When you comment on a comment

2010-02-10, Comments

@ianbicking these days, I very rarely bother reading anything where I cannot comment. — @drjtwit


You’ll notice there are no comments here. I hate discussing things via blog comments. If you’d like to talk, drop me a line. If you’d like to discuss things in public, post on your blog.

Coda Hale


When you leave a comment on a comment, how often do you wonder what your rights are? Not too often, I’d guess. Over the years, it has become an accepted fact that content contributed to a website simply belongs to that website. If the website, or blog for today’s web, goes away then all of your contributions disappear along with it. A real world analogy would be sending in letters or artwork to a magazine. There’s usually that disclaimer which says the publication can do whatever with your submission. And, of course, they can’t return anything to you. It belongs to the magazine now.

— Daniel Ha, A commenter’s rights


In a recent blog post Dan Twining writes about blog comments and asks what I think of Disqus, the commenting service used here at Word Aligned. The question comes at an interesting time.

Disqus comments

  1. Unlike Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad etc. Disqus isn’t a blogging platform. Disqus do comments, and their central idea is integration. You don’t need yet another online id to leave a disqus comment. Sign in using your OpenID or Yahoo! account, for example. You can have your comments tweeted or posted on Facebook. Disqus works with whatever blogging system you use and it works across different systems: if a blog uses disqus and you post a comment on that blog, then that comment remains yours — the blog owner can’t edit it, and other readers can click through to see comments you’ve posted on other sites. Well, other comments posted using disqus that is. Clearly these connections extend as more sites adopt disqus, and this seems to be happening.

  2. I used to use Haloscan for comments. I switched to Disqus about this time last year. I had no particular complaints with Haloscan; installation was simple, I didn’t get any spam comments, and the service proved reliable enough. It just seemed Haloscan wasn’t going anywhere. As it turns out, Haloscan will soon be gone. They’re shutting down the service this week.

  3. It so happens Dan’s question comes when the action on this site is happening in the comments section. Which makes me think.

Back to Daniel Ha, the Disqus CEO, who has clearly thought harder about comments than I ever will. Towards the top of this note is a quote from his article “A Commenter’s Rights”. Daniel Ha goes on to point out that times have changed, and that online publishers are able to involve their readers and include their input in more sophisticated ways. It’s better for both commenters and publishers, he suggests, if commenters retain rights over their original material.

So what are a commenter’s rights? I’m going to make an initial attempt to materialize what some rights should be.

  1. The ability to edit and remove their comments
  2. Access to all of their comments, even if it has been deleted on a blog
  3. The right to use their own comments as blog posts. After all, a commenter is just a publisher not writing on his own website.
  4. A life for the comment beyond a single blog. I want to take my comments with me, even if the blog shuts down.

This may seem threatening to the publisher, but it really isn’t. A commenter should have rights to what they post, but bloggers should still have control over content that appear on their blogs. Bloggers should still control:

  1. Whether or not someone is allowed to comment on his blog
  2. The deletion of a comment
  3. The modification of a comment, as long as the original copy is still accessible and the edit is transparent

— Daniel Ha, A commenter’s rights


Why bother with site-hosted comments at all? If people want to comment they can do so on specially designed community sites like Proggit or Hacker News. This is the internet: we go where we please, we find what we like.

Well, I guess I included comments on this site because that’s what other blogs did, and because I thought it was a way to engage readers and persuade them to return. The truth is, most readers arrive here via proggit; if I did away with comments here I might get more comments on reddit, and consequently more visits.

Look again at Daniel Ha’s words

When you leave a comment on a comment …

I’m guessing this is a typo, and that he meant “When you leave a comment on a website …”. If so, it’s an interesting slip. Modern comment systems are designed for comments on comments as much as for comments on the original article. Why bother with the original if the comments are more interesting? Jump straight into the discussion!

[…] It’s not that I don’t like sites with comments on, but when you read a site with comments it automatically puts you, the reader, in a defensive mode where you’re saying, “what’s good in this comment thread? What can I skim?”

These are John Gruber’s words but you won’t find them on his Daring Fireball website (the quotation has been transcribed by Shawn Blanc from an interview), and you won’t find comments there either. Have a look at an article on Daring Fireball. Here’s a recent one about Adobe Flash. Now try to imagine how the article would look with comments.


I’ve exported any Haloscan comments left on this site and imported them into Disqus using the disqus developer API. My thanks to Roberto Alsina for his helpful pointers on how to do this. Links to comments will have broken, but everything else should be fine. I’m sticking with comments and I’m sticking with Disqus, which gets better all the time. Please let me know if you spot any problems.


I’ll shut up now.