The argument for comment threads under writeups
For some time now, I've been mentioning offhand that comment threads under nodes might be a good idea. Some people agree with me, some don't, several wanted more information about what I had in mind specifically so here it is.
I regard E2 primarily as a platform for writing cool text for other people to read, and for reading cool text written by other people. Secondarily, E2 is a forum where readers and writers can discuss their work and pass feedback. At the moment, textual feedback happens in two ways:
- You send a private message to the author; they might send a private message back, if they haven't fled. I get very little feedback this way.
- You discuss the writeup in the chatterbox with whoever else happens to be around. I find very few writeups at all get discussed in this way.
I am suggesting that we should have a public comments thread under each writeup. Here, people reading the writeup can give feedback in a way which is
- visible to other readers who might come along and want to add something to the discussion,
- not necessarily directed at the author but at other readers and
- semi-permanent, so that readers coming along years later can see the discussion that went on and maybe pick up where it left off.
I believe that this feature has been conspicuous in its absence for a very long time.
A thread under each node?
No, a thread under each writeup. I feel as if one comment thread should discuss one single work of text. A node is merely a collection of works of text which coincidentally happen to be filed under the same title; a node is rarely a collaborative effort and therefore rarely needs commenting on as a whole.
Wouldn't the comments swamp E2, turning it into a glorified message board?
This can be avoided using good presentation. User interface shapes usage. E2's "major export" is the original writing of its users. That should be placed front and centre. It must be made clear that comments aren't content. Comments are secondary and should be in the back somewhere. For example, see Wikipedia's Talk pages. There's one Talk page for every Wikipedia article and much more besides; they can become incredibly long and involved. However, the Talk pages are figuratively speaking "backstage"; the Wikipedia "product" is the article, and that's where 99% of its users spend most of their time looking. The same should be true here.
How would comments be presented?
When you look at a node, all the writeups should be visible. Below each writeup, maybe a small piece of text saying "10 comments". This text links to the writeup view.
When you look at the writeup, all the comments are visible below it and you can add some yourself if you want.
Comments should appear in a smaller font than the main node (and the rest of the site), to highlight their lesser importance.
What about threads under things other than writeups e.g. homenodes?
Nah. E2 should be about writeups and comments should be about writeups.
A single thread, or a tree?
I find tree-based discussions irritating to try to follow, (and, from a coding perspective, impossible to paginate properly). Tree-based discussions seem to allow a maximum amount of depth/indentation before they have to terminate (or wreck the site design). E2 writeup discussions should be able to continue indefinitely. But that's just me.
Should users be able to vote on comments?
I can't think of a good reason to bother with this. I don't know what anybody gains.
Should users be able to edit or delete their own comments?
Sure, everybody makes mistakes.
Couldn't that be abused?
Um, I suppose so. Edits could be annotated on the comment ("sam512 modified this comment on YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss"). Deletion could be annotated too ("sam512 deleted this comment"). Edits and deletes could be disallowed after a certain amount of time has passed (maybe an hour?) (This is an example of an extra feature that could be bolted on - or not - after comments themselves are in place.)
Should everybody be allowed to comment?
Comments should be visible to all, but commenting should be a level power to keep out the riff-raff.
Would recent comments or popular comment threads appear on the front page?
No. We do writeups. Writeups go on the front page, comments are secondary. But I can see a good reason to add some superdocs listing the latest comments, maybe, or the latest active comment threads.
Who would moderate comment threads?
I think: content editors and chanops. Content editors focus on actual nodes right now, but allowing powers over comments too seems logical. Chanops already have responsibility for moderating the live discussion in the chatterbox; comment threads (which are live discussions, just slower-moving) should be right up their alley. I'm sure the two groups can easily bash out some moderation guidelines. For the users, "Don't be stupid" might be sufficient guidance.
What powers should be available?
Closing/reopening comment threads, deleting comments, editing comments.
What if there are too many comments to moderate?
A "flag comment" button is a solution which works in many other large-scale forums. (Again, this is a v2.0 feature that could wait a little while before being implemented.)
Should authors be able to comment in their own threads?
Should authors be able to moderate their own comment threads?
There are good arguments for both answers to this question.
I think an author should have permission to close/reopen the comment thread under a writeup of their own. And of course an author can flag abuse like anybody else can. But beyond that I say no. E2 isn't a place where you come to carve out a square mile of the nodegel just for yourself and ignore everybody else. E2 is a place where you come to share your work and share in other people's work. Part of that is not being selective about what criticism you permit.
Should comments be opt-in or opt-out?
I say opt-in for current users and opt-out for fled users.
Should comment threads be automatically permanently closed after a fixed period of time?
No. If there's still something to say, just because it's 5 years later doesn't mean it shouldn't be said. We are exhorted to node for the ages, and that means that future noders of every year will hopefully see something relevant in our writeups.
Also, most of E2's writeups are from more than 5 years ago. Suddenly enabling comments but only enabling them on a small percentage of all writeups is a great way to ensure that nobody actually finds out about the new feature and it never takes off.
What if users start commenting on incredibly old writeups?
That would be great! E2 has mountains of old content that is begging for deeper analysis.
What if noders don't want other users commenting on their old writeups?
They can close the comment threads in question.
Won't this change drive people away?
Yes. Every structural change to E2 drives existing users away. However, an equally important question is how many new users will join.
Won't we end up with millions of YouTube-quality comments?
Not if we make commenting a level power. Then, only people who've written a good node or two can comment.
What about writeups as replies to other writeups?
There was a time when we were told writeup does not mean reply, but that editorial policy has quietly been retracted. A writeup responding to another writeup is totally permissible now, provided that the response writeup is long/involved/smart/robust enough to stand as a writeup in its own right.
Comments are nothing to do with this.
Those writeups are merely observations about the current state of Everything2. They're not prescriptions for the future.
What if we attract thousands of unwanted users?
In the event of an emergency, we can always go back to being unpopular.