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How’s Everyone Liking the Comments?

Hey everyone. I rolled out a new comments system (in beta!) on Monday and it seems to have been well-received so far. I’ve fixed some of the most egregious bugs and rolled out some tweaks and it seems to be holding up pretty well. 🤞 (Is there a knock-on-wood emoji?)

It’s early days and I’m rolling things out slowly (only ~10 posts were open for comments this week out of about 50), but commenting activity waned as the week went on. Discovery is still poor (there’s no list of open comment threads) and there aren’t any notifications — even as an admin user, I have to go to the front page of the site and click into individual threads to see if there’s anything new. That’s an obvious hinderance to participation and I’m gonna make a first pass at fixing it next week.

I also recognize that it’s tough for readers to make room for a new online social space. People have their routines with Mastodon, Threads, Reddit, Instagram, etc. and each of those spaces has different social norms and unspoken rules. Getting used to a new space and learning what it’s “for” takes time. At the end of the day, it’s on me to facilitate discussion here. I’m not used to writing posts to spark conversation and it’s gonna take some time for that muscle to develop and to find a balance — I don’t want the site to become a series of prompts. (“Here’s a cool thing about giraffes. Do YOU like giraffes?” 🥴)

Like LLMs, we’ve all been trained on contemporary social media and tend to interact online in that way now. But per the community guidelines, I’m asking us to try for a slightly different sort of discussion:

There are three types of feedback I get often via email or social media that I love: 1) when someone sends me a link related to something I’ve shared (often with a short explanation/summary), 2) when a reader with expertise about something I’ve posted about shares their knowledge/perspective, or 3) when someone tells a personal story or shares an experience they had related to a post or link. When readers share this sort of constructive feedback, it improves the original post so much…that’s what I want to happen with comments on kottke.org.

The internet is full of places for people to go to express their opinions or argue about others’ opinions, so I’d like to steer away from that here. If we can prioritize talking about facts, sharing stories, experiences, and expertise over opinions, it’ll make for better, more informative threads.

I’d also like folks participating in threads to think a little bit less about what you might want out of making a comment and a little bit more about how your comment might help improve the community’s understanding of the topic at hand.

When I think about the posts & comments on social sites that I’m most interested in, they’re often experiences/personal stories, informed opinion, or, my personal favorite, links to related content. I’m gonna share some comments from this past week that hit these marks. First is Steven’s comment in the best 50 bars thread:

Our friend Kate Mikkelson has been tracking the best bars for years and maintaining her own list which may be of some relevance here. We were just in Brooklyn and while we didn’t make it to any of the bars on the most recent list we did go to Long Island Bar (twice) and had the best martini we’ve ever had, and enjoyed a great meal with excellent cocktails at Maison Premiere. Probably the best bar we’ve been to in recent memory was Artillery, in Savannah, but we’ve been lucky to visit many others, both with Chris and Kate and without, mostly in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Austin.

An excellent link, some context, and a little personal story.

I loved everyone sharing their favorite music videos in this thread. It took some cajoling by Caroline, but the thread got instantly better for everyone when people started sharing links to the videos they were talking about. Sharing links is a form of Showing Your Work and it only takes a few additional moments.

Though it contains fewer than 10 comments, I thought the best thread of the week was on the What a Japanese Neighborhood Izakaya Is Like post. I easily could have pinned every comment in the thread but I’ll highlight two here. First, this one by Thom:

One of the best gift’s a friend ever gave me was (silently) insisting we always meet at the same coffee shop. Over time, the connections we created and overall vibe of doing so spilled into other aspects of my life, especially when I travel. Usually when you go somewhere new you want to try as many things as possible. But I try and go to the same place repeatedly, glorying in the warmth of them learning my name, picking up on what I like to order, and finally telling me about things I should check out they think I’d like.

I don’t know if it’s a skill to do so, but, having now moved between cities and countries multiple times in my life, it’s my first objective when I find a new home. Go somewhere enough times until they know my name. In this small way it feels like my spending money there matters more than it would in a place where the staff turnover even day by day would make this impossible.

And Josh:

Love this. I recently stumbled onto a show on Netflix called Midnight Dinner about a guy who runs a Izakaya (though I didn’t know what it was called until this post). It follows the stories of his regulars and has been warm comfort TV as the nights get colder. Y’all might appreciate it as I’ve been doing.

https://youtu.be/OCGDVHjPX0c?si=uwWlyCbDRgFH7cpC

I’ve added Midnight Dinner to my Netflix queue — I hadn’t heard of it before. Comments like these make whatever posts I’ve written so much better — many thanks to these readers and everyone that else that took the time to comment this week.

I’ve been working nights and weekend for the past few weeks to get this thing going, quite happily for the most part, but I’m wiped. So I’m taking the rest of the day off (aside from one more post (with comments on!) after this one) to get a few things done around the house, do a bit of reading, and go watch my daughter play soccer. I’ll see you next week!

Discussion  20 comments

Shawn McCullough

I was going to request that an “open comments” indicator be added to the RSS feed posts, but you’ve already done this! Thank you for that.

gidge

Loving the comments! Quietly watching the conversation until I have something to add!

Jennifer Lee

Thank you for all the thought and intention you've put into enabling comments on your site!

Dacia
🔮 🆒 💯  comment

I cannot tell you how excited I was when you launched comments; I love a chance to contribute to the Kottke.org archive. And I think that might explain the decline in comments over the course of the week.

By that I mean…

As a longtime reader, one thing I know about this delightful corner of the internet is how intentional you are with your posts. It’s why I always come back. Calling back to your grad school reference, Kottke.org is a culture syllabus and sometimes I just want to hear the lecture, rather than participate in the seminar.

Reading Kottke.org all these years also taught me to be intentional, I think I wrote to you a couple of times in the past twenty years, and it was because there was a bit of history or an artifact that I thought was super cool and wanted to share because you might think it was cool too.

So, maybe folks are waiting until they have something to say before they say it?

Anyway, thank you for inviting us to contribute, and thank you fellow readers for contributing and to this internet treasure. See you in the comments!

Jason KottkeMOD

This seems right to me — I'm glad the intentionality vibe I'm putting down is getting picked up.

Question for you and others: was there a post this week that didn't have open comments that you would have commented on if that was an option? Maybe part of the solution here is to increase the possibilities sooner rather than later (although I'm happy keeping things slow for now).

Dacia

So I didn’t necessarily want to comment, but I did want to see what folks thought about Julia, the retelling of 1984. Or, if there are any recommendations of other great retelling a of literary classics.

But it feels right to keep things slow; we’re all right there with ya!

Bison Bison
🔥 👏 👍  comment

Having been online since dial-up BBS and USENET communities, I’ve seen the same mistakes being made over and over again when technology and community founders under-appreciate the challenges of fostering and moderating the people who use their spaces.

Most recently this has happened again with Elon Musk taking over Twitter and many new technologies and spaces opening up in response.

I think Nilay Patel did a good job summarizing the core issues and challenges in his essay “Welcome to Hell, Elon”.

And I’m happy Jason is taking on this challenge in a thoughtful and deliberate way. There is immense if intangible value in a strong community. I really look forward to where this experiment goes.

Gary P.

Like gidge, I'm excited about the comments. This new development was the tipping point that finally got me to support the site after a decade or so of freeloading. :/ I hope I have something insightful to add at some point (this isn't it). Thanks, Jason.

Nello L

In case you missed it … TidBITS is watching your experiment:

https://tidbits.com/2023/10/18/try-topical-alternatives-to-social-media/

Jason KottkeMOD

Oh, and I wanted to add that I've (somewhat sneakily) been using comments to add context and links to the original post using updates, even when the thread isn't open. For instance, this post on Estonia's mass transit fares.

Joe VanDeventer

I’ve been super excited about commenting! Adding the “Comment on this post” link on RSS (which I’ve just noticed now) took away one issue with why I wasn’t commenting; the other more specific one is that since we log in via email link from our mail client, I can’t comment from the siloed browser in my phone’s RSS client and have to switch over to Safari. (That might not be such a bad thing, though – Dacia’s comment about the intentionality of everything here rings true, and an extra couple of taps might be just the right tiny-sized barrier to make sure I’m only commenting if I’m extra excited.)

Phil Gyford

I don't know if this is a good idea, but it's an idea: Include any "top comments" after the post text in the RSS feed items. As a way of drawing people in to the discussion. And maybe, on the website, a way to filter comments to only see the "top comments"?

Not to say that the rest of the comments aren't worth reading, more that there will be people who wouldn't bother to read comments and a way of highlighting the good ones, and demonstrating that it's worth reading comments, and contributing, might help?

Jason KottkeMOD

Hey Phil, that's a good idea. I was planning on doing something like that on the front page, but it would work for RSS as well. But typically an RSS item is published when the post is first published and there aren't any comments at that point. Newsreaders are, as far as I can tell, inconsistent in how they update posts, so I'm not sure how many people would actually see an RSS item that's been updated? (If that makes any sense...)

Phil Gyford

Yeah, it's not perfect and, as you say, I expect newsreaders are inconsistent. But The Online Photographer manually appends "featured comments" to the ends of posts and they appear in Feedbin for me. I often don't read his posts for 24 hours or so just so I can see the featured comments. Which would be a problem if everyone did it!

BTW, #anchor links to each comment would be handy. Not just for linking to them - if a post's comments are particularly interesting I'd keep a browser tab open, linked to the most recent comment. Refreshing would let me see new comments and not lose my place.

Pete Ashton
🔥 🙌 👍  comment

I honestly think if a post has just one comment, and that comment is a good one that adds value, then that's a massive win. I don't think we need a Metafilter-style thing here. The option to add something if warranted is great, but I'd be perfectly happy with "0 comments" as the norm.

Tim CarmodyMOD

I love comments — I got my first high-profile blogging gig, at Snarkmarket, because I was a frequent (and let's face it, an outstanding) commenter — and the thoughtfulness with which they've been implemented here.

Enjoy your weekend, Jason. Hit the showers, champ! You deserve it.

Isah

✊🏼🪵 = knock on wood (per me and me alone)

I posted this emoji-phrase this morning on the company Slack when our Dev Team rolled out a long-awaited fix to our platform.

Leonid Domnitser

Excited to see what comments will bring! I wonder if it would work better to have comments open on all posts by default. (This will be more tenable when you have some kind of moderation dashboard.)

But then readers will be trained to always expect comments. And it doesn't always have to be a whole discussion—one good comment on a quick link post can be valuable!

Hank

So one way you could encourage the kind of posts you’re describing here is by making a “like” like button, (but perhaps a different button) that marks the post conforms to the criteria you’ve set. That should quickly allow readers who understand the criteria to upvote those comments that conform.

Luke Davis

This is awesome and you inadvertently reminded me that I was a member! 🙈

This thread is closed for new comments & replies. Thanks to everyone for participating!