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TIMO ZIMMERMANN

balancing software engineering & infosec

Is Hacker News The Superior Commenting System?

posted on Sunday 4th of March 2012 in

I think everyone knows commenting systems like Disqus or livefyre.
They try to make commenting on blogs social. People replace existing
commenting systems with them to gain some advantages. But is this really
necessary? Why should we not stick to something we all love? Why should
we not just use Hacker News as commenting system?

The History Of Comments On Hopelesscom

I always allowed comments. Well there was a short time when I switched
to Zenbo but this was my first test how it would feel to blog without
comments enabled. Before I migrated to Zenbo I was using WordPress.
I moved all comments to Disqus. Now I could just add them to my –
not yet released – archive. I used it for about 3 months.

Should You Allow Comments On Your Blog?

I think this is one of the biggest questions you have to answer before
you think about how you can handle comments. I have read many well
known blogs that discussed the advantages and disadvantages of comments.

Currently I am still not really sure what I will declare as ultimate truths.
I like comments. If people comment on posts you know that you wrote something
interesting. There is some great input. Even if people just tell you that
you are a idiot and got it totally wrong. If you learned something thanks
to the comment it was totally worth enabling them.

On the other hand you get a lot of crap that just consumes valuable time.
Beside the time investment you also have to make sure to look what
exactly was posted if you care about your Google ranking.

Why Disqus And Other Systems Just Suck

Did you ever try to style them? Did you ever experience what happens to
your site when the servers are down? Did you ever try to style them?
Spending time to create a stunning theme for you blog or website that
is just totally destroyed by Disqus or other systems is sad. But I found
no way to customize them to the point I would consider them a great
alternative. And if Disqus has server problems it can get really ugly.
Believe me, I have seen them.

Disqus is nearly a standard among people using a static site generator
like Jekyll or Zenbo.

We will not start arguing about JavaScript. Look at your calendar. It is
2012. If you still use lynx, refuse to whitelist domains and declare JS
as the ultimate evil you are just an elitist asshole that likely also
tries to shove the GPL down some corporate asses. Sorry, you are a relict
of the past. At least in the modern web. You should not care about
comments and what to use. Back to your mailinglists.

I do not say that you should stop using plugins as NoScript. They are
valuable. But whitelisting a domain is no black magic and if you want
to write a comment it does not hurt. Refusing to comment because you
would have to whitelist the domain is okay. It is your stuff no one is
reading. It does not effect most bloggers.

When you work with commenting systems you just have to die one death.
Either you do not get all those shiny social media features or basic
stuff like user authentication or you – most of the time – have to use
JavaScript which is, as I already said, totally fine in 2012.

How Important Are Comments In Your Blog?

Some of the posts I have recently written were viewed between 8000 to
12000 times in the first few hours. If you browse the last posts you
will see one comment. Did nobody care? Did they just read it to
kill some time? Did I fuck up?

No. They all commented on Hacker News, reddit and all the other sites.
But why do people discuss posts on other locations then the original
blog? I will use Hacker News as example.

One point I have to sign and one of the reasons why I tried to use
Disqus is ownership. When you comment on posts you have no way to
show people your awesome thoughts on various topics in a central place.

Another good point is that people who have to use accounts associated
with them are a lot less trolling. Also a welcome side effect.

People use Hacker News to browse news. And they discuss them directly
on the site. Why should they duplicate the content? Why should they
miss the opportunity to show other people what they think? Maybe even
engage in the conversation with people they already know or had some
discussions with them? It is a lot easier to use a central point for
your discussions then spreading them on single blogs.

A great example for someone using Hacker News as commenting system is
Zach Holman. In the footer of every post is a direct invitation
to discuss the post on Hacker News. I have chosen his blog because he
delivers great content and is IMHO well known for his posts.

Use What Fits Your Blog

Know your blog and know your audience. If you run a blog about cakes
your posts do not exactly fit in the niche Hacker News is covering.
Maybe a Facebook commenting box is the best solution for you. Or just
the one that is already included in your blogging system.

You are a social media whore? Great! Use livefyre or something else
that pulls all the reactions, even on the newest and most unimportant
social networks, in your blog.

There are several options and you have to find the one that fits your blog,
your audience and your topic. For technical blogs Hacker News is a great
option. Even if I am not sure that they like the fact to be used as
commenting system.

With the communities in mind I believe that technical blogs should all
start using Hacker News as commenting service. Or if there would be a
problem an alternative like Hackful. Let communities do what they
are supposed to do. Talk, discuss and flame stuff other people produce
and write. If someone has a problem with the fact that he should create
an account on Hacker News to comment on your posts I suggest you point
him to the JavaScript part in this post and read the conclusion.

Future Of Hopelesscom

As I already said I am not totally sure what I will be doing. I currently
think that the Hacker News way is the best I can go. I do not need
control. If someone thinks I am an ignorant asshole he or she is welcome
to say it. If someone thinks I wrote an awesome post he or she is
welcome to say it. I never censored or deleted comments that were critical
or even insulting. I can live with the opinion of other people. They will
not change it just because I delete the comment. I will only prove that
they are right.

I really believe that we reached a point where we should hand back the
comments to the owners. Creating another community is hard work and
most of the time does not work as expected. There are communities for
everything. And if there isn’t one just use Facebook. It will likely fit
your site. Use your blog what it was initially meant for. Publishing
your opinion and content.