Threads and Comments.

Threaded comments are the next best thing to happen to blogs since trackbacks. It provides fluid and concise interaction and the ability to keep easy track of the discussion and the commentors engaged.

yeah man, like totally
CC - Credit: skampy

Let me get this out first: I love comments! It is very enjoyable to interact with people who happen to read my little corner in the internetubes. Yes, seeing from the stats that 100 or 200 people have read an article is nice but how do I know if they agree or disagree. How do I know if I made a horrible mistake in thinking or gave someone a fantastic insight without realising it?

This is why, if there’s any thing I’m constantly improving here is the commenting experience. I wish it to be as easy as possible to see what others have to say and hopefully strike a conversation and this is why I have found Intense Debate Comments (IDC) to be so great for that purpose.

I’ve explained before how IDC owns Blogspot native comments and now I want to explain to you why IDC is so good if you’re as big a comment addict as I am.

I was reading this excellent post about getting more comments on things you write and it gives some solid tips of which many I plan to follow in the near future. The very first tip was the most important imho as well

1. Be active in your own comment threads.

If you’ve commented recently here you’ll have noticed that I very rarely leave a comment unanswered. The exceptions usually are when the discussion is at an end or when there’s nothing to really reply but “thanks” (and sometimes I even do that). Now, normally, in a classic commenting system, comments just fall under each other which makes them not so easy to read through. People utilise blockquotes or threading hacks to make this easier but most of the time it only become marginally better.

If I write a post and then go to bed and get 10 comments, in the old system the only thing I can do is create a long reply and just reply to each commenter by name (classic way is by prepending @name before each reply or with blockquotes). This is generally not only time consuming but doesn’t look half as good as it does with threading. Using a threaded system I can reply to each commenter directly and have it look as it should: a personalised reply. If that person decides to reply more, this allows us not  have a conversation at this point which just flows so much better. Just see my latest post as an example.

But there’s another hidden bonus when you use intense debate. When you directly reply to someone, he automatically gets an email informing him of that, along with the reply text and what they replied to. As someone who is using his emails as a primary notification system, I can tell you that being able to see their comment along with my reply makes me very eager to reply. If you want to maintain reader interaction, there’s nothing better.
Oh, and did I tell you that people can reply to comments via replying to that email? Can’t get any sweeter.

But the benefit of threading do not end here. Do you know those very complex and long-winded discussions where each person end up quoting the others points in order to reply to each. Have you noticed how each point becomes a discussion of its own and the whole answer becomes pretty much impossible to follow? Nevermind that the length of each comment is doubled due to the quotes and the extra time and checking it takes. I’ve had that. A lot. It’s ugly.

However, recently in a very…err, intense debate I asked my opponent to stop using blockquotes and instead reply once to each specific point he wanted to and I would do the same. If one of us wanted to reply to subpoints in a reply, we were to split it with blockquotes to two different replies so that the opponent can then reply to each if necessary.

To my eyes, the results were much, much more readable. You can see that even though the discussion went for quite a length and there were many points to be discussed, a third party can easily start reading a point to its end without getting confused with the rest. Compare that with this lengthy argument I had at Dailight Atheism and decide for yourselves which one is more easy to follow.
Plus, I practically reduced the size of the discussion in half by taking away all the quotation and it went much quicker due to the email notifications. I’ve now made this a comment policy at the Division by Zer0:

If you’re going to have an argument here, thou shalt use threaded individual replies and keep thy quotes to a minimum.

Of course it pays that I have a variable width template here and the comment box can be wide enough so that threading does not end up squeezed at the side. Not unless I get a 20 deep thread I guess 🙂
Still, I never understood why people go for fixed width templates and sacrifice all their screen real-estate.

I’m going to close this article here for now but rest assured that this just one of the benefits I’ve discovered with the threading through IDC. I’ll go into them in a future post.