Posts tagged with Community News

An Open Letter: Threaded Comments Suck

(a technical term used to describe dysfunctionality)

The Case Against Threaded Comments on

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 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 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 site. By threading the comments associated with 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 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.