Lo-Fi Approach to Accepting Comments on a Personal Website

created Apr 27, 2017

Apr 26, 2017 HN comment in a thread about commenting systems meant to replace Disqus.

I disabled comments on my blog a while ago. Private comments? Email me. Public comments? Write a blog post in response, I'll link to it at the bottom of my article. Improves the quality of the dialogue significantly.

Love that idea. Simpler, safer, and less hassle than implementing Webmentions.

I still like the Indieweb's Webmention idea, assuming that it does not lead to spam and time-wasting moderation.

Requiring commenters to create replies on their own web presence and contacting the author via email to mention the URL of the reply is a barrier to entry that cuts down on the flamers, trolls, and troglodytes. Obviously, they can send emails, but authors can block or filter those email addresses.

For a commenting system, another HN user suggested the obvious:

twitter is also another nice option.

Nah. I would choose sharing an email address, instead of publicly engaging with potential wackos on Twitter.

Another HN user countered the Twitter suggestion with:

Would prefer Mastodon/GNUSocial over that.

I don't know if Mastodon/Gnu Social is the answer either because of the limitations in post size which can either lead to the "storm" stream of posts or quick, low quality posts.

I would choose Webmentions over Mastodon/Gnu social because the latter requires me to create yet another account somewhere.

Comments system options for a blog site, listed from best to worst:

  1. Email
    • Private comments? Email me.
    • Public comments? Write a blog post as reply, email me the link to the blog post, and I can add the link to the bottom of my article that the reply post referred to.
  2. Webmentions
  3. Gnu Social/Mastodon (distant third, maybe unworthy of consideration.)

https://marco.org/2010/06/16/comments

I don’t see my writing as a collaborative effort, and I don’t see my site as a community in which I need to enable internal discussion via comments. A blog post is a one-to-many broadcast.

We already have a widespread many-to-one feedback: email. So that’s the feedback system that I allow on my site. Anyone can email me, and I will read it.

Those who truly want to start a discussion usually have their own blogs, so they can write their commentary to their audience.

I don’t make it difficult to give me feedback. What’s not possible is reaching my audience, on my site, without my permission.

September 2017

Top HN comment:

I'll admit it's quite nice for replying to comments on blogs, but there's no reason that a) needs to happen in a public comment and b) that you cannot provide an email for people to reach you at. In any case, almost all the good conversation is in a secondary place—reddit, hacker news, social media. I'm far more likely to send you an email than I am to sign into an unaffiliated third party and trust their cookies.

Another HN comment:

While it's true that almost all the good conversation is in a secondary place, it's also true that a lot of it would not reach the author, especially if the discussion happens in a secondary place that the author would not expect it to.

Another HN comment:

I blog a decent amount, and I don't like getting emails about my posts. I'd much rather have the discussion publicly. When we talk in the open other people can contribute to and learn from the discussion. Putting lots of effort in a careful back and forth conversation with a reader is much less worth it if it's a private 1:1.

Another HN comment:

Call me old-school but email works. Everyone has an email address. It's so simple, is a standard. They can even do a fancy portal to email, as a form. Email even sits there until you have time to deal with it.

I've been using email successfully, since the early 1980s. It's easy enough for us old people to understand. Well, some of us understand it. Some folks insist on doing it in emacs, but they are few and far between.

Another email suggestion:

Let me be silly: go back to the nineties. Provide your email address as an image, receive the comments in your inbox, append the really interesting ones to your blog article.

You really want to remove the spam and will have to do some moderation in order to keep your comments feed clean and interesting anyway. Making it a bit more difficult for your readers to comment has the advantageous effect that they'll think twice before writing. Moreover it also changes the way they write, because now they are addressing to a specific person instead of talking to everyone.

For sure it will probably drastically reduce the number of comments you get, but which one do you prefer: quantity or quality?

In my opinion, these are bad ideas:

Putting your email in an image is a hassle for the user. A better option is to wrap a link in javascript that "constructs" your email from an encoded string and sets the link's href to the appropriate mailto on hover. This is user friendly but incredibly hard to harvest in an automated fashion.

And if the user reads with JavaScript disabled, then I assume that the email address won't be displayed.

Provide a form so people can write to you without disclosing their email or even having one.

If a web author maintains a 100 percent static site, then that means the author's server has no mechanism to execute server-side programs to process a form POST request and no way to store the comment.

If a person does not have an email address, then too bad. That's an acceptable barrier. If people don't want to disclose their email address, that's also an acceptable barrier to commenting on someone else's website.

This is not about making it easier for commenters. It's about making it easy for personal website owners who might want to accept feedback.

No rule exists that commands web authors to make it easy for readers to post comments. Barriers to entry can increase the comment quality.

The HN thread contained over 70 comments as of Tue, Sep 26, 2017, and nobody mentioned IndieWeb, Webmention, nor brid.gy.

April 2019

Excerpts from a January 2018 post:

https://darekkay.com/blog/static-site-comments/

If you don’t get a lot of comments, think about adding them manually. Let your readers send you an email via a form or a link at the end of every post. You get fully static comments without JavaScript, some kind of moderation and maybe even spam protection (depending on your email provider). This, of course, comes at a cost of manual work.

Finally, removing comments altogether is also an option. I suggest adding at least a “Drop me an email” link at the bottom of the page. I’ve received some valuable comments over the years, but I believe they would also have reached me via email if I had no comment section. However, you won’t be able to build a community with people interacting with one another.

That post mentioned multiple methods for accepting comments, but it did not mention the IndieWeb's Webmention idea. And not every personal website author wants to maintain a community on his or her website. In my opinion, the "community" is the broader open web.

All of the personal websites form a community. That's why commenters should post their replies on their own websites and then email or Webmention the URLs to their replies to the sites being replied to. This commenting process could be viewed as slower with more manual work, which could lead to fewer comments, but in my opinion, those comments will be of a higher quality.


More from April 2019. I'm excerpting from this March 2018 Hacker News thread that pointed to https://indieweb.org.

HN comment:

This is an interesting thing, but too complicated and over-broad for the mere-mortal. It should be enough to just provide an RSS/Atom feed. WRT comments, well, I never want them on my website anyways, because my blog is for my content. If anybody's interested enough in responding me, they can write an email or another blog post. If I really want comments on a particular post, I post it to HN and/or Reddit.

Anything other than the pages, the feed and a mailto: link is just unnecessary IMHO. If I want a federated social media, no need for implementing and maintaining al this burden, there's Mastodon.

I agree that doing the following is simple for me to do:

But all of that may not be simple to do for most social media users.

I don't see how maintaining a Mastodon instance and using Mastodon is less of a burden than adding IndieWeb concepts. I struggle to understand ActivityPub, but I have implemented at sawv.org the following IndieWeb-promoted tech ideas:

And Mastodon is more of a Twitter-like replacement and not a Facebook nor Medium.com replacement. I would prefer a Medium-like replacement, which is why I like personal websites, feeds, email, and Webmentions.

HN reply to the above comment:

This doesn't make any sense. No one is going to email you or write a blog posts for some minor remark. Not only will you not get any discussion on your site but you also would not get corrections if you'r wrong on the subject, which hurts your blog. Now there are easy ways to implement comments even for static sites, specially with the so called 'serverless cloud' servers.

Reply to the reply:

This doesn't make any sense.

It makes sense when you can be liable for what others say, and when you don't want to maintain a small community forum under each post, and when you want you blog to be a platform for your ideas.

No one is going to email you or write a blog posts for some minor remark. Not only will you not get any discussion on your site but you also would not get corrections if you'r wrong on the subject, which hurts your blog.

I've gotten such emails in the past. Written too.

Now there are easy ways to implement comments even for static sites, specially with the so called 'serverless cloud' servers.

Easy ways available only as long as companies who sell them are available. Not also that, but with user-hostile tracking code packaged in. And even if self hosted, then adding lots of burden for not much gain, given it needs to be maintained and secured.

Another HN response:

I get emails from my blog with some frequency. The people who write me come with questions or additions to my content. The signal-to-noise ratio has been amazing compared to any comment/forum system I've used in the past. I think the very small barrier to contact greatly improves the quality of the contact.

Another HN comment:

This echoes my experience. Comments are mostly useless, but people who email me are generally more helpful. I have an email link right next to each post, so it's probably easier to email me than it is to write a comment.

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