Why blogging comments suck

The other day, Gary Shapiro, the guy who runs the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, dropped by and left a comment here. There were a few problems:

1. My commenting system caught his comment in moderation, so people didn’t see it posted until I took it out of moderation right now.
2. No one probably knows who Gary is and thinks he’s just another random commenter. Some comments ARE more important than others, but there’s really no way for me to point out Gary’s comment without doing a new blog post. Even then, if you happen only to see the post that Gary commented on you’d never know that Gary’s comment deserves more attention than the other 54 comments left there.

How do you fix this? Not easily. I wish there were a system where I could tell my readers when a comment came in that deserves a lot more attention than the others. Also, I wish we could see the social network of the people commenting (I’d love to have their Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed networks show up linked into their comment somehow and also have warnings when people leave me comments that have a huge amount of social capital, like Gary does).

How did I know who Gary Shapiro was? I met Gary once and have heard him speak. His comment gives a hint at what he does, but his comment that he “runs the show” could be easily missed by an untrained eye.

Anyway, I’m interviewing Tim O’Reilly this afternoon (leave questions I should ask him here on this FriendFeed cluster) and I’ll definitely ask him about how we can improve our interaction systems on the web to better expose those who have real impact on all of our lives.

Thanks Gary for dropping by and defending trade shows and I’ll see you at CES.

122 thoughts on “Why blogging comments suck

  1. Robert,
    You said “Matt: sorry, being somebody does have some weight.”

    Who determines if you are indeed “somebody”?

    Why don’t you close your comments if they “suck” as you say.

    If what Gary had to say was so important, YOU make the determination on your blog and promote it as a post.

    Also, talk to WordPress and have them put a rating type of system in place where readers promote worthy coments to the top of the comment section and of course YOUR rating would have a larger weight in the promotion algorithm.

  2. robert,

    i used disqus, and liked it so much that we invested in the company.

    there are other third party comment systems and most of them are mentioned here

    think of a third party comment systems as a “blog for your commenters”

    they gain status from commenting and their comments gain weight as others like them and rate them

    i also use disqus’ reblog feature to highlight the best comments i get right on the front page of my blog.

    bottom line is that comments don’t suck if you invest in them, treat them as real content, and put them in a system that allows them to thrive

    fred

  3. robert,

    i used disqus, and liked it so much that we invested in the company.

    there are other third party comment systems and most of them are mentioned here

    think of a third party comment systems as a “blog for your commenters”

    they gain status from commenting and their comments gain weight as others like them and rate them

    i also use disqus’ reblog feature to highlight the best comments i get right on the front page of my blog.

    bottom line is that comments don’t suck if you invest in them, treat them as real content, and put them in a system that allows them to thrive

    fred

  4. There are wordpress plugina which allow you to add a field into the comments form which allows the user to add their Twitter username.

    Thats a start, but I agree with your, there needs to be some sort of comment ranking system which allows users to easily identify priority comments over Joe Blogs.

  5. There are wordpress plugina which allow you to add a field into the comments form which allows the user to add their Twitter username.

    Thats a start, but I agree with your, there needs to be some sort of comment ranking system which allows users to easily identify priority comments over Joe Blogs.

  6. The problem of context, and being able to get more info about someone, without leaving the page, is *exactly* what we do.

    Your Retaggr Card is sort of a business card 2.0. All your personal, social and professional info, is in there, and the content you generate on on the web (Flickr, twitter, etc.) is there too.

    But here’s the cool bit : add our wordpress (.org) plugin, and when people leave comments on your blog, instead of just having the url to the person, their Retaggr card pops up and does exactly what you want Robert – you can see their Friendfeed, twitter, etc., and get to know them.

    Think of it as the gravatar idea but taken to the next level.

    You can see it in action on our test blog : http://www.spicevine.com
    Or more info : http://www.retaggr.com

  7. The problem of context, and being able to get more info about someone, without leaving the page, is *exactly* what we do.

    Your Retaggr Card is sort of a business card 2.0. All your personal, social and professional info, is in there, and the content you generate on on the web (Flickr, twitter, etc.) is there too.

    But here’s the cool bit : add our wordpress (.org) plugin, and when people leave comments on your blog, instead of just having the url to the person, their Retaggr card pops up and does exactly what you want Robert – you can see their Friendfeed, twitter, etc., and get to know them.

    Think of it as the gravatar idea but taken to the next level.

    You can see it in action on our test blog : http://www.spicevine.com
    Or more info : http://www.retaggr.com

  8. We highlight particular comments all the time on our blog, either by updating a post with the comment cut-and-pasted onto the front page, or else by addressing it in the comment thread itself.

    This seems pretty effective. IMHO, some situations really don’t need a new widget or a technology fix, they just need bloggers to be good caretakers of their blogs.

    But Robert, what you seem to be looking for is a magic pulse that goes out all across the land that says, ‘ZOMG! VIP X just commented on my blog!’ Me, I think you are selling your readership short, not to mention your own long-standing efforts to build up an intelligent, interactive community on this blog.

  9. We highlight particular comments all the time on our blog, either by updating a post with the comment cut-and-pasted onto the front page, or else by addressing it in the comment thread itself.

    This seems pretty effective. IMHO, some situations really don’t need a new widget or a technology fix, they just need bloggers to be good caretakers of their blogs.

    But Robert, what you seem to be looking for is a magic pulse that goes out all across the land that says, ‘ZOMG! VIP X just commented on my blog!’ Me, I think you are selling your readership short, not to mention your own long-standing efforts to build up an intelligent, interactive community on this blog.

  10. Hi Robert,
    you say two things very interesting :
    - “I don’t like editing people’s comments”
    - “sorry, being somebody does have some weight”
    That is all the problem as to me, on the one hand everybody has the right to comment any web content, and I think we agree with that point.

    But some comment are more relevant or have more weight.
    I think, this is a real topic, ’cause it is highly subjective. If I care about my friends, I want my friend comments to be highlighted, but nobody cares about except if Barak Obama is one of my friend…

    Indeed, your problem is how can I edit my blog?

  11. Hi Robert,
    you say two things very interesting :
    - “I don’t like editing people’s comments”
    - “sorry, being somebody does have some weight”
    That is all the problem as to me, on the one hand everybody has the right to comment any web content, and I think we agree with that point.

    But some comment are more relevant or have more weight.
    I think, this is a real topic, ’cause it is highly subjective. If I care about my friends, I want my friend comments to be highlighted, but nobody cares about except if Barak Obama is one of my friend…

    Indeed, your problem is how can I edit my blog?

  12. Hi Robert,

    I believe the reason no one has created a tool, to show certain commentors as ‘more important’ than others, is because there can’t be much demand.

    Whilst A-List bloggers like yourself often get industry leaders commenting on their blogs, many (including me) don’t. I write for small businesses and they are the all equally important to me and my readers.

    So, even though I recently had over 270 comments for one of my posts, I would never list one of those people as being more important than any other.

    I think for; you, Dvorak, Leo Laporte etc it might be a useful tool – not so sure of its value to the rest of us?

    Thanks for another interesting post Robert!

  13. Hi Robert,

    I believe the reason no one has created a tool, to show certain commentors as ‘more important’ than others, is because there can’t be much demand.

    Whilst A-List bloggers like yourself often get industry leaders commenting on their blogs, many (including me) don’t. I write for small businesses and they are the all equally important to me and my readers.

    So, even though I recently had over 270 comments for one of my posts, I would never list one of those people as being more important than any other.

    I think for; you, Dvorak, Leo Laporte etc it might be a useful tool – not so sure of its value to the rest of us?

    Thanks for another interesting post Robert!

  14. Robert,

    It is very easy to create a separate section for comments that you want to highlight on top of the rest of comments via CSS. You, as the publisher, click a button next to a comment you wish to emphasize and the div setting on the comment changes to `top` from `rest` and that comment moves on top of the rest.

    I am fundamentally against the idea though as the whole point of commenting is giving everyone a fair chance of expressing their views. You can instead move to a different mechanism with two ways of feedback: response vs. comment. Opinions submitted as response are moderated and you choose which one to approve and they are posted on top, right under your original post, the rest of the comments follow.

    Best,
    Basar

  15. Robert,

    It is very easy to create a separate section for comments that you want to highlight on top of the rest of comments via CSS. You, as the publisher, click a button next to a comment you wish to emphasize and the div setting on the comment changes to `top` from `rest` and that comment moves on top of the rest.

    I am fundamentally against the idea though as the whole point of commenting is giving everyone a fair chance of expressing their views. You can instead move to a different mechanism with two ways of feedback: response vs. comment. Opinions submitted as response are moderated and you choose which one to approve and they are posted on top, right under your original post, the rest of the comments follow.

    Best,
    Basar

  16. The irony of your comments about Gary Shapiro is I wonder how many of your other blog commenters — such as everyone posting above me — are known to you.

    Suppose you never met Gary nor heard his name. But you knew about the CES. If he posted a comment, not unlike mine here, would you know any different? And if not, why does it matter to point him out?

  17. The irony of your comments about Gary Shapiro is I wonder how many of your other blog commenters — such as everyone posting above me — are known to you.

    Suppose you never met Gary nor heard his name. But you knew about the CES. If he posted a comment, not unlike mine here, would you know any different? And if not, why does it matter to point him out?

  18. I disagree that content alone makes a post meritorious. It’s not only the content; the poster matters, relative to the content. Someone with more knowledge or experience in a subject has more weight with me. In posts about car repair, I’m going to give more credence to a mechanic with 15 years of professional service in commercial car repair or fleet maintenance than I am a weekend garage mechanic, especially when their opinions differ.

    But there’s a third value that’s also important: context. Robert said that Barack Obama’s post should have more weight that his. This depends. If the thread is about how to solve current domestic issues, or if the forum is on Change.gov, I might agree. But, if the topic is someone that Robert has talked to, then Mr. Obama’s (“I use Facebook”) post wouldn’t carry as much weight as Robert’s (“I’ve interviewed people at Facebook”), at least for me.

  19. I disagree that content alone makes a post meritorious. It’s not only the content; the poster matters, relative to the content. Someone with more knowledge or experience in a subject has more weight with me. In posts about car repair, I’m going to give more credence to a mechanic with 15 years of professional service in commercial car repair or fleet maintenance than I am a weekend garage mechanic, especially when their opinions differ.

    But there’s a third value that’s also important: context. Robert said that Barack Obama’s post should have more weight that his. This depends. If the thread is about how to solve current domestic issues, or if the forum is on Change.gov, I might agree. But, if the topic is someone that Robert has talked to, then Mr. Obama’s (“I use Facebook”) post wouldn’t carry as much weight as Robert’s (“I’ve interviewed people at Facebook”), at least for me.

  20. With threaded comments, the blog owner can easily comment on a comment to highlight its importance. This feature is now live in WordPress 2.7, and in distributed comment systems such as Disqus and Intense Debate.

    TypePad comments, too, come to think of it. All three support social media profiles to a greater or lesser extend, along with user voting, Open ID, and so on.

    There’s a lot not far down the turnpike.

  21. With threaded comments, the blog owner can easily comment on a comment to highlight its importance. This feature is now live in WordPress 2.7, and in distributed comment systems such as Disqus and Intense Debate.

    TypePad comments, too, come to think of it. All three support social media profiles to a greater or lesser extend, along with user voting, Open ID, and so on.

    There’s a lot not far down the turnpike.

  22. I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. 2 things:

    1. It is a simple task to edit the original post, add a link to the comment in question, quote it and add a comment to the original post and then republish it. Lots of blogs do this already.

    2. Just because an important person posts a comment does not make the comment important, the content of the comment does. This is the beauty of the internet, the meritocracy of content. What is said is more important than who said it.

  23. I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. 2 things:

    1. It is a simple task to edit the original post, add a link to the comment in question, quote it and add a comment to the original post and then republish it. Lots of blogs do this already.

    2. Just because an important person posts a comment does not make the comment important, the content of the comment does. This is the beauty of the internet, the meritocracy of content. What is said is more important than who said it.

  24. The underlying assumption above is that this blog has a single comment system. In actuality, it has two – the comment system I’m using now, and FriendFeed.

    So why not add a third comment system by invitation only where Gary Shapiro, Barack Obama, and other proven people can post?

  25. The underlying assumption above is that this blog has a single comment system. In actuality, it has two – the comment system I’m using now, and FriendFeed.

    So why not add a third comment system by invitation only where Gary Shapiro, Barack Obama, and other proven people can post?

  26. Yes, it’d be great to highlight comments by people with high social capital since it’s often a good indication of how relevant/interesting the comment is. But relevant to the reader may be a different thing (what counts as high social capital for you depends on your social network). Wouldn’t the best system be where the reader can order the comments either according to your (the author’s) estimation of social capital or according to theirs? I.e. either highlighting comments by people at the top of their social network (including, perhaps, Barack Obama) or by those at the top of yours?

  27. Yes, it’d be great to highlight comments by people with high social capital since it’s often a good indication of how relevant/interesting the comment is. But relevant to the reader may be a different thing (what counts as high social capital for you depends on your social network). Wouldn’t the best system be where the reader can order the comments either according to your (the author’s) estimation of social capital or according to theirs? I.e. either highlighting comments by people at the top of their social network (including, perhaps, Barack Obama) or by those at the top of yours?

  28. I think your idea misses the point, Robert. The whole purpose is to have a level field for everyone. It you start playing favorites the utility unravels.

  29. I think your idea misses the point, Robert. The whole purpose is to have a level field for everyone. It you start playing favorites the utility unravels.

  30. Robert, you make some great points here. Don’t know if you recall, but we talked at the Online News Assn. conference about the fact that the Medill School of Journalism (where I teach) is offering scholarships to computer programmers to (1) get a master’s in journalism and (2) work on an innovative project (with other students) that develops something relevant to the future of journalism. (Information about the scholarship program is available at http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/admissions/programmers.html.)

    It happens that the first project developed by a student team including these scholarship winners is (1) very relevant to your concerns about online comments and (2) now available online: http://newsmixer.us.

    Read/Write Web had a nice writeup about it today: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/newsmixer_an_innovative_community_news_framework.php

    For more information on News Mixer and how it came about, check out:
    * my posts about the project on the PBS Idealab blog: http://www.pbs.org/idealab/author/rich_gordon/
    * the class Web site: http://www.crunchberry.org

    The code behind News Mixer is open-sourced and available on Google Code: http://code.google.com/p/newsmixer/. We are hoping that others will “stand on our shoulders” and continue to develop this project.

  31. Robert, you make some great points here. Don’t know if you recall, but we talked at the Online News Assn. conference about the fact that the Medill School of Journalism (where I teach) is offering scholarships to computer programmers to (1) get a master’s in journalism and (2) work on an innovative project (with other students) that develops something relevant to the future of journalism. (Information about the scholarship program is available at http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/admissions/programmers.html.)

    It happens that the first project developed by a student team including these scholarship winners is (1) very relevant to your concerns about online comments and (2) now available online: http://newsmixer.us.

    Read/Write Web had a nice writeup about it today: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/newsmixer_an_innovative_community_news_framework.php

    For more information on News Mixer and how it came about, check out:
    * my posts about the project on the PBS Idealab blog: http://www.pbs.org/idealab/author/rich_gordon/
    * the class Web site: http://www.crunchberry.org

    The code behind News Mixer is open-sourced and available on Google Code: http://code.google.com/p/newsmixer/. We are hoping that others will “stand on our shoulders” and continue to develop this project.

  32. Good CMS software be out there, it just doesn’t come with WordPress. It’s not that “comments” overall suck, it’s just your default implementation of it. Commenting systems aren’t that important in blog software, it’s all about the singular broadcasting. Real powerful CMSes are too expensive for individuals, and the companies don’t deem fickle bloggers a relevant market, so you get blogs, feeds and wiki’s which, well suck. So to get anything of decent worth, once a site gets critical mass, you really have to hand-roll custom-program your own, and that’s quite expensive too.

  33. Good CMS software be out there, it just doesn’t come with WordPress. It’s not that “comments” overall suck, it’s just your default implementation of it. Commenting systems aren’t that important in blog software, it’s all about the singular broadcasting. Real powerful CMSes are too expensive for individuals, and the companies don’t deem fickle bloggers a relevant market, so you get blogs, feeds and wiki’s which, well suck. So to get anything of decent worth, once a site gets critical mass, you really have to hand-roll custom-program your own, and that’s quite expensive too.

  34. Saying that some comments should be promoted because they have more value than the rest has interesting and controversial consequences: the same could be said about blog posts, tweets, youtube videos, friendfeed links shared etc. Because, in essence, a comment is just another piece of content.
    Where does this all lead? To the unsolvable problem “who decides, what to promote, when and under what authority?”. I prefer the imperfect solution of crowds making the decision to the solution of any decisions taken by individuals, all too subjectively .

  35. Saying that some comments should be promoted because they have more value than the rest has interesting and controversial consequences: the same could be said about blog posts, tweets, youtube videos, friendfeed links shared etc. Because, in essence, a comment is just another piece of content.
    Where does this all lead? To the unsolvable problem “who decides, what to promote, when and under what authority?”. I prefer the imperfect solution of crowds making the decision to the solution of any decisions taken by individuals, all too subjectively .

  36. I’m sure you’ve heard of the plugin that ranks comments by quantity. I haven’t checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a plugin where you as the admin can star or “digg” someone’s comment, with the top ranking ones rewarded with a link from your front page (or something).

  37. I’m sure you’ve heard of the plugin that ranks comments by quantity. I haven’t checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a plugin where you as the admin can star or “digg” someone’s comment, with the top ranking ones rewarded with a link from your front page (or something).

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