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...

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