills to impart their knowledge. MAKE has always tried to be inclusive, to make people feel free to ask questions, to fail, to impart a sense of “Hey, *I* can do this!”

    That was the impetus for using the “Permission to Play” image. It’s unfortunate, but some people need to be “given” permission to play. They’re looking for an avenue, a way in, ye ole helping hand. I think MAKE has been so successful because it’s helped provide that opening, that “permission,” to LOTS of people. This is just another attempt at that.

    And to the suggestion that we’re doing this for economic reasons, that we’re now some successful corporation that now needs to follow the rules. The rules (the financial ones, anyway) would tell us NOT to do this. The more traffic the better, the more heated the discussion, the more people will log in, and the more money you make. Trolls are actually probably good for business. I know big blogs where the editors HATE the tenor of their comments, but they don’t want to touch it ’cause they don’t want to impact the revenue. Again, we have no idea what the long-term impact of this will be, in terms of traffic, revenue, effecting any greater sense of involvement/community. We’ll see. And we may turn and go in some entirely different direction during the site redesign.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Thanks for understanding correctly :) I don’t think there is any point in debating minor things – such as forum rules. They are consistent, not too strict – and they, in and by themselves, are not a problem.

      I’ll just try to offer a couple of arguments – and if they would seem valid, just maybe, at some point you’ll feel the need to change something :)

      First, parent-child vs geek community. Yes, you are certainly right, there are lots of people out there who actually need that permission. This part you do perfectly. There is a second part of the community you are trying to build, though. Basically, as soon as someone learns how to light a LED, he or she immediately discovers the “real world” – the abovementioned geek community. It’s also a stable and thriving system – but it’s a meritocracy. It works akin to science: prove that I’m wrong – and you get extra bragging points even if you are a newcomer with inadequate social skills. Do something worth doing – and you get more respect. Meritocracies are, in general, much more productive than autocracies (including the “family” one you seem to be leaning to).

      So, even if you are trying to shield the newcomers from the geek community to simplify their entrance into hacking – two problems still remain: first, as over-protective parents, you forget to teach your children “real-world” skills, so they crash hard after leaving the family nest. And second, you (ever so slightly) discourage the community of “grown-up” hackers, makers, builders from forming around you and your site.

      The people you are trying to shield from are the same people who could help the beginners (they already do it for fun), who could take some load off your shoulders (they hate trolls as much as you do). Sure, they are not the easiest bunch to deal with – but attracting them is well worth it.

      I believe your global assumptions are a little bit skewed: “geek community” should be embraced as early as possible in a young maker’s career. With all the elitism and snobbery which are simply minor parts of its structure :) You could do a better service to the community by teaching how to deal with it, not how to avoid it – or you teach people to wait for permission again and again.

      And now – to the second argument: your economics. Using “trolls” as a straw man and successfully attacking it doesn’t look nice. Well, first, trolls are only profitable for ad-driven blogs: the more people comment – the better revenues come in. In the case of MAKE you don’t put too many ads on your pages, so trolls are bad for business. And, second, I’ve never said a single word about trolls. They have to be moderated, of course – and that’s not what I’m talking about. The companies, just as individuals, progress from risk-takers to status-quo upholders, and it’s already slightly visible in your case. You are starting to trim the branches that seem to be growing in a “wrong” direction – and that’s a sign of age :)

      It’s, as I said before, the general tone that matters: the choice of “equal friends” vs “hierarchical family”. “Friends” seems to be better in the long run, it gives more freedom to everyone – but you seem to disagree… OK, no problem, your site, your choice. Just some food for thought.

      And, of course, this message doesn’t really need any answer. I know you do your best. You know that I mean no harm and have a lot of respect for your actions. I’m just trying to make you think slightly differently, that’s all.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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