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” (tm) 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