Today’s Obsession: Cleaning up Commenting

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Online comments

I hate online commenting. Hate it. It’s a badly-designed feature on almost every publishing platform that gives no visual clarity to the conversation. Its linear nature and ease of availability incites People with Opinions to read headlines, scan first paragraphs, then head directly for the comment submission box, where their anger and sense of public outrage is splattered for all the world to judge.

I, frankly, use the little-known-but-so-helpful shutup.css in conjunction with Stylish on Firefox (or plugins on Chrome or Safari, scroll down for extensions here) to simply keep comments hidden as much as possible.

The design of comments has almost never changed, thanks to publishers who quietly hate them, would rather they carry as little credence as possible, and probably don’t know that every modern publishing application is capable of customized comments (though it’s usually the most difficult portion of code to create owing to the myriad of login services, layout options, and replying features).

Recently, StackOverflow opened a nifty new feature in their own chat systems that I’d love to see implemented in commenting systems web-wide. StackOverflow is essentially a highly civilized chat environment for coders with vigorous group chats, but what happens when two chatters in a single chat room start talking only to each other? The system quickly notices them only interacting with each other, and splits them off into their own conversation. Jeff Atwood, who runs StackOverflow, calls it the “Get a Room” feature. It’s a brilliantly simple visual solution to an epidemic problem of comment noise.