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An Open Letter: Threaded Comments Suck

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(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.

Comments

Agnostick 3 years, 2 months ago

Threaded comments may suck... but flat sequential swallows. And chokes to death in the process.

Here's a perfect example:

That discussion is about 20% relative, insightful observations and information... and at least 80% of the same old claptrap regurgitated by the same three or four people that keep re-regurgitating in one thread after another.

This place has a lot more in common with high school than it does with a cocktail party. Like high school, we see the same faces day after day after day after day. Like high school, the general population pretty much breaks down into groups, cliques, gangs and packs. Like high school, you can easily predict that the same two or three folks that got into a fight last week Monday are going to fight about the same thing and have the same argument on Monday of this week... as they will the Monday three weeks from now.

I ignore the stupid back-and-forth crap from the same individuals, just like I know that some folks ignore my comments. And you know what? Frack 'em!! Don't need them! My life and online experience are probably better WITHOUT THEM!

I like having options! I like speeding down the information superhighway, knowing that I have the choice of taking the off-ramp into the bracken of bitchiness if I think it is worthwhile... and speeding on by it when I have neither the time nor the inclination nor the interest.

Threaded comments? Hell of a time saver!

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prospector 3 years, 2 months ago

"Sorry, your Ad Populum fallacy is just that, a fallacy."

"Your seventh grade English teacher would have asked you to support those[this] statements. "

Fail

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"Sorry, your Ad Populum fallacy is just that, a fallacy"

Lies!

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nudist 3 years, 2 months ago

Bobby, Bobby, Bobby,

Sorry, your Ad Populum fallacy is just that, a fallacy.

Your posts are a hoot though. Funny stuff.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"Come on, you started this movement, surely you can provide SOME support for your argument. "

Did you bother to read the blog? He cited several sources. The fact that threaded comments died ten years ago and for some reason have been brought into the LJW is puzzling. It is an outdated form of virtual communication.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 3 years, 2 months ago

" think that when you mean "third place", it should be a physical place with real people. This is not a "place" and most users are anonymous and all you see is letters on a screen.

This is not "human interaction" -Thuja

"The hunting and fishing trips are the third place. This is the bulletin board announcing the trips. And one poster's relentless opinions. Dig?" - Thuja

I too disagree.

Those would be forth places.

However, while placemaking and its virtual components is an interesting phenomenon that deserves more exploration and discourse, the focus should be on comment structure. Flat sequential comment structures work better. One thing that the flat structure accommodates is virtual community building.

My second place calls... Happy interactions.

Ronaldo

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pace 3 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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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"You've met me too. You just don't know it."

Mom?

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thuja 3 years, 2 months ago

The basement dwellers reveal themselves.

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thuja 3 years, 2 months ago

This "third place" is a slum in the virtual third world.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

" think that when you mean "third place", it should be a physical place with real people. This is not a "place" and most users are anonymous and all you see is letters on a screen.

This is not "human interaction"" Thuja

I have to respectfully disagree with you. Reread the blog. A third place doesn't have to be a physical interaction. Times are a changing. We shouldn't be in the era of threaded comments anymore. More importanly, I've anonymously met folks through the LJW comments that I know personally now and have gone on hunting and fishing trips with. Good folks.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Autie and Our Supreme Leader, Ronaldo, had it figured out a few days ago.

Down with Threads!

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thuja 3 years, 2 months ago

I think that when you mean "third place", it should be a physical place with real people. This is not a "place" and most users are anonymous and all you see is letters on a screen.

This is not "human interaction"

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"What is that strange word you concluded your first sentence with?"

/winks

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"... and the caped crusade goes on!" Tange

I'm more of a masked super-hero nowadays. The cape always got in the way.

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ophiuchus 3 years, 2 months ago

... and the caped crusade goes on!

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Renaldo is a leader of our times.

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prospector 3 years, 2 months ago

Renaldo

You did some fine work here. I thank you for fighting for the cause, this should right a wrong.

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RoeDapple 3 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. ;-)

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prospector 3 years, 2 months ago

Nudist, it has nothing to do with saving my comments. I have never saved one. The LJW servers do a good job of that. It is about losing large parts of an active comment section in an instant instead of just the comments of someone that was axed for violation of TOS. I will always quote then respond so some context can be maintained.

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prospector 3 years, 2 months ago

Threading is for punks.

Do you realize when someone is disappeareded, your threaded comments go with them. It has cut large chunks/passels/scads of comments leaving a disjointed mess on several discussions already. Why would you want to chance being cut from a discussion because someone disparaged the character of a double-naught spy or arkytec around here.

Don't chain your dog, it is brutal out there.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"You know what I miss? Getting "pinked" when they pull stuff. It was sort of like leaving a blood trail."

Those were the good ol' days. And we'd know who was axed.

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g_rock 3 years, 2 months ago

You know what I miss? Getting "pinked" when they pull stuff. It was sort of like leaving a blood trail.

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Sigmund 3 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

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The_Original_Bob 3 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."

Exactamundo. This threaded crap is ancient. Block Quote is the future. Until something better comes along.

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Sigmund 3 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.

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Sigmund 3 years, 2 months ago

Institute user customizable "ignore lists"

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Sigmund 3 years, 2 months ago

Get rid of the threaded comments.

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damnitimpissed 3 years, 2 months ago

All I want is a way to hide all comments.

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RoeDapple 3 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.

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autie 3 years, 2 months ago

Even if I never useded a threadeded comment again ever in my life I will prolly still be a pinko commie. I will continue to eat brussel sprouts and summer squash frequently.

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RoeDapple 3 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.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Pinko Commies prefer threaded comments. Do you want to be considered a Pinko Commie?

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 3 years, 2 months ago

↑ A prime example... "Threading tends to result in discussions getting off track and increased animosity."

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RoeDapple 3 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?

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pace 3 years, 2 months ago

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

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ophiuchus 3 years, 2 months ago

/ yeah, you can ignore the writing on the wall, but you can't ignore the writing on the wall.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 3 years, 2 months ago

Py, Just wondering why you just didn't use the reply function to reply to gr's comment rather than posting your comment in a flat sequential format. Were you afraid your comment would get lost and buried and not seen?

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autie 3 years, 2 months ago

Hollis, you might need help....or another bottle of Wild Turkey. I think I need a Waka1 weekend retreat.

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ophiuchus 3 years, 2 months ago

Clearly, this movement needs some theme music...

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RoeDapple 3 years, 2 months ago

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

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Roed - If you weren't a Threader, you'd be immune to shingles.

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HollisBrown 3 years, 2 months ago

So there,Whityney. although I wil say: I will be your father figure Put your tiny hand in mine I will be your preacher teacher Anything you have in mind I will be your father figure I have had enough of crime I will be the one who loves you till the end of time

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sr80 3 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!!!!

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KUnlv13 3 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

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Seriously? You don't know us. Nothing is serious.

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Pywacket 3 years, 2 months ago

GR nailed it at 11:48 a.m. A commentary thread can be similar to a physical social gathering. Even if the gathering has a theme, such as "Mardi Gras Bash," after initial introductions, the guests will break apart into small, dynamic groups. Some will roam and contribute to a discussion in the kitchen, another in the living room, or out on the patio... Some will stay in their own comfort zone of people they know.... but any time a group grows in excess of about 5, it will break into smaller subgroups. That is human nature, online as in real life.

With all respect--bang-up essay, Ronaldo!--I think your rebuttal to GR goes off the track. You say, "If those conversation "threads" become buried, they in essence become private conversations, and not a part of the community as a whole. The conversation contained within becomes segregated, restricted and controlled."

I would disagree on the grounds that, in one respect, online discussions have a huge advantage over live multiple discussions within a space. That advantage is that each small discussion is NOT segregated, restricted, or controlled, because it is written, not verbal and ephemeral. If we're at a party and you're having a brilliant exchange with Roe beside the keg, while I'm trapped listening to the host's aunt in the kitchen, your comments are lost after your laughs fade out. You or Roe could repeat highlights for those of us who missed the exchange, but it won't be the same as hearing each comment. And in the meantime, we are all missing a juicy cat fight between (someone) and (someone else), wherein (someone) accuses (someone else) of flirting with her husband and generally behaving sluttily...

However, in a threaded comment forum, I can be debating something or exchanging off-color jokes on one sub-thread and easily go back and read every word of what I missed you and Roe saying. More importantly, we can all go back and see what hateful things (someone) leveled at (someone else) and what shocking thing (someone else) said in reply.

Some of us like this ability to have side conversations without having to resort to clunky devices (i.e., designating a comment "@ So&So, regarding your 12:45 p.m. post"...) halfway down the page from the comment we are replying to. I understand your objections, but (for me) the advantages of this style outweigh the disadvantages. To me, having unthreaded comments is actually MORE controlling, since it actively discourages those organic subtopic discussions.

The best solution, obviously, would be software that enabled the reader/poster to click for whichever view they prefer--threaded or chronological. Since this is obviously doable, with many sites operating exactly this way, I would encourage the LJW to look into such an upgrade in the interest of making their forum platform appealing to those on both sides of the fence.

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ophiuchus 3 years, 2 months ago

Well, if we're going to have a threaded/non-threaded toggle, then I want a William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique alternative.

/ alternative

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riverdrifter 3 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.

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troll 3 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.

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Agnostick 3 years, 2 months ago

I apologize for not being able to cite a specific example of this, but I'm quite sure I've run across two or three discussion forums in the past, where each user has a toggle switch to work with. To thread, or not to thread... it's left up to them.

I'm quite sure the software/code exists.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 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.

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Jeremy DeBoard 3 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.

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autie 3 years, 2 months ago

Who would have ever thought that "suck" was a technical term.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"Why are you afraid of threading?"

Not afraid. It is just an outdated thing. There are better ways.

Free the Comment Section!

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hitme 3 years, 2 months ago

Nonsense. Why are you afraid of threading? Are you afraid you'll miss something? Perhaps it's time to turn off the Internet and find something real to do.

Threadaphobia can be cured.

When threading is banned...

You can have my thread when you peel it...

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classclown 3 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 ♣

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classclown 3 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 ♣

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madameX 3 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.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Not to mention the compatability thing that one has to go through when opening up a threaded comments.

Down with Threads!!

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RoeDapple 3 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.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 3 years, 2 months ago

gr (anonymous) says… "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?"

If those conversation "threads" become buried, they in essence become private conversations, and not a part of the community as a whole. The conversation contained within becomes segregated, restricted and controlled.

In a flat sequential comment format, these conversations do not become lost and private. They are a part of the community discussion as a whole. That is the community I prefer.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

Prior to the LJWorld instituting threaded comments, the last webiste to do so was www.quiltingandquiche in 2002.

The answer to Liberty's quandry is a block quote function.

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autie 3 years, 2 months ago

Hold your cards ladies and gentlemen, we may have a bingo.

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Liberty_One 3 years, 2 months ago

yourworstnightmare (anonymous) says…

"I would just point out that threaded comments are an option. "

This is true, but if other people behave like I do, then when the thread gets to be over 100 comments, and it becomes extremely complicated with multiple threads going, I just stop looking at the newest posts.

I've tried responding to people like how I'm responding to you now, but I find that in the longer threads, people just don't see it because they stop looking. I know I do.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

"Yes, but I liked being able to easily identify and read all the new comments. There's probably a lot of really great posts that I'm missing because it's so difficult to tell which ones are new."

This. Times. A. Thousand.

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yourworstnightmare 3 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.

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RoeDapple 3 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.

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riverdrifter 3 years, 2 months ago

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

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Liberty_One 3 years, 2 months ago

gr (anonymous) says…

"Well Ron, given the idea of a room full of people, there are many conversation threads going on at the same time."

Yes, but I liked being able to easily identify and read all the new comments. There's probably a lot of really great posts that I'm missing because it's so difficult to tell which ones are new.

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grigori 3 years, 2 months ago

Might as well lose annonymity. . . keep the crazies out.

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gr 3 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?

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notajayhawk 3 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 ...

http://www2.ljworld.com/onthestreet/2004/jun/10/librarybudget/#c1515768

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Liberty_One 3 years, 2 months ago

Yes, please get rid of threaded comments. It's a pain having to search an entire page trying to find the latest comments.

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The_Original_Bob 3 years, 2 months ago

The streets will flow with the blood of the non-believers!!!

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autie 3 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.

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