Simply Jonathan

Blog comments

It has been said, by many people on many occasions, that the most important part of a blog is in fact the comments. That the conversation is far more important than the entry itself.

I believe conversation to be very important; in that aspect I have been taught to be a good democrat. So, it’s not that I am against conversation per se, but the current format of blog comments is useless and demeaning to the commenter.

In all honesty, I must admit, that the reason I quit comments at first was due to laziness. I had made a redesign, and when I got to the comments, I just decided not to — I didn’t receive any comments anyway, and then, when I considered it further, I got to all these points:

I find your comment important, but it is secondary to my very important post

The fact that comments have been hyped as even more important than the starting post is not supported in any way, by the way comments are displayed. They are displayed after the entry; this is in itself not demeaning, given that it makes total sense for the item being commented on, to be displayed, before the comment is. But on a general note — some are better at avoiding this than others — the comments are displayed as having less important than the entry; they often have less space than the main entry, we use a smaller font size to represent key data, and the beat goes on. All in all, they’re displayed less.

I want you to comment, but not too much

In extension to not being displayed with very much space, an often just as a list item, the boxes in which to write entries, are often small as well. James Bennett said it best (unintentionally, of course) in his post, “ORM Wars”:

[U]nfortunately [Adam Gomaa’s] comment form is a bit too small to contain it all, so I’ll ramble about it here where I’ve got essentially unlimited space

Notice that James himself has got comments on his blog, which makes this even more peculiar.

We appreciate and embrace these comments, but we don’t expect them to have a life on their own, and they need to fit nicely in the limited space we offer them. No, we don’t exactly put maxlength attributes on the boxes, but making sense of a small textarea, containing more text than a couple of additional lines to when the scroll-bar appears, is not very easy at all.

I love your comments, but I don’t really trust you

Even if you manage to fit your clever comment in the text-field offered to you, there’s another step that can affect your comment: moderation. Now, there are many kinds of moderation, often applied in multiples:

  • Sanitation of content (removing HTML, changing it to its entities, etc.)
  • Checking for profanity and other indicators of spam
  • Letting the author decide whether or not the comment shows up.

I am not saying that these steps are bad; I am all too aware of the risks of spam destroying everything. I am just saying, that if we don’t trust those entering data enough to let them, why are we? Furthermore, we apply all sorts of rel="nofollow" magic, as not to be gamed — essentially because we don’t trust our commenters.

So, genius, what do you suggest instead?

Ah yes, solutions. Well, methinks the solution is self-explanatory — Bennett even showed us how — comment from your blog. Most people who comment on blogs have blogs of their own. And it might help all those “You’re right”-comments.

There are plenty of ways to keep track of comments that don’t go in a comment form —- (track|ping)back and the likes of techmeme and Technorati. So we don’t even need traditional blog comments to have a conversation. Just write and link; it’s that simple.

This is Simply Jonathan, a blog written by Jonathan Holst. It's mostly about technical topics (and mainly the Web at that), but an occasional post on clothing, sports, and general personal life topics can be found.

Jonathan Holst is a programmer, language enthusiast, sports fan, and appreciator of good design, living in Copenhagen, Denmark, Europe. He is also someone pretentious enough to call himself the 'author' of a blog. And talk about himself in the third person.