For Better Commenting, Avoid PONDS

by AllAmericanBreakfast1 min read5th Feb 20212 comments


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"All around the bog still sprawls, from out the drear lake come soulless thoughts and drift into the hearts of the people, and they are one with their surroundings."— Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

If our blogging is to be more than shouting into the void, we have to write good comments. But that's hard to do. Too much perfectionism, enforced positivity, criticism, status smackdowns, or vagueness in our commenting standards can all be problematic.

I'm using a framework that I think has been helpful. It's simple enough.

Avoid PONDS.

  • P = Prickly
  • O = Opaque
  • N = Nitpicky
  • D = Disengaged
  • S = Shallow

Let me define each term.

Prickly means that your comment has a chilly, disapproving, mean, or unappreciative tone. It could hurt feelings, and make somebody feel dumb for opening their virtual mouth.

Opaque means that your comment makes assertions without backing them up. You're saying stuff without giving any reason at all for it. This can also include some types of lazy "questions" that are really meant as cheap shots. Even giving a partial reason or motivation for your comment or question means that it is not opaque.

Nitpicky means that your comment is expressing criticism of one particular part of an argument, without stating whether or how this local disagreement informs your view of the original argument as a whole. Even saying "this is just a local nitpick; I don't know if it means much for the argument as a whole" is enough to make your comment not a nitpick.

Disengaged means that your comment doesn't give the impression that you'd be likely to carry the conversation further if you received a response. It's a "drive-by commenting."

Shallow means that you didn't read the entire original post or comment thread to which you're responding.

Each category is meant to be a very low bar. Express even mild warmth, underlying reasoning, attempt at synthesis, display of engagement, or depth of consideration -- not even all five, just one! -- and it's not PONDS. This term is only for the very worst comments.

Comments that are even slightly better than PONDS are totally acceptable. This is a way of speaking and responding that gives almost total freedom for Socratic grilling, while creating some minimal self-enforced safeguards to promote good conversation.

I've built a habit of checking my own comments to ensure they're not PONDS. It's not that hard to improve a comment to do better, or else to delete it. I also have a policy to never respond to PONDS. Instead, I heavily downvote them. In fact, they're the only type of comment that I heavily downvote.

See Willa's comment on LessWrong for an even more in-depth treatment of the five anti-PONDS virtues. Thanks to Raemon, Richard Kenneway, and Christian KI for helpful discussion and suggestions.


2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:03 PM
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I didn't read the entire article, but overall I thought it was alright. I thought your definition of shallow should have been more flushed out and to me that just took away from everything else.  I think all comments add value.

Did I get them all? :D 

Did I get them all? :D 


So close, yet so far! By ending your comment with a question and a smiley face, you missed "disengaged" and "prickly"! But keep trying, I know you've got this in you :P