Time to add a comments element

While I’ve always really liked the idea of RSS 2.0’s comments element, an item-level element that gives the URL for that item’s comments, I hadn’t really seen something where I could say “here, this is why you need to add <comments> to your RSS 2.0 feed.” The Radio aggregator adds a pencil icon way off on the right side where I rarely notice it, and it just doesn’t work with the flow of reading posts: either you open it in the same window, and then reload the aggregator when you are done, or you open it in a tab, switch to that tab, switch back, or worst of all you open it in a tab in the middle of several things that were linked from posts, and by the time you get to it you have no idea why you opened an enetation or Radiocomments window with no comments.

However, SharpReader has changed my mind about its utility. For a feed with <comments>, SharpReader puts a “Comments” link on the bar between the pane with the list of posts and the pane showing the post. Read a post, and as your eyes go back up to the list of posts, they go right over the comment link. Click it, and it opens right there in the embedded browser pane, ready for you to read existing comments or leave your own. Slick as can be, and I’ve already seen several comment threads I probably would have otherwise missed (for that matter, I didn’t even realize that BLTS had comments).

If you use Radio, your feed probably already has <comments>, if you use Blogger you’re out of luck, since you can’t control your feed, and if you have a dotnetweblogs blog you need to join Chad Osgood in campaigning to have it added for you, but if you use MovableType, you can add it by just copying the template code that produces your comments link (whether that’s <$MTCGIPath$><$MTCommentScript$>?entry_id=<$MTEntryID$> to link to the script that powers the popup, or something like <$MTEntryPermalink$>#comments to point to the comments in an individual entry archive page), and putting it inside a <comments> element inside the <item> loop in your RSS 2.0 template, along the lines of:

<title><$MTEntryTitle encode_xml="1"$></title>
<link><$MTEntryPermalink encode_xml="1"$></link>
<description><$MTEntryExcerpt encode_xml="1"$></description>
<content:encoded><$MTEntryBody encode_xml="1"$></content:encoded>
<comments><$MTEntryPermalink encode_xml="1"$>#comments</comments>


Comment by Richard #
2003-04-07 02:21:13

Evidently SharpReader does not (yet?) support the <annotate:reference> and <dc:contributor> elements (halfway down). The feeds to my weblogs are in included in my feed list, and they look like any other feed with those elements.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-04-07 08:04:15

Interesting! Googling annotate:reference shows that Ben may well have convinced enough people to use to to make it worth supporting.

However, he should probably also convince his fellow RSS-DEV working group members to change the meaning of it to the way he uses it, because he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. annotate:reference is a threading element, saying that ”this item is a follow-up to the item at this other URL”, not a link to a comments form. If you ignore the out-of-date syntax in the example in the spec, I think it’s pretty clear, with ”Re: Hello, World!” pointing its annotate:reference to ”Hello, World!”, not to somewhere to comment on ”Re: Hello, World!”.

Comment by Simon Willison #
2003-04-13 13:14:59

Knowing where the comments for an item are seems to me to be pretty unimportant compared to knowing how many (if any) comments have been posted.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2003-04-13 13:37:38

Well, I do include <slash:comments>, which is a count, but mostly just as potential punishment for readers that don’t handle namespaces well.

I would love to see both the link and the count, but I’m not sure how to manage it well. A static count could be wildly off (your reader happens to get diveintomark thirty seconds after he posts, so the comment count is only two, but you don’t read it for another five minutes, when the actual count should be twenty), a dynamic count would require reworking most comment systems, and readers don’t (yet) have a really good way to deal with an unchanged item that has a changed bit of metadata.

I’d love to see something along the lines of a folder full of posts that have had their comment count increase since my last scan, especially if someone could figure out a way to link that post to the comments on it in a comment feed, with a link to the feed, so that my reader could go out and fetch me the comments, perhaps only fetching them if I ask for them, to save me having to subscribe to a comments feed from every single feed I subscribe to, just to see the comments on the entries that interest me. Bit difficult to manage right now, I’d guess, since there’s no real standard for mapping from comments to RSS, and the one element that would help, <annotate:reference>, seems to have been co-opted for another purpose. Hrrrm.

Trackback by From The Orient #
2003-04-14 15:21:10

Lets get RSSical

A few updates to the blog. First of all a comments feed can be found here” showing the last 15…


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