Deconstructing comments

20 August 2007

I've been dithering and thinking about the whole subject of comments to blog posts for a while.

At first I viewed my blog here as a forum containing a special kind of thread, one in which I, as a kind of lesser god, am the only person able to start a new one. But it's not really a thread as I understand from newsgroups and forums: there's no hierarchical or tree-like view to the comments — this comment is a reply to that comment, but this other comment is a reply to the original post — all comments are merely replies to the original post, and it can be hard to reconstruct the conversation that the post engendered. This annoys the heck out of me and I wonder if any blog engine actually does do threaded commenting.

Another issue I battle with is whether I should insist on commenters being "known" to the system. At present, commenters can be anonymous, at least in the sense that they can choose a random nom de blog. Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly willing to be berated by a customer with a legitimate beef and so I like reading all the comments. But what gets me are the anonymous comments that say something along the lines of "Your product sucks, it's too slow/buggy/badly written/idiotically designed, my grandmother wrote a better one during her Thursday game of bingo." There's no way I can help a commenter like that — there's no way to trace him and to let loose the dogs of support to solve the issue — and of course the commenter knows full well I can't and that I know they know I can't. So the only conclusion I can make is that the commenter is a troll. And so I act as censor and delete those comments, because they don't advance the conversation, such as it is, but I still don't like doing so.

Which reminds me: I'm not a fan of the "great post!" school of commenting. I'd much rather your comments raised other points, discussed issues, analyzed the content, provided a supporting link, made a joke, anything other than be a "me too" comment. Don't get me wrong, I like praise as much as the next man, preen, preen, but I'd much prefer some good discussion. W Somerset Maugham once said "People ask for criticism, but they only want praise", but I'm paid to receive the former. I haven't deleted any "great post!" comments yet, but beware...

And then there's the issue of should I reply to comments addressed to me? Or should I write a new blog post altogether to answer the point made by a commenter? To see any replies I may have made, you have to navigate to the page of the original post and then scroll down and scan looking for my image. (I suppose in a way this is another facet of the "comment navigation" issue like the one above.) I tend to use my inner Editor to determine if the answer I shall give is important enough for another post, for an update to the post I'm replying to, or for a simple comment. So far I think I'm getting it right, but that's only because no one has complained to me that I'm getting it wrong (and now I await a slew of comments about how I have done so).

Another issue to which I have no clear answer: should I close down old blog posts for commenting —freezing the content and comments of the post? Or not? For example, people still comment on my blog posts on right-to-left language support. Should I freeze those posts so that they can't? To be honest, the fact that people still do comment means that it's forever in my mind, and so is more likely that I'll build it into a roadmap.

So what do you think? Tell you what, leave me a comment here to let me know...

11 comment(s)

great post! hehe just kidding!

I wouldn't mind having to login to post comments.

I also prefer replies. Unless the comment raises such a great subject that it deserves it's own blog topic altogether.

and yeah. if you're not monitoring old blog comments (as in, you don't have some kind of notification system in place that tells you someone has replied) i would recommend closing the topic to new comments.

And yeah... RTL support :)

20 August, 2007
Mario Marinato

Here are my brazilian thoughts:

1. Threaded comments are a great idea, and there's some hope that might happen in a near future.  I've already seen some blogs which allow the owner to answer specific comments, and the answer appears near the comment, not below all of them.

2. Spammers and trolls are a plague.  I delete all of them as soon as they appear.

3. I see no problems with the "great post" comment.  Most of the visitors ever write something, and if someone takes the time to write something as small as that, chances are this person will comment more later.  Plus, it gives the feeling you're not speaking to a blank wall.

4. When it comes to answering comments, I act just like you.  Sometimes I write another comment, sometimes I update the post, and on some rare situations I write a whole new post.  Plus, when I write a new post, I leave a comment on the original one, so people know there's more to read.

5. About blocking comments on old posts, you should never block them!  Specially if you write post that are timeless.  If they'll be useful on 2012, they should be "commentable".  You never know when a good idea will pop up.

20 August, 2007
Jon Scolamiero

Wow, another post on comments.  This has been a pretty busy issue out there in the blogosphere (not sure I like that term either).  Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software has an interesting take on the issue here: .  I'm not sure how I feel about all of it yet, but Joel's thoughts are pretty thought provoking considering his status in the industry.

21 August, 2007

I agree with both Nate, and Mario’s comments.

I like blogs or posts that a person is passionate about and that the blog really deems replies or interaction.

Interaction is the key.

As the old saying goes… “No one wants to listen to a speaker who only wants to hear himself talk…”

Now that I have said that… I should say that I am not implying anything… seriously.

I enjoy your blogs, and stop by periodically to see if there is a new one.

21 August, 2007
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)


Oh man, all the obvious jokes in one comment, bam bam bam :-) Love it.

Actually, I get email notifications of every comment and the way I have it set up, anonymous ones aren't published until I moderate and release them. So, making comments to old posts doesn't mean I won't read them. Others may not though, unless they come across the blog post through Google or something (or they're subscribed via RSS).

Cheers, Julian

21 August, 2007
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)


I'd read Joel's post when it came out. He makes some good points, as does Dave Winer, but I still think commenting has a useful function. I don't allow anonymous comments to appear automatically: I moderate them and will release those that make a good point, even if it could be seen as dissing DX. We as a company will only get better if we understand what our customers are thinking and we act to address their issues with us and ouir products. But, trolls? Sorry, bye bye, be constructive as you complain about us or face the bit bucket.

Cheers, Julian

21 August, 2007
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)


Passion is certainly something that should gravitate a reader to a blog. If I weren't passionate about Developer Express and its people and products, I wouldn't be here and you wouldn't be reading this.

Uh oh, Ray is going to read that and assume I'm passionate about him personally... As for Mark... Rats, how do I edit a comment again?

21 August, 2007
Martin Paternoster

People SHOULD have to register, and a threaded mechanism would be good for this blog, enabligh separate threads of conversation and reply to be tracked.

It might also be a helpful remedy for the Trolling issues.

21 August, 2007
Gary Gibbons

Thanks For this, Mr. Bucknall.  While I don't particularly care one way or the other about trolls and annoying anonymous posts (yet, anyway), you made me think about a few of things:

1.I totally appreciate you desire to "hear" everything, and decide the value of any voice on the merit of the comment.

2. I value that you are particularly interested in hearing everything that could be on either side of the good/bad fence.

3. I'm curious about the limits you have as a person when faced with a commentator who isn't anonymous but pointedly upset with something related to your business. (does that sound like a "get ready" phrase?<grin>)

4. Since you're the one sitting in the demi-god chair, you have a great deal of power, whether it is realised or not. And I as one who understands that, can recognize the results of that power if exercised.

5. I have never had a problem speaking my mind - although my reasoning and rational sort of go sideways when there is a certain amount of passion involved!

6. I certainly feel snubbed when penning a long, tiresome rant that is deemed not to merit a response, which if just an acknowledgement were posted, satisfaction would be the result.

7. Not everyone posts looking for a response - particularly trolls -- I sort of have fun making a stick out of them, then dropping them into the mud. :>)

Keep your blogs rolling!  I promise to never yell anonymously, say potty-mouth things, or talk bad about your momma!

I may complain about your business, though;  and I respect a good retort!

Oh yes, Joel's comments (har,har) on blogs; well, if it bothers one to face opposition of their point of view, then simply don't allow comments. How difficult is that? Certainly it's analogous to changing the channel on your tv if you don't like an editorial or some other content. And the same applies to anyone complaining about not being able to comment on someone else's thoughts - find another avenue to express your opinion. There are millions of ways to do just that!

And if you were to quit allowing comments, it would seem mildly curious considering most business-minded folks know they must understand those that dislike them, as much as those that do like them!

21 August, 2007
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)


How far would I let comments go, even if the commenter were registered and had a particularly strong antipathy towards DX (or me, for that matter)? Blimey, dunno.

At some point, I would guess that the value of the continued conversation to either the commenter in question, to other readers, to myself, or to the company would become null or even negative. It really wouldn't be worth continuing if neither anything I could do or say would alter the commenter's viewpoint. We would have to agree to disagree, I suppose.

Anyway, I would hope that such a scenario would never occur. We certainly do try and make sure everyone's interactions with DX are pleasant ones.

Mind you, it does raise an interesting hypothetical. What if the only way to pacify the commenter was to do what they wanted (that is, add the functionality they want, redesign the product the way they need, give them preferential treatment with support, give a bigger discount)? The squeaky wheel syndrome, I suppose you could call it. Pretty soon these blogs would become unsupportable: we'd have to close down commenting for good.

Anyway, I don't think it will get that far :-). Most people, including myself, are reasonable.

Cheers, Julian

21 August, 2007
Andrew Connell


I think you nail it pretty good IMHO. When a post generates a string of comments, then sometimes it warrants yet another post. I like to think of it as a conversation where you bring the talking points. Nothing wrong with censorship either. Of course you want to keep it open, but the flamers that you mention provide zero value so why let it pass?

I see it (if I could step into your shoes) this way (sorry in advance for competitor names): you guys have some direct competitors... what's amusing is you don't just have one in one space, you have a few in each space. For instance, you guys compete with the ReSharper and SlickEdit guys with CodeRush/Refactor, but your UI components don't compete with those same vendors, they compete with the likes of the various other UI component vendors (too many to name :)). You'll always get some fool spouting off "CR/R sucks, ___ is so much better". That's fine, but what I'd want to know is "WHY"... I want to know why you think that because not only do I want to build a better product, but I want you to like the better product and in this case, we're all happy (except the competition) because as a developer, I win with a better product and DX wins with more sales. In short... I'd think you'd be totally justified to censor "flame" comments, but you'd welcome (even beg for) more constructive comments. WHY do you like X over Y?

An you've got to keep anon comments. being forced to have yet another login is a barrier for some. Again, censorship...err... moderation is perfect for dealing with "flames" :)

22 August, 2007

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