What’s wrong with blog commenting (and what can you do about it)?

Probably you already have encountered the following:

  • you left a comment on a blog posting, hoping to get feedback from the author or other users on your question or remark
  • revisited the page after a while to check for follow-up comments
  • … revisited … revisited… revisited… finally gave up on it or forgot
  • discovered a few months later that an interesting follow-up had been posted afterwards, with exactly the tip or info you needed badly back then

Blog commenting as a collaboration tool is frustratingly flawed, and here are some suggestions what you can do about it as a commenter, blog owner or external service

As a commenter

Tips to follow up on your external comments:

  • Look for a comments feed and put it in your reader to track further reactions. I have a separate folder “conversations” where I keep these feeds (at least for a while)
    • WordPress provides a comment feed per posting by default (so it’s normally there, often without publishers knowing about it): simply append “/feed” after the url if it has a “nice” url like “/date/subject/”, or “&feed=rss” if the url is like “p=xxx”.
    • As far as I know, most other blogging tools don’t have it by default, but some publishers have a comment feed for the entire blog, (typically something like /comments.rdf at Typepad) which might be an alternative, if comments are scarce. (BTW for WordPress, the entire feed is at <blogurl>/comments/feed/ or <blogurl>/?feed=comments-rss2)
  • You should at least give the author the chance to contact you. If you hesitate to give your e-mail address (spam or privacy concerns), then:
    • take a free junk mail address (Gmail.com probably is the most spam-resistent and the most “open” solution: you can use your pop-mail client, forwarding, etc…)
    • if you own a domain: configure a catch-all mailbox and then you can make up your mail addresses freely (I do it in such a way I can tell the origin if I get spammed afterwards, such as comment.yourdomain@mydomain)
    • take temporary mail addresses: Mailexpire.com, choose whether you want it to expire after 12 hours to 3 months
  • If none of the above works: use one of the “web page change tracking services” like WatchThatPage.com. More of them are discussed in this overview.
  • Decent blogging software provides permalinks for every individual comment (mostly the link behind the timestamp). So in case you really want to manually track your own external comments: bookmark the comment permalinks in del.icio.us or another bookmarking service. Use a separate tag and you might even republish your external comment feed (del.icio.us/rss/<accountname>/<tagname>) to your own blog.
  • or use one of the discussed services

Commenting etiquette:

  • Be nice and polite:-)
  • Trackbacking is different from commenting.
    • You might want to document an interesting posting for yourself by linking to it on your own blog, elaborate the idea further, recombine it with other insights, whatever. But trackbacking is nothing but a notification that you have referred to the original blog posting, is not a part of the discussion, is not a request for feedback.
    • So do not simply trackback and expect the discussion to continue at your own blog, that would be like stealing the thread.
    • (You might do both however, ask a question in a comment, and notify the poster with a trackback you elaborated the idea further at your own ground.)

As a blogger

Make life a bit easier for commenters:

  • Provide a comment feed per posting or use a blogging tool that does it by default :-) (and if so, do not strip away the links to the feeds that are in the template)
  • Even if you do have a comments feed, e-mail notification on subsequent comment postings is a good idea (especially if you have a non-geek audience unaware of rss )
    • for WordPress, there’s the great “Subscribe to Comments 2.0 ”: it adds a checkbox to the comment post form so the commenter can subscribe for notifications of new postings (an unsubscribe-link is sent in every notification mail, together even with a personalised link to an interface where the subscriber can then manage the rest of his or her own subscriptions).
    • Other examples: Serendipity has it built-in, Typepad has a plugin– there probably are analogous plugins for most open source blogging engines
  • At least provide the possibility to leave an e-mail address, but hide or obfuscate it for spambots.
  • In case none of the above exists: some suggestions for a comment answering etiquette:
    • you are not obliged in any way to answer to comments. No one can claim you to do so, no one can even claim the right to have his or her comment published on your blog (or even claim you have to have comments at all)…
    • … but please, if you do answer to a comment, do not assume your blog is the center of the world and the commenter will get back to it every day, so do send at least a notification mail with the permalink of your response (which makes it clear you want the conversation to continue on the blog, not per e-mail).

Some issues for a heavily commented blog:

  • threaded comments might make it easier to follow the conversation (WordPress: use this plugin). Some other suggestions for the readability of comments on this great blogging design blog.
  • You might want to refer to an accompanying forum for discussion. After all, that’s what forums are just better at… If a lively discussion ensues, provide a link afterwards to this topic, or if you’re a developer, there are even more creative solutions*
  • As as sidenote: comment spam is a technical issue, it should not be an argument in whether or not have comments on your blog anymore. Spam captcha’s or a centralised authentication system (like Blogger’s or Typepad’s) are effective but annoying – a really great solution is Akismet.

As a service

The flaws of blog commenting have inspired some people to build services to cope with it, here two of them:

  • Commenter-driven: Cocomment
    • launched this weekend
    • provides
      • a bookmarklet to capture the comments you want to follow (there’s already a Greasemonky userscript as well, see this review at Techcrunch)
      • an rss feed …
      • … and a javascript widget to republish them
    • which is more or less the same functionality as bookmarking your comments in del.icio.us as described above, with the difference that Cocomment does store the comment text, but instead of the permalink to the comment., it stores the posting’s permalink
    • more promising however are visualisations like this one, that give a nice overview of where in a thread this user intervened. However, if you compare the Cocomment version of the thread with the original one, you’ll see that only registered users are included in the thread, so the usefullness will be limited to blogs frequented by lots of Cocomment users…
  • Blogger-driven: MyComments
    • Argentinian service, not yet launched in English [Update: there is an English version meanwhile]
    • here the blogger has to install a plugin – and the service collects all comments on the participating blogs
    • any user/commenter can get a feed of his comments by simply submitting their e-mail address, no other action is required (I assume the matching is done on a hash of the mail address, I should look in the code of the plugin)
    • the requirement of the plugin installation will make it hard to make this solution popular I’m afraid… It can work for smaller communities of heavily interacting blogs.
    • [Update] I had a look at the code meanwhile, and the plugin simply pings the Mycomments server with all the data of the comment (blog name, comment text, posting permalink…)… including the unhashed e-mail address of the commenter! There’s no way MyComments will ever get a user base this way, even if it might be set up in good faith – who’s ever going to entrust the mail addresses of all of your commenters to a third-party database??

Without doubt, this will probably just be the start of a whole range of similar services. [Update: (Drupal developer) Boris Mann mentions SXORE, soon to be launched, as a “cross-blog identity provider.] Cocomment and MyComments rely on the active participation and consent of either the commenter or the blogger, but probably we’ll see more screen scraping services in the future. Several services will try to connect up all the comments we made all over the blogosphere in a C(omment)log. The Gravatar service seems have the a head start here, since they can find all gravatar-enabled discussion threads in their referer log!

* This is an example I implemented myself: a dynamic javascript (the javascript produced by php) as an addition to a newsfeed that checked whether there was a topic in a phpBB forum with the same title as the newsarticle. If not, it wrote a link to a new posting that prefilled the form fields with title and backlink to the articile. If on the other hand there were already postings, it linked to the discussion with the number of reactions included.

14 Responses to “What’s wrong with blog commenting (and what can you do about it)?”

  1. אנקדוטות » מחסן תגובות Says:

    […] אגב, הנה פוסט שקראתי היום בנושא תגובות שכולל כמה לינקים מעניינים לשירותים בתחום, וגם מתייחס לקוקומנט. […]

  2. Diego Says:

    Hello! Here is MyComments in English ;) http://mycomments.idslab.com.ar/en

    Chao!

  3. Why CoCo and not MyCo? at Bright Meadow Says:

    […] UPDATE: Pascal points out some serious security flaws with myComment. I am very glad now that I saw CoCo first! […]

  4. Diego Says:

    Well, about the comments email hash thing on MyCo, that’s because it’s made by me (Diego Gonzalez) to be used by me and my blogosphere, so there’s some trust in what I do and the potencial users knows that I’m not trying to get there emails.

    The primary milestone here, was to create a very simple tool to get noticed every time someone leaves a comment in a post i’ve all ready commented.

    But meaby you’re right when saying people won’t trust in an unknown service provider getting there emails in a database.. it’s a good lesson ;).

  5. botanik Says:

    Hola Diego!

    i guess you are subscribed to this conversation in pascals blog, this is something im liking a lot, conversations now dont belong to one or the other site so much as before, I dont have to go into you blog to ask cause i kind of trust you will receive my note.. i like that!

    could anyone help me clarify if the difference between one model and the other is that the conversation page generated by one is centralized on a remote server and the second one is created on the local server where the blog is located?

    thanks,
    /bk

  6. Pascal Says:

    Hi Diego,

    I had a look at your blog and really, I don’t believe your intention is to harvest mail addresses in order to spam them :-)

    You said it’s meant for you and your blogosphere, so for people who know and trust you. And that you built it in the first place for yourself (“scratch your own itch” – which is how really useful projects start).

    I think a self-hosted CoComments-like solution is a very nice idea, but what I do not understand is that you haven’t release the source code of the receiving end. There are lots of solutions thinkable for the receiving end, you could put the results in a dedicated table and in your own application, but also in scuttle (= a self-hosted del.icio.us) or similar apps… The receiving end I had in mind (I hope to have time for one of the coming weeks), would be a WordPress plugin that collects the received comments in the WordPress comments table as comments to a page (so there will be a page on my WordPress blog that will display the comments I made elsewhere). Together with the para.site bookmarklet, this would enable people to automatically harvest the comments they make elsewhere on their own blog, a sort of commentblog…

    Also your own setup, where the Mycomments server is the hub of your own blogosphere (and not only any more collecting your own comments), would be a very productive idea for other people to implement in their blogosphere (= a collection of blogs/bloggers on a certain topic that intercomment and interlink freqently). It would combine the good things of blogging and forums in a semi-centralised, semi decentralised system… Hmm, inspiration for coding and experimenting so it seems….

  7. Lorenzo Viscanti Says:

    Hi, at Clipperz we’re developing a cross platform comment service. Our system will be similar to cocomment (as it will allow commenters/bloggers to follow discussions originated by their comments) but powered by an identity20 interface (as sxore). Sxore has a centralized vision, where comments are stored by their server (and shown in blogs but from their server), while clipperz will leave comments on the blogging platform, reducing comment spam and enabling comments discussions. Take a look at our blog (http://www.clipperz.net)with our propositions!

  8. assaf Says:

    Pascal,

    What do you think of http://co.mments.com?

  9. Diego Says:

    Hi Pascal!!

    Sorry about the waiting!

    Well, if there is something good I did with MyCo is to liberate the API doc very soon, this was used with a lot of people and added a lot of features. One of this features, is going to be available in a few days and is what you wanted, a WordPress plugin showing all your comments ammong the blogosphere :).

    I really don’t understud what you say about releasing the server app … this would be a little messy, since there would be a lot of mini installations, when the greatest thing about this is it’s centralization, I think…

    Greets! Diego

  10. Clopin Says:

    Check out what Assaf suggested, I think you might like it. Also check another comparable tool: http://www.cocomment.com

  11. squashed Says:

    Commenting is so overated. We all should start using telepathic communication instead.

  12. Pascal Says:

    @squashed: what a great idea!
    But… why haven’t I had your thought before ? ;-)

  13. Dushyant Says:

    Some nice suggestions, thanks.

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