Outsourced Blog Comments

November 28, 2008 blog code

Update 2011/08/16: This post is about an older version of the blog. I used to use WordPress and redesigned the template a while back.

I just finished redoing the template for this here blog thing, and the most significant change is that there are no longer comments on it.

I reached this decision starting from a simple engineering observation: a good piece of software does few things and does them well. It shouldn’t re- invent things, and it certainly shouldn’t re-invent things poorly. Looking at it like that, it’s obvious that the core feature of the blog is my text (whether that feature sucks or not I’ll leave up to you). The comment engine is peripheral, and, frankly, not very well done. There’s no threading, up /down-voting, user information, good formatting, etc. It’s pretty lame.

So I figured it would be better to re-use an existing comment system. Reddit is open source so I could, in theory, use that. But thinking about it a bit more, the obvious problem is that the best feature of reddit (and digg’s, dzone’s, etc.) comment systems isn’t the code, it’s the people. So the solution is simple: take comments off my blog and just direct people to comment on one of those sites. Odds are good that they’re already a member of one or more of them anyway so there’s isn’t a lot of hassle there.

Downsides

One of the obvious downsides is that conversation about what I write is no longer on my territory. I lose the ability to moderate them or decide how long they’re online. If reddit kills the thread for one of my posts there’s nothing I can do about it. If some guy on digg thinks I’m an ass, I’m powerless to silence him.

If I cared about traffic or “stickiness” or something it might also bother me that people will no longer come to my site to see further comments. They’ll go to reddit, or digg, or wherever.

But I don’t care about any of those. Honestly, traffic to my server is a net negative. Bandwidth costs me money. What motivates me is writing, and having people read it and discuss it. Deleting spam comments is not how I get my rocks off.

Upside

From that perspective, offloading comments makes a lot of sense. My little Wordpress blog can’t hope to provide a comment UI anywhere near as good as most news aggregators out there. Every time I saw someone posting a comment with code on my blog followed by another comment apologizing for the way WordPress ate its formatting, I cringed. Now I don’t have that problem: reddit has markdown.

Likewise, I don’t have to moderate comments anymore. News aggregators are centered almost precisely on that problem and they do it far better than I can.

More importantly, they provide a better community for discussing my writing than I can. It’s a bit odd, but more people will comment about a blog post of mine on another site than they will on the post itself. The logic is obvious. You don’t get reddit karma for commenting on my blog on my blog but you do if you comment on it on reddit. Since commenting on another site is clearly better, I may as well make it the only choice.

The Real Downside

There is one very real bad part about the change, though. If you’ve been kind enough to comment on my blog before, your comment is no longer online. This isn’t because your comments weren’t good. The quality of comments I received was always stellar, even when you fought with the limitations of the system. I’m sorry your words are no longer up here.