For many blogs, managing blog comments actually often means deleting spam comments. For others, entries may get many comments and it can be daunting for readers to wade through the piles of comments in order to find the gems.

Here’s some strategies for improved readability when dealing with large numbers of comments:

  1. Highlight your comments – so they stand out from all other commenters’ comments. We use this on IdolBlog, which was built using Drupal. It helps when you’re clarifying issues, responding to questions, or stepping in to calm down a discussion. It helps others to scan through the pile of comments too. Here’s a WordPress plugin which will do this for you.
  2. Provide visual cues – by adding a mini icon (what’s know as a Gravatar or Favatar or Comvatar, depending on how the icon is obtained) which is always the same for a commentor, one is able to scan comments more quickly. You can see whether only a few people are leaving a tonne of comments back and forth (especially ones which argue regularly) or whether the post is attracting a wide variety of commenters. See the Gravatar, Favatar and Comvatar plugins for WordPress.
  3. Show what’s new – forums have done this well in the past by indicating the number of new comments since your last visit. Drupal offers this for all commented on content. There’s a WordPress plugin for unread comments. Of course, comment RSS feeds or email notifications can be used to track new comments on posts that interest you too.
  4. Split things up – I’m sure you’ve all been to a post which has hundreds of comments and it takes forever to load. Paginate your comments once there’s too many to load on a single page.
  5. Newest first – this one can be a little confusing for your visitors as it’s not the norm. We’ve tried it on IdolBlog and there are groups who prefer having the newest comments listed at the top, and others who prefer the standard of having the newest comments at the bottom. While posts are shown in reverse chronological order, reading a conversation in reverse order might not be appropriate. In some cases though, it can be handy to reverse the order of comments. (We now offer members the choice of the order they list comments on IdolBlog.)
  6. Distinguish Trackbacks – WordPress mixes these all up and sometimes it can be rather confusing if commenters are discussing a post to be “interrupted” by a trackback. Create a different style for your trackbacks to help reduce the lack of flow.
  7. Rate comments – Like Slashdot, enable comments to be rated with a user-defined filter which hides comments below a certain threshold. Helps sort the wheat from the chaff. Alternatively, text size, text colour and background colour could be altered so as to “quieten” unimportant voices and enhance important contributions – more useful when dealing with large amounts of comments than displaying a score beside the comments.
    Remember the trick here is to help improve readability of large numbers of comments. Less clutter is better. I haven’t seen a plugin for major blogging tools (apart from Drupal which does this).
  8. Nested comments – This can be a little confusing if you’re not used to threaded comments but wonderful if your commenters frequently go off in little tangents, or have mini-conversations which aren’t relevant to everyone. See this WordPress plugin.
  9. Editable comments – Blog commenters often muck up an original comment and post a comment straight afterwards to fix the first, or add an after-thought. If comments were editable, this would be greatly reduced.
    The problem here is when someone leaves a provocative or controversial comment, then comes back and changes or deletes what they initially said. This can make others out to look stupid or can confuse newcomers to the conversation. We get around this by allowing editable comments on IdolBlog in conjunction with nested comments. If someone has already responded to their comment, they are unable to edit it. If no-one has yet, they can.
  10. Categorise comments – I’ve been thinking about this recently but I haven’t yet seen an implementation of it. If an idea were floated on a post, with the post author asking for feedback on the idea, often this is done by way of a mixture of blog comments. Sometimes, a poll may be used and the poll may also allow commenting on it. However, while an overall tally of the percentage of people for/against an idea is available at-a-glance, the reasons why people are for/against the idea are all mixed together.
    If comments were categorisable (such as agree/disagree/neutral/suggestion), then these could be displayed differently (such as a different background colour) or even separately physically (left, right, middle). At the end, a list of reasons for and against the idea could be found at a glance too.
    Categorised comments would be invaluable in other circumstances too, e.g. political blogs (which candidate/party the commenter supports). In some cases, categories would be replaced by more flexible tags. You a post you could specifc the type of tags you’re looking for (relevant to the post) – e.g. affiliation.

I’d appreciate any feedback on this concept of tagging/categorising comments. Would you find it useful? How would you envisage using it?

If you’ve seen other ways of improving the readability of large numbers of comments on blogs (or other systems), I’d love to heard them!