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An Open Letter: Threaded Comments Suck


(a technical term used to describe dysfunctionality)

The Case Against Threaded Comments on LJWorld.com

Most visitors to a web page expect that they will be able to follow the history of a page by reading from top to bottom. This means that the latest comments should be listed at the bottom, therefore comments should be listed oldest first. Reading comments in a threaded format is an unnatural act and quite discombobulating. Threading tends to result in discussions getting off track and increased animosity. Threading affects the community nature of commenting on a local newspaper.

Threading is very logical to a programmer's mind but it doesn't correspond to the way natural human conversations take place in the real world. Threaded comments break up the dialogue into a bunch of private conversations instead of an ongoing, open discussion. It stimulates the negative social aspect of people breaking off from the main conversation, undermining the whole community effect commenting sections are meant to foster. Imposing this structure also tends to fragment discussion within a topic: messages tend to be responded to individually. It is also arguable that this leads to a more confrontational debating style.[1]

I have said this before, threaded comments destroy the unique community dynamic of the LJWorld.com comments section. Social scientist Ray Oldenburg speaks about how humans need a third place to enjoy human interaction. A place besides work and home to discuss the events of the day and relate. He argues that "third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place".[2] Stanford University's Howard Rheingold states that virtual communities form "when people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships"[3] The LJWorld.com commenting sections are both a "third place" and a "virtual community. Threading segregates and builds walls around the general discussion. This negatively impacts the growth and development of virtual communities. A flat sequential format is more natural and fosters this virtual community. The resurgence of community "town hall" meetings highlight this fact. Threaded discussions are too disjointed to follow and are distracting. They can be equated with the previous way we communicated with our elected officials.

Threaded discussions generally fell out of use at the end of the 90's. They are confusing, difficult, and painful to use. You're forced to click through them to see responses. Once you do, there is far too much pogoing up and down the hierarchy of the threaded discussion. It's all so.. unnecessary. The flat sequential format is cleaner and easier to read. Threaded comments suck because as new comments come in, people must go back within the thread to read them – but the comment could be anywhere in the thread. Basically you have to scan the entire thread to find new entries. It is fine if there are eight comments and you’re looking for the new ninth one. If there are seventy comments in the thread, it is excruciating. Threading litters new comments throughout the page instead of consolidating them at the bottom.

Threading is an outline format, a programming style, but it is not conductive to comments on articles or blogs in our local community on-line newspaper. The virtual community element of this commences when people are invited to comment.[4] Online communities are functional systems that do exist in the environs of the on-line LJWorld.com site. By threading the comments associated with LJWorld.com articles and blogs, the community is damaged and hampered in building its unique form.
Threaded comments suck. (technically)

Ronaldo Ignacio
On-line Commentator and Citizen Journalist
LJworld.com Community Member

[1] Campbell, J., Fletcher, G. & Greenhil, A. (2002). Tribalism, Conflict and Shape-shifting Identities in Online Communities. In the Proceedings of the 13th Australasia Conference on Information Systems, Melbourne Australia, 7-9 December 2002
[2] Oldenburg, Ray (2000). Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities. New York: Marlowe & Company. ISBN 978-1569246122
[3] Rheingold, H. (2000). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. London: MIT Press. (ISBN 0-262-68121-8)
[4] Bishop, J. (2008). Increasing Capital Revenue in Social Networking Communities: Building Social and Economic Relationships through Avatars and Characters. In: Romm-Livermore, C. (ed.) Social Networking Communities and eDating Services: Concepts and Implications. New York: IGI Global.


autie 7 years, 2 months ago

Well hell's bell's I sure ain't going to reply on a collapse thing again. I'm afraid someone might send me a nastygram in the mail.

Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 2 months ago

Well, this was disappointing.

No sense of irony around here, all of these comments should be in a single thread.

notajayhawk 7 years, 2 months ago

Maybe the threads are necessary to repair the fabric of time so OTS questions from the past don't keep leaking through ...


gr 7 years, 2 months ago

Well Ron, given the idea of a room full of people, there are many conversation threads going on at the same time. Unless, the topic and discussion is restricted and controlled to just a few being allowed to speak. Which kind of "community" do you prefer?

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

"Crazy is as crazy does, my momma used to say." Forrest. Forrest Gump

riverdrifter 7 years, 2 months ago

Threads stitch out continuity. Also, need the anti-pinhead 'ignore' option.

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

On the other hand, sometimes I like to go directly to some of my comments to see what response they have generated. If none I then I read down to the latest to see the opinions of others. Without threading in many cases it requires a "cut and paste" qualifier of the posters comment to keep a response from appearing as random rambling twenty posts down.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 2 months ago

I would just point out that threaded comments are an option. You can still comment on any story at the end of the postings just as before. I do agree that it makes it difficult to find the newest postings, but then you probably shouldn't be wasting your time doing that anyway.

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

Much of the frustration could be attributed to load time, the seemingly endless wait for the page to come up. With Ad Blocker Plus installed my load time is one quarter of what it was, and not nearly as many of the irritating ads on page.

madameX 7 years, 2 months ago

Perhaps they could have a button at the top of the comments section that offers a choice between different viewing formats and lets you switch between threaded and non-threaded. Other sites have done that and it's pretty handy. (if that happens, I'd also like to see a 'view newest comments first' option as well.)

Personally, I like the threaded comments because it's easier to follow/participate in a conversation with them. Not because I think they should be private, but because if you have several going at once it gets to be impossible to tell who is replying to whom. Evidently my preference for threaded comments puts me in the minority.

classclown 7 years, 2 months ago

I believe oftentimes some well meaning commenter will respond to a thread not suspecting that his/her comment will soon become lost in the myriad of threads created by the threaders never to be seen - or responded to - ever again.

♣ Remove Threaded Comments ♣

classclown 7 years, 2 months ago

Originally threaded comments were touted as a commenting improvement, now they are calling it commenting change to try to disguise the whole hoax of it being an improvement..

♣ Remove Threaded Comments ♣

meggers 7 years, 2 months ago

I suspect some might prefer a more technical approach, rather than just slobbering all over the darned thing. ;)

Jeremy DeBoard 7 years, 2 months ago

"Threading sucks" is a bit harsh. It has several redeemable qualities. One-thread replies to people with questions. Comments from LJW staff threaded directly to those they are responding. Redactions. However, when threads become longer, either due to legitimate arguments over a topic or verbal bouts between two or more posters, than the main posts to the articles/blogs/letters/what-have-you, then they indeed become tedious to sift through.

One change to threading I would like to see, as for all comments, is an indication of what is new. Have any new threads from the last time the page was loaded be bordered in, say, blue. Or shaded. Or the text being bold. I would suspect that would be a browser's problem more than a site's problem.

Marcy McGuffie 7 years, 2 months ago

If this were Facebook, I'd "LIKE" this comment! I completely agree with your thoughts.

uncleandyt 7 years, 2 months ago

?Maybe the date and time could be listed under each comment to give us a clue as to what might be new ?

Ron Holzwarth 7 years, 2 months ago

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I have never had a problem in scrolling down and noticing which posts now have more responses on the thread than they used to.

What I do is remember and count in my head, I suppose. Perhaps that's a very unusual skill.

madameX 7 years, 2 months ago

I think Slate had it once upon a time, but it's been a while since I've commented there.

troll 7 years, 2 months ago

Modern commenting systems allow users to choose between threaded, nested, flat, etc. I'm sure that in time the software that powers ljworld.com will do the same.

riverdrifter 7 years, 2 months ago

"I'm quite sure the software/code exists."

I could've sworn I'd seen this as well, but do not remember which site it was on, maybe NASCAR or NYT? I'll look around.

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

i had a serious case of shingles once

KUnlv13 7 years, 2 months ago

One of my favorite community forum websites, BeerAdvocate.com (don't judge =) , counters the issues some have with threaded forums by indicating with a dull box stating "read" and a bright yellow box stating "new", located along the right side of the message boxes.

When revisiting threads later in the day, I'm able to quickly scroll the page for new commentary. I suppose it would work well located just above the reply button here on LJWorld.com. Just my .02

sr80 7 years, 2 months ago

what in the hell were we talking about!!!!now i have to go all the way to the top to remember.dangnabbit!!!!

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm really trying, but as you can see old habits are hard to break.

pace 7 years, 2 months ago

lol maybe threaded comments is a sign from god that the answer is,oops lost my string of thought.

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

Could threaded comments be the key to the coming apocalypse? Is it possible the next threaded comment will be what triggers the downfall of civilization?

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

It's an addiction. Not my fault. I blame society, my father beat me with a belt, my mother worked 3 jobs and I had a kinky uncle. sob*

There, the truth is out.

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

but my relashun will al tells yuo i is a good man an i is innersent!

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

I ain't got to eat no brussel sprouts in 39 years of wedded bliss. Heck, she only this year let me bring fried okra on the premises. She likes that summer squash though . . . brrrrr!! Sends shivers right down my spine.

damnitimpissed 7 years, 2 months ago

All I want is a way to hide all comments.

Sigmund 7 years, 2 months ago

Institute user customizable "ignore lists"

Sigmund 7 years, 2 months ago

If you like change the "reply" button to "quote" the poster and comments, which appears to be the standard being employed on most of the news discussion sites.

Sigmund 7 years, 2 months ago

The_Original_Bob (anonymous) says… "Exactamundo. This threaded crap is ancient. Block Quote is the future. Until something better comes along."

The randomly indented vanishing thread text is VERY hard to read or quickly scan. It slows the reader, the view is chaotic, and the thread stubs do not organize the discussion in any meaningful way. If the intent was to isolate sub topics to speed the reader to comments s/he is interested in, or past those s/he is not interested in, it it a total failure. The result is people simply skip reading the comments or posting into the clutter. Worse than useless, it is hindrance to both posters and readers.

A better solution to speed the reader to comments they are interested in reading, or past those they are not interested in, is the user-defined ignore list. Most regular readers will quickly realize if a poster is a serial cut-n-paste artist, flamer, or troll and if they can customize their view to meet their tastes.

Technically, the code needed is trivial, additional hardware to generate custom pages is not that expensive, and bandwidth usage would decline in proportion with user adoption. On the downside I might start reading and posting to the LJWorld online again

Kirk Larson 7 years, 2 months ago

See, if someone came across this comment posted say an hour or so later, they'd have no idea what you were talking about. You could have left it as a reply above, but I guess you were trying to make a point. Threads have a purpose.

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

I only save comments or pm's which seem threatening so my attorney can read and file them @$225/hr. Two so far for a total of $56.25. He and I get a good laugh at them on my nickel. Lawyers are horrible, horrible people. Necessary, but horrible. ;-)

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

i warnt gonna say nuttin . . . but it bin obvious fer several daze

RoeDapple 7 years, 2 months ago

Just didn't put it all together until you started showing up everywhere. Some folks got a style that the witness protection program couldn't hide.


pace 7 years, 2 months ago

Threads are a democrat liberal conspiracy, Wait, bulletin just in , it is a teapot Palin plot, no oh no that is wrong, It is a California thing, a Hollywood set up for a reality show starring Palin and Gore in a " all star thread fights" funded by America for Americans.

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