Comment Hierarchy is Horrible !

Choosing to have your blog’s comment thread in a “hierarchy” arrangement is a favorite of blogging newbies and even a few experienced bloggers. Look at a comment thread with hierarchy and try to read it — does it make sense?  Probably not.  Of course the ugliness of comment hierarchy only shows up if your comment threat has a dozen comments of so.  Those of you who rarely get comments will never see the problems that I am about to list.

Here is a list of all the nasty aspects of hierarchies:

  • Chronicity is lost:  You can’t tell who said what when.  A comment can be made that is referring to one listed far below it.  The time element is lost.
  • E-mail hassles:  When you follow comments and get notified by e-mail of a new comment:
    • (1)  You can’t tell if that comment is directed at you or someone else
    • (2)  If you click on the link, it won’t take you to the right place in the thread and you have to spend a long time searching for the comment.
  • Skinny:  As comments get deeper, they get narrow and ugly
  • Mistakes:  People often put replies in the wrong place
  • Single Replies:  You can’t usefully reply to more than one comment at a time.
Comment hierarchy has only one advantage:  it puts your reply to a specific comment, right below that comment.  But without hierarchy this can easily be done  by simply writing “@ Sabio:“, in a reply to Sabio (for instance).  The “@” symbol method is superior because when you get e-mail notification of a comment, you know who the commentor is talking to right there in your e-mail without needing to go to the blog. (see #1 above)

If you are using WordPress, here is how to remove the ugly hierarchy:

  • Go to your dashboard — look down the left menu
  • Find “Settings” and click on “Discussion”
  • Find “Other comment settings”
  • Uncheck the “enable threaded (nested) comments” option
Note: see other posts on Blogging here


Filed under Blogging

24 responses to “Comment Hierarchy is Horrible !

  1. Ian

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I especially like platforms that have numbered comments, so in addition to replying to individuals, you can do “#34 – Well okay, but…”. In particularly active comment discussions one participant can be debating several people in concert, and this makes it easier to join the fray.

  2. The “numbering-option” sounds good.
    I have also heard of platforms where:
    If a commentor writes “@Sabio” in the comment, that a notice will go to Sabio via e-mail if Sabio checked: “only send e-mailed comments directed to me”
    Which I think is fantastic! Wish WordPress had this. I have to cancel subscriptions to posts with too many comments which I am not interested in. It would be nice if the also allowed you to enter @Fred or other names of comments directed to these folks that you want to follow.
    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I don’t have the ugly problem with skinniness with intense debate, I have had the problem with the email hassle, I have had one mistake out of hundreds of comments which using intense debate I was able to delete quick, I never got used to multi-replies so I like the single reply system.

  4. Youtube is the worst at this. They let popular comments float to the top, and one has no idea what they are replying to.

  5. @ William
    I have not used blogger nor intense debate. Curious how they work.

    @ Mike
    Yeah, YouTube seems oddly organized for such a popular medium.

  6. Blogger has a comment system exactly like your current one (non-hierarchal), Intense Debate is hierarchal but doesn’t really get skinny.

  7. Done. Thanks for the prompt, Sabio. I couldn’t agree more. That “skinniness” is the most ridiculous feature anyone could think up. Unless, of course, the developers assumed Twitter-like replies.

    Thanks for the instructions. May your cause flourish.

    Love your blog, by the way.

  8. Excellent.Just caught your link on Warrioress. Not being blog savvy ,this is a godsend(sic). Thanks.

  9. Great, Arkenaten, hope you start a blog soon.

  10. Putting in a dissenting view…I like the hierarchical system. I have only just gone over to it after over six years of the straight chronological. It gives me better control of engaging with individual commenters and containing the relevant comments in one spot. Each to their own, eh?

  11. @ J Cosmo Newbery,
    Well, looking at your blog (which is rather typical of poetry blogs), there is absolutely no dialogue or conversations between commentors. At best, poetry bloggers reply to the comment but no one follows and no return comments ensues. Thus comment hierarchies are not deeper than 1 level deep. So for that sort of blog, you won’t see the horror of hierarchy comments. 🙂

    So yes, they are probably just perfect for your site.

  12. @Cosmo: NP — I just commented on your Cosmology poem!

  13. This is somewhat off-topic, but I believe the ‘best choice’ word for those of us who comment on blogs is commenters. Admittedly this is a gray area of language as most on-line dictionaries do not recognize either word. However, logically (and you appear to be a very logical man), a driver is one who drives, a killer is one who kills and a commenter is one who comments. The -or ending is not commonly used in English.
    suum cuique

  14. suum cuique is latin for: each to his own

  15. Thanx for the suggestion, red dirt girl. I debated which version to use:
    (a) commentor
    (b) commenter

    But language, as you know, is not logical. For we also have aviator and navigator.

    What do you think?

    Latine est sacra non


  16. I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here. And I annotated the latin in retrospect to honor your tradition of annotating ….everything?! Grammatically, the following argument makes sense to me:

    The “-er” is a so-called agent noun suffix, and it is very common in English.
    On the other hand, the agent noun suffix “-or”, while it does exist, is not common at all. Wiktionary lists as few as twelve terms that were derived using this suffix, and offers the following usage notes:

    English generally appends this suffix where Latin would do it—to the root of a Latin-type perfect passive participle. For other words, English tends to use the suffix -er. Occasionally both are used (computer vs. computor).

    Truly this is your call, not mine.

  17. @ red dirt,
    Well, I check Google Ngram also — have you heard of it — ooops, don’t mean to insult your intelligence, 🙂
    Anyway, at Google Ngram, it seems that my choice of “commentor” has been around a long while but since the 1970s it has been dwarfed by your far more popular choice of “commenter”. So if democracy is to rule (often an ugly sight), I should concede that the language is head your way.

    But as you point out, apparently:

    the Oxford English Dictionary makes some historical distinctions, attributing -ER to words of English origin and -OR to words that entered English from Anglo-Norman, Old French or Latin.

    And “comment” is of Latin origin (not Germanic). So for that reason, “OR” should win. But heck, we are forgetting “-ar” as in “beggar”. Maybe it should be “commentar”

    But alas, Fowler’s Modern English Usage sums up the -ER versus -OR situation as follows:

    “The agent termination -ER can theoretically be joined to any existing English verb. In practice, many such words (and there are about 100 of them in common use) have -ER as a termination and others have -OR. … Scholarly attempts to account for the distribution of the -ER and -OR forms continue to be made, but the problem remains unresolved.”

    So now I am more confused. But I appreciate you introducing the confusing.

    It wasn’t until 2 days ago that I learned of the controversy of “rhyme” and “rime” — with Ngram showing “rhyme” winning. Though I must say, I like the rebelliousness of “rime”.

  18. So we are all off to read the “Rime of the Ancient Marinor” then?

  19. Cosmo, you crack me up 🙂

  20. No I did not know about Ngram. Now I do. I remain unconvinced – popularity polls do not a grammarian make. However, I am all for rebellion in any form.

    Perhaps you could call me the Red Dirt Commentator … too formal??

    I can see why you cling to your ‘o’ – it does have certain sense of wholeness and completion which neither ‘a’ nor ‘e’ can provide. ‘O’ in any font or size remains true to itself. You must appreciate its firm roundness, sitting ripe and warm in the palm of your hand. ‘e’ is a truncated o and ‘a’ looses its o-ness completely. Yes ‘a’ is definitely a hot mess. 😉


  21. @ redgirl,
    I think you misunderstood the Ngram — it is in favor of the -ER. -ER wins by numbers and I agree that numbers is a poor way to win.
    So it seems we agree that aesthetically -OR is fantastic and rebellion makes it attractive and its latin origin makes it possible more appropriate for -OR. I don’t “cling” to the -OR, I was simply trying to delineate the arguments. I liked your aesthetic eval!

  22. I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.  
    – Samuel Clements (spelled M-a-r-k T-w-a-i-n)

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