What’s in a Comment?

When the v2 WordPress plugin for Disqus hit the streets, Chris and I got into a discussion on the forum I run about it. I was vehemently against the plugin, but my reasons were based on previous perceptions:

I’ve seen stuff like FriendFeed do this as well: conversations about content done by third parties. And while this is, at some level, no different in you writing a response on your site to something I wrote and the discussion happening over there [which can and does happen; my favorite recurring one of these is when Mark T links to something Karyn wrote, and his entry gets 10x the comments his does], but then you’re making me work to keep in touch with the conversation.

Chris pointed out that the new Disqus model isn’t that at all.

Whenever I find myself reacting in such a knee-jerk manner, I try to remember that, hey, maybe I need to re-think these things. [Not all the time, mind you. I’m forever in danger of blowing out an ACL with all the knee-jerk responses I have in my life.] This re-thinking brought me to a point I’d like to note and amplify for a wider audience:

Hm. I should not criticize that which I haven’t test-run, I guess.

And as long as comments reference back to the URI, I guess that’s fine, right? I mean, all comments are remarks about a URI, whether or not they’re appended inline or left elsewhere.

Dammit, now I’m re-thinking this.

I’ve been thinking about this at idle times. What is a comment? A comment is a reflection—positive, negative, or otherwise—about something. If Chris writes a reflection or a rebuttal on his blog in the morning when he reads this, it’s a comment, but just one not posted on my site. What’s the difference in a comment that Chris posts on his blog versus a comment that he leaves here? It’s merely the control I have over that comment’s publication. I can leave his comment be, edit it [possibly reversing his point, if I’m feeling nefarious], or delete it altogether. These are all understandable responsibilities for me to have as the person providing the place for the commentary. After all, when you’re posting your comment on my place, I become responsible for it as the owner of this domain. This is why I use Alex King’s Comment License plugin.

Extrapolating from this: pingbacks and trackbacks are merely automated systems for notification of externally-hosted comments, prone as they are to spamming. But if we went to a world where we leveraged the power of GOOG and others to find all URLs that reference our source URI as commentary, well, that list is gonna get spammed. Highly-influential articles are going to get smacked and linked to in the hopes that people see the incoming links and think that there’s commentary there [and the GoogleJuice that comes from that], and low-traffic articles become ghettos for comments. In other words, nothing changes.

But what’s the result of this different thinking on my part? Merely that it doesn’t really matter where the conversation happens—just that it happens somewhere. So any third parties that seek to intermediate this, you have two responsibilities to producers:

  1. Limit the spam. [Good luck.]
  2. Make it dead easy for me to find the commentary.

That’s it. No other responsibilities are really necessary.