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Aug 10 2012

Nested Comments: Yes or No?

It never really occurred to me that the problem with nested comments is that it makes it more difficult to find the new ones in a thread. So consider this a vote: Do you prefer the comments nested or unnested?

134 comments

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  1. 1
    grumpyoldfart

    Unnested

  2. 2
    AndrewD

    Unnested please Ed.

  3. 3
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Unnested.

  4. 4
    Maureen Brian

    Unnested, please. It takes only one sentence to indicate who or what you are replying to. Most of us can manage that.

  5. 5
    Hatchetfish

    Unnested. Chronological order and not having to follow multiple evolving branches of the thread tree is far more important than convenience for those too lazy to address their replies properly.

  6. 6
    Anthony K

    Unnested.

  7. 7
    Anthony K

    I agree with hatchetfish above below.

  8. 8
    Travis

    Unnested comments for me

  9. 9
    Anthony K

    Exactly, maureenbrian.

  10. 10
    pinkboi

    It would be cool if it was displayed unnested, but clicking “reply” automatically referenced the earlier post, making it easy to find replies. So often, the only way to know someone replied to you is that your quoted in their post. Sometimes, you don’t even get that and have to guess.

  11. 11
    baal

    Nested but only 1 tier down. (I’m not a joiner.)

  12. 12
    unbound

    I prefer nested. The too lazy argument applies equally to either side of this debate.

    The advantage of nested is that you can see the sub-threads in one location. I’ve observed that in the unnested threads some people with interesting comments get missed or confusion ensues from other people because they didn’t following the evolving thread. This is especially true when the comments starting getting into the dozens.

  13. 13
    tacitus

    Nested comments are fine for reasonably short threads, and are also good for the occasional commenter/reader, but I guess I have to agree that for frequent commenters/readers who want to follow a discussion throughout the day, especially on longer comment threads unnested is the way to go.

  14. 14
    unbound

    Don’t be afraid of change. Go with the nested threads!!

    :-)

  15. 15
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    Unnested times 1000 please.

  16. 16
    Jafafa Hots

    Unnested.

    Think about Slashdot (I assume you’re familiar)
    With nested, each “nest” feels like its own conversation.

    What I personally have found that caused me to do on a nested-comments FTB post was to make a comment that felt like it was “in place” in that nest of comments, felt like a natural continuation of that conversation, when in fact what I contributed had already been stated earlier several times lower in the thread but not in that particular nest.

    Makes each nested thread feel like a separate conversation, makes you less likely to read the whole thread of comments before replying at the end of a NEST of comments. Causes a lot of repetition – which is what Slashdot comments mostly consist of.

  17. 17
    jaxkayaker

    Nested comments delenda est.

  18. 18
    Leo Buzalsky

    I second this.

  19. 19
    tacitus

    I would add that most of the solutions for making nested threads easier (e.g. better tracking, organization, etc.) move you in the direction of a full-blown forum, which typically includes tools allowing users to keep track of threads they are interested in.

    That leads me to ask — have you ever considered adding a forum to FTB? Blog comment threads are ephemeral in nature, being over in 24 hours or less for blogs like Dispatches, which can be very frustrating when you come late to a post on a topic you’re interested in.

    A forum would allow the more interesting debates to continue long after the blog post has disappeared into the archives. Sure, it would need a bunch of moderators to maintain an orderly house, but I would have thought that the FTB family was large enough these days that finding enough volunteers should not be a problem.

    bbPress is WordPress’s companion forum software, but there are some other good packages out there that you could use. Advertising can also be incorporated to help pay the bills.

  20. 20
    tomh

    Not nested for sure. But maybe someone who likes nested can tell me, is there an easy way to find new comments without scrolling through the whole thread? I know you can have them emailed, but that’s not a good option for me.

  21. 21
  22. 22
    whiskeyjack

    Nested please.

    I don’t comment often, but I read ‘em all the time. When you reply to someone, it’s hard to tell what specific post you’re referring to, even if you quote what you’re replying to. Scrolling back up to see exactly what was said in context in Post #17 of 500 is a tremendous pain.

  23. 23
    phhht

    Unnested.

  24. 24
    whiskeyjack

    Oh hey, I actually had #17. Awesome.

  25. 25
    steve84

    Yes please

  26. 26
    robb

    unnested.

  27. 27
    besomyka

    If we have to choose, then I’d prefer unnested. It’s easier to look up the post being replied to than it is to hunt down something new.

  28. 28
    Nick Gotts

    Unnested.

  29. 29
    Olav

    I am a huge fan of “nested” (threaded) views in software that can support them properly, that is, in mail and news clients. In such software, you can usually collapse and expand threads, order on date or subject, make filters, mark messages as read/unread, et cetera. All those options make it much easier to keep track of discussions and threads.

    On web pages, those options do not exist.

    So I say, don’t do it. It does not work in this environment. Which is unfortunate, but that is the way it is.

  30. 30
    molestoyevsky

    Is there any way to nest comments but hide the nested ones? As in, each nested comment is collapsed until it’s expanded, so that each unnested comment is essentially the first post of a comment thread? It’d make it easier to skip responses to comments while still allowing people to easily follow conversations in context.

  31. 31
    dmcclean

    Unnested.

  32. 32
    screechymonkey

    Unnested.

  33. 33
    raven

    Unnested.

    They don’t add anything and make threads, especially long ones confusing.

  34. 34
    raven

    They don’t add anything and make threads, especially long ones confusing.

    If you really want to reply to someone, you can always blockquote what you are replying to or use an @number.

  35. 35
    Tobinius

    Not nested please.

    And tacitus’ suggestion at 14, of an FtB Forum, sounds like a great idea.

  36. 36
    feralboy12

    Unnested.

  37. 37
    hyperdeath

    I prefer unnested.

    (I’m not replying to grumpyoldfart here; I just want to get my comment to near the top of the page.)

  38. 38
    hyperdeath

    Indeed, having multiple nesting levels makes things worse…

  39. 39
    Kamaka

    Nested threads are an ass-pain; it’s impossible to follow along without rereading/scanning the thread.

    I read most of the comment threads here. At Coyne’s place, hardly ever, even though his commentariat is as good as your’s.

    jaxkayaker @ 13

    Nested comments delenda est.

    Ceterum autem censeo nested comments delendam esse.

    See, it’s not that difficult to cite another commenter.

    See this if you don’t know how to use tags.

  40. 40
    hyperdeath

    …especially when the same person posts more than once in the same thread, but at different levels.

  41. 41
    Gregory in Seattle

    Perhaps.

  42. 42
    Worldtraveller

    Unnested, is my preference.

  43. 43
  44. 44
    Gretchen

    Unnested!

  45. 45
    harold

    Un-nested.

    There is a huge advantage to the un-nested format. It allows a single comment to address points from multiple prior comments, without confusion.

  46. 46
    Worldtraveller

    Also, would add to the vote for a ftb forum. (I would volunteer to moderate, if that is needed.) It’s a nice way to set up multiple ‘zones’ with different moderation standards too. Some forum software allow setting authorizations to post links, start a thread, or send private messages only after so many posts/comments, to help weed out spambots and trolls.

  47. 47
    Doubting Thomas

    Un-nested please.

  48. 48
    wscott

    I find unnested much easier to follow. Thanks!

  49. 49
    Yui Daoren

    No nesting seems better in this thin column.
    Be a lot nicer if the software had a “new since last visit” button.

  50. 50
    Paul W.

    Unnested.

  51. 51
    Ace of Sevens

    I don’t like nesting.

  52. 52
    Trebuchet

    Nested, but just one tier.

    But you can do anything you like with the comments, like putting the text in Comic Sans, if you just give us a dang edit function!

  53. 53
    PatrickG

    Unnested, unless I can always beat out Brownian when it comes to comment depth. In which case, nexted, but only allow Brownian to post at the 1st level.

    But seriously, when tracking replies via email feed, it can be difficult to figure out where they are/what they’re replying to, since nobody in a nested system ever says @Brownian or such.

  54. 54
    Jafafa Hots

    I’ve personally found that “new since last visit” thingies only seem to work well in more chatty forums. Forums, not comments threads. Forums devoted to subjects where you can actually jump in comfortably anywhere.

    Discussions on FTB tend not to be that sort of thing. “New since last visit” eliminated the context of the new comments unless you have a perfect memory and make sure to always read every new comment upon every new visit.

    Otherwise it just introduces work as you have to backtrack and unnest “old” comments to regain the context.

  55. 55
    ImaginesABeach

    NOT nested.

  56. 56
    Chiroptera

    My vote is not nested. It makes it easier to find comments made after the last time you checked in.

  57. 57
    Walton

    I prefer unnested. (Largely because I’m used to the unnested format at Pharyngula, and I’m set in my ways.)

  58. 58
    PatrickG

    Agree completely with this.

    If you do decide nested, only do a single level, because I’d really hate to have to reference comment #27.1.4.16.3

  59. 59
    Loqi

    Not nested.

  60. 60
    Dennis N

    Unnested, or 1 deep at the most

  61. 61
    Dennis N

    Also, either way, thank you for asking

  62. 62
    eigenperson

    NOT nested, please. Mostly because it makes it too hard to find the new comments.

  63. 63
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Even with half-assed comments/forum software, comments that you have not personally read can be labeled, e.g., “new” or “unread” until, e.g., you poke something with a mouse pointer. I am sure there are more methods of doing this than I can comfortably conceive.

  64. 64
    Forbidden Snowflake

    Unnested, please.

  65. 65
    Ed Brayton

    Okay, it looks like the nos have it by a pretty significant margin. No nesting it is.

  66. 66
    hinschelwood

    Unnested

    Or nested to one level as a second preference.

    Most people manage to sort themselves out with conversations. For those looking for updates, an unnested thread is best.

  67. 67
    Infophile

    Unnested.

    Though it’s always nice to give the user an option, if possible. I’ve seen a few comment systems that do this, though it might not be worth the hassle to code.

  68. 68
    Floyd

    Is it possible to add a reply button on posts that will add a anchored link to that comment, to the input box?

  69. 69
    Ulgaa

    Unnested.

  70. 70
    Darkling

    Unnested.

  71. 71
    Jadehawk

    unnested

  72. 72
    Jadehawk

    Okay, it looks like the nos have it by a pretty significant margin. No nesting it is.

    victory!

  73. 73
    jaxkayaker

    If you really want to reply to someone, you can always blockquote what you are replying to or use an @number.

    The problem with the latter suggestion here is that the numbering of comments can change, since comments are ordered by time submitted, not by time posted. If a comment is stuck in moderation, then posted after other commenters have referred to comments by numbering, you get the equivalent of frameshift mutation of comments.

    Is it possible to add a reply button on posts that will add a anchored link to that comment, to the input box?

    This is a good idea.

  74. 74
    GibberishWord1

    My vote:

    I vote for a feature that lets everyone choose how to display the comments inside their own browsers.

  75. 75
    beergoggles

    Nested.

  76. 76
    VeritasKnight

    Nested. That way when I’m a complete idiot about posting something, people can flame me in one nice set of comments and leave the rest of the thread alone.

  77. 77
    geocatherder

    Unnested.

  78. 78
    Yoritomo

    Unnested, although the decision probably has already been made.

  79. 79
    chrisj

    Nested, definitely.

  80. 80
    Pteryxx

    This would be a lot easier with a “reply to” function that referred to the original comment without nesting. Short of that, with the flexible comment numbers, just copy-paste the date and time of the specific comment… that makes it unique and searchable, if awkward.

  81. 81
    Pierce R. Butler

    How ’bout nested, but to only one or two steps to prevent long skinny columns of text – and equipped with a cookie system or somesuch so that anyone returning after leaving will see all new comments in a different color? (Sfaict, Panda’s Thumb uses some sort of tracking tech to find “New” comments as such for each viewer.)

    At the least, pls consider an approach like that of Firedoglake: unnested, but clicking a comment’s “Reply” button adds a header to your message, “In reply to X at # n“.

    Or, after almost 20 years, maybe Web technology has reached a point where users can toggle a set of presentation schema so that the same comment list can be displayed in more than one way (besides font size)?

  82. 82
    Paul Neubauer

    Well, it’s nice to see that this controversy has been settled so promptly, and in the correct way too. :-)

    Olav @29 put his finger on it. usenet news (think talk.origins) can handle the problems just fine (assuming a good news client) but a web page just can’t do the same thing. For a blog, I’m 100% in favor of just plain chronological comments.

    Thanks for listening, Ed!

    Paul

  83. 83
    MikeMa

    Unnested, please.

  84. 84
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Definitely UN-nested.

  85. 85
    mildlymagnificent

    Unnested ……….. a thousand times over.

    The great advantage here is that comments are numbered so we could use the convention of referencing that when replying as well as the user’s name. But many of us don’t have the habit.

    It’s also nice if the software allows you to “Reply” or “Quote” a comment so the link is entirely within the new comment even though they’re separated by a few hours worth of comments.

    But, either way, nested comments are hell on wheels.

  86. 86
    vhutchison

    UNNESTED. If replying to a particular comment, just begin with a reference to that post, as in some blogs that have unnested comments. With nested comments it takes too much time to scroll through all earlier comments.

  87. 87
    sundoga

    I prefer nested.

  88. 88
    Trickster Goddess

    Does this have to be an all/not dichotomy? I have seen numerous websites where the reader can choose via drop down box how they would like the comments displayed.

    I prefer nested myself, but I can understand the problems for searching out the new posts. When Pam’s House Blend was using Soapblox, this was solved by, when reading while logged in, listing the number of new comments since your last viewing at the top of the page (and also on the main page) and tagging the individual new comments with a red “*New*” tag that was easily seen while quickly scrolling down the page.

  89. 89
    georgewiman

    Unnested. It isn’t that hard to reference comment numbers and hit F3 to follow names or keywords through a page But it can be totally confusing when new and old comments are spread all over the place.

  90. 90
    lofgren

    Unnested.

    Nested threads are good for extremely active blogs with hundreds of comments per post and dozens upon dozens of regular posters, because they allow smaller conversations to be created.

    For this blog, with approx. 50 comments on a post being a lot, unnested is best because side conversations are typically short and as it is a very topical blog it’s better to encourage focus from commenters anyway.

  91. 91
    lofgren

    85

    It’s also nice if the software allows you to “Reply” or “Quote” a comment so the link is entirely within the new comment even though they’re separated by a few hours worth of comments.

    This would be the ideal solution.

  92. 92
    sezme

    Unnested.

    But I like tacitus’ comment @19. Use a forum approach where only the FtBers can create an OP but everyone piles on afterward. But also include a section where others can start a thread. Surely there are more powerful tools out there than just linear or nested.

  93. 93
    Susannah

    Unnested. If people give the number of the comment they’re replying to, it’s easy to check back, as needed.

    Nested comments are useful for following one particular discussion, especially if several meaty conversations are going on at once, but for the general run of comments here, they are more time-consuming than helpful.

  94. 94
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    “FUCK NO” to nested comments if the edit box opens at the bottom of the thread. “No” if it opens right under the replied-to post a la Disqus.

  95. 95
    krisrhodes

    Hi Ed,

    I would like to encourage you to reconsider your decision. You currently have a serious case of selection bias – those that like serial comments are here and posting and have done forever, and are set up and are comfortable answering you here. So, it is no surprise that they won the straw poll.

    For the past ~four years, I have been a daily reader of yours. That’s not even an exaggeration – back when you were at scienceblogs w/ your old job, I knew I could just log on just after noon and you wouldn’t post any more for the day.

    But you know what? I can’t stand serial comments. It is part of the reason I don’t comment much. I am sure there are many more out there like me.

    So, since you’ve done serial comments forever, please give nested a fair try – say for a month? And then ask what people would prefer. I suspect this too would underestimate reader preference.

    And I agree with many others that the exact implementation of nested comments matters. Only fair to show us what you can do…

    Cheers!

  96. 96
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Unnested

  97. 97
    John Phillips, FCD

    Nooooooooooooooo, not nested, they are the devil’s spawn. In case you didn’t get that, I don’t particularly care for nested threads.

  98. 98
    SallyStrange

    Nested comments???

    We hates them, preciousssss.

  99. 99
    Joey Maloney

    Un.

  100. 100
    NDDave

    Unnested

  101. 101
    dingojack

    Ed – I think you should have asked:

    1. Assuming you can have only one of nested or unnested comments options -
    a) “Which of the unnested or nested comments option do you prefer? [nested|unnested]
    b) “On a scale of -10 (I really hate this option) to 10 (I really love this option), with 0 meaning ‘meh’, how strongly do you feel about the two possible options”? [-10 to 10]
    c) “What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of your preferred option”? [short answer]
    d) “How and why do you think your preferred option is superior to the other option?” [short answer]

    OR
    2. If you could have either option available to your browser:
    e) How would you like that to be delivered (via pull-down menu, red highlighting of new comments, collapsible menus or other possibilities)? [long answer]

    I think that would clarify things (IMHO)

    Dingo

  102. 102
    dingojack

    For the record;
    1
    a) unnested
    b) unneseted 3; nested -5
    c) advantages: easier to read and skim, easier to monitor for new comments, easier to break and come back to, allows free flowing conversations, easier to maintain as an administrator (I would imagine)
    disadvantages: thread can become long, requires lots of scrolling, harder to link comments and replies visually, posts can be lost in the conversation, can cause confusion over who is commenting and to what, requires more work for posters to refer to other posts, not as intuitive for first-time and infrequent readers.
    d) I find the advantages out weight the disadvantages particularly the freer, more naturalistic tone. Avoids ‘little huddles’ of commenters in the same room having ‘private’ conversations with each other, it’s a more inclusive style.

    Dingo

  103. 103
    Konradius

    Not nested. And you should ask fellow FTBers to ask this question as well. Especially the ones with nested comments :D

  104. 104
    heddle

    unnested

  105. 105
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Doesn’t overly bother me either way but I’d vote unnested thanks.

    I always try to make it clear who I’m replying to using both username and comment number.

  106. 106
    RickR

    As the only two choices seem to be “un-nested” and “nested and implemented like Camels With Hammers (for example)” where there is no visual cue to indicate which posts are new, I vote un-nested.

    Nested comments are fine in theory (The comments section at a site like the A.V. Club would be impossible to read and follow without it, but the culture there has evolved along with nested commenting and works just dandy. And comments there can easily number in the thousands.)

    But the implementation I’ve seen at FtB is too basic to overcome the disadvantages that others have mentioned.

  107. 107
    left0ver1under

    Unnested, with a reply option. Have a trackback link so people can refer to the comment being replied to. I’ve seen people replying or referring to the wrong post, or even attributing words to the wrong person. I always quote what I’m replying to so people can know the context.

    Another problem: the lack of an edit function. Self-deletion may allow cowardly attacks (e.g. someone posts something, then deletes it and pretends not to have said it) but not being able to at least amend or strikethrough comments isn’t good either. In PZ Myers’ item on the BBC and racism, one person said something that others took him to task for. He apologized, but some people couldn’t be bothered to look for his apology. They kept harping on about the original comment instead of reading the whole thread.

  108. 108
    Michael Heath

    krisrhodes writes:

    But you know what? I can’t stand serial comments. It is part of the reason I don’t comment much. I am sure there are many more out there like me.

    What is it about serial comment threads that you hate?

  109. 109
    Mr Ed

    Nested

  110. 110
    Modusoperandi

    Unnested. If I want to see newer comments, I just have go to the bottom of the page (with nested you have to scroll, pause, scroll).
    Plus, hipsters like nested comments. You don’t want to be mistaken for a hipster, do you?

  111. 111
    democommie

    Unnested, denesterated or whatever.

    When I come back to a thread I’ve been on, I simply hit “control+f” and search for my handle. That gets me to the place where I last commented

  112. 112
    democommie

    I was NOT finished, goddamnit! I hate the motherfucking keyboard shortcuts that I have no idea about!

    “Unnested, denesterated or whatever.

    When I come back to a thread I’ve been on, I simply hit “control+f” and search for my handle. That gets me to the place where I last commented and go downthread from there. I’m sure that my method is to modern computing skilz what cave painting is to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but, hey, it works.

  113. 113
    Jasper of Maine

    I was worried that we had another schism on our hands, but nope, it’s fairly unanimous.

  114. 114
    joe_k

    Another vote for unnested comments.

  115. 115
    Modusoperandi

    Jasper of Maine “I was worried that we had another schism on our hands, but nope, it’s fairly unanimous.”
    We almost got schism on our hands? Eww.

  116. 116
    gAytheist

    Unnested. BUT commenters must make it clear what previous comment they are talking about. And comments must NOT be deleted. If you want to remove a comment, replace it with a statement “comment removed” so that the comment numbering stays the same.

  117. 117
    coryat

    This is a damn popular thread! I say unnested.

  118. 118
    democommie

    “This is a damn popular thread! I say unnested.”

    You wanna see this thread get REALLY popular? Let’s put in some botattractants like:

    Ron Paul, Gold Standard, No True Scotsman, Romney+LDS, Orly Taitz and Pat.

    Those will do for a start!

  119. 119
    gardengnome

    As a fairly casual peruser of these pages my opinion probably isn’t worth much but, on previous experience (elsewhere), I would have to plump for unnested.

  120. 120
    tfkreference

    More support for unnested. I read this on an iPhone screen, and the nests on those who use them get really narrow. (And the mobile template you’re using sucks for several reasons, not the least of which is that it doesn’t display blockquotes differently from your text, so it is not clear when you’re quoting–and confusing when you’re quoting a wingnut).

  121. 121
    John Hinkle

    Hey, how come I didn’t get to vote?

    [pouts]

  122. 122
    typecaster

    This is far too late to have any effect, and shows my nostalgia for that which is past. It seems to me that what blogs have been trying to recreate with comment threads is the old newsgroups, where this was a solved problem. All newsreaders that I used could show comments either chronologically (unnested comments here look like that), or threaded (nested). The headers for read postings showed as normal text, unread postings were bold. The first comment at the top of the nest was bolded if there were new responses lower down. I never had any problem finding new posts, even in long posting threads, but the responses were always correlated with what they were responding to. Blog software from the beginning has seemed to be trying to recreate that sort of environment, but never quite getting there.

    So, here at Dispatches it looks like unnested is the way to go. But I do have daydreams about a talk.ftb.dispatches or talk.ftb.pharyngula newsgroup, or at least finding out that WordPress had managed to recreate those tools for commenting.

    But hey, I don’t mind at all if you kids play on my lawn. Damn grass never did anything for me, after all….

  123. 123
    thunk: y'all know ageism is a thing?

    Unnested.

  124. 124
    grendelsfather

    Un-nested, please. Thanks.

  125. 125
    abb3w

    One vote “meh”.

  126. 126
    spartan

    Unnested.

  127. 127
    Childermass

    I guess the software does not support the option of both at the same time: i.e. click and switch between one and the other. It would seem like it would not be too difficult for blog software provider to do, but alas clearly don’t or Ed would not be asking.

  128. 128
    Modusoperandi

    “Very well. Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others”

  129. 129
    Jordan Genso

    You know how some people say that their vote doesn’t mean anything, well that’s definitely the case for votes made after the tallies have been counted.

    But I’ll vote for unnested regardless.

  130. 130
    Sastra

    I strongly prefer unnested.

  131. 131
    ottod

    Unnested.

  132. 132
    Hayden

    Unnested.

  133. 133
    kagerato

    Nesting is for the birds.

  134. 134
    Who Knows?

    Nested would be really good if you could limit them to one level, a one inch column is ridiculous, and they were collapsed by default.

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