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Commenting on the Interwebs is broken. And there's no fix. - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Commenting on the Interwebs is broken. And there's no fix. [Jun. 26th, 2008|04:50 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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Based on my google reader subscription count and the estimated marketshare of google reader, there are at least as many people that read this blog via RSS readers as those who read it via their livejournal f-lists. Yet others, perhaps as big a number as each of the first two, just click on a bookmark once in a while. After all, RSS readers are still a niche product. Indeed, I often meet someone who references something I wrote on my blog; I had no idea they read my blog.

Here's the conundrum: almost all the comments to my (public) posts are from my lj-friends.

I'm fairly sure this is because an unfamiliar commenting system introduces a huge barrier to posting a comment. From my own experience on other blogs, it annoys me that I don't know beforehand what kind of formatting is allowed, that I have to jump through captchas, and that I may have to wait for my comment to get past moderation. Oh, and I often have no good way to track replies.

Unfortunately, it looks like things are going to get a lot worse before they can get better. The state of (blog) commenting 2.0 has several tiers:
  • Commenting systems directly integrated with the blog, such as blogger.com or wordpress. There are only 2 or 3 major systems here (depending on whether or not we're counting typepad), and one can hope that eventually most people will get used to all of them.
  • Second level systems like disqus and its competitors, where the commenting system is pluggable and orthogonal to the blogging system. Disqus hopes that it will take over web commenting, and so do all of its competitors, but obviously each one is going to end up with a small slice of the pie.
  • Third tier systems like friendfeed which import your posts and discuss them on their site, not yours. This is the worst from the blog author's point of view because you have no idea that people are talking about you.
I have a solution in mind, but it's really far out and can't happen any time in the near future. I want to hear if anyone has any opinions on what should/will happen.

Oh, and btw, folks who're subscribed to my RSS, come out and say hi once in a while :-)
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: haran
2008-06-26 11:05 am (UTC)
What *should* happen:

Just like everyone can now login everywhere using something distributed like OpenID, there should be some open commenting interface defined. It can be implemented by each site separately with comments stored in their own system and displayed how they want (using threads, showing user icons, support moderation and points, whatever). But the interface is common. Who ever implements that interface makes their commenting system available to everyone.

Then, RSS feeds can include optional meta-data about which commenting server this feed uses and allows you to post comments directly from your RSS reader.
It also provides a link to view other people's comments.

How it *will* happen:
Everyone will move to facebook. Problem solved.


So what's your idea?
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 10:06 pm (UTC)
"Everyone will move to facebook."

cynical much? :)

btw, fav.or.it is a startup that's trying to do the whole open commenting system thing (among other things). their idea had a lot of potential but i think they messed up the implemetnation.

i'm going to do a post about my solution. it's a bit too elaborate for a comment.
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[User Picture]From: haran
2008-06-27 01:35 am (UTC)
cynical much? :)


I'm only partially joking there.
I know people who don't even send regular e-mail anymore. If they want to send you\tell you something they do it through Facebook's 'email' interface.

I'm hoping its just a fad, but you never know.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-27 03:38 am (UTC)
"I know people who don't even send regular e-mail anymore. If they want to send you\tell you something they do it through Facebook's 'email' interface."

and there's nothing wrong with that! i do it a lot.

"I'm hoping its just a fad, but you never know."

facebook is a fad? i just don't get you facebook haters. maybe you want nothing to do with it. that's your choice. but how can you not see that it's incredibly valuable to all the people who do use it? really, that's not your call. there are millions of people who can't live without it. doesn't sound like a fad to me.
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From: fixious
2008-06-27 05:53 am (UTC)
I'm not a facebook hater, but I agree it's a fad. I think the general social networking framework it has will be around, but am willing to bet that the site itself will fizzle out after a while.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-27 05:58 am (UTC)
"but am willing to bet that the site itself will fizzle out after a while"

really? are you? how long do you give the site then? i'm actually willing to put money down if you're interested!
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From: fixious
2008-06-27 06:50 am (UTC)
4 years for endangerment, 8 for extinction. I'll go as high as 50 bucks. :)

I may be in India by mid-Aug, but I'll get in touch if not.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-27 06:54 am (UTC)
you're on :) we need define those things at some point though.

i'm going to be there aug 8.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-27 06:02 am (UTC)
on a totally unrelated note, i'm visiting chicago for a day, second week of august. are you going to be around? want to meet up?
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[User Picture]From: haran
2008-06-27 07:18 am (UTC)
By 'fad' I was referring to sending messages to people via 'F-Mail' (ha) instead of just E-Mail which I find more convenient.

Maybe other people prefer logging into Facebook to check for messages from people instead of having it pushed to their mail client, but I'm not one of them.

Thats why I'm *hoping* its just a fad.

I do use Facebook occasionally and I don't hate it, though I was worried for a bit about everyone jumping to and exclusively using a closed system. (I'm not really that worried about that anymore).

>really, that's not your call

I don't even know where that came from.


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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-27 07:21 am (UTC)
sorry if i was being a jerk. i meet lots of people in real life who claim everything on facebook is pointless. i must have inadvertently clubbed you with them.

facebook does push messages to your email. before they did that, i agree that it made far less sense to use it.
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[User Picture]From: rfc9000
2008-06-26 01:12 pm (UTC)
Open ID is a good starting point.
If you dont care about spam, then the best way probably is to just allow anonymous commenting with name/website/email fields (blogger style).

Oh, and btw, folks who're subscribed to my RSS, come out and say hi once in a while :-)

Hi :)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 10:02 pm (UTC)
i don't think that's a choice we have anymore, not caring about spam.
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[User Picture]From: normalcyispasse
2008-06-26 02:00 pm (UTC)
This is a very salient post. Along with lack of aggregation, it's a main reason I don't often visit friends' journals outside LJ.

Nail, head.
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[User Picture]From: forvrkate
2008-06-26 02:19 pm (UTC)
Hi.

But I don't have your RSS subscription. I just thought I'd say "Hi." anyway.
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[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2008-06-26 03:23 pm (UTC)
it happens to me too. no. of subscribers to my feed on GReader is about twice my LJ friend count. however, I get LOTS of comments from outsiders.

i just discovered one problem with LJ - i either allow all anonymous comments or I allow only people registered on LJ to comment. there is no option that allows people to comment using either LJ or openid.

as for commenting, most of my commenting happens on other LJs. I hardly comment on pieces I read through my GReader. maybe it's because it's only in LJ that i can track replies through email.
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From: antrix.net
2008-06-26 03:51 pm (UTC)
First of all: Hi!


Second: What a load of BS! I don't think the lack of comments from feed readers is due to unfamiliarity with the commenting system. I mean come on, it's just a text box! What kind of formatting? 99% of the time, plain text works just fine, thank you!

IMHO - or perhaps IMO - the reason feed readers don't comment is inertia; the context-switch involved in moving from the reader to the target site just to comment. You don't have that context-switch when using LJ to read friends' posts.

The solution then would be to do something along the lines of what haran proposed above.. a standard interface to allow commenting on items from within the feed reader itself. That will get more comments pouring in!

Another related anecdote: there are several feeds in my list, which use the Feedburner "# of comments" feed-flare. If I see that the # of comments is non-zero, then there is an increased likelihood that I'll actually visit the original post to read the comments. Of course, the minimum # of comments required to trigger a visit varies depending on the source of the post.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 07:11 pm (UTC)
yeah, context switching plays a role too. i should have mentioned that. forgot. sorry.

but my reasons are just as valid. i've done some work on feed readers; i've studied this a little bit. but i'm not going to argue. you're free to think it's BS.
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From: dykotez
2008-06-26 09:16 pm (UTC)
I'm interested in what you're thinking. Sign me up!
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-26 10:06 pm (UTC)
separate post coming, stay tuned :)
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-29 01:29 am (UTC)

Did you used to teach at University of New Hampshire?

Maybe it's another Arvind N. but this is quite weird. I used to be in his HTML class 3 years ago. Thought that the class was a joke but then again, I was a moron back then. Never thought I'd find him to be on the cutting edge of Freindfeed technology. Nice work!
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-29 03:00 am (UTC)

Re: Did you used to teach at University of New Hampshire?

ha ha, no, i'm a lowly grad student :)

are you talking about my friendfeed widget? if you think that's cutting edge, i hope you'll stick around to see some of the stuff i'm working on and haven't released yet!
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