Tuesday, September 04, 2012

New Commenting System

They don't make them like they used to. This blog is old enough for me to remember the fine days of Haloscan. Haloscan, for those who don't remember, or who are too young in blogging terms to know, was once the third-party commenting system for bloggers. When I started Blogger's commenting system was really extraordinarily meh (it still is, in many ways, although there have been minor improvements). Haloscan was what most people used, because it was far more flexible than anything Blogger had, it was easy to use, and it worked very well. The system did on occasion go completely down, although that became more rare as time went on. But it offered trackbacks! Do you remember trackbacks? They were an easy way to let people know you had posted in response to their post. They were the coolest thing. Technically they are still around, I suppose; at least, most modern commenting systems have a checkbox option to allow trackbacks (see below, for instance), but the last time I actually had a genuine trackback must have been years ago. In any case, Haloscan, despite its occasional blackouts, was beautiful, functional, simple. It did exactly what you wanted a commenting system to do, and while it didn't do it with many frills, the very few and very limited frills it did have were of exactly the right kind: they made commenting, or moderation, easier.

Alas, all good things come to an end. Haloscan was bought out by JS-Kit, which rebranded itself as Echo. We were all 'upgraded' to Echo. It wasn't actually much of an upgrade; I distinctly remembering that it was step down in simple, usable moderation functions. Echo was a 'fast comment system'; the neat idea behind it was that it worked well with social media -- Twitter and Facebook, in particular. That certainly was an advance, or, at least, it was an advance to the extent they managed to make it usable. But it was buggy. The threading on the comments also showed itself to be utterly baffling for long comment discussions; there is such a thing as comments that are too 'fast'. And looking back, I see clearly that the whole idea of Echo was based on the idea that comments are for a moment, passing pleasantries, and not, as they had been under Haloscan, real discussions. The other major competitor on this front was Disqus, but it offered no obvious improvement on the time, and took absurdly long to load (and still does), so it seemed that Echo would do. Haloscan was gone forever; Blogger was still meh, despite minor improvements; we were stuck with commenting systems that had a lot of bells and whistles but not so many functioning gears, and Echo would do. Unfortunately, the lovely people at Echo had no intention of providing a good commenting system; the commenting system became steadily harder to use, the bells and whistles began to be unreliable at best, the support was never very good and became worse and worse over time, the synching with Blogger comments became more and more egregiously awful, and then, just over six months ago, Echo announced that it was transitioning to a more social-media focused approach and getting out of the commenting business forever. Honestly, if they haven't fired all the people who were handling the commenting system, I don't expect the company to survive more than a year or two more. Their "real-time platform that enables the rapid implementation and scale of applications for social TV, social music, social news, social sports and social commerce" (honestly, are they trying to communicate the idea that they are all buzzword and no substance?) was, however, apparently more in line with what they were trying to do in the first place. They were really not very good at the commenting platform business. I remember when Google did its domain splitting across different countries, and I contacted them about what to do with non-.com domains, since the commenting platform only provided very limited functionality for all other countries, and the answer that they gave showed that they had no clue what I was talking about. That was Echo.

In any case, this is a long-winded way to say that I have changed the commenting system. I'm trying Disqus out; it still is ridiculously slow to load, so when you click the comments link you'll have to wait a few seconds, but by all accounts it has better support and is supposed to be easier to log into, and the functionality seems a bit more straightforward. We'll see how it goes. And we'll see how long it takes for them to ruin the whole thing; I can already see the writing on the wall with their newer version, which "upgrades your communities, with enhanced realtime, deeper community features, and more!". I don't want deeper community features; I want a commenting system that's flexible to use but actually works, and keeps working. (That was another nice thing about Haloscan; it stayed consistently useful for years and years.) There will be a transition period during which I'll be importing comments from Echo; we'll see how that goes. Even if it doesn't go well, I can import from Blogger comments, although Echo messed that up pretty badly, since practically every comment for the past two months posted by anyone at all was sent by Echo to Blogger under my name, so that if I have to go that way, I'll look like I've been having endless conversations with myself, answering my own questions, heatedly responding to my own objections. But we can work with that; it will just take a bit of patience. It could take as much as a day, though; so sorry if your comments go missing in the meantime, and given the vagaries of Echo, it's probably the case that some will go missing entirely.

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Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.