Before the semester starts in earnest, we are trying to upgrade some aspects of EphBlog. So, if you have an opinion and/or some technical expertise, we want to hear from you. Today’s issue is comments.

We hope that EphBlog will be the home to some rollicking discussion, as it was last year over topics like tips, quotes and military service. However, I, at least, find it hard to follow the discussion sometimes because the comments were not “threaded,”, i.e., there was no automatic way to figure out who was responding to what. See Derek Catsam’s ’93 blog for an example of threaded comments.

Here are some thoughts from our genius site maintainer Eric on how threaded comments might or might not work on EphBlog.

There is a threading plug-in that I can install that should be relatively “easy” (still will require a lot of edits – thankfully I think I can do it in a test template and the database changes “shouldn’t” break anything else). With that in place, then there is nothing with MT that inherently won’t allow threading comments (it basically says that one comment has an overall parent that is the original post, but then has a secondary and closer parent that is the comment to which it is a specific response to).

The main issue with any threading solution, regardless of MT, TextPattern, WordPress, or any other CMS (content management solution/system) is that visually they need to be represented in a way that indents them (like LiveJournal). That is not a problem at all if you have a comment that gets a single response.

But when you start getting a response to that response, etc, etc – the indents quickly get out of hand and usually break the style of the page (meaning they may overlap other content, distort the page layout, or any number of other nasties on the visual side). This can happen in just a matter of two or three nested replies. LiveJournal gets around this by making them just links after that, and then you have to click on them to view more – but it is (IMO) an ugly way of doing it and is not a pleasant user experience.

That visual ugliness has been the main thing holding me up – aside from any other commitments that increasingly come up.

Another option is a discussion board – such as what I put up at http://www.etraininglog.com/forums/index.php – but even those don’t thread (very few discussion boards thread, again due to the visual side of it), and instead have a “quote” feature. We could implement a “quote” feature on ours so that there is a link with each comment that says “quote” and when it is pressed (if they have JavaScript enabled, which most people do) then it puts the text into “blockquote” tags in their reply field (this is actually something that they can do now just manually typing out those tags and copying and pasting what they want).

I definitely agree with you that perhaps the best thing to do is to post a question right to the blog and get responses. It is very much possible that someone may know an easier/better way to do it, or it is also arguably possible that nobody even cares if they are threaded or not.

This is, of course, tied into our choice of Movable Type as a blogging platform. My first choice would be to do all of this at WSO, but they lack the capability (I think) for multiple authors.

So, does anyone have any insights on how to make the comments capabilities of EphBlog more useful and conducive to good conversation?

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