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May 19 2008

To HTML OR Not to HTML? A Reader Poll

Computer_keyboardA number of people have mentioned this in recent comments, so I wanted to take a reader poll about it and test the waters.

As a number of you have noted, I don’t have HTML enabled for my comments. This means people can’t use italics, or boldface, or create their own live links, or do:

blockquotes.

There is, in fact, a reason for this. With a Typepad blog, you have a choice. You can let HTML be enabled, so people can do italics and live links and all… or you can have URLs that are posted in the comments automatically get converted to live links.

When I was first setting up the blog, I decided to go with the second option. It seemed more friendly to your average guy or gal who might not be up on HTML or know how to create live links. My general instinct in matter such as these is to be beginner-friendly, and I wanted people who weren’t tech-savvy to be able to include links in their comments without having to learn HTML. And at the time, a lot of my blog readers weren’t addicts of regular visitors to the blogosphere.

But I’m getting an increasing number of cranky complaints about this in my comments. The last time I did a reader poll on this, there was no clear consensus, so I decided to keep things the way they were since that’s what people were used to. But that was almost a year ago: my blog traffic has tripled since then, and I have a lot of new readers that I didn’t have back then. So I figured I should take another poll.

VoteSo what do you think? Is it more important to you to have HTML enabled in the comments here? Or is it more important to have URLs automatically converted to live, clickable links? I don’t promise to go along with the vote — this isn’t a democracy — but if there’s a clear consensus, I’ll probably go with it. So speak now, or forever hold your peace.

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Nentuaby

    I support html. I find it difficult to communicate in a text medium without italics and greatly miss block quoting.

  2. 2
    AttemptingReason

    I vote for HTML.
    Of course, I have the Linkifiction extension, so I always get automatic live links on the pages I view.

  3. 3
    Paul Crowley

    I find all of those things sometimes useful in comments, and generally prefer to write my own link text, so I’d prefer HTML but I don’t feel strongly about it.

  4. 4
    Bill

    Heck, I can’t even get TypePad to sign me properly here anymore. But as to this HTML thingy? J’aime HTML. Merci.
    –Bill

  5. 5
    OrneryPest

    I’m perfectly happy without HTML enabled. Although I do much of my own intermucking in raw HTML, I really prefer to type just plain ordinary stuff in comments.

  6. 6
    Ngeli

    I vote against HTML. You do not want exploits (or simply annoying things like images or blink tags) in your comments, do you?
    ~Ngeli

  7. 7
    Ephemeriis

    HTML would be nice… I find it much easier to convey tone and subtlety if I can use things like bold and italics. The HTML for a link isn’t that frightening. And pretty much any blog/comment/forum system these days strictly controls the kind of HTML allowed, making it much harder (though not impossible) to put exploits into a comment.

  8. 8
    Steve Caldwell

    From a computer security point of view, you’re better off leaving things as they are (no HTML – automatic live links).
    That would reduce the chances of sneaking a malicious link into the comments on your page.

  9. 9
    Nan

    No preference here, but Steve raises a good point. If the status quo is more secure, you might want to stick with it.

  10. 10
    John Moeller

    HTML. It’s just more expressive to be able to emphasize what you say in the right spots, and an ‘a’ tag isn’t hard to construct, at least for me. I think there’s tools that help with it too, for the non-tech-savvy.
    As for potential HTML exploits, I believe that WordPress scrubs the HTML in comments, and commenters are left with a limited set of tags that they can use to do basic things, like b, i, a, etc. (If they don’t, they’d be incredibly foolish to expose their bloggers to that kind of bad PR, especially after the XSS scare.)
    Don’t take my word for it, though.

  11. 11
    David D.G.

    I have just halting and confused proficiency with HTML at best, despite years of Internet experience (I’m just not a natural technogeek), so I generally prefer that things be kept as simple as possible.
    For emphasis, I can always use CAPITAL LETTERS, or surround my words in *asterisks* to make a slightly less obnoxious emphasis.
    And I don’t need blockquotes because I once learned how to use these things called “quotation marks.” (Remember those, folks?)
    If you want to change over, I’ll adapt, and it won’t stress me out too badly; a lot of blogs I read use HTML. But given a choice, I’d prefer to leave things here as they are. Thanks for asking, Greta!
    ~David D.G.

  12. 12
    TheNerd

    Hmm, I’m torn. I still haven’t gotten off my lazy ass to learn HTML, but I don’t want to deprive those who know it the opportunity. I’ll have to hold my vote.

  13. 13
    Joreth

    I prefer html, but there are plenty of alternatives in plain text, as someone mentioned above.
    I use * in place of italics and CAPS in place of bold and ” for blockquotes. Some of us remember typing our classwork on typewriters instead of computers and we can revert to more traditional methods of emphasis.
    I don’t know if you’re using a binary yes/no system for this poll, if so, I vote yes. But if you’re using a spectrum, I’d be just barely off center on the “yes” side, mainly because I *do* code html so I tend to write tags automatically and have to remind myself that your comments don’t take them.

  14. 14
    The Uncredible Hallq

    I can sum up my opinion as follows:
    http://www.htmlgoodies.com/primers/html/article.php/3478171
    This simultaneously demonstrates two things:
    One, it’s really easy to learn HTML. There’s no excuse for not doing so.
    Two, seeing actual URLs in a comments thread isn’t pretty. In my browser’s preview, at least, that URL runs over the edge of the comment area.
    I don’t much care about bold and italics, but I do like having blockquotes. In high school I was taught that quotes of more than four lines need to be put in an indented text block, and I’m uncomfortable seeing it any other way.

  15. 15
    David Harmon

    As one of the original complainers, I’m still for HTML.
    If you can’t get the auto-linking to work on top of that, that’s a bit of a shame, but no show-stopper. (Even if someone who’s “HTML-deficient” drops an untagged URL into their comment, folks can still copy-and-paste it.)
    Now, I started out with E-mail on VT102 terminals, but time marches on! Given you’re already on the Web, letting people mark up their comments just seems the thing to do. (Besides bold and italic, “strikeout” is useful for snark or sarcasm… ;-) )
    I’ve also seen a couple of alternatives to HTML tags, (used at comics sites) though I don’t know if they’re available for your setup. The BBTags used by Purrsia seem kind of pointless, but the edit boxes used at http://www.webcomicsnation.com are interesting.

  16. 16
    arensb

    I like blockquotes. Quotation marks are okay as far as they go, but I prefer a more obvious division between what I’m saying, and what I’m responding to.
    And most commenting systems I’ve seen will try to automatically add paragraph breaks and such, so people who use plain text won’t be missing much.
    So I vote for HTML.

  17. 17
    cl

    Dang Greta,
    synchronizing out again. Some guy just complained the same thing to me – about not having HTML enabled. I’m going to do it. I’ve been on science blogs alot lately, and the inclusion of HTML makes those crazy flame-war type threads much easier to discern. Sometimes we get lost when I quote you quoting me quoting so and so…and it doesn’t help that Typepad doesn’t number comments, or alter the color of comments like on evolutionblog.
    Plus, like someone said above, it’s nice to not have huge, ugly URL’s in your work. With HTML, you can make one simple word the link, and it still looks pretty and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the reading one single bit.
    Hopefully see you at work soon, healing well over here..

  18. 18
    konrad_arflane

    Hmmm. While I don’t mind enabling HTML, doing it for the sake of italics and bold type doesn’t really seem necessary to me. By now, I’ve gotten used to converting any unconverted tags (usually due to incorrect formatting, such as using [] instead of or vice versa) in my head without thinking about it.
    Also, a number of blogs I frequent have trouble when a poster forgets to close his tags, so that all posts after the offending post get rendered in, say italics, until someone posts an “end italics” tag.

  19. 19
    Kagehi

    As I understand it HTML in most forums is a “subset” of commands, not the whole kit, so its not as horrible as having different fonts, blinking text, etc. Personally, I see no need at all for “most” of them. Italics and bold would be useful, blockquote is a *must* imho. URLs though.. If you can’t copy and paste a link, that is your problem. And, if you have firefox, you can always add the “linkification” plugin to get auto-links from the text, even without a URL function. Its kind of unneeded, redundant and, in fact, on some forums, actually irritating to use (then those are the ones that make “code”, “quote” and other things hard to use too, for some reason).
    My vote would be for it, especially if you can somehow “limit” which ones actually do work. Not having at least blockquote is imho jarring.

  20. 20
    Leon

    I’d kind of like to be able to use HTML, myself. It’s not a big deal, but a would-be-nice kind of thing.

  21. 21
    Alice in Wonderland

    I’d like having HTML, for what it’s worth (I’m not a frequent commenter by any means!). These days I’m so used to writing bits of HTML into my Livejournal posts that sometimes I’ll use italics tags when I’m writing with pen on paper.

  22. 22
    Patience

    I would prefer html, just so that I don’t have to feel like I’m shouting to create EMPHASIS when it’s needed.

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