Comment usability

Here's something that many blog readers know about: comments. Most blogs allow comments to be posted and now even newspapers like The Toronto Star allow comments on articles. But so many blogs and other sites fail when it comes to usability in this regard.

One big drawback that most sites have is they don't allow replying to comments where the reply is shown with the comment. This means you have to read through all the comments to find replies to the interesting comments. But some blogs are even worse: they post all the comments in descending order by date. This means you read the replies before you read the comments themselves. The Dilbert Blog is one such blog where I stopped reading the comments, since I have to read the page from top to bottom. This, combined with Scott Adam's philosophy of moderating all the comments at once makes it hard to follow conversations as they develop.

The Star's commenting system is even dumber. For one, comments can be voted on but the votes appear to be useless except to indicate that someone, somewhere, agrees or disagrees with the content of a post. Posts are moderated so you can't tell if a reply to a post is pending before posting your own reply. Posts are in reverse chronological order so you either read them backwards or go to the end and work your way back to the beginning. Finally, the posts are PAGED, so you can't actually see them all on one page. You have to click on links to go from page to page, but when you click the link it replaces the content of the current page with the comments from the previous page, but doesn't move you to the top of the list. Try reading the comments on an article with several pages, such as this one, and you'll see that it's basically impossible to navigate these comments without losing your mind. Plus The Star's policy about comments is even worse, because sometimes comments get deleted and comments are shut off for certain articles very quickly, which prevents real discussion.

The commenting system on Blogger, which I use, is primitive but at least it shows all the comments and in their proper order. It's such a simple thing but so many sites get it wrong.

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