Posts Tagged ‘conversation’

Comments Versus Conversation

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

I finally followed up on an idea I’ve been considering for some time now, and disabled comments on the blog.

It started as a temporary response to the typical spambot uprising that occasionally overwhelms spam filters and defeats CAPTCHAs. Then, after I had fixed the underlying problems, I chose to leave them off. Possibly for good.

I’m no trailblazer. Jeremy Keith’s Adactio has virtually never had comments enabled. Happy Cog’s Cognition blog’s comment system is a combination of Twitter and blog replies. There’s plenty of other examples out there.

There’s a place for blog commentary in 2012. But more increasingly, I feel like the level of social engagement we have on the Internet has reduced the need to rely on such a system for a conversation. Because that’s what comments are. Conversation.

I’m talking on Twitter every day, for example, where I see people constantly discussing blog posts that are relevant to their interests. In fact, that’s the main method by which I discover interesting blog posts to read. (All of which makes the recently-announced Twitter API changes a bit alarming for me.) Many of those blog posts that I end up reading are written in response to other blog posts, long-form, well considered replies to other people’s words on other sites.

It doesn’t help my opinion of blog comments systems that they seem to be home to a particularly vitriolic breed of Internet nastiness. Look at YouTube or any contentions tech blog post’s comments to see perfect examples of what I’m discussing. Even with some form of registration system, on-site comments provide a great deal of anonymity.

Anonymity + opinion = jerk.

And although I support anonymity in general, I really don’t care for it much when it’s used as a cover for juvenile hostility.

By forcing the conversation off the comments section and into people’s own social networks or blogs, you’re attaching an identity to the voice. And I’ve found, in general, when people are having to stand by their words then the quality of those words improve.

Finally, when it comes to my daily patterns, the fact is that I don’t spend a lot of time checking on my published posts to see if a comment has arrived. I do, however, check Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis. Even if I didn’t, my smartphone’s apps will dutifully push any mentions to my attention. As an online communicator I have specific channels that I favor over others, and as a result they see more of my focus and time than others. In this world of attention span issues it’s probably best to play to one’s strengths.

For now, and for the foreseeable future, the comments are going to stay off. I don’t think in 2012 that this is particularly shocking or contentious of a choice. But I have made sure to replace that communication channel with other ways to get into a conversation with me if you want to talk about anything I’ve said.

I’ve built a little form for sending me tweets related to the post you’re reading (when you click the button it will direct you to Twitter, where you can further modify the tweet or choose to send it through), as well as providing post-specific links for sending a post to the newly launched CSSquirrel Facebook page, and lastly I’ve provided a permalink to each post in case you want to write your own blog post for a long-form reply to what I’ve said.

There’s been a lot of good conversations on this blog in the comment section. Some, like this thread of comments in response to a comic where I criticized a tweet of Divya Manian’s, were highly critical of what I’d said, giving me some insight to consider whether I’d been right in the first place. (To be honest, I’m still mulling over what I said and if I made a major overstep when trying to make my point.) At other times, the site has played host to lively debates, such as this thread about [insert W3C-related hijink here].

Those were good discussions. And I want to be part of more. I just think that the time has come to change the space in which part of those conversations appear.

Speaking of which, do you have any thoughts about what I’ve discussed? Check out the response options I’ve got listed below, and get back to me. I’d love to hear about other ways people have replaced comments with different social mechanisms, and what those experiences have been like.

Comic Update: Conversation Sans Semantics

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Today’s comic features Jeremy Keith, HTML5 “DoctorMike Robinson and the squirrel having an innocent conversation about Thai food and emails going where they don’t belong, while the poor Google-bot attempts to understand who is speaking without semantic guidance. I should warn you, a specific body part’s medical term is used a few times. All in good taste, mind you.

The reason that these two fine England-dwelling individuals join the squirrel in the strip is that each of them also had a slight issue with something that I found distasteful over the week: HTML5 documentation giving guidance for using non-semantic markup as a solution for marking conversations in HTML. The markup in question for a short time suggested using the b tag to note a speaker, with the text of the speech being in p tags. A short bit of criticism later and that was dropped, but as you can see here, there’s no replacement suggestions yet for any semantic solution.

Look. It’s 2009. We’re working on HTML5. We know that semantic-free markup (or semantically-confused markup) is something best avoided when possible. A conversation is one of the basic methods of human communication. I’m going to guess 99.999% of all people have at least one conversation daily. At least a portion of these end up on the web. Is there any reason to assume that we wouldn’t want to make this data more accessible for machines and screen-readers to understand?

The proposed dialog element has apparently gone the way of the dodo. I don’t know if this is good or bad. But I’d like some sort of method to markup conversation that isn’t arbitrary and devoid of meaning. And, contrary to the opinion put forth in this W3C mailing list email, I’m going to believe that my opinion on this matter is valid despite my tendency to draw squirrels. Ever since making the commitment to providing transcripts of the comics I create, I’m invested in having some method to mark up conversation. I’m also in the camp that prefers that markup to make sense.

I don’t know all the pros and cons, but I like the proposal put forth by the HTML5 Super Friends in their list of concerns: let’s use cite and q, or at the very least do some research to see how well that one works out. It makes sense, it’s simple, and we don’t have to invent new elements. I for one am going to start using them going forward until something that makes more sense comes along.

But enough with suggesting semantic-free elements for markup. We’ve already got div and span, I don’t really see the need for b and i to keep rearing their ugly heads.