Bill P. Godfrey et al

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Adventures in websites - Lettuce to the Editor

This is the fourth in a series looking at personal web sites. You may or may not wish to read the earlier installments.
Part One - Student days
Part Two - Bishop to Blogger
Part Three - Beyond Blogging

I love (non-spam) comments. They show that someone is actually reading what I write. Without them, for all I know I'm inside a closed system and tending towards entropy.

When I had my first foray into the world of blogging, I included an email address for people to send responses to. Whenever I had collected two or three messages, I would post a special Lettuce to the Editor article.

The biggest reason for doing it this way was because I was using my ISP's free web space which could only host static HTML files. As I didn't know about commenting services such as HaloScan, sticking an email address on the page seemed to be the only choice.

These days, modern blogging platforms have a simple commenting system. Write a comment and it goes on the end. This is fine for posting a simple reaction to an article, but its not so good for holding a running conversation.

Some blogs have managed to partly resolve this problem. Possibly the easiest to implement are numbered comments which makes it much simpler to respond to someone else. Instead of refering to a past comment as "Anonymous, 9:26 23/Aug" you can just refer to #7. This only works if a comment retains its number after a prior spam comment has been deleted. Comment number 7 must remain that way even after comment number 2 has gone.

Other comment systems (such as YouTube's) allow you to respond to a prior comment directly. When someone else reads the comments, they will see them indented underneath the one to which it refers. (To use the jargon, the conversations are threaded.)

While this does improve the ability to follow a running conversation, it makes it more difficult to return to a page and read any new comments. They are no longer in chronological order, so you can't just scroll down to where you left off and continue.

All this malarkey is one reason why I still like to use Usenet. You start up the reader application and it tells you how many new comments are waiting. You go into a group and you are shown just the unread articles, all neatly sorted into threaded conversations. Blogs and web forums have a long way to go in this regard, but I'm sure they will get there.

Coming next, Epilogue.


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