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June 05, 2007


I feel like this is some inverse Mao trick where you say "let a thousand flowers not bloom", and then ban everyone who replies "screw that".

hilzoy, would it be possible to put some limit on the length of comments - in some cases threads can become awfully hard to decipher, because people write little essays or engage in elaborate point by point refutations


I don't like against novakant's comment length limits. Sometimes long comments are worth reading and sometimes they're not. The same is true of short comments. It's easy to scroll past a long comment one doesn't want to read.

I started to type "I vote against novakant's idea" and then meant to change that to" I don't like novakant's idea", since we're not voting and ended up halfway between the two.

I hate posts like this. Now I'm wondering if it's worth wandering through recent threads to see if there's anything entertaining in their comment sections.

That's just a joke.

I'm not saying long comments are necessarily bad (even though there is a case to be made for brevity, since it's supposed to be a discussion), I'm talking about usability. If we had a nested comment listing, where the discussion can branch out into sub-threads, overly long comments wouldn't be such a problem. But within a flat listing of comments such as we have here (and I'm not favouring either type of listing, each comes with its own set of problems) these mini essays disrupt the flow of conversation and the readability. Unless you devote a substantial amount of time to untangling all the logical and rhetorical threads contained, it simply becomes hard to follow. Maybe I'm just too casual a reader/commenter, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this.

People have individual approaches to how they read online discussions. They always have individual preferences as to length, threading, style, approach, and so on.

And, of course, being human, they often tend to project that their own preferences are popular, if not universal preferences.

Personally, I regard the optimal system as one like Usenet: where it's purely up to the user to pick whatever style of newsreader they like, down to web-based, or shell account, Windows or Unix or Mac, and so on.

The worst possible system in my set of preferences would be thread-based, but with no ability to alter how the threads are displayed via newsreader. I hate that beyond my ability to say, and it's why I'm never found on a Scoop-based blog, or any blog that uses such a (by my preferences horrible) system.

Second best to using one's own newsreader (not possible on the web, of course), and being able to rearrange threading at the touch of a key, in my book, is linear. The system we have. It means that any and all messages are available at the touch of a scroll key, or by using "find."

But, of course, I know perfectly well that other people have their own preferences. I'm saying that novakant's assumptions about what's "usable" are purely personal and individual, and so are assertions about what's "hard to follow."

Personally, I don't see any need for length limitations, either, save to prevent the sort of purely gratuitious cut-and-paste of the length we saw once in that music thread of publius' a little while ago, where someone decided to dump in a huge list of songs "because I can." It's one thing to quote to whatever length is reasonably necessary -- and that's the only limitation I'd desire -- it's another to simply cut and paste a huge list for no reason at all beyond that "I can."

"Unless you devote a substantial amount of time to untangling all the logical and rhetorical threads contained, it simply becomes hard to follow."

Indeed, that's the case with any discussion that goes on over enough time, or with enough contributions. It also takes a bit of time to read a book; if you're not interested enough, don't bother, I suggest.

It's not as if we're Unfogged, routinely getting 500 comments per post (most of which are injokes).

Not that that's any reason to avoid commenting at Unfogged. We like new people; the injokes get dull after awhile.


The quantity of in-jokes is a major reason that I don't comment there. If the majority of comments are jokes you don't get, it is difficult to join in (plus there is the fear one may become the butt of new jokes, and not even realize it).

I think much of the length issue, such as it is, is related to the time zones we are spread across and the time lag between responses.

If the comments are immediately back and forth, they tend to be shorter because we can respond to each other's direct questions in a shorter amount of time if there is confusion.

If I'm writing for someone I know is not likely to read it for some hours (say liberal japonicus), I'm more likely to be lengthy so I can cover obvious objections and the like without spreading the conversation over weeks.

Though I'll admit sometimes I'm long-winded just because that is who I am.


Dan has a point. I enjoy wandering around Unfogged, but the comments are rather intimidating for those not accustomed to them.

Oh, I know. I'm just appealing to anyone who lurks to jump in: while I completely understand finding the in-jokey chatter offputting, it's not meant to exclude and new commenters always add something.

"We like new people; the injokes get dull after awhile."

I long ago entered the realm of finding more than half the comments incomprehensible due to in-references. It's not unknown for long stretches of 9 out of 10 comments being incomprehensible (to me) to occur.

But mostly if I see that the number of comments has gone over 100, I don't even bother to open the comment thread: too much of a time investment, given the low ratio of comprehensibility. (And the general willingness of people to say the nastiest things, with the flimsiest of assumptions, combined with the usual pack dynamics of any ingroup: there's nothing abnormal or unusual in this, nothing to criticize out of the norm; I'm just sufficiently not a member of the group enough to find it congenial; more power to those that do.)

The quantity of in-jokes is a major reason that I don't comment there. If the majority of comments are jokes you don't get, it is difficult to join in

Hence the ancient advice to "lurk before posting". Read it enough and you'll start to get the in-jokes.

(And frankly, I think that online communities having a high barrier to entry is a *good* thing.)

LB: I'm just appealing to anyone who lurks to jump in

Eh. Only works if the circle acknowledges your presence. Or if you've got the fortitude to accuse ogged of being a Mexican straight off the bat, I suppose.

Insofar as novakant's suggestion, I completely disagree: long comments are sometimes worth reading, sometimes not, but there should be no blanket prohibition on them. There should, in a perfect world, be a blanket prohibition on bad grammar, bad punctuation and incoherent thought, but somehow I don't think greasemonkey has a script for that...

...but I do.

And on assuming bad faith.

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