interi

Discussion, not comments

This is both a test and information about me switching to Discourse (at talkgroup.xyz) for commenting in WordPress (which is what runs the main site here at https://interi.org).

I adore the conversations we have on talkgroup, and I don’t get the same experience using WordPress comments. Using Discourse may be a better way to elevate the discussion of what I am writing about, rather than collecting a handful of comments (most of which are from people I already know on talkgroup).

The catalyst for this came with the newly re-branded Replyable (formerly Postmatic). I’ve been using it for comments because I want folks leaving comments to know other people are reading and replying, because it makes me smarter. I learn so much from the generosity and intelligence of the people I meet on the web, and my low-traffic blog and tight circle of friends (and friends of friends) makes this a relatively safe space for me to learn and engage.

WordPress comments aren’t keeping pace

Postmatic is doing some fantastic work in updating the comment technology behind WordPress. For many folks, using their services will increase “user engagement” and make the sites generally rank better in search engines.

I can’t find many people aside from the ad-hoc team at Postmatic working in this space, but they make up for it with a variety of tools (these are my summaries, so check them out if you are curious):

  • Replyable - improved commenting, with paid features including better delivering and reply by email
  • Postmatic - Paid service for newsletter and subscription management, makes pretty emails and easy visitor engagement
  • Elevated Comments - Comment AI filter to find the “best” comment and publish it above the fold
  • Epoch - Self-hosted Disqus-style alternative, meaning “realtime commenting/chat experience”
  • Social Commenting - Let’s visitors use third parties to verify their identity…
  • Crowd Control - Comment flagging for harmful content

Postmatic is coming at the issues around commenting from many angles! And ultimately they are working towards a self-hosted-centric solution, while taking care of the heavy lifting no regular web publisher wants to handle.

Unfortunately, I don’t support most of their efforts, because their products either promote distraction in conversing (driving discussion towards chat and social media, along with comment ratings) or just never work for me; I’ve installed and reinstalled many of these plugins over the last year, and they’ve failed my expectations in various ways. The biggest disappointment is the comment subscription plugin creates user accounts to track the subscriptions. A completely understandable technical decision, but is never mentioned on information pages, and is not something one wants to be surprised about.

So while they are changing the WordPress commenting landscape, the incentives are not aligned with what I am seeking in conversation.

A conversation has comments, but comments don’t make a conversation

My “personal brand” has always been authenticity, vulnerability and deep thought, which translates into long-lasting partnerships based on trust and knowing I will find the best solution for a client’s problem. Meaning comments are not valuable to me as a knowledge worker, except as a research tool.

Comments on random blog posts have always been incredibly useful, but I alone choose the topics of discussion, which is a weakness; a personal blog does not benefit from cognitive diversity. For my self I seek out information in other places, using a combination of mailing lists and RSS feeds to pull knowledge towards me. How do I use those same tools to push knowledge out?

WordPress has got RSS on lockdown, I have no issues with that. But email remains a conundrum.

Usability and discovery remain difficult, but sending out messages to people remains a balance between ease and privacy: every service or product makes it easy to send a newsletter or post subscriptions default to the worse tracking practices. I don’t care how old you are or about your gender. I don’t need open and click-through rates, I get broad stats and that is enough. And I am sure as hell not going to help a corporation track my precious readers!

And despite all of these points, I find email a compelling option to inform folks.

So when I take all of this together, I look at Discourse and I see it just working really, really well (and getting better all the time!). It incentivizes informative thought-out discussion, not transactions between a marketer and a customer. And it has smart defaults on dealing with email.

The weird way we use talkgroup

talkgroup is the Discourse instance I administer. As I’ve noted, I am in it for the long haul. I want, need really, a space which promotes safety and openness as the attributes by which conversation happens.

Discourse makes it relatively easy, but I am pushing the software in ways I am not sure it is made to handle. We’ve discussed using it as a subscription/discussion service for personal sites, and I didn’t arrive to an optimistic conclusion, but I am coming around. The oddities involved may be worth the rewards of using Discourse in this way.

I guess we will find out, ne? ^_^