Comment Ratings

Over the last few days I’ve been asked if there’s a way to enable “liking” or otherwise rating comments here on Whatever. The answer is: Yes, there is, but I prefer not to. The reason is that I think they’re a distraction from the comments themselves, and I also think they can be used as a tool to make people uncomfortable or afraid to comment because they’re worried about getting a flood of downvotes. Conversely, if people start tuning their comments simply to get upvotes from others, something will get lost.

Ultimately I think the best way to upvote or to downvote a comment is to make your own comment, explaining in a civil fashion why you disagree with a particular comment, or adding perspective to a comment you agree with.

(I can also thread comments here, but I like keeping them unthreaded because I like the idea of folks reading all the comments and not just the ones where they’re having their own little discussion. Adds to the cross-pollination, if you will.)

73 thoughts on “Comment Ratings

  1. I’d like to “vote” for threaded comments. Comment threads here are long and interesting, I don’t need to be forced to read them. So adding threaded comments doesn’t detract from my interest in what others have to say. But adding them does help provide context to my reply and reduces confusion. This raises the SNR to everyone’s benefit. That’s just my view.

  2. I like this setup. Especially the ‘without threads’ thingy.

    Also, because this is (sometimes) one of the only blogs where I can post from my phone.

  3. I know you’re not doing a survey or anything, but I’m with azizhp +1 for threaded comments :) I understand your stance on ‘em, but they help keep conversations straight, especially the count is getting into the hundreds – who one commenter is referring to isn’t always clear. Although threading can get super ugly super fast if the indenting isn’t handled nicely (esp. for when a thread contains 10’s of comments).

  4. As someone who would be instantly down voted into the aesthenosphere for most of my comments, I really appreciate your policy. Thank you.

  5. Put me down as someone who loves the comment threads here. I will check in most days and spend hours reading the really long threads but I almost never comment because by the time I would get around to thinking of something cogent to add, someone else has almost always beaten me to the punch and I refuse to post “me too” type comments. So I would love a “Like” button, but hey, I love the comments the way they are now and I can totally see an ability to up/down rate comments might muck with the great dynamic you’ve got going here.

    TL;DR: me too

  6. Good reasons, John. I find myself looking for a “like” or “upvote” button on blogs, because sometimes I want to lend support to someone’s opinion, but don’t have more to say than, “Me too.” Maybe I should try “hear, hear!” or “huzzah!” just to mix it up.

  7. I would like to point out that your first point is missing something.
    “I also think they can be used as a tool to make people uncomfortable or afraid to comment because they’re worried about getting a flood of downvotes.”
    I only make shallow posts here because I am confident that I would get a flood of negative comments for my opinions. Flamed in the most polite of terms but flamed none the less.
    I am only a little to the right of where you and most of your readers are but I have learned from past posts that the slightest deviation from party lines will get you in trouble on the Whatever.
    No, I am not going to NEVER BUY YOUR BOOKS AGAIN!!! You are a fun read even when I don’t agree, which really isn’t that often. More a matter of degree. I will stick with the lurkers and watch others get pummeled into submission or self imposed exile in lurkerville.
    See, I almost deleted this post before I clicked Post Comment and couldn’t turn back.
    It is done.

  8. I find threaded comments so annoying that they’ve driven me away from more than one online venue, so I’m glad you’ve decided not to use them here.

    I’m with Dave on approving but having nothing to add. I use ‘hear, hear!’ most often. Dave, I think it’s actually a more interesting way to do it than just punching Like, in part because it’s a little more trouble.

  9. I’m with you, Scalzi. I really dislike threaded comments. Aside from the excellent reason you gave they’re also much harder to read on phones.

    And what you said on voting on comments for all the reasons you listed.

    I support your stance. And will stand by you at the barricades! *shakes fist*

  10. Rembrant, meet Billy Quiets. Just because people disagree with you strongly doesn’t mean they hate you, and doesn’t make their disagreements flames (some are, but IMO John is pretty good at Malleting those).

  11. justinelarbalestier

    OK, I too will stand with you on the barricades, provided it’s not raining, but that one’s easy.

    A while back I had a much harder one; presented with an opportunity on prime time tv, to explain why evolution is far more likely than creationism, the philosopher Stephen Law ignored the vast body of evidence we have which demonstrates this fact and instead launched into a frothing at the mouth diatribe about religion causing a mental illness which may be incurable.

    The creationists will have that on their websites until the sun goes nova.

    Time was we could tell the difference simply from the frothing at the mouth bit; they were the people on the other side of the barricade. It’s pretty hard to woman the barricades when the mouthfrothing bit is someone who’s is supposed to be on our side of the barricade…

  12. I like this set up, and agree with the others on disliking threaded comments. Long threads can wander far afield from the main point and grow dull, so that when I come on a new comment, it’s like sticking my face in cold shower. I don’t usually comment (in fact, I think this is my first) because I usually have little or nothing to add to the already vibrant conversations. I’m one of the silent minions that just vote by coming back here every time there’s a new post.

  13. Beaten to it!

    More seriously: this blog, Making Light, and TNC’s place have probably the three healthiest commenting communities of my regular reads. Two of the three do NOT do threaded conversations. I doubt this is a coincidence.

  14. Xopher: Thanks for the “hear, hear.” I think I also look for a “like” button because Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have conditioned me. It’s good that Whatever helps break that conditioning. I would comment here more, but often, I only get a chance to check in on my phone. WordPress doesn’t like my phone. Swype doesn’t work for text entry here, the backspace key only works sporadically, and the “enter” key doesn’t work at all, otherwise I would have divided this into two or more paragraphs.

  15. (Take 3 – Hope this works) Rembrant – I’ll second Xopher. Whatever has a strong commentariat and Scalzi frequently gives us opportunities to engage in rhetorical combat. I’m not sure that anyone here marches in lockstep with anyone else. Don’t be too quick to interpret challenges to your opinions as hate or disrespect. He Mallets personal snipage of that sort pretty aggressively. But, do be prepared to defend any opinions you enter into this semi-public space.

  16. Cats n’ Kittens, I don’t think you get it. Saying “but I LIKE threaded comments!” is like saying “But I WANT the sky to be pink!” The Creator of All Things has decided otherwise in the second instance, and the Creator of the Blog has decided otherwise in the former.

  17. The only feature I’d really like back are comment numbers so it’s clearer which comment someone is replying to. It’s only an issue in long comment threads, but sometimes it can get confusing. Yes, you can references the person and time (@xopher at 5:14pm etc) but that’s cumbersome. But all in all… eh.

  18. On August 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm, rickg17 said, “The only feature I’d really like back are comment numbers so it’s clearer which comment someone is replying to.”

    I’m prone to quoting people’s comments just to make it easier. It means I have to work a little to make certain I’m quoting well, but that’s small stuff.

  19. I like threaded comments. Alternatively, as rickg17 said, I’d love to see numbered comments make a comeback. I enjoy the lively discussions some of your posts incite, but it’s a lot easier for me to follow who said what if there’s either threading or numbering. I don’t like having to go back through umptyump comments in order to find the one commenter I wanted to respond to directly. On that note, it would also be neat if there was a way to reply directly to a given comment. Facebook, for example, is set up in such a way that you can hit “Reply” on a given comment and respond specifically to that comment.

  20. Carry on, I got ‘no’* probs, and I like your mallet.


    Maybe I need to give some background: I’ve never used Forte Agent
    0.00.99.11 ( ;p ) beta, but I’m sure that it was better in all ways than
    any current website’s comment program (unless somebody changed
    the “subj:” header line!) because I could use it to hide things that I
    didn’t like, such as, you know? Boring threads, dick posters, spam and
    etc.

    OK, here at whatever.sca…?
    No spam. Very few dick posters, very few boring threads, and, oddly?
    No etc. Weird, that last one.


    *My only problem with the current format is that I need to pay attention
    to what I’m reading, because if I don’t I have to go all “ctrl F” to find
    out what somebody somebody means by “[@Goldie? That’s so fishy!].”

  21. I don’t know how it works when you have your own domain linked here, but many of the bog-standard free WordPress templates don’t do well with threaded comments. After a few replies, the comment box gets about 3 characters wide.

    Scalzi is not only looking out for your feelings, but also your eyesight.

  22. The only thing I wish the comments had is numbering. That way I could reply to a specific post (@110, for example), but without the threaded bit.

  23. If you give my comment your vote for student council, it will bring about world peace and make the lunch lady serve pizza on Fridays.

    PS. The other guy running did a stinky in his pants and wants more math homework.

  24. Making Light have been specific about why they don’t do threading AIR, they reckon it causes the conversation to wither and strangles serendipity. Or something. It’d sometimes be nice to have some way of picking out a particular exchange from a monster thread when time is of the essence, which could probably be easily done with disciplined use of comment numbering or a “reply to this post” button.

    “Liking” on FB gives me hives – I want a dislike button for balance and to take arms against the sea of schlock that some people I used to respect insist on re-re-re-re-“sharing”. But in general any attempt to quantify reputation is asking to be gamed if there are potential rewards, not that I imagine OGH would be incapable of keeping a handle on that if he wanted to bother.

  25. Yeah, I really miss numbering. That made it a lot easier to follow people’s replies. Usually people reply with just the other person’s name, which makes it hard to find. I used to reply with the time and date, but that’s a lot of extra trouble and since no one else does it, I stopped.

  26. I hate (-1) comment voting/liking/hating/whatevers. Ick.

    I’m not surprised you won’t suddenly be adding comment threading ;-), though, done right, IMHO, it can work well, help for (as someone else mentioned) those monster comment threads that are really 2-3+ unrelated conversations*, and can even be mobile friendly. Many sites do it wrong, though, so maybe there aren’t a lot of good comment threading tools. If someone would make a good flat threading implementation, oh well. I’ve seen the rare site that let you view things threaded or not (nirvana!). Hmm.

    * When the comments split into two topics, one of interest to me and one not, I skim, looking for the relevant ones. I inevitably miss comments I’d like to read. So I wind up reading fewer than I would (plus it gets chaotic trying to follow conversations), the opposite of your goal. Ah well.

    Numbering would be nice. I also miss the ability to subscribe to comment threads via e-mail (just for reading).

    This does have one of the better comment sections on the ‘net, though. I think that’s more about the host, topics, etc., though, than about any particular feature or lack thereof. (Obviously it’s about the people, but our host, what he writes about, and how he manages the comments are IMHO why there’s a good bunch here.)

  27. Well, this indeed does what you want it to do- so more power to you:). But there is another issue that bothers me as a long time reader: is there any way that comment numbers can be added? That way when I return to a post to continue reading those interesting comment threads I don’t have to try and remember “I was at Other Bill’s comment about IRS”(of which there may be several), but just “I was at comment 126″

  28. John – I understand, that’s why I put the word vote in scare quotes. I figure if you really didn’t want to hear your commentariat’s opinions about commenting, you’d have disabled comments.

  29. pro-threading ☝
    anti-“like”-button ☟
    pro-whatever either way ♡
    pro-robot-uprising ☊
    Scalzi/JoCo 2012! ☠

  30. I mostly read on my phone, so I’m glad the comments aren’t threaded. Also, I despise “Like” w/o an antithesis, but I despise comment voting even more.

    What I do miss are numbered comments. It’s much easier to find the comment where I left off, because the bus came or something, when they are numbered, and it makes it easier to comment directly to another post, generally. Although, I remember “in the old days,” when comments were numbered, sometimes the numbering would suddenly go off a bit, and a bunch of commenters were suddenly commenting on the wrong comments, which would get quite confusing, until I back-tracked, scratched my head a mo’, and then figured it out.

    …and that up there is a lot of incidences of and variations on “comment,” which makes me reach for a thesaurus to break up the tedium, but there aren’t really any good synonyms for the standard, internet usage of the word “comment(er/ing).” What a shame.

  31. I’ld rather think that it would be better to have a kind of “direct answer” attached to the post and not just part of the stream.

  32. Don’t like ratings. Do like the idea of threading. Some days I check in and a new topic already has 200 comments. No way am I wading into that. With threading I could sample the first few discussions without going blind.

  33. I agree with you and have written down some of my own thoughts regarding the use of a reputation system here.

    The gist of the matter is that reputation systems might actively increase certain biases and lead to groupthink. But there are other problems as well.

  34. The only thing more difficult and unpleasant than tracking down and neutralizing trolls on a message board, is tracking down and neutralizing trolls on a threaded message board. Mr. Scalzi your decision is the correct one for that alone, not to mention that this is YOUR message board and you can do anything you please with it. I applaud your decisions. If somebody feels their 1st amendment rights are being denied because you haven’t made it possible for them to hit a like/dislike button or follow a single thread of discussion only, then the poor babies are lost. Babies, scroll down to the bottom of this page and hit any one of those little icons — the big W, the birdie or the little f.

  35. @janiceofmars:
    I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to characterise people offering their opinions and explaining their preferences, even if they differ from Scalzi’s stated preferences and intentions, as being “babies.” That comes across to me as extremely condescending for no particular purpose beyond simple rudeness.

    Personally, I find unthreaded comments more difficult to read and understand than threaded ones, though the comment numbers would make things simpler. I find the presence of context near to the comment I’m currently reading to be helpful, rather than needing to scroll up and down the page as I read, read the reply, reread the original for context, reread the reply for clarity, etc. But, frankly, it’s dealer’s choice — and, as such, my choices are to live with that or not come play, which *is* entirely fair.

  36. +1 for numbered comments. Numbers make it easier to keep track of a long comment history, and there have been a number of those recently!

  37. Don’t like threading, do like numbering. But I read fast and have a scroll wheel, so I’m not fazed by a big block of comments until they run over, say, a hundred and fifty or so.

  38. Liking/hating with a hate hotter than a thousand suns also leads to comment gangs. An element of the internet that has been around since the third Usenet post and something I could definitely do without.

  39. There are the systems with upvotes but not downvotes (Facebook like, Google +1). But there’s not a lot of point to it in any event.

    I personally like threading, but it can get silly. There’s the Disqus-based system on The Atlantic where a sufficiently involved political bunfight ends up indenting everything hard against the right margin so that all the words are smashed into a single vertical column of letters. I guess it’s a built-in disincentive to continuing those things forever; commenters will sometimes cut off the argument with “we’re getting skinny”.

  40. Not a Facebook user, so I’m not conditioned to Like posts. But there have been times in the past couple of weeks (so much for being slow around here in August!) when I found myself wishing I could Like or “thumbs up” a post and/or was tempted to quote a post and say “Ditto” or “What she said” or “Well put.” But I thought about what that would and wouldn’t add to the conversation and what need of mine would be filled by doing one of these. And I realized that nothing would be added and it woudl be all about my impulse to say, “Right on! THAT is a terrific way of expressing it.” But this isn’t my blog, so why would anyone care whether *I* like a post or think it’s well written. Other readers can judge that for themselves. I guess it would let the writer of the post know that this person really appreciated what she or he had written, and that’s nice, but it’s not what the comments on this blog are for. If we all posted “Well said!” and such, the thread would bog down. A numerical count of “Likes” would let the comment writer know that the post had struck home for X number of people without derailing the thread, but it could also give the impression of a popularity contest, and that (IMO) would interfere more with the free flow of conversation than does the current lack of a Like function. Add a Dislike button (as some discussion forums provide), and it gets even farther away from what I grok John’s purposes to be.

    So it comes down to what John said in the OP: “make your own comment, explaining in a civil fashion why you disagree with a particular comment, or adding perspective to a comment you agree with.” Those of us who would like to reach through our screen and say to a particular person, “I really like what you said,” may content ourselves with saying it silently and beaming our approval to the universe or contacting the person individually, if she or he has made that possible. The threads here are for discussion, and if I don’t have anything to say beyond, “Well said, sirrah!” (or clicking a “Like” button), I’m not adding to the discussion.

    Like others, I do miss the numbers, though. I seem to recall John explaining why they went away, but I’m too lazy to go back and look.

  41. I like the idea of threaded comments but I’ve never seen an implementation I like. The Atlantic’s, to mention the most salient example, is awful. Not only do the comments become ridiculously narrow, but because of the salience of the first page, people only reply to the first few comments so that their comments are seen; and they are not very particular about keeping their comment relevant to what it is supposedly a response to. Thus the very point of threading is defeated.

    I dislike “like”. It converts a conversation into a political speech-making contest.

    I like the idea of numbering comments, which is a way of allowing optional threading. Ideally it would be nice to support a real hyperlink that would take you back to the referent, but that’s hard to do. (For example, I could say, “Scalzi #2: you dictator you!” or whatever.) At least with numbers you can pretty easily scroll by hand to find the referent, if you care to look.

  42. Agree with your decision on likes / upvotes.

    Unthreaded conversations are IMO counterproductive. They don’t end up cross-pollinating so much as they hinder discussion. It should always be an option if people want to see the comments that way.

  43. Tony Dye, except in situations in which the blog owner decides that he or she prefers unthreaded discussion. There’s no “should” that overrides the blog owner’s preferences.

  44. If I want “like”, I’ll go to Facebook. Better to post a considered comment here, I agree. And threading would be a distraction, I think. Some of the discussions here get very involved, and the discussers are kind enough to quote each other most of the time, so threading is really rendered moot.

  45. Frequent reader, rare commenter here…wanted to add that I vastly appreciate that comments aren’t threaded. If they were I’d likely stop reading them as I find them monumentally obnoxious to read. I’d also like to thank you for not having comments default to newest-first. I have no idea why so many places do that; I don’t know anyone who finds that setting useful.

  46. I’ll throw my lot in with the folks requesting Comment Numbers. My main reason is so I can easily pick up reading where I left off when I’ve been away for a bit.

  47. Thinking back to the point which Marcy made about this being a safe place to tell one’s stories, it seems to me that one of the reasons Scalziland is such a place is the total absence of any kind of ‘like’ or ‘ugh’ buttons.

    People plus multiple sock-puppets can’t just hit a button here to promote or denigrate views; they actually have to make an effort to write something and that in itself is a general good. Of course, we might not like what they write but we have the chance to tackle it head-on which is also, in my view, a general good.

    And yes, numbers would be nice, but John is the only person with the information to enable him to decide whether the costs outweigh the benefits…

  48. Resolved: Threaded comments are for lazy readers.

    Contention 1: The affirmative yields the floor to the negative on the grounds that the resolution is self evident.

  49. You obviously don’t need my approval (it’s your site), but I am glad you’ve made these particular choices for your comment threads. One more reason I love visiting (and commenting).

  50. Leonard @ 11:01

    >> I like the idea of threaded comments but I’ve never seen an implementation I like.

    The best I’ve seen so far is at the craigslist forums. Threaded post titles in the left hand frame and the text of one message at a time in the right hand frame. Each frame has a scroll bar, and the mouse wheel works correctly when the cursor is in each frame, you don’t have to click in the frame to scroll the frame.

    https://forums.craigslist.org/?forumID=3

    It may ask you to log in, but you also get an option to view without logging in.

  51. @Other Bill: (eyeroll)

    @Most folks here: I’m surprised so many people see threaded/not threaded as a binary. No one but me’s ever seen places that offer the user the option whether to read threaded or not? No thinking outside the box here? ;-)

  52. @Matt McIrvin: ROFL! Okay, you got me there. I was thinking of something more recent, but yeah, Usenet….

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