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Weblog Entry

Reply Highlighting

May 25, 2004

Replies to mezzoblue’s redesign have been, well, let’s say ‘polarizing’. The various issues that have been raised will be analyzed in more depth over the coming week or two. First on the list is the new ‘Reply Legend’ on the comments pages since it’s bound to be the most controversial.

There are two issues here, the technical implementation, and the social aspect. Let’s tackle the easier of the two first: how I did it.

There’s no XFN going on — although if I’d figured out a way that would have been a neat option, and now that it has been suggested someone should — all that’s happening is that a PHP regular expression is being run against the URI a commenter leaves behind.

Low-tech, insecure, but hopefully managable. The easy way to game this system is to leave someone else’s URI instead of your own, but I’m counting on the magic of PageRank and the desire for overflow links to keep everyone honest. There’s absolutely nothing now (short of TypeKey) stopping one from spoofing another on anyone’s site, but the payoff is a tiny little bit more in this case. Obviously this won’t scale, and will probably break sooner than I’d expect, but for now it works.

The first thing I did was build an array of domains. This is where there’s marked room for improvement, but since I just wanted something that would work, I literally dropped a big list options into an array. This is how the Zen Garden runs, this is how the ‘Recommending’ booklist on this site runs, and now this is how the Reply highlighting runs. When you’ve got a good thing…

<?
$item[0] = "1976design.com";
$item[1] = "andybudd.com";
$item[2] = "7nights.com";
$item[3] = "wholelottanothing.org";
$item[4] = "cssvault.com";
$item[5] = "designbyfire.com";

And so on. The next step was to set a final count of how many are in the list, something I should be able to do automatically, but don’t:

$itemCount = 6;

And finally the PHP that does the search and replace looks like this:

function importantVoice($authorURL) {
 global $itemCount, $item;
 if ($authorURL == "http://www.mezzoblue.com/") {
  return " dave";
 }
 for ($i = 1; $i < $itemCount; $i++) {
  if (eregi(($item[$i]), $authorURL)) {
   if ($authorURL != "") return " voce";
  }
 }
 if ($authorURL == "http://none/") {
  return " troll";
 }
 if ($authorURL == "") {
  return " anon";
 }
}
?>

First it checks if the comment author is me. If so, it returns the value ” dave”. Next it checks for the list of ‘Important Voices’ and if there’s a match, returns ” voce”. The troll/off-topic check basically won’t work unless I manually change a commenter’s URI in MT, so I don’t expect to use it a lot, but I want to see if it will prove useful. Finally, if there is no URI, the comment is considered semi-anonymous and ” anon” is returned.

If you strip out the comments interspersed above and drop all code between <? and ?> into a PHP file, you’ve got the basic setup. The last step is to tie it in. When the container for each comment is being generated, the function above is passed the author’s URI as an argument:

<div class="reply<?=
 importantVoice("<$MTCommentURL$>");
?>">

In this case, Movable Type generates the URI and then importantVoice parses it. The final output is a <div> with two classes:

<div class="reply dave">

From there it’s easy to hook my CSS into the <div> and style it as-needed.

Now that we have the technical stuff down, let’s move on to the other issue, the social aspect. The problem that this is solving is that I have less and less time to keep up with the comments on this site. When any new post easily gathers 30 or 40 within a few days, the options are threefold. First, disable all comments. Second, play the absentee landlord and let the comments take on a life of their own. Third, do something to make cruising the list more fun.

I have my own opinions on why the first and second aren’t a good idea, so I’ve decided to try something different. My choices of those who I often read manifest themselves in various ways; my newsreader, for example, and the list of links on the right-hand side of many pages on this site (not all pages anymore, just most). In the same way, I’d like to see my comments pages filtered a bit by who I find stimulating.

I’m still resolving how the highlighting should work. I began the idea by listing only seven or eight commenters I felt to be ‘experts’ in their chosen specialty, but the list grew to about 20 by the time I launched. So now there’s a taxonomy problem, since the distinction between ‘important’ and ‘regular’ comments is off-putting. I don’t mean to create a hierarchy, I just still not sure what to call each. Further, I didn’t have any system at all for determining those 20, so from now on the list of who is marked in orange is pulled from the link list in the right-hand column of this site’s home page. The list is public, so you know ahead of time who’s orange, and now I use the same criteria for building both lists. What are those criteria? Probably the same as you use to build your own blogroll or newsreader feed list or whatever you choose.

Note that domains have to match too, so for example when a certain Mr. Clark comments and leaves his joeclark.org domain, the highlighting doesn’t pick it up because it expects his fawny.org domain. (Of course, now the opposite is true, since I’ll assume that’s what he’ll use for future comments.)

Semi-Anonymous comments are, as most have noticed, comments that are made without a URI attached. I don’t mean to imply that those without their own sites have less worthwhile things to say, but at the same time, most issues discussed on this site are about building for the web. If you’re here to discuss that, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t have a site of your own. It’s partially a credibility issue, but partially an accountability issue too — it’s easier to be snide when you’re hiding behind a facade of anonymity.

I don’t really intend to turn everything inside-out, so I’ll leave it at this. I don’t expect everyone to love this system, and I may end up completely overhauling it, but for now it’s something new to play with. Good? Bad? We’ll certainly find out.


Addendum: I’ve already decided to change the way it works, mainly in response to the feedback I’ve been receiving. Instead of auto-highlighting a pre-select list of commenters, I’ve changed it so that only those individual comments I choose to highlight will receive the yellow box. More work for me, so don’t expect much yellow. We’ll see how this goes.


Reader Comments

May 25, 07h

Very nice, it’s no longer a “mess of blue” :)

The dropdowns don’t work in Opera (7.23).

d says:
May 25, 07h

no idea what you’re talking about.

May 25, 07h

Mezzoblue sounded like “Mess of blue” to me. That’s all. I didn’t really hate your old design (apart from the text being to small for my eyes).

I’m a huge Opera fan now and I use it all the time (I’m using it right now) and I noticed the dropdowns didn’t work in Opera 7.23 windows.

Andrew says:
May 25, 07h

I like everything (I mean everything) about this new redesign save for the header 3 sidebar image. Good job Dave.

May 25, 07h

Sorry posted this in the wrong place. My bad.

Dave, do note that the dropdowns don’t work in Opera.

Andrew says:
May 25, 07h

Also, Dave i’m interest in what you are using to power you site now. Have you moved away from Movable type?

May 25, 07h

Innovative concept in showcasing which comments are from “trusted visitors” and which are from anonymous posters or trolls. Thanks for pointing this simple (yet elegant) design solution to provide people with incentive to register/provide contact info and become members of a community.

Alex says:
May 25, 08h

I think the system is great! It works perfectly for your site, because so many people comment on it, like you said. Brilliant!

Anonymous says:
May 25, 08h

I think that this system is utter BULL. But, I’ll explain why, and why I’ve hidden myself in anonymity.

I’m totally fine with the following. Coloring your friends comments on your site for fun. Coloring “experts” (of which I don’t think your list is really well suited) comments on your site to make their viewpoint standout. This is all fine.

However, I really don’t like your statement about the fact that someone that has something to say on one of your topics, and that doesn’t have a website, obviously doesn’t have something “good” to say. This is absolutely obsurd thinking on your part. I have a few acquantences that I would consider experts far more than those listed on this site, and a few of them do not have a, now considered expert, weblog. I seriously cannot believe you had the balls to say something like that.

Perhaps your comment system should work more like a forum, where the more you post comments the higher your ranking. This seems to make much more sense. Especially since you remove spam, and will remove any comments that are not valid on a given topic.

About me being Anon, it’s because my identity really has nothing to do with my opinion, nor should it make my opinion more valid than anyone else.

But it’s your website, not ours, do what you like.

May 25, 08h

“There’s absolutely nothing now (short of TypeKey) stopping one from spoofing another on anyone’s site, but the payoff is a tiny little bit more in this case.”

TypeKey won’t stop *anyone* from spoofing anyone else’s site.
PGP-signed comments will.

I’m not sure how I feel about the “Important Voice”s distinction. But, hey, it’s your comments section.

The impression it gives (or reinforces) is that the bulk of the 130-odd comments on your previous post were of the “me-too!” variety, rather than substantive. For large, *substantive* comment sections, threaded comments would be a much better way to tame them.

Your method gives your comments section more of the “/.” feel. Not something I’d aspire to.

(BTW, you can *fix* the smart-quotes turning into Windows-1252 characters thing — which plagued my first pass at this comment.)

May 25, 08h

Dave, I’ll tell ya – this is the first time that a new trick put me dead in the middle in terms of personal opinion. Re: colored commenting, I’m split two ways. First, I like because I’ll admit I too often skim the comment roll to see what the “bigger” names have to say. This makes that task much easier. Second, in contrast, I get the feeling that the old adage of the big getting bigger while the small get smaller is only reinforced by the “skin” color of the comments (oh, that’ll get the sticks tossed my way). Meaning, it only makes it easier for the “important” to shout even louder when the “less important” may have something of equal importance to shout about.

Regardless, you’ve taken commenting to a whole new level. Props for rocking the boat.

May 25, 08h

—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Hash: SHA1

Aw! Dang. You removed “Badnews Bear”s shiny blue comment before I could comment on it. Clearly, it doesn’t do to impersonate the owner of the blog. But it did neatly illustrate the utter pointlessness of keying off an unverified piece of information like the URL left by the commenter.

If your are going to start distinguishing commenters by “who” they claim to be, I *am* going to start PGP-signing my comments on your blog. (Normally, I restrict this fetish to those blogs that actually support signed comments. In your case, I’ll make an exception.)
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (Darwin)

iD8DBQFAtA8UnyqPIXpYcjcRAplUAJsG65nlxxsZmt8LCJJ1vTN3jO/MYACfRFBf
oL7Y1ofYmBceVTa+Xvti0yk=
=X1Pl
—–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

Brian G says:
May 25, 08h

I think this whole redesign has been awesome, and I love the new commenting highlighting system. To be honest, I scan for the “important voices” anyway even before you ever highlighted them.

I’ve heard a few people complain about Opera not liking certain things…should we really still code for Opera? Honestly, if the page is XHTML valid, and works in IE using hacks…should we really care about that .1% who are using the Netscape 4.7 of 2004? Not a slam against Opera users, I just find Opera to be buggy as heck since version 6.

May 25, 08h

Yeah, I agree with Cameron, the hierarchy issue will come into play for sure. I do however like seeing your comments highlighted. That to me makes sense and makes it easier for because then we can see the author’s (you) participation in the following discussion.

If only there was a way that you could just highlight it on your side for your own personal viewing…

May 25, 08h

I’m split by this, whilst I think it’s a good idea, I would have kept the system private, so *I* could scan the list but kept the comments system a level playing field as far as the outside world is concerned.

I can only really echo other posters here in saying that your definition and my/our definitions of experts/important voices differ, there are names mentioned here that mean something to me, but on the flip side of that there are “experts” that this (and other) blogs rave about that very few people (in my world, uk based creative/mixed media) have heard of.

I’d not have been so quick to explain how the cogs work behind this one though, as I think you may have opened the comment system up to abuse.

May 25, 08h

The reply highlighting is an interesting concept, for sure. Obviously everyone’s opinion of who is an “expert” will vary, so people will have to realize that the people who are awarded a special distinction on mezzoblue are simply people that you respect and hold in high esteem. Personally, I think perhaps something a bit less bold might be a better implementation, though the choice is entirely yours. I do really like the fact that it’s now very easy to pick out your comments, however. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing this or something like it popping up on various blogs in the not too distant future. Glad to see some innovation, Dave.

Derek says:
May 25, 08h

The graded comment highlighting is certainly interesting, but I think the strikeout style on the “lowest rung” is a bit extreme.

Overall, I like the new look. The header I can take or leave—I liked the old, bigger logo—but I’m very fond of the colour scheme and overall crispness of the design.

May 25, 08h

I think it’s really interesting that as more and more people recognize you as a leader in your field, the less and less your work is your own. Even on a personal site you need to be concerned with opinion and politics and what’s worse, the unrequested demands on your time and attention. That can get old real quick.

One thing no one has mentioned yet (at least as I’m writing this around comment 11) is the pressure the new system puts on those “Important Voices.” Someone mentioned that they know people without websites that they consider far more relevant than some of the experts recognized by Mezzoneue. It works both ways.

I don’t see myself as elevated above anybody else. Where others might feel left out, I feel my words may now be subject to unnecessary scrutiny and criticism (which is why I’ve chosen to subvert the system in this one instance and step down from the soapbox the system provides). Let’s not forget that it’s the voices en mass that elevate the few–they don’t project themselves.

That said, this is a personal site so Dave, your explanation is cake with me. And I like cake.

Dave S. says:
May 25, 08h

Can I ask a question of everyone who doesn’t like the that I’m highlighting? What makes this inherently different from a blogroll? I have one, many of you have one, and no one gives them a second thought. As far as I’m concerned, this is an extension of that idea. But many don’t see it that way; feel free to explain why.

Eris says:
May 25, 09h

My opinion is that a blogroll implies “friends”, its just a list in a sidebar of a site. Passive in nature. It doesn’t make anyone posting comments to your site to feel that their voices are any less valuable.

Your comment rankings imply “experts” (which some rightly are) and it isn’t passive, its Active. It denotes right away where your feelings lie regarding your opinion on the importance of what people say. It says that Who we are is apparently more important than What we have to say.

I’ve only ever posted one comment on your site (mostly because I just dont have a lot to say), but the knowledge that any of my future comments may be passed over and/or not taken seriously does not make me want to take the effort to post many comments.

If you’re interested in simply treating it like an extension of a blogroll, perhaps change its emphasis from “experts” to “friends”?

I hope maybe that helped answer your questions?

May 25, 09h

Re: Dave S. - Comment 19

I feel free to explain. A blogroll, or links list, is simply a list of links that someone else might call “suggested reads” only after the linker has visited the site and enjoyed it’s content or design. I think that this goes beyond the blogroll, quite simply because your highlighting the author’s comments above others, not just their website, without ever reading the comment.

I do like the idea of keeping this a private affair, but I can see the work involved with this. Perhaps being able to highlight comments _after_ they are posted, to show that you feel the comment is worth reading - regardless of author or origin.

d8uv says:
May 25, 09h

Dave, first off I don’t like blogrolls too much. As my good friend sbp has said, they “are a throwback to primary school ‘and Jack’s my second best friend, but Jamie is my bestest friend eeevar!’”[1]. But the part that makes this a bit more repellant than blogrolls is that you can *ignore* blogrolls. They’re off in the sidebar, usually under the stuff that people want to look at. Comments, however, are virtually impossible to ignore.

I do think that you might be able to make this idea a bit more tolerable. The easy fix would be to redefine the term “Important Voice”, but I say that while you’re looking out for trolls, you could also mark certain comments as being more thought-provoking than others. A kind of “While you’re at it” proposal.

[1] http://miscoranda.com/105

May 25, 09h

—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Hash: SHA1

“What makes this inherently different from a blogroll?”

Because you are highlighting the *comment*, not a link to someone else’s website. You are saying, “This comment is interesting.” based on nothing more substantial than the (trivially-faked) URL of the commenter.

Maybe it really *is* your experience that Tom’s comments are *invariably* interesting, Dick’s are generally ho-hum, and Harry is little better than a troll. But it is seriously lame to “automatically” rate a comment based on whether the URL left “belongs” to Tom, Dick or Harry.

If you want to do /.-style moderation of comments (i.e., based on their actual content), then do that. If you want to do something based on the purported identity of the comment author, then *verify* that identity.

*This* is neither fish nor fowl.
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (Darwin)

iD8DBQFAtBzxnyqPIXpYcjcRAt47AKDx5RIiNwx9lqYKOeyuBkPAkjEG5QCg/WP1
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=FI2p
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Derek says:
May 25, 09h

The strikeout is pretty obnoxious for the off-topic posts. If you are going to obscure them so much and make them such a task to read, why not remove them completely? Or change the style to just feature a red X icon or a red X watermark on the post background so that the post is still readable, but still easily apparent that it does not live up to your standards of what is a good post.

As for the social aspects, it really does create a caste system on your site. Why should I even bother posting this comment? Will anyone even read it? People will now just scan for the fancy “gold-level commenters” and will not even read the “normal, blue-collar” posters. Let alone the lowly “anonymous peasants” which are forced to hide in the corner so as not to interrupt the enlightened conversation of the local aristocracy.

Sure, it’s your site, but I hope other people don’t follow suit, as it could really hurt the open communication most blogs have. Before this, it was fun to be able to post and enter into a discussion with someone in your industry that you admire. But now if you aren’t already a member of that designer’s circle of friends, it feels like you aren’t wanted or valued. You are pressed for time so you can’t take time for the little people anymore.

This may not be your intent, just letting you know how it is perceived by someone not included in the “inner-circle”.

Blogging Goes Hollywood!

zinckiwi says:
May 25, 09h

Dave, I suspect that 90% of the bad vibes are due to the nomenclature. The “important voices” distinction appears by your explanation above to mean your friends and colleagues, to whom you would obviously give more attention than strangers. However, people are probably inferring much more than you mean to imply from the word “important” — in other words, that any post from a non-“important” person is inferior.

Perhaps (not that these are as semantically accurate as even what you have now) something like “Friends”/”Strangers” or “Regulars”/”Casuals” — or anything that doesn’t imply an over-arching hierarchy of “importance” — would draw less ire.

Justin says:
May 25, 09h

Hmm, I don’t really think the URI is the way to go, especially since you just told us the secret.
Will people abuse this little ranking system? Magic 8-Ball says “Likely”.
My first guess (on which field you checked against) was email address, first time through (new email address) it’d be added to the database. Every subsequent visit (returning visitor) would flag the comment into the “Regular Comment” category. You can monitor the email lists, and flag any emails that you’d deem “Important Voice” via an extra field in your DB.
A bit more secure and much less likely to be abused since none of us give out our email anymore, it’s unlikely it would be spoofed by a wannabe “Important Voice”.
Only problem would be changing your email address, but this could be corrected with a little URI/Email combo logic.

Just my two cents on the matter.
BTW, I don’t think it’s rude/pretentious/whatever to display comments in a ranking type classification. I like being able to spot all the CSS big wigs comments on the board.

As for the code you posted, what’s up with the multiple return statements? Tsk tsk Dave, that’s a naughty habit ;)

X-Wes says:
May 25, 09h

I am not yet ready to wade into this murky pool of opinion, so I can only summarise the difference between comments and linked weblogs as a difference in scope. A weblog stands on its own, and is a full body of work. A comment is a highly-specialised passage of text that is used in the context of a given story and is then generally unuseable for any other purpose. If I were to create a weblog that is not on anyone’s blogroll, so be it; I have lots of time to create more content. If I were to create a comment, though, I would like for a reader to judge based on quality, so that this comment gets a fair chance at being used. After all, who reads old comments, and who reads old, dimmed comments?

The methods most likely unuseable at the moment are moderator-approve and peer-review. There is simply too much of a load. Making a ‘trusted’ list does not help much though, since many insightful comments are from first-time posters. The easiest way to implement a good comment system is to merely make the highlighting more subtle. I don’t think anyone would mind too much if the comment has a sky-blue asterisk beside the poster’s name, but making Jason post on your smooth white tile comment surface with a post-it seems a little extreme, and a little demeaning for others.

I’m not ready to be too opinionated yet, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a few people picking away at my suggestion. Hope it helps.

28
Shaun O. says:
May 25, 09h

This is an interesting idea, and I’m already considering using something similar (altho less eyecatching .. most likely just attaching icons to friends).
Personally, I think it’s a good idea .. however I feel the implementation will take a while to settle. I can’t help but wonder wether the differences between the various levels should be a little more subtle .. tiptoes rather than soapboxes.

May 25, 09h

The issue I see with highlighting comments from people in your list of sites, is that it automatically implies that -every- single comment that person makes is of the utmost importance.

Lets take an example, we’re talking about what type of pet we might own. This is something that your list of friends are of no more importance than anyone else that is viewing/replying to your site; yet your highlighting is automatically going to push their point of view as an ‘expert opinion’.

Now, for the sake of discussing the point, all of us have a great discussion about our pets. Lets say that everyone in your list of sites is as happy to talk about their pets, as they are to wake up in the morning. How when the average reader views the comments, all they are going to see is an abundance of highlighted posts (which would normally suggest an important/valued opinion), even though they are simply talking about their pet (of which, they might not be an expert on animals).

A site I frequent here in Australia, is a broadband site (with forums attached). The owner has an ‘importance’ feature on the front page comments as well. However, the importance isn’t automatically applied to particular users, it is applied on a case by case, post by post manner. This means that, if someone who isn’t particularly ‘known’ to the site, makes a particularly valuable contribution, they will have their post highlighted by a moderator of the site. You can view what I am referring to half way down this page (http://whirlpool.net.au/article.cfm/1272?show=replies)

Al.

Keith says:
May 25, 10h

I’m not even going to get to far into the whole issue of the “important voice” as it’s way to murky for my tastes. Having said that, I can see how it could be useful if people didn’t take advantage of it and also how it could cause lots of problems and issues with some people.

I mean, I think it’s a valid concern placing “importance” on people. Maybe if you changed that term? Just an idea, but I sure as hell don’t want to keep my comments to your site just to “important” ones! ;)

Maybe let people get used to it is all it would take.

Aside from all of that, I have to say it’s a pretty cool technique that could become very, very useful (again, if people didn’t take advantage of it) in lots of ways.

In fact I’m thinking of stealing it to highlight my own comments to my own posts. I can see how that might have some usefulness to lots of people who read my site.

Anyway, it’s an interesting idea and I can’t wait to see how it pans out!

Andrew says:
May 25, 10h

I agree that you should change it from important comment to widely known experts or something of that nature.

May 25, 10h

Absolutely agree with Zinwicki. Maybe the term is “From the mezzoblue blogroll” for the orange highlighting instead of the term “important.” The term is probably what is causing the stress, that and the full orange highlight. (Maybe just highlight the name and not the entire comment entry?)

Having said that, what I like most in this idea is that of an attempt at some minor enforcement of accountability. Drives me nuts when people take shots on blogs with comments and do so behind fake names, fake emails, etc. Dimming back anonymous comments I think is brilliant way to allow users to continue the behavior, but tone it down at the same time. I would even go so far as to not to turn them on with a rollover personally (but also maybe not make them quite so faint).

However, the problem here obviously is that behavior is tied to criteria that can be faked much too easily. (People can just use www.google.com or something to make their comments legit, for example.)

What I’m looking for in MoveableType or other blog software is a system to verify people’s identity, but not to keep track of them or have them log-in like TypeKey. I’m looking for a way to generate unique identity keys for each person, PGP or otherwise, that users would get through a system that verifies them. They enter that key in combination with name, email or URL to have comments appear normal when posting. (Most systems should allow users to only need one key, so its easy to remember and track.) Many ways to implement a key system like this, but there are PGP and security experts out there that are better versed in this than I am, so I won’t show my ignorance of the technology required to make it work by trying to speak to it any further.

This also should help prevent comment spam as well, as it should be easier to block keys than it is to fight banning IPs. And getting legit keys will require more work for spammers, as it has to tie to closer to unique identities. (From what I know of the technology.)

I don’t know… I’m talking out loud a bit here. Haven’t fully digested the idea. I do love the fact you took a chance and tried it out. Gives us all something to think about.

May 25, 10h

My first thought of the comment system was most the same as everyone here. I am not bothered by the fact that there are many more experts out there than me, and I know my opinion is not going to be rated as hard as theirs will, but it did rub me the wrong way at first.

Not because of the terminology used, but rather a comment you made about what “display:none: can do. I am not even sure if that is what you were referring to, but it occurred to me that by putting us all in separate classes, it was very easy for you to turn us “lower classes” off. That’s it. You don’t have time to read us, so you don’t.

So then my thoughts went forward… “well if he doesn’t want to read what I have to say, why doesn’t he just make it a member only discussion board?” and from there it went on.

I clearly know this was not your intention, and I don’t think anyone thinks of you as an ass or one who like to create hierarchies (quite the opposite considering your huge contributions to the community) but it just felt like you didn’t care about what we had to say because we weren’t good enough.

I can talk web design anywhere. There are a million forums out there for this purpose, but half the fun of discussing stuff here and on other ‘experts’ web sites is that there is the chance that one of you might find something I have to say actually interesting or worth-while.

I compare it to a basketball forum. You can talk basketball anywhere, but if you knew Michael Jordan ran his own website that he shared his own knowledge with the rest of the basketball community and read comments on his posts, wouldn’t everyone show up there?

I do however really like the highlighting knowing that it is just people in your blogroll. It is a nice visual extension to see what those people have to say, so I guess I was just confused at first on how it worked.

Anyway, no matter how many people dislike it, it is something new, and new is always forward, and forward is where we want to go. So great job! I look forward to discovering this design a little further.

May 25, 10h

The label of “Important Voice” sort of implies that everything else isn’t important. Just a thought to consider.

allgood2 says:
May 25, 11h

On the issue of reply highlighting, I’d say it’s your legend that’s causing the most issue for people. I would be fine with the “Important” title if it meant that you had read through the comments, and you thought these comments were of interest (very cool, but utterly time consuming). Otherwise, I’m also perfectly fine if you auto highlighted, your favortie posters, or your blogroll, so long as the legend indicated “Favorites” or “Blogroll” or even “Who Dave’s Listening To”.

Funny when I first so the highlights, I hadn’t read the legend, but did assume the colored comments were more important. But my first thought was then to apply a filter so I could just skim through the color comments first, and then decide to forward with the normal posts, and just overlook the grey posts.

Obviously, my thoughts might make the issue even more controversial, but I guess I’m of the mind, if your going to give people the ability to distinguish between posts, then that offering an actual switch, that acts as a filter shouldn’t be so complicated.

May 25, 11h

Interesting concept. However, I can understand peoples’ concern over the highlighting. Perhaps it’s mainly because the difference between a highlighted comment and a plain one is quite big. You can quickly scan the whole page and pick out the orange/blue ones. Maybe a good compromise would be small icons beside the poster’s name, denoting that they are on your blogroll. And perhaps you could have a separate icon for those who aren’t on your friends list but who post a fair bit. This would even out the field a bit, I think.

Of course, that would involve quite a bit of programming. Just some thoughts, though.

Mike P. says:
May 25, 11h

I think zinckiwi nailed it one the head.

I had figured this as more of a ‘trusted source’ type of function, as opposed to a ‘important voice’ filter.

A friends filter would be something akin to a blogroll, in which case you would be better off calling it friend, acquaintance etc., although I don’t see what that would bring to your comment system.

Maybe you could have it so that the commenters URl is parsed and inserted as an ID in <div class=”reply”>. Something like Keith’s Asterisk would be id=”www-asterisk”. (You could move the comment ID that you currently assign to that div to the anchor tag that holds the big comment numbers.)

In doing that you could then go many places:
1. an ‘important voices to dave’ filter
2. a ‘friends of mezzoblue’ filter
3. a ‘trusted source’ filter
4. and then of course it also allows us to build our own filter on our user style sheets. We could have our own list for your comments. Essentially what you are doing with the ‘important voices’, but personalized.

ramin says:
May 25, 11h

Since you don’t allow HTML in you r comments, I wrote some thought on your code and posted them on my own site, see http://fierymill.net/ramin/blog/archives/2004/05/26/php_arrays_and_url_matching.php

I understand what you are looking for and trying to achieve. I know that I parse what I read and always look to see if the author is someone I trust. or find credible. Calling the highlighted commenters ‘important voices’ just rubs many people wrong I presume.

But, by changing the matching scheme of the URIs, you can make the system even more reliabable by letting the friends or important voices censor themselves. If they feel that their comment is not something that should be highlighted they can simply change the URL they use slightly. For example, if you check for a match to http://1976design.com/, by leaving out the trailing slash the comment isn’t highlighted but the URL still points to the correct site.

I definetly understand why you do not rate comments without an URL as high as others. As you said, credibility goes a long way. And while I agree with Distler on the fact that PGP signatures are the only way to go for reliabable identification, it may be too heavy an approach to use in this case.

P.S. sizeof($item) would do what you want…

May 25, 11h

Well, its your blog Dave, do what you will. I think its a great idea when a site gets as many posts as you to highlight posts from people you (and most likely others, giving this close knit community) find interesting and credible.

But now for the real question, why aren’t I important enough to get highlighted! Just kidding

Cheers on the redesign, I just redesigned too!!
http://www.digitalphlame.com

May 26, 01h

The authorisation/highlighting discussion here has prompted me to think up a scheme of remote/distributed comment authorisation for blog and forum software. It got a bit lengthy though, so I’ve posted it over on my own site rather than flood the comments here; click the link if you’re interested in the idea:

http://www.twinhelix.com/cgi-bin/forum.pl/general/136

Basically it’s:

1) Bookmarklet or CGI script computes md5(md5(user’s comment) + user’s secret password).
2) Combined hash is submitted to blog/forum, and verified server-side by sending the comment & combined hashes to a CGI script on user’s own/trusted server, which knows the user’s secret password and can check if they match.

41
Kenny Flores says:
May 26, 01h

Considering this is a personal blog, this is the perfect place to try out such an idea. You have essentially opened the doors for innovative permutations of this technique to pop up all over the web (or at least the so-called Blogosphere) and added another tool to the Happy Blogger’s Toolbox.

I suspect that it may become popular practice to highlight comments from the blog’s owner, at the very least, like Keith suggested he might do on his site. And, of course, his adoption of it would further spread this budding trend-to-be.

Though, I must admit, after reading the first 8 comments and seeing the orange colored box of an “Important” comment at the bottom of my screen, I nearly scrolled up thinking I had reached the bottom of the page already.

That is to say, the color of the “Important” comment boxes so closely integrate with the sidebar on the right that I naturally thought the “Important” comment box was the “Comment on this Article” box on the bottom of the page.

As far as functionality goes, I, like many, tend to look for the “Big Names” when going through comments, because I too deem their comments as “usually important or interesting.” But as I consider un-boxed people like Cameron, Shaun, Keith, and Andrei to be “Big Names,” the boxes don’t necessarily work for me in the way I suspect that they might work for you.

For the social implications, my point of view best aligns with Zinwicki. I like Andrei’s “From the blogroll” suggestion.

And, I’d like to add that I think the redesign is an overall success. I really dig it.

May 26, 01h

Dave,
Take the bull by the horns, and do what you want to do. This is your website, and you are free to run it how you will.

But if you ask for opinions, you are going to get them.

Mine; I think that the Orange highlighting of certain people will give other people a bit of an inferiority complex. I think that naming them experts (even if it is right), doesn’t help. I think that if you changed it the ‘friends’ and highlighted them in a lighter blue (lighter than yourself) it would come over much nicer.

The design as a whole still has to grow on me, but I am finding it more usable than the old site. Mind you, that header could do with some rethinking. ;)

May 26, 02h

It’s not that I don’t like the highlighting function as it is today. But I’d like to propose an alternative way of doing almost the same thing. As I’ve understood it the fundamental reason for highlighting is to “separate” good/relative (/and the list goes on) content so that you more easily can find the posts while scrolling down your list of comments.

My suggestion of achiving the same thing is by letting everyone vote on the comments they find relative. And when a comment has got enough good votes it also gets a new color. This way the content of the comment is in focus, instead of the authors website.

kyramas says:
May 26, 02h

Pure discrimination.
First class people and then the “others”
Surely some are experts in their proffession. But wisdom is everywhere. The only requirement is to be able to recieve it.
In ancient Greece people went to gatherings to hear WHAT was being discussed and not WHO was talking.
Treat people equally. Or just make a “private commenting club” that will not be visible or accessible to us all N.I.V. (Non Important Voices).
Note: I bet if I put www.zeldman.com in the URL then I will become a IV (Important Voice), wont I ?

45
Andrew Cameron says:
May 26, 02h

Ouch, Dave. Ouch. I’ve been lurking here, reading your site for a long time now, and it’s quite offensive to think that if I did at one point consider my opinion to be worth typing, you probably wouldn’t (or won’t, as is the case as soon as I hit the magic button) see it. I have a website. In fact, I have many; but none of them represent me in a way that makes me want to link to one from a comment on your site. Why would I link to my own freelance development business? My unrelated photo site? My CV site that contains my home address and phone number? Wouldn’t you rather I didn’t spam your site with my own links?

However, I don’t want to be another anonymous a-hole, so the email address supplied is valid.

A blogroll is one thing; declaring to the world that because someone isn’t in the inner circle (which, by the way, isn’t as easy to get into as someone who is already in might think…) of blogging fun, you’ll probably be skimming over it? Insulting.

May 26, 02h

Everyone and their mother have now explained why the comment highlighting system is supposedly a social problem. I’m not going to elaborate on the nature of the commenting system, except say that I feel people tend to react as if mezzoblue is the new slashdot. It’s his personal site for crying out loud. It’s outthere, it’s public, but it’s not yours.

Though I would just want to add that I think anonymous commenting does not have a valid justification. It’s rubbish to validate that nonsense. When you speak it’s your voice and that voice has an identity (whether you like it or not.) Identity and opinion are linked, saying they do not relate is a very poor argument. In real life (face-to-face) I can hold you accountable for what you say, the same thing should be applicable online. An anonymous state is only necessary if danger or violence (such as blackmail etc.) is involved. I don’t see that happening here, though you never know. Dave may have an evil side. If you have something to say, make sure that we know who you are, if not just go back to your hole and keep quiet. Everybody has a name and an e-mail address (url is not a criteria.) I know, spam is an issue, but I’d rather see anonymous commenting go.

However, what’s interesting about this debacle is how design affects perception. Because let’s be honest: the problem really is the flashy orange being used and the label “important voice.” Not the distinction itself, but the visualisation and the implementation of the distinction. However, in my opinion, it does not make the idea less brilliant.

So, how to overcome this “I’m-important-and-you’re-not” attitude. First, make the visualization less obvious, of course. The drawback being that Dave (or anyone else) can not as easily scan the comments for his favorite voices outthere (because let’s be honest, there’s a reason why some people are on Dave’s blogroll, and not just because I paid him $500.) I think a distinction by using an assortment of icons could work and will be less intimidating for others. Even better, you could use favicons to be displayed next to each post. No favicon? Replace it with a generic graphic. Just an idea of course.

Another option I was thinking of that would actually keep things pretty much the same is to have users themselves select what people they find worthy to be highlighted. They can select names from your list and the selected commentors will be highlighted in the future. By default the system would not be activated and no commentors are highlighted. This would be sort of like the configuration options mostly found news sections on web sites (though in this case, as opposed to filter out content, you want to filter by author and have them highlighted.) As for the technical feasability I’m of course no expert. It sure sounds like more work than you have time for. But the idea might be worth looking into. The advantage of this last method is that it puts the system in the hands of users who can decide to either have it or not.

Alternatively you could just offer an alternative stylesheet labeled “highlight comments made by people on my blogroll”, for example. I think the latter is the quickest way to avoid the whole social impact factor, but keep your initial ideas when you implemented this method (by default the highlights are not shown.) Everyone can decide whether or not they want such a labeling.

Reading through every comment and deciding whether or not it is useful or informative is very politically correct, but how on earth are you going to manage that? Again, the idea is interesting, but the investment in time is out of proportion compared to the possible benefits.

May 26, 03h

I like this improved version of your reply highlighting very much. When I don’t have enough time to read all the posts in a discussion, it offers me a way to read the most important points made. Besides it is a good method for the host of a discussion to rate the replies. By enhancing them visually they really stand out. Great work !!

Michael says:
May 26, 03h

I really don’t see what all the fuzz is about. Had this been my site I would’ve rolled heads until people were done bitching.

Not only is it easier for you to go through the multitude of comments, but it’s easier for your readers to skip through the comments as well.

I like the idea a whole lot, so much so that I might go ahead and knock it off of you.

May 26, 03h

I think the “Important Voice” feature is actually potentially useful, and I think the problem most people have is just one of semantics. If instead you called it “Friends,” “From a regular read,” or something similar, then people would realize it’s just tied to your blogroll instead of feeling that it’s a statement about the worth of their comments. Perhaps the best system would be a combination of the original “voce” with the recently-added highlighting of comments you feel are interesting. Let the people you regularly read be highlighted in one color, and the comments you find particularly interesting in another.

I definitely agree about the anonymous comments, though I can see how some people without websites might get offended. Maybe this will encourage some of them to get their own websites after all? ;)

In any case, I think the comment highlighting is probably the best feature of the new version - I hope it stays, and I hope it continues to be of use.

Bill says:
May 26, 04h

A suggestion - keep applying the hooks in the XHTML, but make the distinction you want in a user stylesheet so you can see the highlighting.

In the end though, it comes down to what you want out of offering comments on your site.

If you are offering the comments more for others to read at this point, I wouldn’t highlight anything except your comments - keep the highlights for you to scan in a user stylesheet.

If you only want to read comments from those people and don’t terribly care about the utility others may get from them, allow comments only to registered users and only give entry to those you want.

If you do want to be able to read all the comments eventually, I’d probably not highlight any, but then that’s a personal preference.

Shelley says:
May 26, 04h

Reading the comments listed here, yes even the ones that have been de-emphasized by your styling, you can see the problems with highlighting some comments versus others.

How many people mentioned ‘skipping’ comments that aren’t highlighted, and what does this say to those who have left comments so skipped? That the time they contributed to add to the conversation at your site is wasted time? That you consider reading the comment to be time wasted?

CSS was meant to highlight and annotate and organize screen objects–not signal the relative importance of individual people, or their contributions.

You are popular and get many comments. Perhaps you feel you get too many, and you’re hoping to discourage ‘less important’ or ‘less eloquent’ commenters from coming around. I know I hesitated before writing this, wondering if I will be seen as ‘just eloquent enough’. If it doesn’t get ‘colored’, I doubt I’ll be back–I have to many forces in my life already telling me what I do or don’t do is ‘unimportant’ without looking for new avenues of discouragement.

jgraham says:
May 26, 05h

I have to say that I think highlighting people based on whether they appear on your blogroll is worse than useless. The problem is that it conflates several different and mostly unrelated issues.

The purpose of highlighting comments, it seems, is to enable people to skim over the most useful comments in a particular thread. But there’s no obvious correlation between being on your blogroll and providing the most informative comments on a given post.

For example, Jacques isn’t on your blogroll but, if the conversation is about the difficulties of maintaining a valid XHTML website, he is likely to provide more useful input than many of the people who are specially highlighted. The only case in which there is likely to be a good match between the insightfulness of the comments and the highlighting, is when the post is about some aspect of CSS or web design. Even then, there is no certianty that the best comments will come from those who maintain a weblog you like to read.

So, I don’t expect the highlighting to provide any useful function in terms of identifying the most useful comments. Furthermore, I think it’s actually harmful because it creates a clique of ‘special’ commenters who get automatic and unquestioning approval. If it happens that one of these people says something inaccurate then a casual reader would be inclined to assume that the inaccurate statement was true simply because the comment was flagged as ‘important’.

I would also expect the system to inhibit new readers from contributing at all, since the styling makes it apparent that opinions from readers who aren’t themselves A-list bloggers aren’t considered valuable.

Several people have suggesting switching the label to ‘People I read’ or something and whilst I agree that’s a little less distasteful, I still don’t see how it provides additional value to the reader. We are already quite able to follow your recommendations for other weblogs by viewing your sidebar; there’s no need to have these preferences imprinted on the comments too.

Now, I agree that, for certain categories of post, there are some people who’s comments are very likely to be more useful than any of the other comments. So possibly a system which linked ‘important’ comments to the post category would work better. However, it’s not a sure thing - you’ll certianly get both false positives and negatives with such a simple system.

I personally think you should turn the variable styling off. If you’re only going to read comments from people who’s weblog you read, keep the markup and use your user stylesheet to set the style. Unless you reimplement the system so that there is some actual correlation between the quality of a comment and the style it has (meaning e.g. a voting system or simply through you marking out the comments that are actually good), I really don’t see how this feature benefits anyone. I, at least, plan to use my user stylesheet to turn the whole thing off.

Tim says:
May 26, 05h

Hmm, how about something like on youngpup.net? Just let the comments be and provide a mechanism for displaying/highlighted selected commentors? The names in that selected list are up to you - this is, afterall, your site.

(My apologies if this has been mentioned. I only briefly skimmed the comments so far…)

May 26, 05h

Push that envelope Dave!!!

I find your new system more interesting than anything else — I now know which posts *you* find interesting.

Remember that this is your blog, a place where you can give us your opinion. That is an important thing to remember.

The comments system is good because it stimulates debate about your posts, but it’s great that I can now find out which comments interest you and which don’t.

Daryl says:
May 26, 05h

I dig the highlighted comments. It’s not that you’re saying “this comment is more important than or better than the others.” You’re saying “I generally respect what this person says, and so his or her comments stand a pretty good chance of being relevant and interesting.” It’s helpful to you and helpful to the user.

An addition you might consider at some point is the ability to mod comments up or down, either for you or for your readers. So I read D. Keith Robinson’s comment and think he’s on crack, and I mod his comment down. Enough people do that and the comment in question is no longer highlighted. Similarly, a thousand people read this insightful post by an unknown and mod it up and I’m all of a sudden no longer green with envy but yellow with emphasis. Or, failing the implementation of that potentially complex mechanism, you might at least consider giving yourself the ability to mod particular comments up or down so that we can see, for a given post, what you find most relevant. This might help alleviate some of the sort of deterministic “social Darwinism” concerns some of your readers have expressed.

In any case, it’s your site, and you should do whatever you like with it. Like others, I’m not crazy about the header, and I had the same squinting “is my monitor screwed?” sort of initial reaction, but I dig the rest of the redesign and am sticking with it for now over the soothing prior design.

May 26, 05h

I prefer the idea of applying your colorful hierarchy post hoc. However, as you mentioned, this creates a lot of busy work at your end of things.

An alternative solution (with, admittedly, a good deal of initial time investment) would be to allow us, your faithful readers, to decide the value of comments through some sort of a voting system, similar to Amazon’s “was this review helpful to you?” section. Perhaps just a little plus/minus (raise/lower significance) in the corner of the post.

Yes, this would take a bit to implement. But, in the end, this novel idea of yours (and I do think it is) would become largely self-managed. Importance (and even trolls) could be determined dynamically, in real time, by those with an investment (ie, their words) in your comments. The system would correct itself, in a Wiki sort of way.

Such a system would likely also cut down on the number of duplicate and “I agree” posts. If someone has already posted a comment iterating my concerns, I could simply increase the significance of the post to help ensure others read what I consider to be an important comment.

May 26, 05h

Just thought I’d offer a little cleaner version of your PHP.

$item = array();
$item[] = "1976design.com";
$item[] = "andybudd.com";
$item[] = "7nights.com";
$item[] = "wholelottanothing.org";
$item[] = "cssvault.com";
$item[] = "designbyfire.com";

function importantVoice($authorURL) {
  global $item;
  if ($authorURL == "http://www.mezzoblue.com/") {
    $author = " dave";
  } elseif ($authorURL != "http://none/" && $authorURL != "") {
    $author = " anon";
    foreach ($item as $url) {
      if (eregi($url, $authorURL)) {
        $author = " voce";
      }
    }
  } elseif ($authorURL == "http://none/") {
    $author = " troll";
  }
  return $author;
}

May 26, 05h

Hrm … another thought sprung up about comment highlighting. What about a more democratic system of highlighting? It would take a lot more work to implement, but what if you let everyone have input into what comments are “important”? Take Amazon’s customer ratings for example - they have a little feature that lets people rate how useful a product review is (“X out of X people found this helpful.”) If you could build a similar system, you could set a certain threshold for a comment to be marked with the “voce” class, say 20 helpful votes. Of course, that’s quite a bit of work to implement … might be better for more commercial weblog implementations than for a mostly personal site like this one. :)

59
Mark C says:
May 26, 06h

Although perfectly valid (as Didier pointed out quite rightly it is your site) the “friends” system seems quite unuseful for the reader. If manageable, the current system of you marking important comments is great, (we all come here for your opinion after all?) but it seems unlikely you could do such a system justice. Therefore my personal preference would be to have subtler highlighting, base it on your Blogroll with XFN highlighting. It would be beautiful to see loads of colours relating to your relationships with people in comments, and an excellent use of XFN that’d make Eric proud.

I also think Andrew Cameron was on to something (#45);

“Why would I link to my own freelance development business? My unrelated photo site? My CV site that contains my home address and phone number? Wouldn’t you rather I didn’t spam your site with my own links?”

Not all of us want your traffic, but we might still have a point.

60
Mark C says:
May 26, 06h

Although perfectly valid (as Didier pointed out quite rightly it is your site) the “friends” system seems quite unuseful for the reader. If manageable, the current system of you marking important comments is great, (we all come here for your opinion after all?) but it seems unlikely you could do such a system justice. Therefore my personal preference would be to have subtler highlighting, base it on your Blogroll with XFN highlighting. It would be beautiful to see loads of colours relating to your relationships with people in comments, and an excellent use of XFN that’d make Eric proud.

I also think Andrew Cameron was on to something (#45);

“Why would I link to my own freelance development business? My unrelated photo site? My CV site that contains my home address and phone number? Wouldn’t you rather I didn’t spam your site with my own links?”

Not all of us want your traffic, but we might still have a point.

61
Mark C says:
May 26, 06h

It appears your current preview page still says

“Thanks for commenting. Make sure to hit post youre still only on the preview page.”

Even when you’ve posted. Hence the double post.

62
seth says:
May 26, 06h

Dave -

I honestly think that no one would have said a word if

1) You hadn’t used the term “important voice” to distinguish your friends

2) If the distinction between comment “rankings” (bright orange vs. light grey) wasn’t so prominent.

I see why it is useful for YOU to see comments from your friends highlighted, by I (read: average reader) don’t.

Why don’t you make an alternative stylesheet that you can use when looking at the site that will employ the highlighting?

I also don’t agree with your stance on non-site-having posters. There could be a gazillion reasons why some does/doesn’t have a site. Maybe I have the best-designed site in the world, but it is a personal blog for my family that I don’t want to share (not the case, but just an example).

May 26, 06h

I suspect my comments will get missed down here but I still have an idea… one that should be fairly easy to implement.

You’re now highlighting posts that you find important or really contribute to the overall discussion. I think this is great because it does help all users find more interesting posts. Also, the idea a couple comments above of letting users indicate which posts were helpful to them is also fantastic (although, still prone to abuse). All very “slashdotty”. You could even have the intensity of the highlight increase based on how many users accept a comment.

But what about allowing users create their own highlight system that applies only to them and to no other? Do it using javascript and cookies. A user can click on a comment that they would like to add the url to their highlight list… then, any post that they see from the same url will get highlighted. (If you like the idea enough, I’ll see if I can put together a prototype)

May 26, 06h

Hey Dave. I skipped most comments above apart from the yellow ones. The rest were obviously not important ;). Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone else mentioned this. Here is what _I_ think.

It’s YOUR site, so do whatever the hell YOU want.

And always remember what Eddie’s dad said at the cookout:

“It’s my house… and if you don’t like it… you can get the f*** out!”

I may not like some of the decisions you’ve made, but I’m sure as hell not about to come to your house and start telling you to rearrange the furniture!

Stuart says:
May 26, 06h

I think this is a very interesting technique, and I imagine we’ll see people start experimenting with it on their own sites. Something that immediately came to mind was that if comments each had their own custom CSS classname based on the person posting, a user stylesheet would allow visitors to hilight whoever they wanted.

66
Tom Passin says:
May 26, 07h

I want to comment on two aspects of the comment highlighting -

First, as to whether a commenter has a web site or not. I don’t - I generally read you at home over a broadband connection, but I don’t have a blog or other web site of my own. I don’t comment often but every once in a while a story comes in close to something that I know and care about.

I don’t want to feel that my comments, when they are about something that I do have a contribution to make, will be devalued just because I don’t have a site - which is like not being a member of the club. I am well aware of the club - it seems to be the club of really creative designers, which I am not - but I don’t need my nose rubbed in it.

Second, I don’t think that highlighting the comments achieves the psychological effect that you seem to expect. I claim that the highlighting indicates to a reader which comments that you think are particularly cogent *for the issue under discussion*. No matter how much you explain what you mean by the highlighting, most readers will think that you have personally selected individual comments for highlighting based on your opinion of their merit.

Now if you want to do this, highlighting will be much more effective than leaving a reply to the comment saying “This is a really good comment - read it, everybody.” And this could be a legitimate thing to do - after all, it is your blog, we read it to get your opinions, and that would include your opinion on the comments.

So I suggest that you adopt this policy, and come up with a UI for yourself that makes it really easy to highlight the comments as you read or scan through them.

But if you choose to continue to highlight them based on their source, I suggest you do so with an alternate stylesheet that only you will apply. That’s because the main beneficiary for such automatic tagging would be for you to selectively direct your attention to certain comments, so arrange it that way *for yourself*.

67
Andrew Cameron says:
May 26, 07h

A few things…

1) Mark C: To clarify; I’d love Dave’s traffic, actually ;-)
However, there are issues. If I posted the link to my photo site, would I be able to handle the bandwidth? If I linked to my development work, would I get unwanted critiques? I’d have a blog, but I don’t have enough original thoughts about web design to warrant one. The evidence is there in Livejournal/Deadjournal/Journalfen - don’t convince people who can’t think of something to write about, to write about something.

2) Perhaps the code could be optional, just like Radar is? A quick “if ($highlights == ‘on’)” at the top of the function would work.

3) Speaking of Radar, I’m having to use it since I’m stuck with IE5.0 here at work and Proton breaks in it. I don’t know what the drop-down menus look like, and it appears that the site isn’t called “Mezzoblue” but “ISSN 1708-0789”. Also, random paragraphs of text flicker on mouseover.

May 26, 07h

What if the highlighting were less of a highlighting? Maybe the small icon next to someones name is a different color…rather than the entire post…

69
Chris Rizzo says:
May 26, 07h

I don’t feel that I need to see highlighted comments. Personally I value every opinion and I decide myself if the opinion is of value to me or not. My opinion of someone elses post is not based on their name or the color of their fontface but the substance of what they say. Personally my initial feeling is I don’t care for the highlighting as it is distracting and seems to be based on arbitrary factors such as fame, or whether I chose to leave a URL. I have a site I am proud of but I never leave the URL anyway. Of course it’s your site Dave and I love your entries so the highlighting won’t stop me from reading, but it is nevertheless unhelpful in my opinion.

May 26, 08h

Hmmm. I had thoughts on this earlier, and then the phone rang, and I promptly forgot I had something to add.

Like Tom Passin, I also think it’s unfair to penalise people who don’t have a site, or don’t wish to share their site’s URL.

I’m glad you changed it to a manual system of highlighting, and here’s why: If I were in a List of Good Guys like yours, I’d feel obliged to always say something incredibly clever or funny or whathaveyou in order to justify the highlighting (and subsequent attention) my comment would get. Takes the fun/casual aspect away, a bit.

Usability-wise I’m not a big fan of the super-light grey and the strikeout for offtopic stuff. It means I have to mouse over the text to be able to read it, and even then it’s still struck-through.

JC says:
May 26, 08h

I like Didier’s idea re: icons. inmyexperience.com has had these for some time now.
I think your code would be very useful on a wide scale, not for highlighting a blogroll, but added into the MT tool intended to prevent comment spam. Sites on the list get real links, others get filtered through a redirect.

On the whole, I’ve always thought a comment system that allowed logging in with a username and password as well as anonymous comments (the way most forum systems work) would be ideal.

jgraham says:
May 26, 08h

body#www-mezzoblue-com div.important{background-color:inherit !important;}
body#www-mezzoblue-com div.important > p{background-color:inherit !important; background-image:inherit !important;}
body#www-mezzoblue-com div.important>span>a{color:rgb(211,211,211) !important;}

body#www-mezzoblue-com div.anon{color:#000 !important;}

body#www-mezzoblue-com div.troll{text-decoration:none!important; color:rgb(0,0,0)!important;}

body#www-mezzoblue-com div.troll>div{display:none !important;}
body#www-mezzoblue-com div.troll>span:hover~div{display:block !important;}

FWIW, the User Styles I have to improve (for me) the comments. Trolls/Offtopic is hidden by default, shown if you hover over the comment number. Anon is treated just like everyone else. No ‘Important Voices’ although, if they’re beng handpicked now, that’s not so necessary.

This CSS isn’t great; I’m sure there’s an easier way to get the right effect.

May 26, 08h

Interesting experiment. I think a lot of people fail to realize this, that it is indeed an experiment. You’ve already changed the parameters based on feedback. I must say, as non-expert, non-blogroll, non-important voice, I’m more disturbed by some of the whining comments here. I’m not your friend; we have no relationship. We have never communicated directly. I read your site regularly but when it comes to comments I’m generally a lurker - this may, in fact, be my first post here. I’m a web designer but not an expert. I do not expect special treatment. I do not think my opinion is any better or worse than anyone elses.

I am not offended.

Do want you feel is right but please keep trying new things and pushing the boundaries. The nature of my clients (gov’t) doesn’t allow me to, so press on.

John

74
Ryan says:
May 26, 08h

First let me apologize if what I’m about to suggest has already been suggested. There were just too many comments for me to read through each, so I ended up skimming most.

Why not use a voting system for highlighting noteworthy comments? Such a system would work by providing readers with a means to nominate a comment as ‘noteworthy’. Votes are accumulated and the total checked against a threshold value set by you. Once the threshold is reached the comment becomes ‘noteworthy’ and is highlighted as such.

I see two advantages. One, you no longer have to maintain a list of ‘important voices’. Comments are highlighted on their own merits, not those of their authors. Since who you are no longer figures into the highlighting equation there’s less temptation to spoof. Two, you don’t have to do all the work of finding and highlighting good comments.

I see two disadvantages as well. First, it would be easy for someone to promote his or her own comment to ‘noteworthy’ status by repeatedly voting for it. The threshold could be set to make this a pain, but setting it too high might keep many worthy comments from being highlighted. Secondly, if no one bothers to vote, the system fails.

75
Chris Rizzo says:
May 26, 08h

Ack, sorry for repeating my post 4 times like a dope. You figure after developing sites for nearly a decade I’d know better than to hit submit more than once. I think Dave’s site was bogged down under heavy load though.

May 26, 09h

I’ve noticed something important in the way I read and I’m sure it’s the same for everyone here; when there are 140 (or even 20) posts I don’t read them all. Mainly I skim looking for patterns - people I like, keywords in the text, responses to other posts, etc.

Part of the problem with people not liking the commenting categorization concept is an issue of ego. First, they want to be in THAT clique of people. Second, this is “their” website - you make it for them not for yourself so why is what you want more important than what they want? There’s jealousy and prejudice and the fear of not being heard, it’s all in there.

It doesn’t matter much to some people that you are doing this (mostly) for yourself. They will only see how it affects them, even if at the end of the day it really doesn’t change anything about their reading habbits. They could use it to feel a little closer to you, get in your head about what you like (or don’t). But that’s not really important.

They’ll complain softly and loudly about how “you’re doing it wrong” and “why don’t you do it like this” or “this person over here gets it right”. To an extent that quibling might be helpful and build a better site but at the end of the day it’s your choice.

At the end of the day I don’t come here to read John, JC, Andrew, or whomever - I come here to read Dave. Community is nice, it can be enriching, it can also become an angry mob looking for something to burn. People who feel left out come to enjoy retaliation.

May 26, 09h

Sadly, I don’t have enough time today to weigh in on this as much as I’d like, but I believe John (comment 73 above) has a most valid point.

First off, regardless of motives, the comment highlighting system is freaking cool. Maybe you disagree with why it’s being done, but that fact that it is being done is genius. The implications of what can be taken away from this are wonderful.

If you’ve got a problem with Dave’s methods being “elitist” or whatever, get a clue. It’s his personal site. Yeah sure, Dave could change the term “Important Voice” to “Dave’s Peeps” or whatever… but bitterness at Dave is unfounded.

Now, what would we be really cool is adding an extra field to the comment form to allow for entry of a HEX color or image link. Then everyone could be what they want… It’d be like the NASCAR of comment systems (Sorry, bad example). ; )

May 26, 09h

Hi! Didn’t get a change to comment on ANYTHING about the site redesign yet, so a few things before the dreaded “comment highlighting” section of this comment.


- Not a big fan of the yellows/blues thing. Never striked my fancy.

- In firefox(0.8) the comment box is “kinda” not wrapping right (ie, i type a long line, and the whole thing shifts the text over 2 characters…I have to arrow key back to read it.) Rather annoying.

- Loving the new nav of the 3 links at the upper right. Expecially the “contact” tab. Awesome form placement, very cool idea. Useful all around. As per the negative of that area - when the menu’s aren’t being used it’s a lot of empty uninteresting space that doesn’t work *for me*

- ok, woah, now that this comment is long enough, the scroll bar is showuing up with only 2 pixels of it actually there. Just, uh, check this in firefox.

- Last thing: the clickable area for the “zen garden” and other buttons should be a good deal larger. IE the total height of the bar.

As for the comment highlighting.

- - Awesome feature - wrong methodology.

What I mean is this - I think you have made too many “comment” types. And the types you’ve made are incorrect. To be useful, you should simple mark comments that you’ve read, and are worth reading to other people, as “Must Read” comments. In fact, change the lengend to read that as well.

Most people have a beef with the auto-comment highlighting based on the url. I do to. Having a recognized url (or having no url) should not elevate or raise one post above every one elses. Like many have said, it makes people think twice about ever commenting.

If you insist on highlighting by URL, I would agree with other posters about simply including a small image (favicons come to mind) next to the posters name. It will give proper recognition to those persons without making other people feel “non-important”.

As for the off-topic/troll/spam - why don’t you just delete it? I mean, if it’s just so bad it’s funny, then it should be highlighted as “Must Read”, but other than that, if it’s going to be striked and hard to read, just off it.

As for highlighting yourself, i totally 110% support that - it’s your site ;-)


Over all, this is an excellent feature that, on a site that gets over 75 comments a post, is going to be very useful once you eliminate the url based racism/class heirarchy.

(and one last comment. PLEASE - get some html/bb tags/something in here so we can format these posts. Look above at all that hackery to make lists and stuff. oi!)

Nicole says:
May 26, 12h

I’m also of the “this is your personal site” camp. To me, personal sites are for experimentation – trying new ideas, theories, and practices. The comments experimentation is especially intriguing, and I don’t think it should be shot down without giving it time to evolve and develop.

I would offer one suggestion, however. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to de-emphasize comments. The light gray is hard to read until hovered over. Plus, being de-emphasized could discourage some new readers who could benefit from the content of your site.

Dave S. says:
May 26, 12h

And with that I think I’ll close it. Thanks for the comments everyone, certainly a lot to think about. Again, for those who missed it in the original post, this remains but an experiment on a personal site. As it evolves it’ll become clearer to all of us whether it was a successful experiment or not, but in the spirit of trying new things I’m not going to throw it out just yet.

If you feel personally offended, I apologize, but that wasn’t my intent. Try to keep an open mind, and I’ll do the same. You’ll notice that I have already changed the methodology based on your feedback (as detailed in addendum to the original post) so ‘important voices’ are no longer auto-highlighted.

Instead I will be highlighting posts I find particularly interesting. This means the yellow will probably show up far less frequently, but yet again, it’s just an experiment.