Time to get over “time to get over comments”

Over and over again, you hear it:

Personally I think this whole mess is just gonna go away. Everyone of you should have your own blog. If I say something idiotic, you should blog it, link to me. I watch my Technorati page and Feedster and Pubsub too. That’s a much better way to comment on something I write.

I keep thinking that it will go away, too. I keep thinking that people will actually think it through, and realize how unlikely and unsatisfactory that solution is, and we’ll stop seeing people calling for an end to weblog comments.

My first objection is to the arrogance of that position: “of course, if you want to comment on my entry, all your readers would be interested in both your comment and my entry.” Sorry, no. In a linkdump post yesterday, Scoble claimed that Browse Happy is “The Mozilla guys” when as you already know from being pointed to it from a dozen directions it’s actually The Web Standards Project guys and gals. Did you really need another link to Browse Happy, which you already knew about (and knew that you weren’t its target market), just so I could tell both Scoble and you that it was done by the people linked at the bottom of the page, not by one of the browsers it recommends?

My second objection is to, well, the arrogance of that position. Robert says that he watches lists of his incoming links. So what? If my goal was to be sure that he knew Browse Happy was WaSP not Moz, I would have emailed him. What I wanted was to be sure that both he and his readers knew, whether or not he felt like going back to correct his post. The totality of a post and its comments are where we all arrive at as true a picture as we have time and energy to paint. The “I post, you post, I see you linking” model sounds more like you take a snapshot of what you see and show it to us, we take snapshots and show them to you, and maybe the person next to us sees our snapshot while we show it to you, but nobody sees enough to put together a complete picture.

Of course, Scoble could continually edit his posts, adding in links to everyone he sees linking to him, along with at least an abstract of what they said, if not the full content of the post. I’ve actually seen that done, and I imagine it was nearly as annoying for the person doing it as it was to read. If you posted about something that didn’t happen to interest me, the last thing I want is to see that post updated a dozen times, or a dozen new posts saying “Foo linked to that post you didn’t care about, and said bar.”

A post that does interest you is at least as bad. You want to read what other people had to say about it, so you either follow all the followup links the original blogger posted, or use Feedster and PubSub and Technorati and Bloglines Citations to get four sets of only partly overlapping links to the post. Then, because each person responding to the original had to give their readers some context for what they were responding to, you first have to read a dozen recaps of the original post. How could we avoid that? D’oh! By putting all the responses where the authors know everyone reading them has already read the original, as comments on the original post.

Oh, the “this whole mess”? Robert’s using Javascript powered comments remotely hosted on one of Dave Winer’s servers, done by making a remote Javascript call for the count for each comment thread separately, so when the comment server’s slow or inaccessible it makes his page loads incredibly slow, as each call has to time out before the page load can continue. Um. That’s a problem that all the rest of us solved several years ago: notice how every other remote comment system loads the counts in one single Javascript file? If you remember far enough back, Robert, the first time you noticed my existence was when I was telling you how to make that more robust. Shame you went to something far, far less robust ;)

Oops. Teach me to think I understand what someone’s saying, and they understand the problem, without checking. Jake says I got it wrong, the comments were doing the reasonable thing and loading a single script, but a single script of counts for every Scoblepost is apparently an enormous wad of data to pull out of a database and send out with every pageload.


Comment by michel v #
2004-08-23 04:56:43

I feel so compelled to blog ”I agree with Phil.”

I’ve always found the ”get a blog” attitude stupid, mostly because many comments are made by non-bloggers who really have no special interest in maintaining a blog just to comment on other people’s posts.
And then there’s that whole overlapping sets of links problem: if I am linked to by a personal page on Geocities that’s not a blog and not crawled by any blog-crawler, I’m the only one who’ll know about the comment. Yeah for transparence and free debate.

Partly off-topic:
However, I have a reverse idea: listing comments you make on other blogs, on yours. Think of it as ”I didn’t post much today, but I put some words over there, that didn’t warrant an actual blog entry.”
That could be done pretty much automatically, or manually with a bookmarklet once you’re sure you’re going to hit the submit button.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2004-08-23 08:39:09