526 words — 3 minutes read

Tracking comments

One of the Blogosphere’s biggest claim to fame is the ability for conversations to emerge. The readers have the ability to respond back, creating a living two-way environment of interaction. So far so good. Unfortunately, there are a few problems.

First the ubiquitous amount of spam that percolates the blogs. I regularly have to clean between 2 and 60 spam comments per day, even though I have anti-spam measures on my blog. Hopefully it will become uninteresting for spammers to spam blogs in some distant future - I’m not holding my breadth though.

The second, and much more difficult problem, is the non-ability to keep track of conversations. If you - like me - read your blogs in a newsreader, chances are you won’t see any comments at all. Given that the existence of comments make a blog an more valuable resource this is bad. You have to actually visit the web-site of the blog to read the comments. And make your own comment.

The problem is not over yet, in fact they get bigger. Once you have left a comment, there is no indication of anyone responding to your comment. So you are forced to revisit the particular page again in your browser, check for answers, ad infinitum.

Is there a solution to this? Let’s examine a few:

Global Comment Feeds: Some Blogs publish a feed of their comments. While this alleviates some of the problems, there are quite a few remaining.

  • On high-visibility blogs, the sheer number of comments created make it daunting to read all of them

  • The correlation of blog-entry and comment can be difficult

  • Some comment feeds are truncated (bad, bad, bad) - vowe take note!

Individual Comment Feeds: Some blogs publish a comment feed for each entry in the blog. This is better, however:

  • Now you need to subscribe manually to every comment feed of any post that interests you - quite a hassle

  • If you do, you need to organize all those feeds and “sub” feeds. Time consuming and even more of a hassle

  • Only a few blogs support this

Central service for comments: Have a central commenting service that a blog can plug into, that keeps track of your comments and the responses to them

  • Centralisation is bad

  • Will only work for blogs actually using this technique

So what is left? Are there any usable ways of actually making the promise of “conversations on the web” a reality? Raphael Szwarc and I had part of the solution at hand and working, when we implemented the first version of Zappata. It was a web based aggregator but also a tool for enabling communications and keeping track of conversations (Using Atom-Feeds). We redid it to focus on peer-to-peer email and lost the RSS/Atom part of it and evolved it to a working prototype of a secure, peer-to-peer email infrastructure. Unfortunately, “the real life” ™ a.k.a need for money led us to leave Zappata in it’s unfinished stages and peruse paid work.

Is it time to revive it?

Or is there already a system in place that I don’t know about? Let me know.

Technorati Tags: blog, comments, metablog, zappata, central

Jens-Christian Fischer

Maker. Musician