When I first threw the switch and opened the ongoing space to contributors, my Atom feed included comment counts. Thus, every time someone commented, subscribers saw the article again in their feed-readers. This was unpopular (check out the discussion here and here) so I removed them. But now I’m unhappy with that decision.

The trouble is, I know that very few people subscribe to my comments feed, and I also know that for quite a few of the fragments here, if you cared enough about the subject to read the original, you really really want to go back and read the comments too, because individually or in sum, they outweigh my contribution.

For example, if you care about trends in high-end pocket cameras, the comments on Camera Blues are a treasure trove. And if you care about the future of XML, the discussion on XML 2.0? is essential.

It’s also troubling that I advertise my Atom feed as “full-content” but it’s really not, because it omits the—essential, in my opinion—contributions from others.

Last time the discussion came up, people felt that I ought to perform an editorial function; update the article when I thought there were particularly insightful comments that were especially noteworthy. Nope, doesn’t scale. First of all, the writing I do here consumes pretty well all the available cycles and second, I’d end up doing it for almost every piece.

So, as a compromise between what I want and what my audience wants, I think I’m going to start flagging the comments in the feed; but only once every other day, and I’ll skip the first day. Since the commenting, even when it’s voluminous, is usually over with quick, on average you’ll only see each article twice in your feed-reader.

So, what should I put in the feed? I see three options:

  1. Just the number of comments.

  2. The full text of all the comments; then the feed would really be “full-content”.

  3. Update the comment form to accept an optional “summary” field, and include that in the feed.

Simpler is better, so I tend to lean to #2. What do you think?

[Update:] I think that the first comment below points at the right answer, so I just added another comment outlining what I think I’ll do.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Feb 21 2007, at 17:23)

Well, I'm not typical, because I do subscribe to your comments feed. Why not just inject the comments into the main feed as individual entries? People who don't want to read them don't have to.

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From: Janne (Feb 21 2007, at 17:39)

I'm one of the people who dislike posts reappearing. I'm also one who really like going back to any discussion I've commented in - here and in several other places. My solution so far is to have a bookmark folder just for temporary stuff like that and drag a link to any post I've added comments to. I go and revisit those links, oh, perhaps once a day and remove them when the discussion is over. As you say, if it was interesting enough to comment on, making a temporary bookmark isn't much of a hassle.

Not as nifty as feed magic, but it does make for a consistent method that applies to all places I frequent, not just this one.

I think that perhaps the once-a-day push is a good idea. A better one might be a once-a-day "Recent Comments" post with links to those discussions that have had new comments the past 24 hours.

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From: Andy (Feb 21 2007, at 18:24)

Tim, I find your blog very interesting, and you have some insightful points. But I read approx. 100-150 blogs per day, and skim them for topics of importance. I certainly don't have time to read a discussion for every article. When I find an article that seems interesting and controversial or might inspire worthwhile feedback, I read comments. But I don't want to see articles again every time someone adds a comment. I hope you'll allow people who want to view comments to view the comments or subscribe to the comments feed, and let the rest of us enjoy your articles as we see fit. Thanks!

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From: Mike Kozlowski (Feb 21 2007, at 18:30)

Can you do two feeds, one with comment updates and one without? I'm in the "I really really hate updated posts" camp, since it forces me to start reading an article and evaluate whether I've already seen it. And I REALLY don't want to see comments in the feed.

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From: Kyle Cordes (Feb 21 2007, at 18:35)

How about this - offer more than one feed:

* As it is now (no comment count)

* With comment count

* With the sometimes-comment-count, as described in your post

* Truly-full-feed (i.e. with full comment text)

* a "flat" feed consisting of both posts and comments - logical union of the plain ost feed and comment feed

Then wait a few months and see what the relative traffic is on each - measure the revealed preference of your readers.

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From: Seairth Jacobs (Feb 21 2007, at 19:09)

As an alternative, how about add a unique comment feed for each article, then include the URL to that feed at the bottom of the article itself when rendered as part of an article feed? That way, if a particular article was interesting, the reader could simply(?) subscribe to the comment feed.

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From: Mark (Feb 21 2007, at 19:29)

I unsubscribed from your comment feed because the signal-to-noise ratio was too low for my taste. If I want to follow a specific discussion, I do it the old-fashioned way: I bookmark the page and check it whenever I feel like arguing. This is not as time-consuming as it sounds; I can select "open all in tabs" and do a tab sweep if I'm following multiple discussions.

If you updated your entry date every time a comment came in, I would set up an override in my Planet config to ignore it. If you inserted a comment count in the content element, I would do some fancier filtering to strip it out. At some point I would decide that you're being too unfriendly and either set up my own inefficient HTML scraper or unsubscribe entirely.

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From: Patrick Mueller (Feb 21 2007, at 19:52)

I pick option 0. I'm in the "I really really hate updated posts" camp.

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From: Tim (Feb 21 2007, at 20:17)

Hah! John gave me the answer. How's this: for each story, say "Ontological Sex", that has comments, there'll be another entry in the feed entitled "12 comments on Ontological Sex", that updates for each comment. Subscribers who don't care about Ontological Sex would just bypass it, those who do care can be sure can be sure of not missing anything.

Does that work?

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From: Chris Nokleberg (Feb 21 2007, at 20:18)

Seairth's suggestion is interesting. Failing that, leave things the way they are.

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From: Adrian Sutton (Feb 21 2007, at 20:27)

Please, whatever you decide to do, provide a feed that includes the post and only the post. Make the feed with comments the default if you prefer but please provide an option to just get the article content without any notification when new comments come in. Otherwise instead of getting people to read the comments, you'll just get them to unsubscribe altogether.

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From: James Cunningham (Feb 21 2007, at 20:45)

Maybe I don't understand what you're planning.

In my news client, "ongoing" is an entry under a folder called "Tech News". I don't visit it unless it tells me that there's an unread message.

If you have a separate entry for each story, one that becomes unread whenever someone posts a comment, the number beside "ongoing" will increase without there being something I necessarily want to read. And it'll keep increasing. I don't like marking a feed as read unless I'm sure there's nothing there I want to read, and I'm busy, so eventually the number beside "ongoing" will be big enough that I won't read it at all.

So. I'd probably unsubscribe. I'm a peon, so it probably doesn't matter, but take from it what you will.

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From: Sander (Feb 21 2007, at 23:15)

I'm someone who reads through the website, so all of this isn't affecting me at all, but: people appear uninterested in the comments posted here (based on feed subscriptions), while _you_ think they _should_ be interested, so you're thinking of 'forcibly' making them aware of the comments. Judging based on the comments so far (and on my own expectations), I can't imagine this'll lead to anything good - people want information on their terms, so they'll grumble, filter and/or unsubscribe.

Offer more, not less: make it easier to keep up with the comments for those who might want to, without falling into the too much noise trap that Mark complains about for your full comments feed: offer one extra feed which is just one entry per ongoing entry, with the content being nothing but a title "number of comments on [entry title]", plus maybe a summary "last entry by [name] at [time]" and the first few lines from that entry. Update each entry as new comments are published.

Again, I don't use feeds, but if I did, I suspect I'd subscribe to that, where I wouldn't subscribe to a full comments feed. And meanwhile you'll keep your main feed clean and useful for those who prefer to be told only about what _you_ write.

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From: Boris Mann (Feb 21 2007, at 23:39)

"Subscribers who don't care about Ontological Sex would just bypass it, those who do care can be sure can be sure of not missing anything."

Err....multiple feeds, please. I will want to subscribe to / track the individual entries I care about...but don't "force" me to consume the comments. I am subscribed to you-the-person, not all the other well meaning folks that add their 2¢

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From: Hey, we don't scale either (Feb 22 2007, at 00:19)

Everyone's time is limited. If you don't have time to read your own comments and filter them, that should be a good hint that we don't have time to read them unfiltered.

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From: Zach (Feb 22 2007, at 00:37)

You can put me in the "provide a basic feed" camp. Sander got it right when he said:

"people appear uninterested in the comments posted here, ... while _you_ think they _should_ be interested, so you're thinking of 'forcibly' making them aware of the comments."

Forcing people to deal with the comments will not gain you anything, since people with no interest will still ignore the comments. All you'll end up doing is chasing readers away.

I wouldn't say I'm uninterested in the comments all the time, but I'm uninterested most of the time. I read ongoing because I think a lot of your topics are interesting. However, I also think a lot of your topics are boring. :) If the S/N ratio went down because I was seeing everything twice I would just drop ongoing.

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From: Marc de Graauw (Feb 22 2007, at 00:43)

On editing the original after useful comments came in you say: 'Nope, doesn't scale'. True enough, but updating the feed doesn't scale at the consumer end. You don't have the time to edit the original, yet you expect your thousands and thousands of consumers to have the time to read all comments looking for value. I can ignore updated feeds with Bloglines, and I do ignore feeds which are updated, precisely because reading comments does not scale.

What about a per-article comment feed, so I can subscribe to the XML 2.0 comment feed if I'm particularly interested in XML 2.0?

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From: Ģirts Kalniņš (Feb 22 2007, at 01:26)

Would be nice if you'd have a checkbox to check when you find a gem comment. And then with these comments feed gets updated.

Otherwise I'd choose plain article version and check comments myself.

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From: Jacek (Feb 22 2007, at 02:14)

Dear Tim, I read your blog for your posts, and sometimes decide to check out the comments, which is a simple click to go to the entry web page. I expect that updating an entry that got significant comments, if only with "those comments say so much more than I did, go check'em out", would be the better solution for me.

You read all the comments because they are intended for you, or for previous commenters, and frankly, I'm interested in your opinion here, not so much in other opinions. If I have something to say in a comment that I'd like to track comments to, I'll blog it and comment here with a link.

In other words, please keep a feed with only the full articles but unaffected by comments, other than through your own updates.

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From: Tobu (Feb 22 2007, at 02:56)

I'm probably adding noise, but... Go with Seairth's suggestion. Or, leave well alone. Or, include a comment count, but do not change the <updated> date, or if the Atom standard supports several <updated> elements, mark the comment-related ones as minor.

The reason behind this is that I want, at a glance, to see what new posts (including posts I postponed reading, but not posts I marked read because I wasn't interested) I have by looking at my (netvibes) page; I don't want feeds to look forever unread.

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From: Asbjørn Ulsberg (Feb 22 2007, at 03:17)

I'm definately interested in the comments, but not all of them. I'm only interested in the comments of posts I comment in, or at least just comments to posts on an individual basis. Subscribing to all of the comments is just too much! Which is why I've fallen in love with coComment http://www.cocomment.com/ which lets you follow up on discussions you're interested in, with just two clicks of a mouse button.

With some JavaScript magic, you can make your blog coComment-friendlier by telling coComment what the individual parts of your blog is (what is the comment field, etc), but note that I write "friendlier", because coComment already supports most blogs out of the box without any modification on the blog itself. As a test, I'll start subscribing to this discussion and see if coComment recognises when new comments are contributed.

With coComment, I'll never subscribe to a comment feed again.

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From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Feb 22 2007, at 03:27)

I *am* subscribed to the global comments feed. I still don’t read all of it by a long shot. However it does turn up the occasional gem that makes it worth scanning. If you must do anything, please don’t annoy me by fiddling with the main feed or at least continue providing *some* feed that works like the main feed does now (ie. *only* fragment contents with no trace of the comments).

Overall I think the trend is clear: your readers have already voted with their feet, and if you try to force them to read your comments, first they’ll find ways to work around you, then they’ll vote with their feet again.

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From: Noah Slater (Feb 22 2007, at 06:20)

How about providing an email notification service for those interested in comments. You could hook this up with a per-essay feed for comments.

If I read your post and wanted to follow the comments I could subscribe to the feed or register my email address as interested.

If I post a comment there could be an extra field for me to register interest in getting subsequent comments via email. If I wanted I could then subscribe to the feed.

I appreciate the semantic excitement from having a feed for absolutely everything, but as an end use I feel that email updates are far more useful than a per-essay feed.

You would have to be blogging about ME personally for me to be that motivated to copy-and-past, subscribe to a per-essay feed.

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From: roberthahn (Feb 22 2007, at 06:32)

Wow. I'm absolutely surprised at the number of people clamoring for 'a basic feed, please'. I'd almost wonder where they were when you first started to talk about adding comments to the blog.

I think it's more important to actually try out some of these ideas. I haven't seen anyone try to create a blended articles/comments feed before, and who knows? Maybe it would work a lot better than anyone expected.

That said, I like Mark Pilgrim's idea about the filtering. If you make the comment entries easy to filter out, then he, and others of like mind, can do it easily enough.

Sometimes you have to do unpopular things to get people to think in new ways.

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From: Sam Ruby (Feb 22 2007, at 06:35)

Like John Cowan, I'm subscribed to your comment feed. Like John Cowan, I feel each individual comment should be its own entry. Given that my aggregators of choice combines feeds, I already have what I need.

Like Mark Pilgrim, I find the signal/noise ratio different in your comments than in your main feed, so I choose to subscribe differently to your comment feed: I subscribe to the comment feed via bloglines.

So essentially, I already have everything I want. If you were to put in comment counts and *not* change the atom:updated value, that would be fine with me, but do anything more drastic, and like Mark, I would quickly write a filter for my Planet. Ironically, you trying to make your comments more visible might make me drop the bloglines subscription to your comments entirely.

I've shared my comments on your comment feed before via IM, here they are again. Your feed title could do more to provide some context that it is comments on your page, and repeating the author's name in the content is distracting.

For reference, here is what I see:

http://www.bloglines.com/preview?siteid=7500903

If you really wanted to make your comments more valuable, consider allowing some markup, starting with hypertext links. The easiest way to do that is to first escape the text exactly as you are doing now, and then to selectively unescape regions of text that you recognize and are safe. For example:

data.sub(/&lt;a href="([^"]*)"&gt;([^&]*)&lt;\/a&gt;/, '\2')

I have a series of such regular expressions that I apply that I can share. Some are more inspired by wiki syntax than markup syntax.

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From: TH (Feb 22 2007, at 06:36)

I like full comment feeds, as I try to keep my blog reading inside the newsreader. And NNW has the nice feature of showing me the changes, so I can easily see which comments are new since I last read it.

I don't subscribe typically to comment feeds. I want my comments presented chronologically (or threaded), but not in the typically reverse chronological scheme I have in my newsreader. Thus feeds with every comment as an entry just don't work for me.

If you do the "seperate entries with comments"-scheme, please include the full text of the comments and not just an updated number.

Thanks.

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From: Sam Ruby (Feb 22 2007, at 10:00)

Interesting!

<blockquote>Any other HTML will be “escaped”, i.e., it will appear to the user exactly as you typed it in.</blockquote>

It looks like that is not precisely true. If I'm guessing right, here is the Bloglines preview of your feed.

You know, a preview would be kinda handy...

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From: Ingo (Feb 22 2007, at 13:05)

This problem crops up in other places, too. Is there something you guys could do to the ATOM spec to improve the situation?

I believe that this essentially a user-interface problem but maybe the user-interfaces could use a little help from the data format? ;-)

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From: James Holderness (Feb 22 2007, at 17:30)

Sam, the fact that Bloglines is interpreting the markup in the comments is a bug in Bloglines, not the feed. And while we're on the subject of bugs, the hosed author names are partially feed bugs, partially Bloglines bugs (possibly intentional on their part - they may be attempting to work around buggy feeds like this one).

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From: Sam Ruby (Feb 22 2007, at 18:43)

Is the reason why you redundantly include the author's name inside the content in your comment feed due to the any particular aggregator's inability to pick up the author information?

Is that a practice we really want to encourage?

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From: Sam Ruby (Feb 23 2007, at 04:45)

> the fact that Bloglines is interpreting the markup in the comments is a bug in Bloglines

You are clearly looking at a different feed than I am.

Here is a link to the feed. It shows up as a link to the feed in the comment. It shows up as xhtml markup in the feed itself. I see it as a link when I click on the URI and FireFox 2.0 shows me the feed.

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From: James Holderness (Feb 23 2007, at 11:46)

> You are clearly looking at a different feed than I am.

No, but it seems we were referring to different markup. I thought you meant the blockquote that you were using in the comment where you first brought this up. That showed up as a nicely indented quote on Bloglines, but was actually escaped in the feed and shouldn't have been interpreted.

Here's another test:

<blockquote>Is this indented?</blockquote>

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From: Matthew Ernest (Feb 24 2007, at 10:52)

If the "Ongoing" feed already implements the Atom Thread Extention, is there any remaining part of this problem that is not owned by the client side?

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From: John Hart (Feb 27 2007, at 13:17)

Tim,

I don't subscribe to the comments feed, though I am aware of it.

Your thoughts on comments implies that there is something wrong with how I am reading your blog - that is, I *should* pay more attention to the comments than I actually do.

The entire solution space seems devoted to fixing this error in my ways.

But why? The decision to add comments to the non-comment feed is basically a version of telling your users that they are using your blog the wrong way. Shouldn't we, as users, decide how to use the blog?

This isn't a religious issue ("I hate hate hate updated feeds") but instead a practical one. When adding feeds to my reader, the guiding decision for me is the signal-to-noise ratio. The decision to post comment summaries as new feeds will, at a stroke, effectively double the amount of noise (for me).

I'm at a loss as to why you would want to do this. It seems that you're already doing the right solution: two separate feeds.

The comments show a lot of people saying "please don't change anything". Has anyone ever said "Tim, please change your main feed to include comments?" I would guess not - those people can just use the existing comment feed, tailor-made for their needs.

Yep, my vote is "please don't!".

-john

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From: John Cowan (Feb 27 2007, at 18:59)

The trouble with the comments feed is that even though I hardly ever click on a commment, there are an intimidatingly large number of entries in my feedreader as a result -- enough that I may need to unsubscribe from it soon.

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From: John Hart (Feb 28 2007, at 17:02)

John Cowan,

Oh, I see your issue. It sounds like perhaps the comments feed itself should change from one-entry-per-comment to one-entry-per-posting-summarizing-comment-count-one-day-later as per Tim's suggestion. But this still strikes me as a change that is best for the comments feed, rather than the main feed.

I'm not a comment-feed-consumer, though, so I couldn't say how appropriate that notion is.

cheers,

j

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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

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