Home > Metablogging > Threaded comments?

Threaded comments?

February 15th, 2015

Going through my settings in an attempt to block sockpuppet posts from a banned commenter (you know who you are, Mel!), I discovered that the WordPress setup now offers the option of threaded comments. Given the frequency of long debates between a handful of commenters, I think it’s an appealing choice, but I thought I would throw it open for discussion first.

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  1. Robert (not from UK)
    February 15th, 2015 at 18:01 | #1

    I’m fairly vague as to what a threaded comment actually is, but if the consequence of having such a thing is the drastic reduction (or better still the elimination) of sock-puppetry, then why not?

    Can one actually eliminate sock-puppetry by conscious action less drastic than, say, becoming a communist apparatchik in China or North Korea? My own technological ignorance prevents me from answering that question, although doubtless others know more than I.

  2. Brett
    February 15th, 2015 at 18:22 | #2

    I’d be in favor of that. Threaded comments are wonderful – they make following responses much easier.

  3. Megan
    February 15th, 2015 at 18:45 | #3

    @Robert (not from UK)

    As I understand it, it’s that layout you may have seen in comments sections where a “Reply” appears directly below – and indented – the comment being replied to, and subsequent discussion indents further.

    e.g:

    I think GMO is good.
    >I think you are an idiot.
    >>Yeah? So are you.
    >>>Who says?
    >>>>I do. Idiot.
    >>>>>I think you are.
    etc…

    So that if you are not interested in that exchange you can just scroll down to the next “original” comment, which is easy to find because it isn’t indented.

    I like the idea, but I’ve seen a variation where after one or two replies the rest of the discussion is “hidden” and you have to click on it to see the full exchange. I like that even better as it is easier to bypass if you don’t want to be distracted and just move on to the next comment.

  4. John Quiggin
    February 15th, 2015 at 18:48 | #4

    @Robert (not from UK)

    Separate issues, but both addressed in the same part of WordPress.

    To see threaded comments in action, visit Reddit.

    As regards recidivist sockpuppeteers, I’ve tried deletion and disemvowelling, which are usually sufficient. The final step, which will apply to Mel from now on, is “what I really meant” editing. That is, I change the sockpuppeteers comments to reflect what I see as their real position.

  5. Robert (not from UK)
    February 15th, 2015 at 19:02 | #5

    Thanks to Professor Quiggin and to Megan for the information they have provided.

    Until today I had not visited Reddit even once, or, as far as I can recollect, actually heard of Reddit. So I am self-evidently not the go-to dude for technical questions, whether WordPress-related or otherwise.

    In any event, OK, I can now ascertain what a threaded comment looks like. I have seen such things before but was unaware that they had a special name.

  6. Collin Street
    February 15th, 2015 at 19:28 | #6

    My experience with threaded comments is that unless you have dedicated newsreader software/plugins like the usenet days it becomes utterly impossible to follow any specific discussion, and that even if you do it encourages petty narrowly-focussed bitching [because threaded comments mean that separate discussion threads don’t cross over: each individual sub-thread — and thus the discussion within each individual subthread — gets more and more narrowly split and focussed.]

  7. February 15th, 2015 at 23:05 | #7

    The problem with threaded comments is that comments of general relevance can disappear in a thread and also several similar threads can develop unlinked to each other. You see this happening often on facebook. Personally I prefer the helter skelter of unthreaded comments.

  8. Megan
    February 15th, 2015 at 23:16 | #8

    On reflection, I tend to agree with Ian and Collin.

    Problems with sock puppets and trolls aside, I like the way things are done here. It’s worked far more often than not over the last decade or so – ‘if it ain’t broke…’.

  9. Megan
    February 15th, 2015 at 23:24 | #9

    PS: As long as there is a recent “sandpit” those sorts of potentially derailing one-on-one discussions usually get taken there.

  10. Joseph Langford
    February 16th, 2015 at 05:32 | #10

    Really?!?

  11. Jim Birch
    February 16th, 2015 at 09:36 | #11

    Definitely in favour if threaded comments.

    I’m not sure what is available but there is another related improvement I’d love to see: The use of last access time. This requires the last access to a post’s comments to be recorded – typically in a cookie. Old comments can be automatically rolled up or greyed so you go straight to the first new comment in a (non-ignored) thread. This assumes that you read all current comments at once but this is a better assumption. Currently the comments link goes to the last comment page which is not very good if you don’t checkin regularly. You need to page back to find the last new comment.

    The next step up would be a to allow comment rating, ideally with built in rating of the raters. To upvote the interesting (or insightful, funny…) stuff and downrate abusive and plain dumb stuff. The problem would obviously be people downrating of political views that are not congruent with their own, so an algorithm is required that downscales the ratings of the less objective members of the community. A automated brownie points system. I’m happy to do my little bit of list moderation. Maybe later.

  12. rob
    February 16th, 2015 at 10:04 | #12

    There is a middle ground between no threads and threads-all-the-way. I’m pretty sure WordPress allows you to limit thread depth. See theconversation comments for example…

  13. MartinK
    February 16th, 2015 at 11:26 | #13

    Thanks JQ, I personally don’t like threaded comments particularly for sites like this that have trolls as the comments end up in non-chronological order, and trolls are the first to take advantage of that. This I find makes who replies to what more confusing. Trolls can be very good at picking a thread to either get near the top. Or, more subtly, to make it look a comment was made before some other posts when it wasn’t – in different threads of course but that’s exactly what trolls do.

    It would be nice if I could just highlight threads I don’t like so I could just skip those comments, but comments remained in order of arrival. But I guess that option is not avail.

  14. February 16th, 2015 at 12:16 | #14

    I think threaded comments would be an improvement.

  15. paul walter
    February 16th, 2015 at 14:24 | #15

    If I say that It complicates things, you’ll only instigate it the quicker.

    Wot Colin Street and one or two others said.

    Please don’t scare the trolls off either, it is a recreational thing, dealing with them.

  16. Donald Oats
    February 16th, 2015 at 14:52 | #16

    Actually, I quite like the anarchic nature of the unthreaded comments.

  17. 2 tanners
    February 16th, 2015 at 15:32 | #17

    It might be confusing for occasional readers, but could you perhaps give it a test run and then ask for reactions again. I’d probably be against initially, because I think it’d break up the largely discursive flow, which is the point I think @Megan is making, but sock puppetry is truly objectionable.

  18. O6
    February 17th, 2015 at 13:29 | #18

    Prefer not, unless you can at the same time do something about the people who read your piece then comment without noticing that their comments have already been made and answered. Knotty problem, I know.

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