Some of my thoughts on comments in general

One of the points that is the hardest for me to make when I talk to people about my blog is how important comments are for me. I don’t mean comments in source code as documentation, but comments on the posts themselves.

You may remember that was one of the less appealing compromises I made when I moved to Hugo was accepting to host the comments on Disqus. A few people complained when I did that because Disqus is a vendor lock-in. That’s true in more ways than one may imagine.

It’s not just that you are tied into a platform with difficulty of moving out of it — it’s that there is no way to move out of it, as it is. Disqus does provide you the ability to download a copy of all the comments from your site, but they don’t guarantee that’s going to be available: if you have too many, they may just refuse to let you download them.

And even if you manage to download the comments, you’ll have fun time trying to do anything useful with them: Disqus does not let you re-import them, say in a different account, as they explicitly don’t allow that format to be imported. Nor does WordPress: when I moved my blog I had to hack up a script that took the Disqus export format, a WRX dump of the blog (which is just a beefed up RSS feed), and produces a third file, attaching the Disqus comments to the WRX as WordPress would have exported them. This was tricky, but it resolved the problem, and now all the comments are on the WordPress platform, allowing me to move them as needed.

Many people pointed out that there are at least a couple of open-source replacements for Disqus — but when I looked into them I was seriously afraid they wouldn’t really scale that well for my blog. Even WordPress itself appears sometimes not to know how to deal with a >2400 entries blog. The WRX file is, by itself, bigger than the maximum accepted by the native WordPress import tool — luckily the Automattic service has higher limits instead.

One of the other advantages of having moved away from Disqus is that the comments render without needing any JavaScript or third party service, make them searchable by search engines, and most importantly, preserves them in the Internet Archive!

But Disqus is not the only thing that disappoints me. I have a personal dislike for the design, and business model, of Hacker News and Reddit. It may be a bit of a situation of “old man yells at cloud”, but I find that these two websites, much more than Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media, are designed to take the conversation away from the authors.

Let me explain with an example. When I posted about Telegram and IPv6 last year, the post was sent to reddit, which I found because I have a self-stalking recipe for IFTTT that informs me if any link to my sites get posted there. And people commented on that — some missing the point and some providing useful information.

But if you read my blog post you won’t know about that at all, because the comments are locked into Reddit, and if Reddit were to disappear the day after tomorrow there won’t be any history of those comments at all. And this is without going into the issue of the “karma” going to the reposter (who I know in this case), rather than the author — who’s actually discouraged in most communities from submitting their own writings!

This applies in the same or similar fashion to other websites, such as Hacker News, Slashdot, and… is Digg still around? I lost track.

I also find that moving the comments off-post makes people nastier: instead of asking questions ready to understand and talk things through with the author, they assume the post exist in isolation, and that the author knows nothing of what they are talking about. And I’m sure that at least a good chunk of that is because they don’t expect the author to be reading them — they know full well they are “talking behind their back”.

I have had the pleasure to meet a lot of people on the Internet over time, mostly through comments on my or other blogs. I have learnt new thing and been given suggestions, solutions, or simply new ideas of what to poke at. I treasure the comments and the conversation they foster. I hope that we’ll have more rather than fewer of them in the future.

5 thoughts on “Some of my thoughts on comments in general

  1. There is that, but then again, posting links to your posts on other sites does expose your work to others more, more so than having people just stumble across your site by other means.

    The unfortunate side-effect is that the discussion winds up fragmented. I don’t have an easy solution to that. Hopefully the Internet Archive captures the comments there too. Maybe link to their feed as well?

    WordPress has pingbacks; but I wound up turning that off on my blog because I found it was a magnet for spam.

    As for WordPress… not my favourite blogging platform, not that I actually have one. The fact that it’s PHP on MySQL irks me, and it does have quite a few idiosyncrasies, but for as long as it “does the job” for me, I’m not keen to try and implement my own. There is something to be said of a community-supported framework, and WordPress needs less maintenance than some other offerings (e.g. Drupal, which my workplace uses for its website). It can have a reputation security wise, but if you keep it lean with well vetted plug-ins, you’re usually okay. If you go plug-in happy, all hell breaks loose.

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    1. Pingbacks have been generalized as “webmentions”. I don’t know if WordPress supports them. The principle is that you also get to fetch the comment from the remote site, so the answer is available on both sites. See: https://indieweb.org/Webmention

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  2. You should read GDPR Article 20: Right to data portability to brighten your day, Diego. It may not apply in this situation but it should still be a bright-spot.

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  3. I never much liked the post-2010ish trend of moving discussion to Twitter/Reddit or even Disqus much, but I definitely understand it. The Akismet anti-spam ceased being effective to a large degree for whatever reason. The weird thing is just how bad DIsqus is. Discourse is the exact same concept, except that purely on the surface (ignoring concerns about third-party services) it works so. much. better.

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