History of commenting UIs


#1

Hi! I’m Pablo Cúbico, UX Developer working on frontend prototypes on The Coral Project.

I’m trying to build a history of the comment UI, the comment box, the stream, its tools, and everything related.

So, here are some useful questions for you to answer!

- What was the first site you remember to have comments, or the first time you noticed comments had a real impact?

- When did news sites started to open up to comments?

- What other comment or community building experiences do you remember (forums, blog sites, BBS’s, reviews, etc)?

- Can you think on anything you found as groundbreaking on comment UIs (likes, upvotes, etc)?

And of course, anything you can share about the history of the stream, of comments, the comment box, any remark, screenshot, feel free to post it here!

Thanks!


#2

The first thing I remember that had a comment box was Derek Powazek’s old website The Fray which was basically a blog with a topic and guestbook software and you could leave your own story. 1996-ish? Got a lot of the early bloggers interacting. Remember, blogging predates commenting and group commenting was a thing that didn’t really come around until the late 90s.

http://fray.com/index-old.shtml

I was also part of (and then moderator, and later director of ops for) MetaFilter.com which was an early community blogging site. It’s still around and has gotten into the social listening thing as well. I’ve written in various places about working there and watching a place evolve w/r/t comments and community.

MetaFilter
http://www.metafilter.com
Article I wrote, Bad Comments Are a System Failure

I had a partner who was “moderating” comments for the Rutland Herald (VT) in the early aughts and I remember that even though the site was totally new for commenting, it was already a place you didn’t want to be. A few loudmouths, poorly moderated. Craigslist also had a lot of commenting/forum stuff that was popular back when it was geographically split up (i.e. the Boston people commented in a Boston forum) but it, too suffered from poor moderation and troll overload.

Happy chat more about any of this.


#3

Hi, Pablo! These are great questions, and I just joined these forums to respond, after seeing your note in The Coral Project newsletter.

What was the first site you remember to have comments, or the first time you noticed comments had a real impact?
I think it would have to be, gasp, LiveJournal. I used LJ comments to not only communicate with my friends and respond to their entries, but we also used comments threads for role-playing games with different fandoms. (We were geeks.) This is probably when I first started using commenting frequently. I would get email notifications whenever I received a comment to a post, or a response to a comment I wrote. I also remember when comments could be edited, which was huuuuge.

When did news sites start to open up to comments?
Hrm, tougher question, because I never really engaged with news site comments. I would estimate the 2000s?

What other comment or community building experiences do you remember (forums, blog sites, BBS’s, reviews, etc)?
Forums/message boards for sure, as well as Internet Relay Chat (IRC), if that counts.

Can you think on anything you found as groundbreaking on comment UIs (likes, upvotes, etc)?
I think the upvote mechanism is pretty significant. I liken it to the highlighting feature for the Amazon Kindle; you see what people are talking about the most, and are engaging with the most, and that undoubtedly influences what you’re subsequently thinking about with regard to the topic.

I also believe the addition of avatars is significant, adding personality or a persona to comment and its user. Going back to LiveJournal, this was important for role-playing because we’d have multiple icons for characters and emotions.

I don’t think this is as significant, but some comments allowed for subject lines. I believe these are a smidge redundant and take up more space than needed.

Regardless: Long live comments! I’ve included some screenshots here from LiveJournal for your reference (edited to protect privacy of friends). Hopefully this helps! (PS: I took a stab at comment design over at Behance… would love to hear your feedback.)


#4

Hi Jessamyn! I stumbled upon Fray from reading this article: No Comments - Which was surprisingly, one of the very few pieces I found out there on the subject.

Thanks for sharing your experience with MF!. Your Medium piece exposes the many pitfalls on moderating (loved the “Lie of the Self-moderating community” bit), which trace back to the early years of the web, and still continue to be a real pain for any media, despite the advance of the many technologies that compose the web ecosystem, and the evolution of web literacy and culture.

A social problem like trolls and abusers is quite unlikely to be solved only through technology, as those people are prone to circumvent the mechanisms you could set up to avoid them, but I would like to see the technologies evolve in such a way that empower users giving total control over the content they get, individually, from the start. I’m actually working on some concepts around that.


#5

Thanks for the feedback. I’m a little wary of the total control idea, though I see why people would like it.

One of the things about total control is that you wind up with self-reinforcing echo chambers where people filter out voices they don’t like and you wind up with the same existing prejudices and power laws that we already have. So it becomes too easy to marginalize voices and ignore voices of dissent.

Cass Sunstein writes about this in his critique of The Daily Me in his book Republic.com. There may be ways to programmatically work around this–and I’d be interested in seeing them, I don’t mean to poohpooh this idea at all–but trying to make this functional for people to avoid harassment while at the same time not allowing it to be a way for people to ignore opposing or challenging points of view becomes tricky.

The big deal from my vantage point is asking what it does to the nature of online community? If people are having different conversations and seeing different threads of conversations, are they really part of the same community?


#6

Thanks for the feedback! I love seeing this kind of screenshots.

LiveJournal: of course! I think they had a massive user base. IRC totally counts for community, but I would say it’s a case where the UI comes from a different branch in history.

Thanks for the Behance post! Love to see more people exploring and thinking UI/UX-wise on commenting systems. Keep it going!


#7

A totally valid point, duely noted.

I am aware of that, and I realize I may have exaggerated with “total contral”, perhaps “more control” is more appropiate. There are very few user facing tools today on commenting systems, except for flagging a comment or reporting an incident.

What you describe is very similar to something Zygmunt Bauman called the “social network trap” in which I think commenting systems can fall into. As stated in this paragraph:

Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being
elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a
self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about
talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t
teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But
most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons
wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the
only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only
things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are
very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

There is for sure no silver bullet solution to any of these problems, but I see many things are being built to improve them.


#8

I think the combination of @mentions and notifications was a huge step.

Establishing emoticons (^.^), asciiart --,–’-@ and emojis :dancer: was very important

honourable mentions: voice messages, polls, markdown, badges

If you dare to make an future outlook, you may want to include bots.

@pablocubico: I suspect you already have all of these. Maybe give us your current list, so we can complement it.


#9

I don’t have a current list! Will try to come up with one, I thinks it’s very subjective.

I think reputation systems (in its many flavors: badges, etc) were key in converting commenting systems into communities. I also remember Permalinks, Pingbacks and Trackbacks to be very important in producing traversal linkage across sites, enhancing the discoverability of comment sections in blogs.


#10

Some pure UI gold to you UI fans: