There has been an ongoing discussion as to whether or not blogs should always have comments enabled to allow its readers to be part of the conversation. I myself firmly believe that each blog post should be thought of as a starting point of, or a response to, a conversation.
Some deal with this issue from an ideological perspective in that they disable comments because they feel that people will behave differently when commenting than they would if they wrote from their own Web sites.
Written nearly a decade ago to the day, much of what this post has to say about blog comments is still roughly true. There are some interesting thoughts which inform a lot of what is going on in the IndieWeb community today.
In anecdotal conversations with some and certainly in my own personal experience, I’ve heard/seen that posting your own thoughts and replies on your own website encourages (perhaps forces?) you to do a bit more thinking and examination before replying. The fact that you’re not limited to a certain number of characters also helps to expound on your ideas/thoughts as well.
I’m curious, however, given the state of politics today, if it will scale? Perhaps if there’s still a technological or financial hurdle in which people have more invested in their web presences it will. Given the dumpster fire that some sectors of social media have become–in some part because of the lack of resistance as well as anonymity–it may not.
I still hope for the best, and am glad for the friends and colleagues I’ve met through doing all of this thus far.
Today I’m happy to announce I’ve added a discussions section to the website, directly below each article. Here you’ll be able to directly respond to what you’ve just read, share your thoughts, and have a discussion with other readers of my site. Today’s post is going to take a bit of a look inside why I’m doing this and how discussions work.
Jason your blogpost does a great job of laying out the values (and distractions) of comments on blogs and why someone would want to have them. I particularly like your choice to call this area of his personal site a “Discussion” area instead of the traditional “Comments” moniker most would give it.
While you use the oft-quoted statement (usually said in a dismissive tone in my experience):
If you want to respond, do so on your own website and tell me.
in the section espousing not allowing comments, I realize that this long-held concept of writing on your own website not only has significant value, but that the Indieweb way of replying and utilizing Webmentions (with moderation enabled if one prefers) for the notifications portion adds even more tremendous value.
Far too often, either in a blog’s comments section or even within social media, it’s all too easy to post an ill-conceived or hurtful drive-by response. It takes little time and thought to say “me too”, “I hate you”, “insert slur here”, or even click an innocuous “like” button many which do nothing for the conversation or discussion being proffered by the site owner. Worse, a very small portion of the world will see that a reader took these actions because they don’t really reflect heavily, if at all, within the reader’s own online presence–who searches for comments others have made online? How would you easily? It’s usually in these interactions that only the writer who spent some significant time trying to communicate can be crushed by overwhelming negativity rather than being showered with the intelligence, logic, or forethought they deserve for putting themselves out there, much less receiving praise for their work. It’s no wonder that people prefer to turn off comments.
Earlier this evening as I was reviewing the online discussion from the San Francisco Homebrew Website Club, I saw a comment from bdesham captured by Tantek Çelik, “I heard not having comments on Tumblr was a deliberate design, to avoid abuse, so to comment you have to reblog?” I recall having an HWC at Yahoo’s LA headquarters and hearing from someone within Yahoo that indeed this was exactly the reason that drove this piece of UX/UI. If you wanted to comment on Tumblr, you had to repost the content to your own front page along with the comment. This meant that you had to take true ownership of your words as they appeared front and center on your own site there. Who wants to publicly mark themselves with a proverbial Scarlet Letter just to be mean? (Some will, but increasingly many won’t because it redounds directly to their reputation.) Perhaps this is why some of the most marginalized people on the internet heavily use Tumblr and feel safe within their communities there?
As some will know, for the past few years I’ve been using the W3C’s recommended Webmention specification, a sort of cross-website universal @mention or @reply, which I’ve implemented on WordPress with the Webmention plugin and a few others, to accept replies/comments and other associated interactions on my blog in addition to the traditional comments box. While the traditional comment box has largely been unused on my site–making it often feel in the early days like I was “spewing words out into the void” as Jason describes–the Webmention piece seems to have made a far larger difference to me.
The majority of the interaction my site receives comes via Webmentions from Brid.gy in the form of short one-offs or simple “likes” which are backfed from Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. However a growing number of interactions are actually interesting and more substantive discussions. It’s these more “traditional” replies via Webmention that have the most value to me. They are better thought out replies and helpful commentary, which almost always appear front and center on the commenter’s own site (much the way Tumblr designed theirs) before they ever appear on my site as a comment. As Jason astutely points out, having comments that are longer than 140 characters can be very valuable as well; since my commenters are posting on their own sites where they have ultimate freedom, most of them aren’t constrained in any way except perhaps for the amount of time they wish to take.
So here you are Jason, I’ve commented by posting on my own site first and notifying you by manually copying it to your discussion section where others can participate as well. (If you supported receiving Webmentions, the interaction would be automatic and nearly seamless.) I’m curious if you’d consider implementing the Webmention spec (both sending and receiving) on your website and if you think it would have the same intended effect you mean when you enabled “Discussions” on yours?–I know it feels like it has on mine.
If you care to reply back, feel free to reply on your own site, include a permalink to my original and use the manual Webmention form (below the traditional comment box) and click “Ping Me!” Of course, if you’re old school, feel free to dust off the old comment box and give that a whirl too!
Some additional miscellaneous thoughts, highlights, and short comments on Jason’s post:
Comments sections often become shouting matches or spam-riddled.
They can also become filled with “me too” type of commentary which more than often doesn’t add anything substantive to the conversation.
One of my all-time favorite comment moderation notes comes from the FAQ section of Peter Woit’s blog under “Why Did you Delete my comment?” He writes:
I delete a lot of the comments submitted here. For some postings, the majority of submitted comments get deleted. I don’t delete comments because the commenter disagrees with me, actually comments agreeing with me are deleted far more often than ones that disagree with me. The overall goal is to try and maintain a comment section worth reading, so comments should ideally be well-informed and tell us something true that we didn’t already know. The most common reason for deleting a comment is that it’s off-topic. Often people are inspired by something in a posting to start discussing something else that interests them and that they feel is likely to interest others here. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor inclination to take on the thankless job of running a general discussion forum here.
I hope my thoughts pass the Woit-comment-test for Jason.
For a website the size and popularity of Daring Fireball, it’d probably be madness to foster any kind of coherent conversation.
Certainly to do it without a staff would be difficult… Again here, Audrey Watter’s post about turning off comments indicates to some extent that even though she views her site as her personal blog, it’s audience, like that of Daring Fireball, has gotten so large that it’s not just friends, family, and community, but something beyond “community” (beyond the pale) that changes the dynamic of accepting comments.
I never felt like I was talking with anyone or anyone’s website, but more like I was spewing words out into the void.
I often feel this way, but supporting Webmentions and backfeed has largely negated these feelings for me in the last few years. I can now communicate directly with websites (and their authors) that support these open protocols.
It has the added benefit of making one-word smart-ass posts impossible.
I do remember the days of old, when people would comment “First!”, but beyond that #OneWordSmartAss is usually overrated unless you’re a professional comedian like Jon Stewart.
Web annotations became a W3C standard last week but the world hardly noticed. For years, most conversations on the web have happened in the form of comments. Annotations are different in that they usually reference specific parts of a document and add context. They are often critical or explanatory in nature.
Web annotation seems to promote more critical thinking and collaboration but it’s doubtful that it would ever fully replace commenting systems.
But why not mix annotations and comments together the way some in the IndieWeb have done?! A few people are using the new W3C recommendation spec for Webmention along with fragmentions to send a version of comments-marginalia-annotations to sites that accept them and have the ability to display them!
A good example of this is Kartik Prabhu’s website which does this somewhat like Medium does. One can write their response to a sub-section of his post on their own website, and using webmention (yes, there’s a WordPress plugin for that) send him the response. It then shows up on his site as a quote bubble next to the appropriate section which can then be opened and viewed by future readers.
While annotation systems have the ability to overlay one’s site, there’s certainly room for serious abuse as a result. (See an example at https://indieweb.org/annotation#Criticism.) It would be nice if annotation systems were required to use something like webmentions (or even older trackback/pingbacks) to indicate that a site had been mentioned elsewhere, this way, even if the publisher wasn’t responsible for moderating the resulting comments, they could at least be aware of possible attacks on their work/site/page. #
Not a day goes by that I don’t run across a fantastic blog built or hosted on WordPress that looks gorgeous–they do an excellent job of making this pretty easy to accomplish.
Invariably the blog’s author has a generic avatar (blech!) instead of a nice, warm and humanizing photo of their lovely face.
Or, perhaps, as a user, you’ve always wondered how some people qualified to have their photo included with their comment while you were left as an anonymous looking “mystery person” or a randomized identicon, monster, or even an 8-bit pixelated blob? The secret the others know will be revealed momentarily.
Which would you prefer?
Somehow, knowing how to replace that dreadful randomized block with an actual photo is too hard or too complicated. Why? In part, it’s because WordPress separated out this functionality as a decentralized service called Gravatar, which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar. In some sense this is an awesome idea because then people everywhere (and not just on WordPress) can use the Gravatar service to change their photo across thousands of websites at once. Unfortunately it’s not always clear that one needs to add their name, email address, and photo to Gravatar in order for the avatars to be populated properly on WordPress related sites.
(Suggestion for WordPress: Maybe the UI within the user account section could include a line about Gravatars?)
So instead of trying to write out the details for the third time this week, I thought I’d write it once here with a bit more detail and then point people to it for the future.
Another quick example
Can you guess which user is the blog’s author in the screencapture?
The correct answer is Anand Sarwate, the second commenter in the list. While Anand’s avatar seems almost custom made for a blog on randomness and information theory, it would be more inviting if he used a photo instead.
How to fix the default avatar problem
What is Gravatar?
Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?
Need some additional motivation? Watch this short video:
Step 1: Get a Gravatar Account
If you’ve already got a WordPress.com account, this step is easy. Because the same corporate parent built both WordPress and Gravatar, if you have an account on one, you automattically have an account on the other which uses the same login information. You just need to log into Gravatar.com with your WordPress username and password.
If you don’t have a WordPress.com account or even a blog, but just want your photo to show up when you comment on WordPress and other Gravatar enabled blogs, then just sign up for an account at Gravatar.com. When you comment on a blog, it’ll ask for your email address and it will use that to pull in the photo to which it’s linked.
Step 2: Add an email address
Log into your Gravatar account. Choose an email address you want to modify: you’ll have at least the default you signed up with or you can add additional email addresses.
Step 3: Add a photo to go with that email address
Upload as many photos as you’d like into the account. Then for each of the email addresses you’ve got, associate each one with at least one of your photos.
Example: In the commenters’ avatars shown above, Anand was almost there. He already had a Gravatar account, he just hadn’t added any photos.
Step 4: Fill out the rest of your social profile
Optionally you can additional social details like a short bio, your other social media presences, and even one or more websites or blogs that you own.
Step 5: Repeat
You can add as many emails and photos as you’d like. By linking different photos to different email addresses, you’ll be able to change your photo identity based on the email “key” you plug into sites later.
If you get tired of one photo, just upload another and make it the default photo for the email addresses you want it to change for. All sites using Gravatar will update your avatar for use in the future.
Step 6: Use your email address on your WordPress account
In the field for the email, input (one of) the email(s) you used in Gravatar that’s linked to a photo.
Don’t worry, the system won’t show your email and it will remain private–WordPress and Gravatar simply use it as a common “key” to serve up the right photo and metadata from Gravatar to the WordPress site.
Once you’ve clicked save, your new avatar should show up in the list of users. More importantly it’ll now show up in all of the WordPress elements (like most author bio blocks and in comments) that appear on your site.
WordPress themes need to be Gravatar enabled to be able to use this functionality, but in practice, most of them do, particularly for comments sections. If yours isn’t, then you can usually add it with some simple code.
In the WordPress admin interface one can go to Settings>>Discussion and enable View people's profiles when you mouse over their Gravatars under the heading “Gravatar Hovercards” to enable people to see more information about you and the commenters on your blog (presuming the comment section of your theme is Gravatar enabled.)
Some WordPress users often have several user accounts that they use to administer their site. One might have a secure administrator account they only use for updates and upgrades, another personal account (author/editor admin level account which uses their name) for authoring posts, and another (author/editor admin level) account for making admin notice posts or commenting as a generic moderator. In these cases, you need to make sure that each of these accounts has an email address with an an associated Gravatar account with the same email and the desired photo linked to it. (One Gravatar account with multiple emails/photos will usually suffice, though they could be different.)
Example: In Nate’s case above, we showed that his photo didn’t show in the author bio box, and it doesn’t show up in some comments, but it does show up in other comments on his blog. This is because he uses at least two different user accounts: one for authoring posts and another for commenting. The user account he uses for some commenting has a linked Gravatar account with email and photo and the other does not.
Want more information on how you can better own and manage your online identity? Visit IndieWeb.org: “A people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.”
To help beautify your web presence a bit, if you notice that your photo doesn’t show up in the author block or comments in your theme, you can (create and) use your WordPress.com username/password in an account on their sister site Gravatar.com. Uploading your preferred photo on Gravatar and linking it to an email will help to automatically populate your photo in both your site and other WordPress sites (in comments) across the web. To make it work on your site, just go to your user profile in your WordPress install and use the same email address in your user profile as your Gravatar account and the decentralized system will port your picture across automatically. If necessary, you can use multiple photos and multiple linked email addresses in your Gravatar account to vary your photos.