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Design changes

Over the coming several weeks, here at Antipope Central we're planning some design changes for Charlie's Diary.

Some of them will be invisible to you (unless you use Titter or ArseBook, you probably don't need to worry about blog postings being auto-broadcast to those social networks; and unless you're a spammer you don't care about the spam filtering being beefier). Others are feature requests ("can we have a list of guest bloggers in the sidebar, with links to their articles?"). Some are bare-faced marketing — my Fiction FAQ is tripping over its own beard (it started out in 1993 and has just grown since then), and the "buy my books" links badly need to be easier to find and navigate. And some are experimental.

We're discussing switching to nested hierarchical comments. Instead of the current layout (with basic back-references) comments would look something like this:
example of threaded comments
Note that there's a usability trade-off here. Deeply nested discussions end up in thin, narrow columns that leave a lot of white space — this is liable to be deeply annoying if you read my blog on a handheld device. Nested discussions also make it harder to track the chronology of new comments — comments are added within the discussion thread they're replying to, not at the end of the long scroll, so new comments in an early thread might get overlooked if folks are simply following the tail of the discussion. (Unfortunately we don't have off-the-shelf code to do collapsible threaded commenting, a la usenet readers of yore, and I certainly don't have the spare time to try and implement it myself.)

If you're a regular reader of the comments here, do you think it would improve your reading experience if we add hierarchical threading to the discussions? I'm asking because we've had lots of requests for it — but that could be a false positive signal: because it hasn't been on the front page before, there's been no reason for people who don't want to see this change to speak out against it.

217 Comments

1:

I've spent long enough on /. to prefer hierarchical comments, though I'm hoping you never have to implement modding and the associated filtering.

It'll be interesting to see what it does as far as chronology goes though - currently people seem to reply to stuff fairly early on, but nesting means they're more likely to keep a conversation thread going.

2:

It would be nice, sometimes; it's often quite impossible to discern if there is a response to a comment somewhere further below.

You could do single-level nesting. That'd give you almost all benefits of true threading, without most of its drawbacks. You'd see answers to a comment at a glance, without ending up scrunched up against the right margin in long threads.

An individual thread will normally not be nearly as voluminous as the entire comment space so lack of nesting within won't be as debilitating; the lack of further nesting might in fact discourage too much piling on and irrelevant asides in favour of posting a new top-level comment. And it's still quite easy to scan the end of each potentially interesting thread for new posts.

3:

Actually, would it be hard to have a switch for the user to be able to choose the view they prefer?

4:

I'd rather the non-hierarchical structure.

I read chronologically, in chunks, and find going back to check conversations in depth rather than reading on at the bottom a pain.

But I can cope if I have to.

5:

Nested hierarchical comments are fine when reading all comments at once. I don't see them as useful when returning to a see what new comments have been added.

I usually read the original posting, and any comments that have appeared. I leave the browser window open and click refresh from time to time. I can then read the new comments that are at the foot of the page.

The proposed new system really isn't to my taste. If you turn it on then I'm likely to avoid reading any of a thread until I think it has settled down (for example, after you have posted a new topic).

6:

I second Vasil Kolev's suggestion. Having the option to switch between chronological and hierarchical view would give the best of both worlds.

7:

What Eloise and Graham Rule said... hierarchical is impractical when checking for new comments, so at least an option to view chronologically would be good.

As Janne suggested in passing, different layouts (nested vs flat) will shape discussion differently. If you're happy with the current shape of the discussions, don't change the layout?

As far as feature requests are concerned, one interesting relatively new feature over on Boing Boing is a little pop-up on the "in reply to" link to help quickly check context for the few comments where it's not obvious. Not sure how difficult that would be to implement, probably depends on whether there's an existing plug-in for it, but it can be quite handy.

8:

I’ll second Vasil on the switch. When participating in a (presumably recent) discussion, it’s nicer to have things in chronological order, and just refresh from time to time like GrahamRule does.

But when reading over an older thread, it’s nicer to not have to scroll between replies. (“In-reply-to” links are nice, but going back is usually harder; even if the browser helps you by remembering scroll position, on a tall screen it can be hard to return to the portion of the page you were reading.)

(I think the best system would be to have some kind of hover rather than links for “in-reply-to”, but that is probably hard to do and to get right.)

9:

My general preference is for comment threading/nesting, but it's become somewhat eroded over the years, and your existing reply reference system does a lot of the donkey-work already. I think implementing the change here would depend upon commenters' willingness to break off and start a new thread once the margin-crowding started getting silly - some of the conversations here go down pretty deep.

I don't see why the community here wouldn't implement such a custom. If that kind of usage seems to you like too much intrusion of mechanism into conversation, though, better maybe things stay as they are.

So: ambivalence here, leaning towards Go for it.

10:

I've used some comment systems that have an indication on new posts since your last visit making them easy to identify in threaded view. However I presume this requires cookies or loggin in (or both), which I'm not so sure is desirable.
A simple alternative (that I haven't seen used anywhere) is to keep the sequence number on posts in threaded view. Is something like this possible? If not I think that following threads is not very hard as it is now and I'm not so sure that changing it would be an improvement.

11:

Actually, would it be hard to have a switch for the user to be able to choose the view they prefer?

Yes. It's a global change that would affect all users, all the time: you get threading, or linear, not both.

That's why I'm asking folks which they prefer; if giving users a direct choice was practical, this discussion would be unnecessary.

12:

I like things as they are. When returning to an active posting I can read the new comments easily because they are at the bottom. With, say, LiveJournal (which has nested comments) I have to scroll up and down through pages of comments, trying to find the ones I haven't read — so I usually don't bother.

One minor tweak I might make would be to change the "replying to this comment" link. If, instead of "this comment" it could say "comment 239" (still with the link) that would be nice. (Makes it easy to find the comment by hand, while clicking the link sometimes forces a reload of the page over a congested link. Windows XP system at work, no idea why it does this.)

If you could have a nested hierarchical system that highlighted new posts, so it was easy to scroll down the page and find them, that would be great.

13:

I find that conversations that are nested quickly turn in on themselves and become boring. The flat comment policy is actually quite beneficial, because if someone *wants* to reply to what someone else has said, they can, but what they say still winds up in the chronological thread of discussion, and this prevents dark and twisty nestings from forming.

I think the comment system on slashdot is actually a pretty good example of how not to do comments. In order for your response to be read by anybody, you pretty much have to reply to the top thread, even if what you say doesn't have anything to do with it. Very little genuine discussion happens there; mostly people just billboard what they have to say and then walk away.

14:

I much prefer your current system to un-collapsible hierarchical threads (a-la Inspector Gadgets comments).

Your system shows who said what, when they said it and gives a simple way to look at what they responded to (L-Click link, read comment, R-Click & select back).

Un-collapsible threads mean you have to keep reading over the same comments again and again looking to see if anything new has been posted, people are constantly apologising for replying in the wrong place, other peoples comments get between yours and the one you were trying to reply to breaking up the thread anyway.

Please stick with your current comments system.

15:

Leave it as it is now. Nested comments will just encourage chatter.

16:

What makes you think I have a problem with chatter?

17:

I think the comment system on slashdot is actually a pretty good example of how not to do comments.

Hear hear. I much prefer the current system than nested comments. Of course , the way commenting works on Usenet and mailing lists is much better than anything I've seen on blogs including this one.

Disclaimer : I'm only an occasional rather than a regular reader of the blog.

18:

unless something along the lines of what Chris @10 offered or a switch I'm definitely against threaded comments: I like the fact I can refresh the page or enter it at a later date and start reading the new comments directly

19:

I used to be in the threaded postings camp. However, having recently had such a thing imposed upon one of the blogs I visit (when bigthink.com/blogs/eruptions/ went over to www.wired.com/wiredscience/eruptions/), I have second, third and forth thoughts about this.

It really gets hard to find new postings and that's not a trifle, it's a major headache. A single level thread structure might just work though.

IMHO nothing short of a collapsible thread structure with headlines and (important!) a display of the current number of responses in a thread really works in high-volume comment fora.

I did like the way www.heise.de handled this (with each posting having a unique url, so that the color of the link tells you which ones you already read) - but:

[rant] I'm boycotting this site since Mar 13th after they published 12 articles on the Fukushima accident within 48 hours, without mentioning any of the dozen-or-so cities that were washed from the shore, but complaining about insufficient tsunami protection for the power plants to highlight the irresponsibility of nuclear power companies in general. (Among German "environmentalist" groups corporations using nuclear power are all the same. The question whether they are murderers or not being the dividing line between radicals and moderates. (And no, this is really only a slight exaggeration.)

Going so far as playing down the earthquake's preliminary death toll of about 1000 by comparing it to the Haiti earthquake in order to play up "how little it took" to cause the accident ...

I had read this site for a decade, despite a lot of bullshit. But this was the concrete pillar that broke the camels back (or rather: crushed the camel). [/rant]

20:

Hierarchical comments make it very hard to return to a discussion and read recent remarks. So one no-vote there.

Solve the problem by making "reply" quote the original post - neatly and in a "small" font?

21:

I often read this site on a mobile device and nested comments are a no no, but could you make the reply button auto quote the post you are replying to, to know like on vbulletin systems? A lot of threads have several topics being discussed at once and its often confusing.

As a related question, how feasible is it to have a mobile version of the site?

22:

Something which I've seen elsewhere (Shakesville, to be exact, where they use Disqus for comment management on a Blogspot blogging platform) is an "in reply to" style link which, when clicked, pops up a little window with the comment being replied to. I find it useful, since it gives a sense of the context of the comment I'm reading, without needing to reload the whole page from scratch.

I don't know whether that's something you're capable of implementing out-of-the-box here, or whether it's something peculiar to Disqus.

To be honest, given the existing narrow form factor of the comment window, I'd be saying "stick with un-nested comments". I've seen some really Bad Things happen with nested comments in narrow form-factors on LiveJournal and similar such sites (once you get past a certain number of comments deep, each subsequent one resembles extremely bad beat poetry - about the most extreme example thereof wound up with the final comments on a reasonable-length thread being vertical columns of single letters).

(For sake of reference: with the existing comment window, which is 55 characters wide, even a comparatively small indent of 5 characters per level means a maximum of about 10 levels of follow-up per thread before things start getting silly.)

23:

I suppose a NNTP server with a single group would be a completely impractical management workload.

Do there exist newsgroup-MT gateways?

24:

Every switch from flat to hierarchial comments on sites I've been reading when it to place -- going back to when slashdot did it many many moons ago -- has coincided with the social environment of the site in question becoming substantially worse, and the site as a whole becoming much less useful.

My theory is that the desires to have the last word in a argument, and to pile on, are even more destructive than usual when it's blindingly obvious who someone's trying to get the last word over, and who the target of the pile on is.

To be fair, these switches have generally been preceded by a large increase in comment volume and usually been justified partially on a 'the system cannae take flat comments anymore!' basis, and large increases in comment volumes usually make the social environment iffy all by themselves.

I'd still put my vote somewhere between no and hell no on hierarchical comments.

In fact if you took out whole notion of a reply to an individual comment, and forced everybody to do the manual 'Charlie Stross @ 16' convention used on cetain other sites if we wanted to refer back, I would not personally shed any tears.

25:

Comments don't form a tree, they're a network. Some comments explicitly reply to multiple others, and all comments are potentially an implicit reply to all that have gone before (the state of the discussion).

The ideal comment system would allow each participant to build their own view of the structure of the discussion, re-filing other's miss-labelled comments, keeping their own track of what points remain in dispute, what conclusion have been reached and what insights gleaned. These views would be openly shared in a further richly interwoven structure as we build on one-another's organisational efforts.

Failing that, i'd prefer to keep linear comments as I think they're the substrate on which it's easiest to build rich structures in my head. But I can see the tendency of hierarchical structure to fragment but deepen the discussion has its attractions.

26:

Spiros, the issue with threading on usenet is that it's done by the newsreader, not the system itself.

Usenet, IIRC, identifies messages by a unique ID created when they're posted (a combination of hostname, timestamp, and username uniquely identifies the point of posting). Articles then propagate peer to peer between NNTP servers. Each NNTP server files messages hierarchically and assigns them a locally unique reference number. IIRC there's also an in-reply-to header that identifies the unique ID of the parent of each message.

How the newsreader presents the newsgroup view to the reader is, however, nothing to do with the server.

Some newsreaders (rn, back in the day) don't do threading at all.

Threaded newsreaders (such as trn) ask for a bunch of new messages (what's new since the last login) and then re-create the discussion tree by recursively requesting parent messages all the way up to the root of a given subject. Thus allowing them to display a message tree.

Here's the best threading algorithm for discussions (per Jamie Zawinski, who Got It Right). You will note that the movable type threading system is as a biplane beside this Concorde.

In an ideal world, I would commission a developer to write a full NNTP client (with threading) as embeddable Javascript/HTML5, with the twist that rather than using pure NNTP to talk to a server it would embed messages in JSON. I would also look into writing or paying for an Apache module to talk to an NNTP server at one end and the JSON-based Javascript newsreader at the other. I would then run a true NNTP server for transport, with private newsgroups for discussion on this forum; the discussion section would simply be an instance of the threaded javascript client spawned in your browser, but you'd be able to read the discussion using a usenet client (such as slrn or Thunderbird), and -- with some munging -- via RSS.

This would give you a huge range of configurable options including scorefiles, killfiles, and a gigantic set of options for threading (or no threading) not to mention syndication, providing a service to other blogs, and so on.

Unfortunately I don't have the spare change to pay a developer for six months' labour to write the core of a threaded javascript JSON/NNTP reader, and I am not aware of such a beast existing off-the-shelf.

27:

I'd like to see a small font quote of from the post being replied to implemented in the current comments system but with a
...Fixed Character Limit...
format so you have to select the most representative sentence from the previous post rather than

{[([ blurb ])]}
[([ blurb ])]
([ blurb ])
[ blurb ]
Yeah I agree!

That you see in some thread handling systems

28:

Those are both good ideas; however, auto-quoting whatever you're replying to may not be practical (I think it might be possible in theory, but would require active CGI generation of a new comment form every time someone hit the "reply" button, which would significantly increase the workload on my server).

A mobile CSS-driven layout for the site is almost certainly possible and I'll look into it.

Stuff I forgot to mention: we're planning on adding "go to top" and "go to bottom" links to the bottom and top (respectively) of discussions, just to get around the annoying finger-scrolling thing on the iPad (and similar).

29:

I vote for the hierarchy !
note : please, don't say that to my comrades, I just think it would be more readable and that you can see if someone replied a post, nothing political in this. :)

30:

I'd prefer the linear/chronological option, I think. Nested threads would be hard to follow in a place like this, where comments keep coming on threads that are several days old.

Or actually, if it were possible, I'd like the option with multiple modes of threading, NNTP gatewaying, cryptographic identities, scoring and filtering based on previous input, email and SMS alerts when someone has made an interesting comment, and every bell and whistle imaginable. Preferably while not requiring the browser to run an entire operating system written in Javascript and sending off your personal data to Facebook/Google/Disqus/whomever.

So, plain and linear it is..

31:

Preferably while not requiring the browser to run an entire operating system written in Javascript ...

You mean like this?

32:

Aw. You took my idea! :P

Charlie: if you decide to go with threading, perhaps you could have an arrangement that will know when a particular user last visited, and flag all new posts since then somehow (say, with [new]) so that we could do a text search in the browser.

I'm not sure which of the two I'd be in favor of myself.

33:

Just thought of another idea if you stick with flat:

The Tech Report's front-page comment system, when in flat mode, will track replies by automatically prepending your message with e.g. "(#4, Charlie Stross),". Slightly more obvious which one the reply is to, IMO.

34:
You mean like this?

See, there's how you can do NNTP in the browser. :-)

There's also things like the Lively Kernel..

But I really meant more like what FB and many other big sites do. The amount of code that runs in your browser nowadays is huge, and it's somehow considered perfectly normal.

35:

I quite like the current system, it's similar to irc, which I'm used to. I can handle a little confusion though, and of course you can always try out threading and go back to the old system later if it's not working.

The current system allows single comments to contain replies to multiple posts, which I like.

36:

PLEASE, Charlie. don't go to fully-nested heirarchical.
It seems to encourage trolls, and shittertwitter-like comments.
Possibly a single level of reply, but not deeply-nested, might be a compromise.
But, I'd prefer it as it is.

Is it possible, to alter the governing script, so that the viewer/commenter can see a particulr previous post more easily, without scrolling up-aand-down?

Again, if in doubt.
it ain't broke.
Don't fix it!

37:

I say leave it as is, for the already-mentioned reason of trying to follow discussions over multiple viewings of a topic.

I feel like threaded comments means that there will be multiple conversations, and I've found I never come back to threaded comments a second time because I have to reread them all to find new ones.

38:

I'd second the posters who have suggested that nested threads tend to turn in on themselves and go off on occasionally unpleasant tangents. I don't often post here, and only when I've got an opinion. This is the only blog I read comments on and the only blog I read that isn't directly related to my field of study and I do so because it's a thought provoking forum where people overall treat each otr with respect and actually act like adults.

Whether this is down to the structure of the commenting or the iron fisted rule of Comrade Stross is another matter.

39:

I've got a whole lot of respect for the KISS principle, which nested comments aren't.

40:

My preference is for a single, flat thread. In my experience, hierarchical multi-threads are only useful for technical discussions where it's vital for the host to be able to follow discussions of a point to their conclusion (or trailing off). A flat thread is much more conducive to human-like conversation, I think, which is what I consider this blog to be a venue for.

41:

I'd prefer you stick with flat comments, but would like the NNTP option if it existed.

I wish there were some design that would make reading through a thread more natural. Sometimes I am catching up on a post, and want to see the reply-to conversations, but jumping back in to the chronological stream to continue reading the other comments is a pain. I wish there was a better way to navigate back to where I was. Maybe subtle links in a replied comment to jump to replies, with , >> as the text of the link. maybe you could have a key-binding to jump to the end of a thread. implementation left as exercise to reader.

I don't know if it would be worth it to have some whoopy ajax thing be able to slide out a view of the conversation, like twitter does these days, when you see a cartoon voice bubble icon next to the tweet.

42:

Yes-vote here. I usually won't engage in discussions here simply because of the seemingly chaotic pile of comments that have to be sifted through to get an impression of what has been said.

Linear only works until a certain size. The way I see it, as your flock grows, it's either nesting, or filtering out participants who won't read 100+ comments before posting.

43:

I'm another mostly-lurker preferring flat to threaded. I find that Livejournal threading works great until there are about 50 or so comments, at which point spotting new ones gets annoying enough that I give up. Pretty much every post here has way more comments than that, so I can't imagine following ongoing conversation being pleasant at all in threaded mode.

44:

A firm no vote here. What you're describing looks horribly like LJ's, which I've always found damn near impossible to navigate once a thread passes 30 comments or so. Plus I like the flat format for, I think, the same reason Making Light uses it - it keeps everyone part of the same discussion and makes it easier to draw together several strands of conversation in one comment.

45:

I don't post an awful lot here, but I have been reading Charlie's blog for two or three years at least. I'd go for an emphatic 'no' on hierarchical threading. As matters stand, things are like a big friendly party, which, if a bit anarchic sometimes, is all the more exhiliating for it. Hierarchical threading would turn it it into the other kind of party, where the stoners congregate in one room, the pissheads in another, and the slightly-too-good-for-everyone-else stake out another room again.

If you're adamant, though, why not try hierarchical for a month, and the poll for opinions? IIRC, The Guardian tried a latest-comment, top-of-the-thread innovation a while back. When it didn't work, they ditched it, and no harm done.

46:

I'd like to put my vote in for keeping it linear, I'm not a fan of nested/hierarchical threading for comments threads. Personal taste.

47:

I don't think I'd mind hierarchical too much, but as a regular reader on my android phone, I'd prefer to avoid deeply nested narrow columns of text.

Consequently, I quite like Janne's suggestion of single-level nesting.

48:

'pologies if this has already been mentioned--haven't read all the comments yet.
Frequently a comment will be a reply and contain a new comment. Having it threaded might cause it to get lost.

Perhaps having a more obvious icon/link letting you know a comment is a reply would be helpful. Maybe simply having X "replied to this comment from Y" in bold, or a different color.

49:

I can't stand nested comments. It tends to break up the discussion into separate little bits (and in fact is designed to, of course) and also makes it harder to pick up where you left off.

I think TNH had a comment a while back on why they liked one continuous scroll over on Making Light, but I don't remember what thread it was in and so have little hope of finding it. But she's right.

50:

Just adding another vote for keeping the current format. I loathe threaded comments, for a variety of reasons, most of which have been mentioned already.

51:

I'm against nesting comments. Thanks

52:

I would love nested hierarchical comments!

53:

I vote against nesting also. On a blog like this one where the conversations are often ongoing and the comments relatively long and thoughtful, chronology seems much more useful than nesting. I can click that "this comment from ..." link to jump back and check the reference easily, and do so regularly when reading the threads here.

If i thought I'd have to scan the whole thread again to see what's new, as opposed to just jumping down to where I was last time, well, I probably just wouldn't very often.

54:

No nesting, please. The current, simple layout make my iPhone happy.

55:

Another vote for flat here. I agree with the commentors who say that nested comments tend to lower the overall level of discourse. Sometimes you get really spectacular back and forth between two or three well-thought, well-articulated positions. Mostly, you seem to get late night bar-style discussions (ie louder == righter, or at least more strident and insulting == righter). Sturgeon's Law is unavoidable in any commenting system, but I think you'll find yourself throwing a lot more yellow and red cards.

56:

Things are fine now.

57:

Stay linear. The system you've already got works fine.

If you can do a pop-up 'in reply to' window, that would be nice.

58:

I think one of the major problems with threaded comments is how many levels you have. Most of the nightmares start when you have a comment replying to X attracting comments in its own right. I've often felt the need of it here and on twitter, but I absolutely hate the system on LiveJournal, /., Kuro5hin, etc and wish for a big red "just dump me the lot" button.

59:

Yet another vote in favour of not going hierarchical.

60:

Hmm, another thing to add to the potential-project list for local undergradutes looking for inspiration for what to do with their time..

61:

keep it the way it is.
makes it much easier to resume reading the comments on the next visit.
threading hides posts and kinda forces one to reread stuff.
some implementations are so annoying that i only read comments once and never revisit an article - it's the opposit here.

62:

In forums that involve sustained discussions (like this one) I have a strong preference for linear over tree-structured comment streams, for much the same reasons that others have stated above.

Back when I read Usenet, I did follow threads in rn with the Control-N command, which linearly followed a given subject line. (Which is more or less what linear comments give us now, with the analogy of a blog for a newsgroup and a post for an overall subject thread.) The tree-following that trn used was less useful to me; the only time I found it useful was when a subthread in an unmoderated group got completely out of hand, but moderation or other ways of killing destructive tangents works just as well.

63:

Executive summary: No to nested comments

Rationale #1: Technical
As an old time usenetter, yourself, you correctly identified that the client does threading. An important aspect that's frequently missed, though, is that the client also keeps state of what messages have already been read. So for alt.os.linux I might have read messages 1-500,503-505,507-600 which means messages 501,502,506,601 onwards are unread. This allows a hierarchical view to present only the tree components with new content. Without this you have to scan each tree, each and every time, using the Mk 1 eyeball to detect new content. Ugh. Welcome to Livejournal.

So what about server side threading? The presentation of threads is possible, but what about the state maintenance? Now it gets harder because the same person might read the blog from multiple different devices (eg home PC in the morning, smartphone during commute, work PC during the day). There'd be a need to correlate state between these devices. Which, in practice, means a login system with state on the server.

And that's a massive admin headache and overhead. All that just to do proper threading.

Rationale #2: Personal
Some usenet clients (eg "tin") allow to thread by message-id (using the "references" header to determine parent message) _or_ by subject (and then optionally by "received order" or "article date header order"). In fact, subject ordering is what I do. Maybe it's just almost 20 years of reading usenet this way, but I never could get the hang of the tree threaded views.

Your current setup kinda matches how I read usenet; the blog itself is a newsgroup, the articles you post are the first message in a subject-thread, the comments are followups :-)

Aside: Disqus is an abomination in my sight. The Torygraph uses it, and it doesn't work well with "noscript"; whenever I restart my browser I have to temporarily allow all to get Disqus to start working, and then I can revoke temp permissions and it keeps working. And even when it does work, it's not very usable and forces you to reread everything.

64:

I'm just as happy to leave it the way it is.

It's imperfect, but when you've got 500 comment discussions, nested hierarchies would get in the way. While comments do get lost in those discussions (note how many people say the same thing), they're easy to follow and check for updates.

65:

I'd like to cast a vote for the linear non threaded side please, I can't get my head round threaded discussions at all.

66:

Please keep comments on your posts linear. I visit regularly, often noting # of the latest post so I can pick up from there later. Nested threads would drive me away after the first few were read!

67:

Certainly the current system is massively preferably to anything on Livejournal or Slashdot.

What would be interesting would be a Stack Overflow style system (www.stackoverflow.com, http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2011/10/the-gamification.html).

The host (or guest host) asks a question, with supporting information. Say 'what is the best screen size for a smart-phone', or 'Murdoch: corrupt, evil or both?'

A bunch of people compete to write primary answers, mini-essays with formatting and links, and their own attached linear short-comment thread. The best ones get voted up, and (optionally) an answer gets accepted.

68:

Keep it linear is my vote.
Some form of searchable tagging for threads would be OK. E.g first thread is #1, second is #2, etc. Replies to multiple comments just dont get tagged.
A typcal comment would look like:

[Name | date | etc]
[comment number]:   [thread number (if applicable)]
[Comment...]

69:

I prefer nested comments (to, I suspect, no one's great surprise) but the one thing I will point out, which I think hasn't been mentioned yet, is that common fix these days for the problem of catching up with new comments when returning is for each blog post to have an RSS feed of the comments on just that post. You can either subscribe to it in your feed reader, or on return just bring that up once to see what's shown up.

I am also a big fan of having an "email me replies to my comment" checkbox.

70:

Another for the no thank you list, Charlie.
As someone for whom most of the techie stuff discussed here goes right over my head, I appreciate being challenged by the variety of conversations sparked in the threads. I feel that this richness would be lost in nested comments. I also find it possible to assess the content of comments as they appear linearly in time and process them appropriately, or is that my privilege as a regular visitor. ( I don't often feel qualified to comment however.)

71:

My vote is for linear, non-nested comments. It's easier to read, and threaded comments break up the conversation too much for my taste.

I'm quite fond of Making Light's system, for what it's worth.

72:

Another vote for keeping it linear, please. I'm a 7 year lurker, over which my time has only grown more precious (as in privacy stolen in minute chunks from a hoarde of little children). This is the only blog where I bother to take the time to read the comments every now and then. All livejournals have fallen by the wayside.
Please keep it as it is.

73:

I vote for hierarchical comments, largely because that way more in-depth conversations can happen in small chunks, rather than the main comment thread involving absolutely everything. The ability to spawn sub-discussions is something I value a great deal.

You could try switching for a week and seeing what the changes are. You always have the option of switching back, after all.

74:

Switch to Google Wave. Oh wait, drat.

I prefer nested comments, but as others have observed, the simplest nesting (which allows arbitrary nesting, no way of switching, etc) has as many problems as the current system. So if it's a binary choice of a crappy linear system or a crappy nested system, I'd stick with linear, since no current reader will leave in disgust.

On the other hand, people so inflexible as to leave just because the comment structure is different might not be bad people to drive away. Then when they're all gone, you could always switch it back. :-)

75:

Here's the text of TNH's comment in this post's thread at number 45:

Why not thread comments:

Historically, forums that have developed into venues for extraordinary conversation have had a strong tendency to be linear rather than threaded.

Threaded comments imply, falsely, that each comment is posted in response to some other specific comment, and that it relates to that comment in ways it doesn't relate to other comments in other sub-threads.

Threading plus collapsible headers makes it impossible to scan the messages and get an overall sense of what's been happening, or go back and find a comment you've belatedly realize you want to reply to. It also keeps you from seeing that a sub-thread has digressed from the subject of its header.

Threading plus collapsible headers in a system that doesn't automatically show you all new messages means that conversations divide and subdivide, losing participants as they go. It's a net loss of intelligence and vril. Late illuminations, good jokes, and promising digressions are lost to the rest of the participants, and bad behavior is made invisible to them. Conversations that tend to lapse and grow cold do so more quickly. Overheated conversations can't cool down because the antagonists are confined to a tiny virtual space together, like warring cats tossed into a phonebooth.

You can never be sure that the person you're talking to has seen all of the other messages in a multipart threaded discussion.

You lose those transcendent moments when someone pulls all the threads of a conversation together

76:

I gather Wave is in incubation at Apache.

If/when Wave hits a release-worthy state, I may well experiment with Wave as a replacement for comment threads -- if it's sufficiently stable and doesn't lose anything.

77:

The linear setup works for me. I mean, I keep coming back to read the commentary, so it must be doing something right :-)

78:

Another long-time lurker who prefers the existing layout (though a nice mobile CSS would be nice). Nesting looks good, but usability-wise, it seems to cause as much or more problems than it solves, IMO. I think we do a pretty good job w/ the current conventions on referrals to a previous thread.

79:

I like chronological-within-a-subject best. The main question for each blog then becomes how a subject is defined. For this blog, I think the blog entry should be the subject; so all comments are chronological.

For some blogs, it makes sense to have multiple subjects in response to a blog entry: the example I'm thinking of here is groklaw.net. But, I don't like hierarchical multi-level implementation of that. Instead, I wish when entering a comment, you're prompted with:

Messages with the same subject will be grouped together and shown in chronological order within the group.
Subject: [            ]
Comment:
[             ]


[            ]

80:

I completely prefer nested comments. They are much easier to follow, and if I'm worried about the date/time the comment was made I can look at the comment header. From my point of view it would be an enormous improvement.

81:

I prefer the way things are, but I don't deeply dislike threading. Threading has advantages, as you point out, especially when you want to concentrate on a particular subthread. But when you're just cruising through the comments looking at the general shape of the discussion threading is a nuisance. LJ in particular has a very annoying threading model.

Whichever you decide on, I'll continue to read this blog.

82:

As I don't view blogs in an iAnything any white space problem hopefully shouldn't be too extreme. However I will state a preference for the current layout - I have yet to find the current follow link forward/go back method difficult when following comment threads. Maybe that's becuase I'm using a mouse father than my clumsy fat fingers...

83:

Flat would be preferred. Although on an "out there" wish list I second a system with metadata not only for replies but keywords with inheritance.

84:

I'd prefer switchable...and that the non-nested be on a separate page than the nested. Something that follows KISS. Say you enter at the linear view, and can optionally switch to another page that presents a nested view.

Perhaps instead of indenting the posts, you could color-code them. Black ROYGBIV (well, possibly not indigo). And once you reach violet, all posts are linear (within the thread).
Second thoughts---probably not good for the color-blind, so maybe it's a bad idea. But shades of grey would get too light as the nest deepened...though maybe that's a good idea.

85:

Linear please.

86:

How nested would the nested comments get?
You seem to have most people pretty well trained here Charlie. We've had the 'Reply' function awhile now, and it seems to me that even if a new comment seems to refer strictly to specific existing comment often its just posted as a rely to the thread. However the structure of nesting comments would encourage people to reply to the sub thread only.

Charlie, my I ask why the proposed change, save for the demand?
As you highlighted in your comments about dyscalculia in your last post people think in lots of different ways and process the comment list, so you aren't going to please everybody ever.
(I apologise for my mangled English in the past. It is my first (and only) language honest. )

87:

"Unfortunately we don't have off-the-shelf code to do collapsible threaded commenting"

If this means you *are* using off-the-shelf code, and it has available source, I volunteer to look through it for some minimally painful lesser solution, like the feasibility of inserting per-user indentation to let PDA people diminish the lateral whitespace.

88:

You've forgotten that Ordinary - non Computer Language Coding multi lingual - people tend to see a mess of incomprehensible Techy Speak and then ..pause .. and think ..Ah, well, it must make perfect sense to someone or other at some level of the Multi Verse and thus it is " somehow considered perfectly normal." for a given level of ' Normal ' that doesn't call forth Gibbering Horrors from the - Arm -Pit of Cthulhu.

89:

+1 for nested comments, should make the comments here much easier/nicer to read.

90:

Personally I'd like to keep linear comments. Nested comments are fine for threads I only want to read once, but are generally horrible to keep up with, especially since uninteresting threads can turn interesting and vice versa.
A nested solution with a single response level is perhaps a good intermediate (e.g. the comment threads at the Rock Paper Shotgun game blog).

91:

Nested threaded branched comments yes yes yes please.

92:

Linear. The old timers at The WELL knew what they were doing.

This being your blog, I am now wondering how the difference between threaded and linear comments would play out if they were hardcoded into the firmware of humanoid robots wielding lethal weaponry.....

93:

Another vote for non-threading. I normally visit a couple of times a day, and am several/many timezones away from most commenters.
I use LJ's 'email me future comments' feature, as it auto-quotes the reply-to'd comment, making it much easier to follow moderate-sized discussions. I'm not suggesting/requesting that OGH implement that option here.

94:

Sure: we're using Movable Type Pro 5.12 with Community Pack 1.81 and Professional Pack 1.61, running atop Apache 2.2.9 (this is likely to be upgraded soon) and MySQL 5.0.51a. MT is, of course, available under an open source license -- you're looking at around 25,000 lines of object-oriented Perl.

95:

And you also get thoroughly off-topic comments like this:

Cthulhuclava
I think that's fairly self-explanatory. A little bondagey for my taste.

96:

Another vote for flat. It works well now.

I'd suggest for the iPad readers, have +10 and -10 buttons rather than 'top' and 'bottom' (just stick the relevant anchor on every tenth comment number).

'Top' and 'bottom' don't fix the problem of scrolling to comments 133 out of 245, or finding the first new comment since you last looked if there have been 67 of them.

I also vote for #7 satik.eta's idea if it won't blow the processing and bandwidth budgets. Also #12 Robert's increase in context for 'reply' comments.

97:

I'm of the "If it's not broke, don't fix it school" approach to upgrades by temperament. What you're implementing right now seems fine and I can't think of a convincing argument as to why threaded comments would be that much superior to the current reply function for everyday use. And in any event, people are presumably intelligent enough to look for specific names in the downstream comments even if the person they're looking for hasn't been properly trained in the use of 'reply' yet.

As to what contexts would make one system preferred over the other, think someone nailed it, er, upstream, when they said that for ongoing discussions chronological order is more convenient while the tree structure is better for rereading old discussions long since lapsed. So really, how many of us go back to reread those old posts? I do on occasion but almost without exception it's to comb through one of those monster 500-replies-plus discussions on some aspect of space travel, and mostly because I'm trying to run down some dimly recalled link that I'm probably misremembering anyway.

Hmmm . . . Now that I think about it, this site seems to function like a vastly improved letters column from one of the classic magazines of sf. I'm told that a big draw for Analog was to read the fan comments on Campbell's latest wacky - but always very big - idea. Fun to talk about, hotly disputed, emotionally and intellectually engaging . . . but over and done with once the next issue hit the stands and people were reading and discussing what the great man was on about this month.

Iow, looking for old posts here seems to be more like going through the back issues Astounding and a bit less like going through old issues of JAMA as part of your research review of the literature.

98:

What David said in Comment No. 1.

99:

ARGH CHANGE, WE HATES IT, IT BURNS USSS :)

I think limited nesting might do, sometimes you just want to make a single line aside/reply to something someone else said.

100:

A million time no to threading.

This is one of the very, very few places I read comments at all, and the threaded-comment downsides, to me, are:

1. In-jokery. Yes, I'm glad you're having fun with (or recapitulating an ongoing philosophical battle with) your 3-4 regular interlocutors. It's still just noise to me.

2. Triviality. Conversations can enter their own navel (or occasionally worse places) very quickly, again, it's a lot of noise.

3. Can't filter out 1 & 2, except by eye.

I think threaded systems tend to be a bit more popular with people who regularly comment. As someone who doesn't comment often (anything I come up with has likely been said more clearly already), I'll tell you they're a pain if what you want to do is *read*.

101:

Speaking of which, why are the usual representations of a tree structure still so clunky even after almost 30 years of popular use? You'd think there'd be more user-friendly visualizations than the usual schemes, like the ones having successive replies either shift right until they've drifted completely off-screen or become so narrow that each line only holds one character.

Is it really that tough? Or is this something like what we have with data input technology where the numbers have remained static for half a century and more despite the truckloads of money and thousands of man-hours that have been thrown at the problem?

102:

Noooo! My precious ability to be irrelevant to two discussions at once! (",)
Seriously, though; nested comments encourage single-point discuusions. Many single-point discussions on many different points, but still. One of the great things about these comment is how free-ranging they can be.

103:

Count me as a yes for threaded comments. They're not perfect, but they're better than the alternative.

104:

In general I like nested presentation, but I understand the concerns from those who like a chronological presentation.

I feel the same thing about blogs in general - it is one of the reason I rarely revisit blog posts - because unlike usenet it is difficult to filter what you have already read. Chronological presentation helps with this - at the cost of make the conversation harder to follow in the first place.

(I wonder if a timestamp cookie could be used to highlight new posts to get the best of both worlds.)

As to better representation of trees - there have been huge advances in visualisation see http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1805128

But not much of this sort of thing is used in blogs. Or at least I haven't seen it .

105:

I utterly, completely and totally despise threaded comments on blogs because they make it impossible to repeatedly return to a post and read only new comments. With a threaded system, it is impossible to find and read new comments without reading the entire comment section from scratch. It is not feasible to the re-read 200+ comments your posts typically get just to find ten new comments made in the last few minutes. Forced threading would not be a usability improvement but rather a usability disaster. Don't do it.

106:

I find chronological presentation much preferable in an ongoing discussion. Once a topic has gone stale, re-reading comments in a nested format are quite nice. Since it would be impractical (even if possible) to nest a discussion retroactively, I would say that chronological would be the way to go.

107:

I usually seem to find myself reaching for "View latest posts" on forums and "view=flat" on big LJ threads, so I vote for keeping the status quo.

108:

I favor threading. I come here for the chance to converse with non-Texans and non-Americans. I think threaded comments make it easier to get an actual dialogue going. As a reader I think it makes it easier to skip sub-threads that I'm less interested in.

109:

You know, it's already possible to recover the tree structure starting at the end nodes and working backwards if you consistently use the Reply feature. Now, I'm not sure from some of the comments, but if no one has explicitly suggested yet how about another button next to "Reply", creatively labeled "Replies"? Hit "Replies" or mouse over it, and you see a drop-down of everyone that's replied to that particular comment as well as a direct link to their post. That gives you a method for recovering the tree structure from the top down if you're so inclined, and given the functionality already implied by the Reply button fairly easy to implement. Or is it? At any rate, those who want to follow a specific thread could then do so if they wish, and quite mechanically too. They can act as the particular instantiation which implements their preferred tree traversal algorithm - depth-first, breadth-first, or pre-/in-/post-order :-)

110:

@scentofviolets: My dad has 99.9% complete Astounding/Analog collection back to the late 40s. It's awesome.

My vote is for linear, but I'm not strongly opinionated. Most blogs I read are linear and I'm used to that. Would a nested structure change the quality of the posts here?

111:

Nested hierarchic comments are an improvement over linked references with no quoted material. Otherwise I'm always backtracking to try to figure out what's being said in context. Linear commenting with snippets of quoted material (when replying) would be just as good though. Being able to toggle would be ideal.

112:

I'd prefer it left as is if possible.

113:

I vote for threaded, but...

First, could we lose the right hand sidebar for the comments view of an article? There is basically no chance that people are going to click there once they are deep enough in to get to the comments, and in doing so you'd free up lots of space for indented threads.

Second, the client side threaded approach is perhaps the best idea, putting the view elements where they should be. I'm thinking that with the correct structure of DIVs and available ref info, it should be possible to reorder items as desired via JS. I understand you wouldn't have the coin to do this, but ransoming a character name in a book in a small competition would I'm sure get some high quality entries (you can always introduce them, then kill them off in a gruesome manner).

Lastly, you want to whore your wares, no problem. Can I suggest a short précis/blurb of one of your books between article and comments ONLY for those that come in from outside (eg last page is not of this domain). That way when you get a traffic spike from being linked to by someone else, you present said virgins with the opportunity to sample your wares as well as reading the article. Those coming via the homepage wouldn't see it (maintaining the clean look).

114:

I definitely have a strong preference for the way comments here are now over the unreadable mess that is nested comments on, say, LJ. Single-depth nesting I could cope with, but whether it would actually offer enough threadiness to satisfy those who would prefer nesting I'm not sure. Threading of usenet works well, as others have said above, because (a) it sits on the client side and (b) your newsreader keeps track of which articles you've read.

Working out which three of the twenty comments on a friend's LJ post I've not read yet is a minor nuisance. Working out which seventy of the five hundred comments on the Post Oil discussion thread have appeared since I went to bed last night would be much more difficult and annoying (with threading) unless there's some mechanism to let me know automatically (ie a cookie equivalent to .newsrc).

115:

Another vote to retain the current system but with a small tweak (like others have suggested) to more easily work out/read the comment a poster is replying to.

116:

The best way I've seen of doing this is on boardgamegeek.com. I believe what they use is called vbulletin, but I may be mistaken.

No nesting - everything is in chronological order - but you can quote the person you are responding to. I think that might give you the best of both worlds.

117:

I vote for threaded.

As I always seem to turn up to your posts late I often have to scroll through and read hundreds of comments. And the comments here often diverge into several independent discussions, I think it would be much easier to consider discussions in more detail and more thoughtfully if one could stick to one at a time, rather than the thread being interrupted by other unrelated comments. This is perhaps because I am horrendously bad at multi-tasking.

I am a fan of disqus, as it emails me replies and I can reply via email, and as I can see comments by a user across multiple spaces and their likes(probably irrelevant here), I think on wired it's also limited to 5 deep (which may indeed be too much) It allows me to stay involved in the discussion I am interested in and ignore the others, unless I want to go look at them later.

I think the comment system here is difficult, because it will often take me a few sentences to realise a comment is a reply at all (unless they use the @# convention), and as the flat layout encourages long divergent comments, if a comment is a reply to a discussion I am not following, I will often ignore the entire thing where later they have added to one I am following. I think youtube's threaded beta comments work well (though there's never long discussions there, and that might reduce my credibility ;)

I suppose it comes down to preference & whether a reader writes/reads in every discussion, or just a few, and whether a reader (like Graham @5) leaves the page open and refreshes time to time, or like I do, comes back a day or four later when the quantity of new comments can be overwhelming.

Apologies for the wall of text. And regardless of the comment style I will continue to read them because the community here have interesting and stimulating discussions in a responsible manner, and I think this is entirely thanks and credit to the members and OGH.

118:

I'm not going to weigh in on how much nested comments would improve/degrade the conversation on the blog. But it would be possible to offer both without digging into MoveableType internals: re-layout the comments from linear to nested using javascript. I have two examples. The first is a simple jsFiddle page with the basic code to switch between nested, nested-one-level, and linear.

http://jsfiddle.net/theazureshadow/cCzy6/

The second is a full comment thread from this site, using just about the same code. The only substantial change I made was to add an html5 data attribute to comments elements indicating the reply-to. It also generates a list of replies at the end of each comment (in linear mode).

http://azureabstraction.com/vault/longterm/dev/antipope/threading.html

A javascript cookie (according to user preference) could be set to keep track of which to use by default.

If you decide to go this route, Charlie, let me know. I can make the code a bit more robust (it's pretty good, but would sputter if there was a reply-to indicated with no original comment), and make any minor changes you would need (e.g. if the nesting needed to be done inside a children container element).

119:

Normally I prefer threaded but some implementations drive me batty while tracking interesting threads. Refer to this site to see how NOT to do it:

http://www.realworldtech.com/forums/index.cfm?action=list&roomid=2

Note that you can at least see new comments as being bolded, but try to follow a comment thread, you have to click to expand the responses.... UGH!

I tend to read the entirety of this blog's comments so I don't repeat an earlier idea. Having to click to expand would slow me down tremendously. So keeping the ability to scan down thru a comment thread would be ideal.

A single level of indentation for REPLY could work. Everyone replying stays at that new indent, and replies to replies stay at said indent. Non-reply topics would move back to non-indented. The final icing would be a (optional) topic line with special font/formatting to indicate a new idea within a thread.

120:

Note on the above at #117: Temporal information regarding latest posts would stay within indented topics (replies to said topic would be at the end of the topic comments). While totally new topic posts within a 'Subject' would be found at the very bottom.

121:

I vote no to threading , it makes reading only the. New comments hard, it fractures the conversation too much, the nice thing about Charlie's blog is that he sets the topic discussion and we weave a conversation around that in the comments, all threaded come ts systems I see tend to unravel into separate conversations.

122:

Charlie, please don't start hierarchical threading. Your present system is simple, robust, and works fine.
Auto-quoting might be useful, but it would be another management requirement. I have seen it get out of control (as over at Baen's Bar for example).
I think the KISS principle should weigh heavily on your decision.

123:

The way I read this log and it's comments is chronological. I read what's been posted, and hit refresh to see what's new when I come back later. Threading would make it extremely difficult to keep up with what's new.

I'm not a stranger to threading, I spent years on Usenet, but I think that in this case threading would make things much worse for those who are reading casually like myself. I think the ability that's already present to see which post is in reply to which previous post is more than sufficient to maintain context.

In addition, I fear that threading would encourage even greater digressions from whatever is the topic at hand.

So, I'd *really* appreciate it if things were to stay just as they are now.

124:

No preference either way, as long as the commenting system does not limit comments to only those with a log in authorisation from a third party site - google/facebook etc

125:

I prefer linear. Yes, it's a bit of a pain to track replies but not as much of a pain as having to reread all 300+ comments to see whether any of the leaf nodes are new. Dealing with half a small screen being whitespace "by design" is going to make me dislike the designer. It sounds as though there will not be a mobile version with linear comments, so I strongly prefer linear for the main site. Sorry.

I profoundly dislike Disqus because of the registration required process, which means I comment much less often (some may regard this as a benefit). I don't like third-party tracking, even less when it's badly done. Disqus is slightly better than arsebook if you must because their list of "fake but working" email providers is shorter.

Some kind of JS+CSS hackery might be nice, as I could disable it on my phone and tablet.

I am still waiting for a feedreader that deals well with deep comment threads. Or with comments very well at all, frankly. It makes me miss MegaBBS, let alone newsreaders.

126:

'No change' vote.

I find indented commnets harder to follow, if anything, and they take up more space on the screen.

127:

I've been around only a few weeks but I have to say that I much prefer linear over threaded. I usually stop reading threaded comment streams as they seem to get rather convoluted and end up being a snarkfest of 2 or three responders tying up the line.

I'm not saying that would happen here as it's been self controlled by the commenters with only occasional reminders from our host for the time I've been around but on less controlled blogs it can get stupid fast.

So, 1 vote for linear please.

128:

I go with threaded.

My $0.02. There is no need to nest all comments with indents, 1 or 2 levels is sufficient and then stack linearly to reduce white space.

129:

Ah, well, it must make perfect sense to someone or other at some level of the Multi Verse and thus it is "somehow considered perfectly normal." for a given level of 'Normal' that doesn't call forth Gibbering Horrors from the Arm-Pit of Cthulhu.

Hmm. Alas, I have encountered computer code from there. For that matter, I think most of us have such stories.

On the format question...I'm not sure. Collapsible threading works okay over on LiveJournal, but with problems others have pointed out. It is easier to just pick up the discussion at one's most recently read comment, particularly if you're doing so on an iThing with a screen the size of a postage stamp.

130:

Please leave as is. It is easier to follow the developing discussions.

131:

Another voice in favor of keeping it flat, Charlie, for the reasons already given. I have yet to see any threaded comment system on a blog I otherwise like that I could follow with anything like the simplicity and (jut as important) reliability of flat unthreaded comments. The longer threaded exchanges get, the greater the probability that I will miss something, and I'm not aware of any reliable correlation between the length of a thread and its probable interest to me. So I miss things all across the spectrum of That Would Have Interested Bruce.

In practice, too, it seems to always lead to a persistent source of comment noise. People who realize they've posted something outside the thread they meant to reply to say something, others say things about that, and there's gerfuffle about where a comment belonged and how foolish or un- that particular lapse was, and so on. This forms a persistent drone in every threaded comment section I read. Nobody is 100% correct in putting comments where they wanted them to go.

132:

I would like to see only one change to aid navigation.

When a comment is replied to, a forward link to the reply gets inserted at the head (and/or foot) of the originating comment. I think this would permit threaded back-and-forth reading without greatly disrupting the linear presentation.

133:

I do want to add this, Charlie: I am soooo glad you put the commenter's name at the top. How dearly I wish more blogs did that.

134:

Linear please

135:

"Speaking of which, why are the usual representations of a tree structure still so clunky even after almost 30 years of popular use? You'd think there would be more user-friendly visualizations than the usual schemes, like the ones having successive replies either shift right until they've drifted completely off-screen or become so narrow that each line only holds one character.

Is it really that tough?"

Yes it is! They have to make it work with everything, and I mean everything, when they decide to place it in public use. I have seen all kinds of new interfaces at ACM conferences (UIST is great for this)but their general implementation is a nightmare.

136:

I vote for linear - I very much prefer to be able to just read the latest comments when I refresh one of the pages I have open here.

137:

Casting vote: Actually, coming back to this discussion after a long night's snooze showed me that nested/hierarchical comments would be a bad thing: there were around 40 new comments waiting for me to play catch-up, and the Movable Type implementation of hierarchical comments provides no way for a user to select "what's new since I last logged in" -- you get the full hierarchy, or nothing.

Nested comments are great for either lots of short discussions, or huge free-for-alls that run on endlessly (like usenet). I am coming to the conclusion that they are not fit for the purpose of this blog, which leans towards long discursive discussion threads with hundreds of comments.

One aspect of this blog that I'd like to make clear; while a cookie is used for identifying logged in users, and another for session management during interactions with the system, I do not -- as a matter of policy -- track folks. (Partly because UK/EU data protection and privacy law would require some hoop-jumping to ensure legal compliance, but also because I don't hold with that sort of thing: it's a disrespectful and intrusive invasion of privacy.)

However, a side-effect of not tracking you ruthlessly is that unlike, say, Facebook, I don't know who you are and can't tell you what's new since you last stuck your nose round the door.

138:

Personally, I'm quite like the current appearance. However there is a few instances where it would be very handy to see the previous message being replied to without changing the current position. This applies more to iP?d than desktop webbrowsers as they tend to deposit you at the top of the page or force a full page reload.

139:

I don't comment here often, but I usually read the comments. I have a strong preference for leaving things as they are, and against implementing threaded comments.

The reasons have all already been spelled out by other people. I find it much harder to find new comments in the threaded view, and things often spin off into separate sub-discussions.

Without threading, there is essentially one conversation in which everybody participates, even if there are sub-strands or -threads; with threading the conversation often fragments. Plus the readability issues with narrow columns in long sub-threads, which I also hate in the threaded view.

So a strong vote for leaving things as they are from me.

140:
No nesting - everything is in chronological order - but you can quote the person you are responding to.
You can do that here too.

If you write:
<blockquote>
you can quote the person you are responding to
</blockquote>

...you get the same thing.

The blockquote thing is HTML, and one of those "formatting tags" that is mentioned above the comment box. Other people use italics, or just put a snippet in regular quotes instead. You'll have to copy/paste the relevant sentences yourself though; that might be a good thing too, to cut down on excessive quoting.

I suppose there's an argument to be made for having some kind of WYSIWYG editor here, since using HTML isn't all that obvious for everyone, not to mention how a less-than character can eat your comment. (As long as I can still use raw markup..)

And the user icon/picture should probably be to the right of the comment field, it messes up blockquote indentation.

141:

Charlie:

As a regular reader of your blog, I would like to vote for keeping it as it is as I have found that nested comments (as on /.) get lost when you want to go back to remind yourself of some particularly pithy comment made further back up the stream.

142:

[megagrin]

Ok, I'll declare an interest in that I actually do have an attention span measureable in hours, if not days, for stuff I'm interested in.

I'm here for the first time since Friday, and managed to pick up new comments since then on 2 threads by remembering $date_time of my last visit and using the scrollbar.

So I'd vote for flat rather than threaded comments anyway.

What would be nice if it's easy to do would be any or all of:-
1) a "last new comment was by $user at $date_time" field for each thread on the front page
2) a longer "recent entries" field
3) repeating the recent entries field on the entry pages.

143:

I prefer the non-nested form of comments, for reasons already multiply given above.

144:

comments to remain as-is, pwease.

145:

Adding my voice to no-threading. In discussions on blog posts, it fragments the discussion and creates gazillions of micro posts.

It's different in fora IMO.

146:

As a long time lurker who doesn't get much opportunity to follow the discussions in "real time", I prefer the threaded approach.

In order to minimise usability issues would it be feasible to do something like Slashdot and only indent the first n results and further replies align with the nth reply?

I'm thinking you could indent the first two or three replies and everything lines up under that, so at a glance you can see it's a thread but the column doesn't become too squashed.

147:

In order to minimise usability issues would it be feasible to do something like Slashdot and only indent the first n results and further replies align with the nth reply?

No.

To be clear: what you get is either what there is now, or the standard Movable Type comment threading -- no collapsible outline, no indication of what's new since you last visited, no indent-first-reply-only.

Anything else would require someone (hint, hint) to put in considerable amounts of programming work to write a bespoke threaded discussion mode for a fairly complex content management system. (Ain't gonna be me: I'm busy with NEPTUNE'S BROOD right now.) Alternatively we could throw away five years' work with MT and switch to a different content management system -- again: not going to happen without good cause.

148:

Single-threaded comments give the discussions here their unique flavor.

One of the best features of this blog it that I can follow (and very rarely, participate in) evolving conversations as they react to the ideas of many different people. I like that.

Usenet-y branching discussions are OK after a topic is dead and things are static/archival.

But here I like the vitality of ongoing debate between people who are generally more focused, better behaved, and better moderated (thank you, Charlie) than the norm on Usenet.

I respect the quality of the discussions here so much that, when I have time to read comments, I don't want to miss anything, especially in near-real time when the discussion is evolving.

149:

I prefer threaded comments, but I don't think that would work well without changes that aren't practical to make. You've got a system that works pretty well as is; even if you get a volunteer (or more than one) to work on a more robust comment system, I don't know that you'd get enough of a return to justify the work.

150:

Nested comments are a pain. Please, no.

151:

Threaded comments are fine...


...but what I'd really like to see would be automatic twitter notices when a new post goes up here. Please? Pretty please with sugar on top? :D

Also, what do you think of Amazon.com signing up authors directly?

152:

Oh, and I might also be cheeky and ask if we were able to subscribe to posts so that when a new comment is posted, we get notified?

(Hey, ask, what's the worst that can happen? Other than Charlie finding out where you live and showing up with a can of petrol and a match in the middle of the night to burn down your house so you don't bother him with more requests? :D )

153:

Charlie, thank you for realizing that the folks content with the status quo won't have been speaking up, and taking the time to check on this.

Now, I happen to be one of the people who thinks hierarchical comments would be a big improvement, but I do recognize that opinions vary and I know that "the other side" hadn't had the chance to express its views.

To only listen to those discontent with the status quo is a fairly common error, and I find it gratifying that you're *not* making it.

154:

Please no hierarchical comments, unless there is that NNTP interface.

155:

Hm... yeah, I don't think anyone's doing the JavaScript NNTP thing, but there are other places where social discussion is being sourced and managed and presented via HTML. I am absolutely *not* going to try and point you at one of the Facebook or Disqus or any off-the-shelf discussion frameworks owned by companies that make money from advertising, but I wonder if the Diaspora project will produce anything you can make use of.

The reason this occurs to me: a bunch of the folks I know who fled from Facebook and G+ ended up on self-run Diaspora pods instead, and the way I had been interacting with those folks while we were all on FB had a very usenet-like character to it. So I'm thinking that Diaspora might be where a critical mass of the folks with the technical expertise and the motivation are building something along good lines.

156:

I prefer unthreaded. It promotes topic drift and penalizes later responses that are directly to the original article by pushing them further and further down as the thread of responses to the first responder grow. We're all intelligent adults here; we can search and follow and remember. When a set of responses gets too large for that to happen, it's probably over-responded anyway.

157:

Several people here have said that in order to get the new replies since their last visit they jump to the end of the thread. That is my practice too but I would like to point out that it's not 100% reliable. If a comment is held for moderation and then gets approved it will not appear at the end of the thread but according to its chronological order based on the time it was posted not approved. So for example , if 5 comments get posted (immediately , without moderation) between the time it gets posted and approved then it will be entered on the thread before those 5 comments. Even worse , the comment number of those 5 comments will be bumped up by 1 so if some comment includes in its text something like "As it was mentioned in comment no n....." where n is one of those 5 comments then after the held for moderation comment gets inserted , n will be off by 1. It would be good if this could be corrected. For example , if a comment is held for moderation then you might have in the thread something like "Comment posted at such and such time; held for moderation". This will alert people to go back later to read it if it does get approved. If it doesn't get approved then this will still be mentioned at the point it was inserted so that the number of the comments which appear after it does not change. If such a thing could be implemented it would be good.

Changing the subject completely , I'm a bit surprised with the negative comments which have been made on the quality of Usenet discussions. My experience has mostly been on comp.* groups and I have found the average level of conversation to be high and very educational. Of course a lot depends on the opening post of a thread. If it starts with a precise technical question like "How do I achieve whatever in language X?" then it will generally be fine. If it starts with something silly (or flamebait) like "Which language is better, X or Y?" then it will just go downhill but I wouldn't expect much good to come out of such an opening question on any medium.

158:

Keep linear comments, please. I have noticed that when blogs switch to nested comments, I stop reading the comments shortly thereafter.

Nested threading works well on Usenet because the posts don't necessarily arrive at the news server in order of posting, so threaded presentation makes it easier to follow discussions than linear presentation. But that's not the case on a blog (or in forums); in this case threading breaks up the discussion and makes it harder to follow than simply presenting all the comments in the order made.

159:

What does the current RSS feed not do that you want done? It shows both new posts and new comments.

160:

A single stream works better for the reasons already given, it is easier to catch up on and it forces everyone to participate in a single discussion, rather than framing their replies to address just the parent poster. Threads do have the advantage of giving comments more context, but that is easily addressed by encouraging the reply mechanism.

The reply mechanism could be enhanced to insert a small Poster@Position link in the comment body every time "Reply" is selected; this doesn't need to be tied too closely to the MT instance, since it would be progressive enhancement in javascript.

The link improves on the text-only convention some people use by allowing to jump back more easily. Putting it in the body is an improvement on the current “in reply to” feature, because a quote can go right next to it (judicious quotes being even more convenient than jumping back), and multiple comments can be referenced.

161:

There are services that you could set up to transform a RSS feed to a Twitter feed. I haven't used any of them, but here's the top Google result for 'rss twitter': http://twitterfeed.com

162:

well so far i count 90 comments clearly in favour of staying linear and 12 more that seem to be pro linear, versus 16 clearly pro hierarchy and 6 more that seem to agree. (counting upto #161)

163:

Count me in with those those who think a threaded system is a bad idea. Unless you want to go to a real forum system, this works fine.

164:
The reply mechanism could be enhanced to insert a small Poster@Position link in the comment body every time "Reply" is selected
You are the second person to request this, so I have to ask; how is this different from the "magetoo replied to this comment from Tobu" links we already have?

(Using the "Poster@number" convention instead of "#comment-id" wouldn't work unfortunately, since comments are renumbered if an earlier comment is released from moderation.)

165:
how is this different
Duh. Sorry, my eyes slipped off your last paragraph. Yes, pulling together multiple replies in that way would be useful...
166:

je suis le lurker dans le..erm.. shadows..

I really like the flat, non-threaded comments. The linear nature of the comments works for the dialogue that occurs on this blog wonderfully, has even given it a smidgeon of character from that very process...and there are examples sited here of other types of structure associated with names i'm not keen on.. and i wouldn't mind betting the mentailty of those sites is affected accordingly..

anyway, a no to a nested set of recombinant chatter.. read the whole damn thing and understand it all..(then post if you feel brave)
>lurk lurk

167:

Another regular reader and occasional commenter in favour of linear comments.

What I'd really like, of course, is an initial linear display, and you can click on a button to switch to threaded, centered on the comment you are reading right now (and then a button to go back to linear).

But I don't think Charlie has room for the pony in his Edinburgh flat.

J Homes.

168:

Wait, what? There's an rss feed for comments here? When did that happen and what is the address?

169:

If the comments have a locally unique ID and a timedate group, there's no reason why you couldn't do a Greasemonkey script to implement a threaded view.

170:

Check the front page. Right hand column.

See the link under 'Syndication'?

(Though I'm using Opera, which just provides a syndication icon in the toolbar for supported sites.)

171:

I'd prefer non- threaded also, means I can just read the newest comments easily. Admittedly I can't easily see a direct response to a comment but that is a minor nit for me.
Rex

172:

I am firmly of the opinion that if you want good discussion on a site, hierarchical comments are an excellent method of avoiding getting sidetracked while covering various nuances and aspects.

173:

I don't see a comments feed, do you?

So far I found one feed for all posts:
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/atom.xml

Plus these atom feeds for registered users like you and Charlie: actions (posts, comments) and replies.

174:

Hmm, if so, I wasn't aware that that depended on being a registered-with-the-blog user.

(I killed out over 13K comments from that feed on this machine yesterday, and now have no way of knowing how far back they went.)

175:

coming late to the discussion (as always):

* since I read the discussions on various clients at different times (webbrowser on work-pc, home-laptop or smartphone), the linear stream is much easier to follow as I just have to remember (or note) a number that tells me how far I've gotten with reading. I can later go back to $that_number + 1 and continue. Likewise after a reload. So yes, another vote for linear, plus a vote for "don't insert held-for-moderation-comments retroactively at a higher place". Putting an empty "held for moderation" post there with its own unique number would be best, I guess. That way, all posts below will keep their numbers if things get inserted later.

* I _do_ love threaded discussions on usenet but hate them on websites. For the simple fact that of course my browser doesn't do the threading and therefore I have no way to only see new/unread posts. So I guess the newsreader-in-js thing isn't really needed, what's needed is a simple NNTP gateway for the blog. each post to the blog is a first entry with a new subject. comments are followups to that post. every content simply gets its numer-subject-of-ancestor-post@antipope.org as Message-ID, in-reply-to gets set to either the ancestor post or, in case the reply button was used, whichever MID was replied to. The client can then do threading and new/unread vs all and so forth. No idea how much work it'd be to implement that and whether the additional load of an nntp-daemon hosting that on the server would be acceptable. Also, it's "and I wanna pony"-wishful thinking on my part.

176:

I'm assuming that one of the points of having the comment threads here is getting side tracked, otherwise we wouldn't have ended up with the beer* and chocolate post from last week.

It's a bit difficult to make good gumbo, if you cook all the ingredients in separate bain-maires. Charlie is the only one who knows why this blog is the way it is.

* That was almost bear. (Proof read twice, post once.) Although Bears in Space… would have made an interesting post too.

177:

...or, indeed, the illuminating discussion on malt whisky.

178:

FWIW another for keeping as is.

I'm not familiar with LJ. Threads to me, mean forums or message boards. Whereby threads get bumped when new replies are added. As this is a blog, cronological linnier ordered comments seems the most logical presentation. It's not hard to pick up where you were if folowing a long thread. Manually searching by date, comment number or poster's name if necessary.

179:

As a long time reader but infrequent commenter, I'd vote for keeping it flat, for all the reasons already cited by others.

Readability is paramount IMHO, and with the nested replies getting ever narrower, and the pages ending up even longer than they are now, readability would be greatly reduced, especially on mobile devices or tablets.

It ain't broke, so no need to fix it.

180:

Charlie is the only one who knows why this blog is the way it is.

Unfortunately, I don't.

Somehow in the past 3-4 years the blog has turned into an online community. This sometimes happens, but it's very unpredictable. Lack of moderation seems to prevent it happening (you get spam and griefers). Too much moderation seems to prevent it happening (you get no spontaneity). Phase of the moon, I guess.

What I can say with some certainty is that I'm not going to do anything that risks killing it, because since the collapse of usenet as a discussion system, and the gradual decay of livejournal, I need somewhere to chat with folks -- and this is as convenient as it gets for me!

181:

I don't know any of this for sure, other than the points about choice of reading material, but I think we mostly have some or all of the following list of interests in common (list is not exhaustive; you're free to add to it if you want):-
Technology, particularly in Aerospace, Civil Engineering and Computing.
Good books, particularly but not limitted to SF. I've had several good steers to new authors from here.
History, most notably war history.
Good alcohol, particularly wine and malt whisky.

182:

That's what I meant,
Sorry if I didn't make it clear. You may not know how antipope came to be as it is, but you know what it is now, and you appear to encourage it.

I had the opportunity to experience the internet in the mid nineties, and I bottled it. I didn't know how to 'look' inside the box on the desk. It sounds like it was fun.

To add to paw's list: i nominate the history and philosophy of technology and science in general. If you can work out why things went the way they did in the past, you've a better grasp of what might work in the future.

I like mature technologies; they've figured out how to write the manuals. (see failure in paragraph two.)

I started out in a sector that 'matured' with the pyramids, or perhaps the Greek and Roman flame wars over the arch.

The specific technologies I use now are about 1000 years old. Previous OSs (some still with live tech support) go back thousands of years.
Any half awake student of industrialisation in the UK should now about the ramifications of the application of IT and automation to this sector. (Hint: happened about 250 yrs ago). Or anyone who knows their computing history should be familiar with the origin of the punch card.

183:

As a long time LJ user I always, always prefer nested comments. Flat comment thread guarantee that I will not read them if they go more than a screen or two as it requires massive effort to figure out who is saying what to whom. Flat comments are only good for people who obsessively read one blog or bloggers who want feedback from readers but don't want discussion between readers.

184:

At comment #161, there were 90 people who disagree with you, and only 12 who agree. Since your post is #183, and several of those inbetween don't discuss preferences, I'd feel justified in saying that you've just said that "at least 3/4 of the peope who've expressed a clear preference are wrong".

185:

I prefer flat comments; I value the chronology over the nested structure.

Please keep it the way it is.

186:

To loosely paraphrase two recent posts ...

LongStride@183: Posters who prefer threading won't come read a flat blog

paws4thot@184: Most people who read this flat blog prefer a non-threaded blog.

And this is the thing: we only know what the people who are posting here prefer. If this blog had already been threaded, I would expect pretty much the opposite balance.

(My personal preferences are for threading, but I recognise that there are downsides, just as there are for flat presentation. So if Charlie decides not to go for threading, I will understand.)

I think there's an opening in the market for blog software which provides a JavaScript+Cookie client for those who want options. I suspect that something using the existing the RSS feed is almost there.

187:

I _do_ love threaded discussions on usenet but hate them on websites. For the simple fact that of course my browser doesn't do the threading and therefore I have no way to only see new/unread posts. So I guess the newsreader-in-js thing isn't really needed, what's needed is a simple NNTP gateway for the blog.

I think Charlie suggested (in post 26) the newsreader in javascript approach because he wants to accommodate people who don't have a newsreader on their computer , perhaps don't even know what a newsreader is and have no desire to learn. So in order to give even those people the advantages of a Usenet approach i.e. killfiles , threaded presentation if they so wish etc. a newsreader in javascript makes sense.

An intermediate solution would be for each thread page to have a text only version , for example something like

Poster: ...
Post number: ...
In-reply-to: ...
Time/date: ...

Actual post content.

Poster: ...
....................

[The beginning of each post would be recognised by a line beginning with "Poster: ". If the text of the post contains such a line then the site software could automatically indent it by 1 space to avoid ambiguity.]

Then it would be easy to write an application in a number of languages which parses the above and offers whatever functionality one wants including presenting it in a threaded manner , filtering using whatever criteria one wishes etc. So instead of Charlie doing all the work (or hiring someone to do all the work) he could just offer a parsable version of the thread pages and then leave the rest of the work to the readers who could start contributing useful scripts. To illustrate how easy it is here's a link to a BASH function which , with the format suggested above , would filter posts by certain people:
http://pastebin.com/8d2Fy54v

Then one could do
lynx -dump URL-for-text-version-of-the-page | antipope_filter
and read the page with the appropriate posts filtered out.

One could try to write a similar thing with the present format of the pages but perhaps it cannot be parsed unambiguously , even if it can it would be more complicated and if the format of the presentation changes in the future then any such scripts will break. So a version of the thread pages in a format easy to parse which will remain constant in the future would be most welcome.

188:

Someone earlier asked if anyone goes back to read older/archived threads and the comments. I do - in fact if they were published in book form, I'd definitely buy a copy although I don't suppose that's likely or practical for many reasons. For me the comments, and the way they emerge, are as valuable as the posts that incite them.

I've already "voted" but to amplify, I prefer flat comments because it allows a natural flow to the discussions, and because it favours generalists (or experts in more than one field) rather than separate groups of experts who rarely communicate outside that group - as I've seen happen on other threaded discussions.

Also because leaving it as it is means Charlie can spend more time on what he does so wonderfully and less time on site admin (which he also does admirably).

189:

What I can say with some certainty is that I'm not going to do anything that risks killing it, because since the collapse of usenet as a discussion system,

Collapse, what collapse ? Usenet is just fine, thank you very much.

190:

Usenet collapsed as a usable medium of discussion back in 1993. Harrumph!

191:

Last time I used it (comp.lang.c) was a few months ago , it was working just fine and the discussion was very interesting. Eternal September wasn't so eternal after all. The introduction of googlegroups may be seen as a second "Eternal September" and it has increased the amount of spam but also introduced Usenet to many new people (and many new people to Usenet) , including myself.

192:

Having and eating cake dept:

Can't it be switchable? If Yahoo can do it...

193:

Actually read the previous comments dept:

Apparently, that was specious reasoning. Don't know why, but it's been asked and answered already. Sorry.

194:

I'm another who would prefer the current system to a nested system.

195:

Yet another mostly lurker who asks to keep it as is. I like this site and Making Light (another flat comment site; ask TNH why she so emphatically prefers it that way) because such interesting discussions get going. In threaded comments, I read the top one and keep going, usually because the rest are hidden. I agree with the comments that threading will segregate ideas.

I understand the love of threading, for people who don't want to have to keep track of who said what twenty comments ago. My only request is a comment tracking system that has "replied to so and so at 61" rather than "replied to *link*this comment." It would help me a great deal in keeping track of conversations.

Other than that, though, please keep it the same!

196:

This is turning into an Emacs vs. Vi kind of argument, but it sounds like the consensus (and the experience of our generous host) leans towards leaving things the way they are.

One data point, another web site that uses flat comments and is noted for is quality discussion is Metafilter.

One minor complaint in the current system is that the "in-reply-to" link is kind of small an easily missed.

Perhaps one could add a little javascript hackery so that when you click on the in-reply-to link, it dynamically inserts the text of the previous message above the current one for reference, instead of jumping to another location on the page? If it retrieves the text of the earlier comment from the DOM it doesn't even need to fetch anything from the server.

Using anchor tags to navigate within a single page sucked in 1995, and it still sucks now.

197:

I did manage to procure a wench on Usenet in late 1994, so its uses were not entirely lacking even that late. However I've not needed another one, so I can't say whether it is still appropriate for that purpose.

198:

Was that on alt.sex.wenches or is it in the rec. hierarchy?

199:

Neither: alt.fan.pratchett as it happens. I've not been there since ... 1998? Herself carried on in there for a while longer, but though we've both got many friends we first encountered there, we don't know the current denizens.

And that does illustrate one point: online communities evolve and change. Who's here now is probably different than was the case when Charlie opened it, and who's here in another half decade will almost certainly be different again. The current generation seems to want a non-threaded forum, but even if that's the decision now, Charlie may well want to revisit the decision in a few years time. By then, who knows, there may be a better solution.

(And happy sushi-day to Charlie.)

200:

You mean that both groups are right, or wrong, depending on exactly what you're trying to do at the time?

201:

I did manage to procure a wench on Usenet in late 1994, so its uses were not entirely lacking even that late. However I've not needed another one, so I can't say whether it is still appropriate for that purpose.
I got my wench (or she got me?) in Nov 2000, from alt.sysadmin.recovery.

202:

Darn it; this blog doesn't like "cite" as a tag... Ugh. What I meant to write was
I did manage to procure a wench on Usenet in late 1994, so its uses were not entirely lacking even that late. However I've not needed another one, so I can't say whether it is still appropriate for that purpose.

I got my wench (or she got me?) in Nov 2000, from alt.sysadmin.recovery.

203:
Darn it; this blog doesn't like "cite" as a tag... Ugh.

Indeed, it doesn't, and it's bloody annoying. Charlie? Is that a setting that can be tweaked ('allowable HTML tags' or something?)

204:

Done.

The <cite> tag should work now ...

205:

The <cite> tag should work now ...

Hooray.

(And I really should have mentioned this earlier. Like, when I first started commenting here.)

206:

I would actually like yet more flatness in the comments. It's provably doable, as you have a "recent comments" box in the "over-page".

I'd (almost) kill for an URL: "all recent comments on Charlie's" - looking exactly like all other blog entries, but aggregating all comments of all active posts. Of course some cosmetics should be done, like not displaying a plain number of an entry. The grey box "recent comments" does it in some way. Plain "reply" should also be at least two levels deep (to discourage trolls).

I'm mostly (save this comment) a reader of the blog, but I'm seriously hooked and the juggling of the tabs in my firefox (as someone said he's also doing) is a major PITA.

I hate to loose any comments (of course only on this blog) and I was seriously upset when you split the "glutton" thread and started "post-oil". It arguably killed both with some terminal convulsions between them.

I cannot be sure, but I would propose, that there is at least a thousand of readers of your blog with similar views.

Here I'm a complete "blogovore" and I want all of it. Without much clicking -- and chronologically.

207:

Actually it's a complete NO for nesting (and breaking of chronological order) and a plea for "an aggregated feed". But ...

But more threading features (without silly nesting) would be great. Like forward links and backward links based on "@XYX" (this shouldn't be so complicated if some MT guru could splice a "simple" perl substitution as an option in comments).

BTW I looked for an obvious example of (silly) nesting actively killing discussion and the blog by Tom Murphy could be a perfect example:

Nothing goes especially deep. Actually if you get a "directed" (out of chronological order) reply from Tom himself - it's it - dialog stops. Tom's comment gets maybe one answer from the interested party - nothing much happens.

It'd be interesting if some graphing geek could analyse the interconnectedness of the comments on your blog (probably something like multiple tubes with some interconnects between them) and Tom's (probably the main-post-hub and some thinly branched fronds).

208:

I've been known to reply to as many as 6 comments with a single post, using "#natural" to indicate which comment any part of my post refers to. Any attempt at a connectivity analysis could finish up looking like a plate of spaghetti with meatballs and/or cherry tomatoes (to individual taste)!

Incidentally, and thanks for the head's up about her blog Charlie, Joan S has more or less convinced me that you should stand pat, or at least use a smaller font for posted comments (and there are good reasons for not reducing font sizes).

209:

All right ...I've read the Thread .. do I have he correct term? " I'ssss Thiss Thing Wokingg? ".. and although Charlies Diary is a Benevolent Dictatorship rather than this Experimental Democracy Thingy, I am Ready To Opine ..and my Opinion is that the Simple Clean and easily accessible format of This ere Blog should not be risked just for appearances and Messily Nested sub threads sake.

The Blog WORKS and I'm perfectly capable of using Pre Electronic Tech, pencil or Biro Pen, to make note of a particular contribution ... which Biro didn't exist when I were a lad back in the 1960s and used to dip my official school pen in an Ink Well full of ink that came in Huge Bottles and that was decanted into inkwells that were recessed into the Oaken Desks that we of the 1960s did inherit from our predecessors of the Victorian Era in the then Secondary Modern school that formed the spine of my Education.

In a long dead thread hereabouts a US of A ian person did refer to British persons education in Dickens ..oh how I did Laff, for, in the North East of England I did live the belated Life of Charles John Huffam Dickens tales of the Grim and the Grime of way back then a good deal after the man himself died.

Anyway the thing is that, if I wanted to, I dare say that I could find that thread in the clean simplicity of The Blog of Charlie, whilst if I glance at the layout of a 'nested ' sub thread I'd feel inclined to say wot the hell and pass on by to the next topic of conversation.

The Blog of Our Gracious Host does, I find, er ....Invite ? .. participation, and Himself would be well advised to do nothing that would /might discourage that participation.


And so I'll retreat back to brooding over my Thoughts on the later-day 'Spin dizzy ' ness of Slow ' Ships ' ..that I can't think of a new name for just yet .. the other day I was walking with my Furry Friend Shona 'The Keeshond of the Baskervilles ' and found myself trying desperately to think of alternatives to 'Ship ' or ' Cities in Flight ' to describe a Long Voyage Sloe ..Ship ..... AHHHHHH ... Curse You Charlie Stross !!!

People that were recognisably Human would take their furry FELINE/CANINE companions with them on these 'ere Huge Space Born Rocks ..and there would have to be the possibility of walking with your dog ..or a really good explanation of why you couldn't enjoy such exercise /recreation. The equations of survival on a space born rock would thus be even more complicated than we might suppose THAN if we depended upon on the Cold Equations of Human Only plus walking/ Factory Farmed in Cages Food for the shaved Apes.


210:

Another vote for threading.

211:

From Wikipedia László József Bíró (Spanish: Ladislao José Biro[1]) (29 September 1899 – 24 November 1985) was the inventor of the modern ballpoint pen.[2]

Bíró (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈbiːroː]) was born in Budapest, Hungary[3] in 1899. He presented the first production of the ball pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931.[3] While working as a journalist in Hungary, he noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen but found that it would not flow into the tip, as it was too viscous. Working with his brother Georg,[2] a chemist, he developed a new tip consisting of a ball that was free to turn in a socket, and as it turned it would pick up ink from a cartridge and then roll to deposit it on the paper. Bíró patented the invention in Paris in 1938

212:

In 1973, British Rail obtained a patent on nuclear powered flying saucers. I think that's an example of the long time there may be between an initial patent and common availability of a product, being as it is a longer period ago than that between the recorded invention of the ballpoint and the primaeval avian's schooldays.

However, I do note that Platignum produced a retractible ballpoint in 1950.

But within many a school, even if the things existed outside, ballpoints did not exist in the sense that they were not permitted by school policy. On the other hand, Platignum produced cartridge pens in 1965, which would have obviated the requirement for the ink well in at least the latter half of the decade.

213:

Like our aviating colleague, I was at (primary) school in the 1960s. We were not allowed to use ball-pens. OTOH the teachers were and did. No-one used fountain pens because the ink would have soaked through the dead tree notebooks far enough that we would only have been able to write on 1 sheet in 3, and only one on side of those.

214:

You can have hierarchies in less space if you use nested coloured boxes. Then each adds only 2 pixels on the left (dark border line, padding line). By relating the background fill color to the nesting depth, replies still stand out.

215:

Orlly? I'm using a ~1200 horizontal res monitor which is 14.75" wide (actual display). This gives 91 pixels per inch, and I'm dubious about how visible a hairline that thin would actually be.

216:

The colour sets them apart, the thin hairline just visually extends the border that is already defined by the colour.

217:

[light dawns] In which case coloured backgrounds are a PITA for people with imperfect vision, some combinations more so than others.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 16, 2011 11:51 AM.

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