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Tag: commenting

Stories to Listen to, Moderating Blog Comments, Teaching Blogging [en]

Stories to Listen to, Moderating Blog Comments, Teaching Blogging [en]

[fr] Deux ou trois épisodes de podcasts à écouter. Quelques réflexions sur les commentaires de blog (spam ou non?) et la difficulté d'apprendre à bloguer.

Listen to Greetings from Coney Island. I swear you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t make the same mistake I did, and be a bit distracted early on, not realising there are two parallel stories, told by two women with (to me) very similar voices. I actually reached the end of the story before realising I had missed the whole point, so I listened to it all again. It was worth it.

vue cham

Another episode of Love+Radio reminded me of a Moth story I heard quite a long time ago now. It’s about a volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline. That story made me understand something about suicide (which I am lucky not to know from the inside): it’s not about wanting to die, it’s about wanting the pain to stop. Like many Moth stories, it’s beautifully told and very moving. Well worth the small moment of your life you will spend listening to it.

I know, this blog is turning into a podcast review. But not only. See.

One of the challenges I face as editor-in-chief of Open Ears is approving comments. Not so much because we publish controversial articles that have people biting each other’s heads off in the comments (not at all, actually), but more because

  1. spambots are getting better and better at sounding human
  2. some humans are sounding more and more like spambots.

About the latter: people like me have been saying for years that a great way to get your website or blog known is to comment on other blogs. But that’s not quite the whole story. Aligning fluffy or self-promotional comments on other people’s blogs might get your “nofollowed” links out there, but isn’t really going to do what matters, which is encouraging people to actually know you and read your stuff because they’re interested. Clicks and visits only really mean anything if they come from the heart.

So what does work? Well, actually, being a valued member of the communities you are part of. At the time, during the Golden Age of Blogging, leaving meaningful comments on blogs you read and linked to was a way of being that. It’s not about the links, it’s about the place you respectfully take or are given willingly. Add value. Be helpful. Try and make friends. That’s the spirit of “leaving comments”.

Which brings me to an important piece of blogging advice I came up with while trying to teach my latest batch of students the basics of blogging (it was, to put it kindly, a mixed success): blog about stuff that’s in your head. Write about what you know. If you have to google around to factcheck this or that, find a link, or look up a detail, that’s fine. But if you find yourself doing research and reading up to gather the material for your blog post (and the post is not about your research), chances are you’re “doing it wrong”.

Blogging is this weird thing which as at the same time so easy (for “natural bloggers”) but so hard to learn or teach. I think that is because it touches upon “being” more than “doing”. It’s about daring a certain degree of authenticity that we are not encouraged to wear in our school or professional lives. And it’s definitely not how we learn to write. In a way, teaching blogging is a bit like trying to teach people to dare to be themselves in public. This makes you think of Brené Brown and vulnerability, does it not? Exactly. And that is why, I think, blogging is a powerful tool to connect people.

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Do Not Use Your Brand Name to Sign Comments [en]

Do Not Use Your Brand Name to Sign Comments [en]

Never use your brand name to sign comments. You are a person, not a brand.

How do you want to be perceived?

As a person?

Or as “advertising-disguised-as-conversation”?

There’s nothing wrong with representing a brand. You can even sign “Judy Smith (MyGreatBrand)” if it’s important to you — but be aware that it will make you sound like a commentor-for-hire or a “community manager” (note the quotes and the lowercase, not to be confused with the Community Manager, reserved for people who “get it” and usually occupy a senior position).

Signing with your brand name is also the surest way of being identified as spam — whether you really are spam or not.

You don’t want to make things difficult for the blogger who is deciding whether to approve or trash your comment: identify yourself clearly as a human being. Whether you use a name or a stable, recognizable nickname is not a big issue (at least for me). But using your brand as your nickname is so… cheesy.

And also impolite. You know who I am. Your comment is an open door to a conversation. Why would I not be allowed to know who you are? Even the robots who answer the phone in the worst of customer service call centres tell you their name.

Don’t be a ghost, hiding under the big white sheet of your brand.

Please do not sign comments with your brand name. Be a human being. Give me a name.

I’m toying the idea of replacing brand names with something witty (“Insert Brand Name Here”, or preferably something better I’ll think of under the shower tomorrow morning) and making them link to this article when people try signing comments with them. What do you think?

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Conversation in Comments vs. Conversation in Twitter [en]

Conversation in Comments vs. Conversation in Twitter [en]

[fr] Twitter n'est pas en train de tuer les conversations dans les commentaires des blogs. Le bavardage s'est déplacé dans Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook -- mais quand certains disent que la conversation y est meilleure, ils ignorent le fait qu'il y a plusieurs sortes de conversation.

Hey, another “vs.” post! It must be because I get tired quickly of people comparing apples and oranges, and saying that we’re not going to eat apples anymore because we now have oranges.

A good year and a half ago there was some talk around the fact that the conversation had moved out of blogs and into Twitter and Friendfeed.

That’s not quite true: some of the conversation has moved from blog comments into the stream. The chatter, mainly.

Just like, when comments first started appearing on weblogs (remember those times, folks?) — well, some of the conversation that was happening from blog post to blog post moved into the comments.

But there was already conversation. Blogs without comments are still blogs.

So, what has happened? The more immediate, chat-like conversation has indeed moved out of blog comments and into Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed-like services. The short one-liners. But the real value-adding comments, those that make the conversation meaningful, those that actually discuss in depth what the blogger wrote, or contribute something beyond “great post” or “load of horseshit” — those are still there in our blog comments.

I see a parallel here with the distinction I make between live-tweeting and live-blogging. I’m not anti-Twitter or anti-anything: I love Twitter, and use it for more than my fair share of chatter. But the chatter of today most often has lost its appeal tomorrow, and will not take the place of deep conversation that one can catch up with even once it has gone cold.

This, by the way, is also the root of my dislike of threaded conversations on blogs.

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Les commentaires d'un blog ne sont pas un espace de pub! [fr]

Les commentaires d'un blog ne sont pas un espace de pub! [fr]

[en] I'm tired of people using blog comments as advertising space (it's particularly a problem on the ebookers.ch travel blog that I manage). I've decided that I was tired of racking my brains to figure out if this or that slightly fishy comment was ham or spam, so in future, people who sign comments with brand names (or any non-human name, for that matter) will not see their comments published. Ditto if the URL provided with the comment points to something resembling a commercial site (well, anything that is clearly not that person's site).

Y’en a marre! Le spam mécanique qui nous assome de Britney peu vêtue et de Viagra dans nos commentaires de blog, c’est déjà pas drôle, mais il y a des filtres à spam genre Akismet qui font assez bien leur travail.

Mais là, ce qui commence à me sortir par les trous de nez, ce sont les personnes (au pire malhonnêtes, au mieux mal informées) qui s’appliquent à laisser des commentaires “pseudo-intelligents” à droite et à gauche pour promouvoir leur site/blog/produit.

Ça va de la remarque vide genre “super article, merci!” ou “j’adore ton blog!” au commentaire un peu plus réfléchi et même parfois pertinent, en passant par le franchement publicitaire plus ou moins subtil.

Les auteurs de ces commentaires ont parfois un nom d’être humain, mais souvent pas. Et leur URL n’est clairement pas celle de leur blog ou site personnel.

C’est particulièrement grave sur le blog de voyage ebookers.ch, dont j’ai l’honneur d’être “blogueuse-rédac-chef”. Environ la moitié des commentaires que nous recevons sont entre le douteux et le franchement commercial. Quand quelqu’un qui s’appelle “blog voyage” laisse un commentaire sympathique 2-3 fois par mois, on se pose des questions. Ou bien alors l’annonce pour une location d’appartement dans une rue de Paris dont nous parlons dans un article. Les liens vers d’autres sites de tourisme ou de voyage. J’en passe.

Alors bref, y’en a marre. Voici ce que j’ai décidé.

  1. Déjà, pour commencer, si vous n’êtes pas capable de signer votre commentaire d’un nom humain ou d’un pseudonyme clair, je ne publie pas votre commentaire.
  2. Si votre commentaire se complaît dans la banalité et sent de façon suspecte “l’excuse à lien”, il croupira dans l’obscurité de la file de modération sans jamais voir la lumière du jour.
  3. Si vous utilisez un nom d’humain et qu’en plus votre commentaire est génial, mais que le lien fourni laisse à penser qu’il est commercial, alors je le publierai, mais en supprimant le lien.

Méchant? Oui.

Je comprends toutefois que de nombreuses personnes (et agences, parce que je me rends bien compte qu’il y a des professionnels qui se lancent dans ce genre d’opération misérable) agissent ainsi par manque d’informations. Ou se basant sur de mauvaises informations provenant de soi-disant experts en marketing 2.0 ou que sais-je, mais en fait qui n’y comprennent que dalle.

Donc, du coup, je vais vous expliquer.

Oui, laisser des commentaires sur d’autres blogs est en excellent moyen de promouvoir le vôtre. Mais seulement si vous ne le faites pas dans le but premier de faire de la promotion. Paradoxal? Pas tant que ça.

La raison pour laquelle les commentaires vont faire connaître votre blog, c’est parce que ces commentaires vont vous faire connaître. Ils vont vous faire connaître à travers l’intelligence de vos propos, la vivacité de votre esprit, le tranchant de votre plume clavier. Les commentaires d’un blog, c’est l’espace privilégié de la conversation, et donc de la rencontre entre êtres humains. Comme j’aime le dire, on ne peut pas avoir une conversation avec un communiqué de presse — on ne peut pas non plus avoir une conversation avec un robot publicitaire, même si celui-ci s’appelle Juliette.

Et j’ai une mauvaise nouvelle pour les robots publicitaires: on les repère de loin dans la foule des humains.

Quelques exemples. (J’ai omis les cas tout à fait évidents d’un côté comme de l’autre.)

  1. Un article portant sur la bonne manière d’organiser sa valise: j’y laisse un commentaire vantant les mérites des shampooings solides de chez Lush. Je n’ai pas d’actions chez Lush, ce n’est pas un client (sinon je le préciserais, du coup), je n’ai aucun bénéfice direct à en parler, si ce n’est que je suis un fan de produits Lush et que j’ai envie de partager ça. => publié.
  2. Un article parlant de San Francisco: Ben (je sais qu’il s’appelle comme ça grâce à son e-mail et à une signature en fin de commentaire) laisse un commentaire avec une petite info supplémentaire et un merci pour les photos qui lui rappellent de bons souvenirs. Ça s’annonce bien, sauf que dans le champ “nom et prénom” il a écrit “blog voyage” et que le lien qu’il fournit est celui de Enroutes!, une plateforme de blogs de voyage, justement. Ajouté aux deux autres commentaires du genre laissés sur d’autres articles, ça sent fortement le “j’essaie de faire connaître un site en laissant des commentaires à droite et à gauche”. => pas publié.
  3. Sur l’article “Trois destinations de rêve“: quelqu’un laisse un commentaire répondant à la question posée dans l’article. Problème? Son nom est “Ces petits riens”, comme le blog donné en lien. Du coup, alerte rouge. Je vais visiter le blog en question, je fais un peu d’analyse de texte et… cela semble effectivement a première vue être un blog personnel écrit par une personne. Un conseil pour la blogueuse en question? Se choisir un pseudonyme qui ressemble plus à un nom qu’à un titre de publication, si elle tient à rester anonyme. Son commentaire a failli ne pas être publié. => publié, mais ça m’a demandé du boulot de vérification et j’en ai marre.
  4. Enfin, l’article donnant quelques trucs “santé” pour voyager malin: “Rando” (ça commence mal) laisse un commentaire pour préciser qu’en effet, il ne faut pas oublier de prendre une trousse de secours pour ce genre de destination… avec lien sur la page de vente de trousses de secours d’un magasin en ligne de matériel de randonnée. => pas publié.

Avec ces quelques exemples, j’espère que vous voyez où est le problème avec ce genre de commentaire “trop promotionnel”: on ne sait pas vraiment qui est en train d’écrire le commentaire (le proprio du magasin en ligne? le créateur de la plateforme de blogs de voyage? l’employé d’une agence de comm?) et clairement, le commentaire est laissé plus pour la valeur qu’il leur apporte que pour celle qu’il nous apporte. C’est pas très désintéressé, comme qui dirait.

Pourraient-ils procéder autrement? Oui.

Par exemple, Ben pourrait signer les commentaires de son nom et laisser en lien son propre blog de voyage au lieu de celui de la plate-forme. Cela éviterait de donner l’impression qu’il essaie simplement de placer un lien vers la plateforme. Ou s’il est le créateur de la plate-forme et qu’il cherche à promouvoir celle-ci, il pourrait nous écrire pour nous suggérer de faire un article à ce sujet pour nos lecteurs (ce qu’on ferait ou non, c’est une autre histoire). Dans les deux cas, la communication serait claire et transparente.

Quant à “Rando”, il pourrait nous dire simplement dans le commentaire que son magasin en ligne vend des trousses de secours, et peut-être nous expliquer en quoi les siennes sont tellement plus extraordinaires que les autres que l’on pourrait trouver. Il nous donnerait son nom, et un lien qui nous en dise un peu plus sur lui. Ça passerait ou non, clairement, aussi en fonction de son engagement dans la micro-communauté du blog. Si c’est son seul commentaire, bof. Si c’est un contributeur engagé (et authentique!) régulier, on lui passerait probablement ça, parce qu’il aurait accumulé assez de capital social pour se le permettre.

De façon générale: payer quelqu’un (à l’interne ou à l’externe) pour aller arroser les blogs de pseudo-commentaires dans l’espoir de faire connaître son site (ou le faire soi-même) est une mauvaise stratégie, qui finira simplement par vous ranger dans la catégorie des spammeurs et pollueurs.

Ici, comme avec tout ce qui touche aux médias sociaux, ce n’est pas l’action (laisser un commentaire, envoyer un tweet, faire une page sur facebook, publier sur un blog) qui est importante. C’est l’état d’esprit dans laquelle elle est faite.

Et pour cela, encore et encore, lisez le Cluetrain Manifesto. Oui, même s’il faut vous taper la version anglaise.

En attendant, moi, je vais devenir impitoyable dans la modération des commentaires des blogs que je gère. Si vous n’avez pas un nom d’humain, passez votre chemin!

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Playing with Google Wave [en]

Playing with Google Wave [en]

[fr] Histoire de s'amuser un peu avec Google Wave, j'ai créé une wave autour de mon dernier article, histoire de voir ce que le contexte "Wave" peut changer à la discussion qui s'ensuit.

My Wave invite arrived this morning (thanks! I actually got two!) and I’ve been playing around with Wave since I got up. It’s fun. It’s a bit buggy. But I find it really exciting.

In the spirit of experimentation and trying things, I’ve decided to create a wave around my last post, Google Identity Dilemma.

A few notes about Wave:

  • big waves make my Firefox so slow that I downloaded Chrome for OSX to run Wave in it — seems much zippier
  • shift+enter “closes” your blip
  • there are public waves around to help get you started — ask me in Wave or ask your contacts about them (love your network!)
  • to make a wave public, for the moment, add [email protected] to your contacts (hit enter, ignore the error message) and then add it to your wave (this might stop working)
  • invites take a while to “arrive” — between the moment people invited me and I got the notice in my inbox, I think a good week went by.

So, if you are one of the lucky ones on Google Wave already, head over to my Google Identity Dilemma wave, add it to yours, invite your friends, and have a wave-fest!

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Tumblr to Capture Comments? [en]

Tumblr to Capture Comments? [en]

[fr] J'aimerais un système permettant de publier directement sur mon Tumblr les commentaires que je laisse sur d'autres blogs, sans passer par coComment.

The other evening, I was explaining that I still used coComment to capture the comments I made on other blogs. As always, people try to suggest alternatives: [co.mments](http://co.mments.com/) or [disqus](http://disqus.com/), for example. I appreciate the suggestions, but they show me that I haven’t managed to make myself clear.

CoComment does two main things:

– **track** conversations you participate in (or want to keep an eye on) so that you are alerted when a new comment is added to the thread
– **capture** the comments you make on other blogs so that you can collect them somewhere or republish them.

I use mainly the second feature. I’m not that interested in tracking all the conversations I take part in. Every now and again I am, and co.mments does indeed do the job, in an *ad hoc* way. Disqus is quite exciting and also allows centralization of the comments I make *with the system* (if I got it right), but it has the great disadvantage of still being too “blogger-centric” instead of “commenter-centric”: sure, I can install disqus on my blog (as a blogger), but it isn’t going to help me capture or track all my comments until all the blogs I visit have done the same.

So, like at the end of a [messy break-up](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/04/19/more-on-cocomment-advertising/) where you’re still sleeping with your ex, I’m still using coComment for the following:

– **capture** the comments I make all over the place and republish them in [my Tumblr](http://steph.tumblr.com).

That’s it. One thing coComment does pretty well, despite all the criticism I can make to the service, is capture comments I leave in a variety of comment forms (from WordPress to FriendFeed and Typepad and Blogger and even home-made in some cases) and spit them out in an RSS feed.

Yesterday, an idea dawned on me: what I really want is for my [comments to be published in my Tumblr](http://getsatisfaction.com/tumblr/topics/using_tumblr_to_capture_comments_made_on_other_blogs). Maybe we can come up with a way to do that directly?

I use Tumblr loads, and love it. The main thing I actively use it for (I’ve embedded a few RSS feeds in it) is for quoting interesting passages off blog/articles that I read. It’s very easy:

3 Steps to Share a Quote on Tumblr

1. highlight some text on a page
2. click on the Tumblr bookmarklet
3. Tumblr automagically recognizes it as a quote, and pops up a window which you use to publish it.

The result of all this is that I have [a Tumblr](http://steph.tumblr.com/) which is full of quotes, comments (thankfully coComment seem to have [removed the nasty ads from the RSS feed I complained about](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/31/please-dont-be-rude-cocomment-i-loved-you/)), and other things (videos and screenshots, for example).

I’ve been thinking a lot (but not writing, I know) about how these new tools in my landscape, which weren’t there [8 years ago (in a few days!) when I started blogging](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2000/07/13/weblog-open/), are modifying my publishing and interaction habits. The [panel I moderated at BlogTalk in Cork](http://www.viddler.com/explore/steph/videos/42/) was about that, actually, but I think we only brushed the surface.

So, back to the point for this post: I’d like a [hack for my Tumblr bookmarklet — or maybe a separate bookmarklet](http://getsatisfaction.com/tumblr/topics/using_tumblr_to_capture_comments_made_on_other_blogs) (by Tumblr or a third party) which will publish the comment I’m submitting to my tumblelog. It would work a bit like the coComment bookmarklet: click it to activate it at some point before hitting submit — and it does its magic when you submit the comment.

If you like the idea, [head over the Get Satisfaction](http://getsatisfaction.com/tumblr/topics/using_tumblr_to_capture_comments_made_on_other_blogs) and add your 2 cents.

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About Not Reading [en]

About Not Reading [en]

[fr] Je me suis rendu compte tout dernièrement à quel point il est facile de répondre à une question sans l'avoir lue en entier, de commenter sur un billet de blog sans avoir cliqué sur le lien. FriendFeed pousse un peu à ça, avec sa manie de lister des titres de billets sur lesquels on peut commenter (je prétends pas avoir une meilleure solution).

Récemment, je demandais à mon entourage leur avis sur une question de workshops avant ou après Going Solo (j'en parlerai ailleurs plus en détail, ce n'est pas le propos de ce billet), et j'ai été étonnée de la quantité de réponses qui semblaient indiquer que mon interlocuteur n'avait en fait pas lu le lien que je lui avais donné.

Je ne vais pas jeter la pierre, je me rends régulièrement coupable du même raccourci (commenter sans avoir lu) même si j'essaie vraiment de me limiter. Ça me rappelle les Mythologiques de Lévi-Strauss, qu'on cite à tout va mais que personne n'a en fait lues en entier...

I’m guilty too. I sometimes read the title of a blog post, or a few sentences of an article, and comment on it.

It struck me recently how common this practice is, and also how it impairs communication. It’s the shortcut, the bet we make that we guessed or assumed correctly, the easy way out. Communication with no parasites requires work, and patience.

These last two days I’ve been trying to make up my mind about whether to place workshops *before* or *after* the main day of conferences for [Going Solo](http://going-solo.net). It’s a tricky problem which I don’t want to start discussing right now (I’m going to blog about the issues I face more precisely on the Going Solo blog shortly).

So, I chatted with people, Twittered about it, got into e-mail conversations, and decided to sum up some of my thoughts in a [Tumblr entry](http://steph.tumblr.com/post/37831000/workshops-before-or-after), which allowed me to simply point people there and ask them what their thoughts were.

And I was amazed at how many people didn’t actually respond to my point of concern (“are there any economical/sales/marketing reasons for putting a workshop before a conference, if there are other good reasons to place it after”) because the title, visible in the URL, led them to believe it was a simpler question: http://steph.tumblr.com/post/37831000/workshops-before-or-after.

Now, I’m guilty as much as they are. I took a shortcut too by blogging my thoughts and giving them a link, rather than engaging with each of them personally from ground zero.

But setting aside the question or workshops (which I’ll expound in another post), it did serve as an enlighting reminder that people (me included) do not always read what they react to.

It reminds me of one of my university teachers who told us the following story. When he was doing his PhD, he started trudging through the four volumes of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologiques. For those who are not familiar with Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques is his master work and is oft-cited in many disciplines of the academic world. Well, as he was stumbling upon some particularly nasty passages, he started asking collegues and professors what they had thought of them. And to his surprise, he realised that *nobody he could find had actually read through the four volumes*. Everyone was talking about this work, but nobody had actually read it in its entirety.

Isn’t that incredible?

Well, not so incredible if you think of it — at least not in the academic world. And obviously, not in the blog world either.

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Against Threaded Conversations on Blogs [en]

Against Threaded Conversations on Blogs [en]

[fr] J'avoue une préférence marquée pour les conversations linéaires plutôt que hierarchiques (en arbre). Les conversations linéaires génèrent peut-être moins de commentaires, mais elles ont un rapport signal/bruit plus favorable, n'encourageant pas le hors-sujet. Elles sont plus faciles à suivre et me semblent plus adaptées aux blogs.

So, now that [Going Solo Lausanne is behind me](http://going-solo.net/2008/05/17/going-solo-lausanne-was-a-hit/) and I can come back to a slightly more sane pace of life (and blogging here, hopefully), I’m starting to read blogs again, a little. Don’t hold your breath too long though, contrary to popular belief, I’ve never been much of a blog-reader.

**Blog commenting**

One topic I’ve read about a bit, and which is of particular interest for me, is blog commenting. Aside from the fascinating topic (I’m not kidding) of blog comment ownership, which I touched upon myself more than 18 months ago, there is the age-old debate: threaded vs. non-threaded comments.

On the backdrop of my [break-up with coComment](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/04/19/more-on-cocomment-advertising/) (impending, in the process, fresh) and their post about [commenter’s rights](http://blog.disqus.net/2008/05/30/a-commenters-rights/), I’ve taken a closer look at [Disqus](http://disqus.com). It looks promising, it does some stuff I like, but also stuff I really don’t like, like the dreaded threaded comments.

So, here’s an attempt to try to explain why I think that threaded comments in a blog context are not necessarily a good thing — although popular wisdom would have that they are “better” than normal, flat, conversations.

I did a little research to see if I could find anything solid to back up my claims (if anyone knows of [proper research](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/825117034) on these issues, let me know), but I didn’t find anything really solid. So, I’ll just have to try to make this logical enough that it can be convincing.

**The appeal of threaded conversations**

Threaded conversations are as old as the internet itself. Usenet, e-mail discussion list archives. So, they’re nothing new, and have been around a while.

When blogs started including comments — oh yes, there were blogs way before there were comments, and the commenting script I used on this blog was for many years a popular destination — so, when blog started including comments, those comments were not threaded (in the sense that they allowed hierarchy in the comments, or branching off, or a tree-like view).

For many years, all I saw on blogs was linear conversations, as opposed to threaded, tree-like conversations. Most forum software also functions like that.

Then, of course, with some regularity, I’ve heard people asking for plugins to make the conversations on their blogs “threaded”. And I wondered. Why the attraction to hierarchical conversations?

When we have a conversation, be it with a single other person, or around a big table, it flows in one direction: the direction of time. There is before, and there is after. One might say “you said something 10 minutes ago that I’d like to answer” — and we’re quite capable of following this kind of conversation. We do it every day.

If we chat, be it on IRC or on IM, or any other kind of chatroom, we know that there are often multiple intertwined conversations going on at the same time. With a bit of practice, it doesn’t bother us too much. But the important point remains: the conversation is ordered chronologically.

So, be it offline or online, most of the conversations we have are time-ordered.

I think the appeal of threaded hierarchical conversations lies in the fact that they seem more “orderly” than one long stream of posts, ordered not necessarily by the logic of the conversation topic, but by the flow of time in which it takes place. It’s hierarchical. It’s organized. It’s neat, mathematical, logical. Algorithmic. Computer-friendly.

But is it brain-friendly?

**Human-friendly conversations**

Human beings do not think like computers. Though some human beings who spend lots of time programming or give excessive importance to logico-mathematical thinking might like approaching problems and the rest of life in a binary way, that is simply not how most people function. (Literary backdrop for this paragraph: [A Perfect Mess](http://www.aperfectmess.com/).)

I think people who like threaded conversations like them because they have a higher order of organisation than non-threaded conversations. And better organised should be… better.

You won’t be surprised that I disagree with this. A good conversation online, for me, is one that can be easily followed, caught up with, and participated in. In that respect, a linear suite of comments is much easier to read or catch up with than a huge tree. When it comes to participating, the linear conversation offers only one option: add a comment at the end. In the tree, you first have to decide where in the tree you’re going to post. (Literary backdrop for this paragraph: [The Paradox of Choice](http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005696/).)

**How the format impacts the conversation**

Another way to tackle this is to examine what impact hierarchical and linear comment threads have on the conversations they host.

Hierarchical – Threaded:

– off-topic comments branch off into separate conversations
– overall, more comments
– lots of parallel conversations

Linear:

– conversation stays reasonably focused
– less comments
– limited number of parallel conversations

I personally do not think that “more comments = better”. On a blog post, I like to see the conversation stay reasonably focused on the initial topic. For that reason, I think that linear comments are best on a blog.

**More conversation is not always better**

Of course, there are always parallel conversations going on. On Twitter, on FriendFeed, in IM windows I’ll never know about. As a blogger, I would like a way to point to these conversations from my post, so that a person reading could then have access easily to all the public conversations going on about what they read. [Conversation fragmentation](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/04/27/diigo-i-think-i-like-the-idea-bonus-content-conversation-fragmentation/) is not something we’re going to get rid of, but we can try to minimize it.

Increasingly, our problem is becoming one of signal-to-noise ratio and chatter. These are subjective notions. My signal is somebody else’s noise, and vice versa. I’m happy that there is chatter and small talk in the world and online (it’s a big part of human interaction and what relationships can be made of), also about what I write. But on my blog, I’d like to keep the chatter somewhat down, even if that means my “number of comments per post” or “conversational index” is not high. I’d rather have less conversation here, and give it a chance to be more interesting and accessible to outsiders, than huge 50+ comment threads that nobody is going to read besides the hardcore die-hard social media types.

**More reading and listening**

You’ll find some of the links I found on del.icio.us. If you’re into videos, the topic was raised about 6 months ago on Seesmic. Here’s what I had to say at the time:

– [threading encourages the conversation to go all over the place](http://seesmic.com/v/n03MEC9S1U)
– [threading changes the nature of discussion](http://seesmic.com/v/aDDiGJWdw5)
– [conversations are chronological](http://seesmic.com/v/PWt1wmig5I)

I’ve also dug up a few quotes I found in some old discussions on MeFi. They’re in my Tumblr, but as Tumblr tumbles along, I’m reproducing them here:

> If you’re trying to build community, it is clear that linear, non-threaded discussions are superior. There is a good body of research on this – it’s not new, it’s not a novel idea. For tech support stuff, hierarchical tree structures are better, in general.

Micheal Boyle (mikel)

> One of the arguments for adding any feature that is designed to hide noise is that it gives it a permanent home. When Slashdot added moderation and auto-hiding to their threads, they gave the -1 NATALIE PORTMAN’S BOOBS brigade a permanent home on the site.

> I checked out digg’s new setup earlier this week and 75% of all the comments were complaining about mod points. I don’t know if that’s an improvement.

Matt Haughey

> This place is like a pub.

> One does not have threaded conversations in a pub.

five fresh fish

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More on coComment Advertising [en]

More on coComment Advertising [en]

[fr] Malheureusement, coComment et moi sommes partis pour une "Séparation 2.0: quand les 'social tools' que vous aimiez ne vous le rendent pas." Le choix de leur distributeur de publicité est vraiment malheureux (un cran au-dessus du spam, à mon sens), et clairement, il n'y a pas de dialogue entre coComment et ses utilisateurs, malgré les déclarations acharnées "d'ouverture au dialogue".

A la recherche d'une solution de remplacement pour la saisie des commentaires, donc. Le suivi des conversations m'intéresse beaucoup moins que la centralisation de tous mes commentaires en un endroit.

I was alerted to this a few days ago by [Nathalie](http://nathaliehmd.com/), and after witnessing it [with my own eyes](http://twitter.com/stephtara/statuses/792519413) — well, I’m going to go to bed a little later to blog about it, after all.

After [preparing to slap ads in our comment RSS feeds](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/31/please-dont-be-rude-cocomment-i-loved-you/), [coComment](http://cocomment.com) is staying on the same ugly and obviously slippery slope by inserting ads in the cocobar:

coComment blog ads in cocobar

So, slightly more discreet than the [big banners placed in the RSS feed](http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunny/2377623519/), but not in very good taste either. Here are some examples of scrolling ad text:

– “Want fast fitness results? Click for free info, revolutionary products.”
– “Walk on the well placed warmth of radiant heating. Click now!”
– “Free comparison of top car rental companies. Click here!”
– “Click to create your dream holiday trip now.”
– “Easy-to-use, advanced features, flexible phone systems. Click for more info.”
– “Visa, MasterCard, AMEX & Discover. Compare Offers & Apply Online. Click here!”

Reloading a cocobar-enabled page will provide you with hours of endless entertainment. (I’m kidding — but there are more out there, of course.)

Now, I understand that [coComment needs to “monetize”](http://blog.cocomment.com/2008/04/07/advertising-revenues-and-harsh-realities/), though one could question a business model which seems to be based on revenue from scrolling ads and blinking banners. (I can’t remember who said “if your business model is putting ads in your service, think again”.)

There are ads and ads, though. Here’s a sample of banners from the coComment site:

coComment blog » Blog Archive » Advertising, Revenues and harsh realities

Commenting is sexy. HotForWords is the talk of the party at Geek Goes Chic

Commenting is sexy. HotForWords is the talk of the party at Geek Goes Chic

coComment blog ads

The screen captures don’t render the blinking quality of most of these ads, but I guess your imagination can fill in. Now, does anybody else than me feel that this kind of advert is just about one step above spam? Based on a few of the comments I can read on [the post Matt wrote about the “harsh realities” of advertising](http://blog.cocomment.com/2008/04/07/advertising-revenues-and-harsh-realities/), it seems not:

> With all honesty, the banners displayed on the cocomment site are awful and are making the service look VERY unprofessional – totally agree with “disappointed” on this one. Few will argue that perception is 99% of reality, so with those banner ads making the site look like crap, the whole service becomes questionable. I felt like I was about to get a trojan into my computer when I first saw www.cocomment.com

> there are other advertising partners that don’t crap up your web site with ads that flash in your face. most opensource projects are using google ad sens now (just an example) that displays relevant ads that look very subtle.

stan

> I agree with some of the commenters here about the ad selection. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were unobtrusive AdWords or… something a little classier. It cheapens your brand. Think upscale! Or, at least, more upscale.

Allan White, in comment

Yes, there are ads and ads. These ones definitely make coComment look very cheap and dodgy, and I’m not sure it would encourage users to hand over credit card details to pay for an ad-free version. Also, what’s with the [Hot For Words](http://hotforwords.cocomment.com/) thing? I’m sorry, but this is not my world. coComment has obviously moved into a space which is very alien to my beloved blogosphere.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to [state](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/31/please-dont-be-rude-cocomment-i-loved-you/#comment-393176) that you [want](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/31/please-dont-be-rude-cocomment-i-loved-you/#comment-393260) to have a [conversation](http://blog.cocomment.com/2008/04/07/advertising-revenues-and-harsh-realities/) to actually be having one (I guess that for starters, that last post would have pointed to [the post of mine](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/31/please-dont-be-rude-cocomment-i-loved-you/) that [contributed to prompt](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/31/please-dont-be-rude-cocomment-i-loved-you/#comment-394334) it). A conversation starts with listening and caring, and obviously, despite their efforts to prove the contrary, the coComment team sadly don’t get this.

What could they have done? Well, I’m not going to launch into a session of full-blown strategic consulting for an ex-client of mine (who didn’t seem to value my advice much at the time), but simple things like taking up issues such as the arrival of advertising *with* the people who use the service **before** actually dumping ads in their feeds unannounced could be a way of showing you care a little bit about how they feel. Understanding that [apologies and justifications](http://blog.cocomment.com/2007/08/21/were-sorry/) when you mess up do not erase the past also seems like a good idea. As my friend [Brian Solis](http://www.briansolis.com/) put it:

> Making mistakes in social media is a lot like sticking daggers into a wooden fence. Just because you apologize and pull them out, they still leave the scars for others to see, and feel. Sometime apologies help people feel better, but they don’t fix perception. This is why thinking before engaging is critical to success in the world social media marketing. This is after all, about people.

Brian Solis

So, as I told Brian, coComment and I are headed for **[Breakup 2.0](http://twitter.com/briansolis/statuses/781536332): when the social media tools you loved don’t love you back** (yes, you can quote that one, it’s from me).

At the moment, I’m only using the service to “save” the comments I make, because I like keeping a trace of my writings (I used to collect stamps). Sadly, I’m not even sure coComment will allow me to walk out with all my data in an XML dump — I don’t see anything obvious in the interface for that, so if I am able to, it will probably be due to my relationships with the people who have access to the server. (I said “if”.)

The tracking feature is too confusing and overloaded for me to use — I can imagine using something like [co.mments](http://co.mments.com) to keep an eye on the small number of conversations where I’m on the lookout for an answer. But I don’t have an alternate solution for “capturing” the comments I make. Copy-paste is a bit of a bore, and del.icio.us doesn’t capture the comment content — just the fact that there is a comment.

I’ve been thinking up **an idea involving a Firefox add-on**. It would have a bunch of algorithms to detect comments fields (maybe would support some microformat allowing to identify comment feeds or forms), have a simple on/off toggle to “activate” the field for capture (some right-click thing, much more practical than a bookmarklet or a browser button, because it’s always there, handy, wherever you click), would colour the field in something really visible when capture is on (red! pink! green!) without disrupting readability (I need to see what I type). It would capture the comment, permalink, blog post name (it knows I’m the commenter, I could fill in that info in the add-on settings), and dump the info in an XML or RSS file, or in the database of my WordPress installation, with the help of a WordPress plugin.

It’s a half-baked idea, of course, and I don’t have the JS skills to actually code anything like this. It should probably be a week-end project for somebody with sufficient Javascript-fu — if you’re interested in bringing it to life, get in touch.

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