Anatomy of a comment

The Australian Museum web team recently began looking at commenting. We wanted to see what sort of items could appear in a comment.

After a look around a wide variety of sites, we came up with a list of possible aspects that could be included in a comment:

  1. Author name – who wrote the comment
  2. Authors url – the authors website
  3. Authors avatar – the digital representation of the author
  4. Permalink – a permanent link to the specific comment
  5. Number – A reference number for the specific comment
  6. Date – date of comment
  7. Time – time of comment
  8. Comment – the actual comment
  9. Edit this comment – allows authors to edit their comments (suggested by IM)
  10. Other comments by this personsee example
  11. Site owner flagging – some sort of visual distinction to shows comments from the site owner/s

Below is a chart showing some of the aspects listed above, checked across a range of blogs. This chart was prepared by the ever-patient Rose Cox.

The biggest surprises for me was the number of sites that did not include a permalink to each comment.Only 18 out of 70 sites checked used a permalink. I was also surpirsed by the variety of methods used to “house” the permalink. These included:

  1. Date
  2. Time
  3. Date and time (by far the most common option used by the 70 sample sites below)
  4. A graphic icon
  5. The # symbol
  6. The word “permalink”
  7. Comment title

So, are there any aspects of comments that we have missed?
Do you include all of these on your blog/site?
Specifically, do you include a permalink to your comments?
We’d love to hear!

Update: The chart below has been updated. The permalink column was incorrect. If you see other errors, please let me know.

Comment comparison chart

URL Author Avatar Permalink Date Time Comment Number
70/70 11/70 45/70 68/70 54/70 70/70 25/70
Jeffrey Zeldman yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
456 Berea Street yes no yes – using number yes no yes yes
Andy Budd yes no no yes yes yes no
Hicksdesign yes yes no yes no yes no
clagnut yes yes yes – using icon yes yes yes no
Weblog about Markup & Style yes no yes – using " permalink" yes yes yes yes
meyerweb.com yes no yes – using number yes yes yes yes
mezzoblue yes yes no yes yes yes yes
Signal vs. Noise yes no no yes no yes no
Nick Bradbury yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Meryl’s notes yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
AdamPolselli.com yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
The Man in Blue yes no no yes yes yes yes
Si-blog yes yes no yes no yes no
SuperfluousBanter yes yes no yes no yes no
Ryan Brill yes no yes – using "#" yes yes yes no
Authentic Boredom yes no no yes no yes yes
Jeffrey Veen yes no no yes yes yes yes
Molly.com yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
IEBlog yes no yes – using "#" yes yes yes no
Mike Davidson yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes yes
Jason Santa Maria yes no yes – using icon yes yes yes yes
The Hivelogic Narrative yes no no no no yes no
CollyLogic yes no no yes yes yes no
ShaunInman.com yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes yes
Zooiblog yes yes yes – using date/time yes no yes yes
box of chocolates yes no yes – using time yes yes yes no
drew mclellan yes yes yes – using date/time yes no yes no
Boxes and Arrows yes yes no yes yes yes no
evolt.org yes no no yes yes yes no
SitePoint yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
UsableType yes no no yes no yes no
Brainstorms and Raves yes no yes – using word "permalink" yes yes yes yes
Karmakars.com yes no yes – using date/time yes yes no yes
Juicy Studio yes no yes – using "url string" yes yes yes yes
Matt Cutts yes no yes – using time yes yes yes no
Berkun blog yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Bruce Lawson’s personal site yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes yes
Pen and Ink yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
rachelandrew yes no yes – using time yes yes yes yes
f berriman yes yes yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
fadtastic yes no yes -using "#" yes no yes no
Diary of a website yes no no yes no yes no
snook.ca yes no no yes no yes yes
lesscode.org yes no yes – using date yes no yes no
Citizen Agency yes no yes – using word "permalink" yes yes yes yes
ThePickards yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Presentation Zen yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
D. Keith Robinson yes yes no no no yes yes
O’Reilly Radar yes no no yes yes yes no
Dexagogo yes no no yes no yes yes
the 200ok weblog yes yes yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Surfin’ Safari yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Wait till I come! yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
findability yes no no yes no yes no
Jens Meiert yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes yes
The NeoSmart Files yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Rave About It Blog yes no yes – using "#" yes yes yes no
Cross-Media Entertainment yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes yes
Ben Balbo yes no no yes yes yes no
Jason Yip yes no no yes yes yes no
Bokardo yes no no yes no yes yes
FactoryCity yes no yes – using word "permalink" yes yes yes no
Read/WriteWeb yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes yes
Molt:n Core yes no no yes yes yes no
Notes on Design yes no yes – using date/time yes yes yes no
Smashingmagazine yes no no yes yes yes yes
A List Apart yes no yes – using comment title yes yes yes yes
Standardzilla Yes no yes – using time yes yes yes no
Engadget yes yes yes – using date/time yes yes yes no

Date: 9 February 2008
Author: Russ Weakley
Category: Articles, HTML, News, Web
Tags: , ,

Comments so far

  1. Laura says:

    Strangely interesting stuff. Had spent time on my blog thinking of how to create participation by adding extra features like ‘keep me up to date with conversation’ when commenting, and also options for those too shy to comment to be able to be updated when others comment and discuss, as well as avatars to make it more personable. But never thought of it in quite this context!
    Thank you for pulling this together, and yes, to Rose Cox, very patient to compile this chart! Deserves a gold sticky star for that – definately!

  2. Russ says:

    @Laura: The “keep me updated” is a very good feature (as you say, for those who comment or those who simply want to keep track of discussions), though it is more related to the overall post and all comments associated with the post than an individual comment.

  3. JackP says:

    To some extent – for us bloggers at least – this may be driven by our choice of blogging engine and our familiarity (or otherwise) with plugins and customisations for it.

    I don’t know whether it was a simple miss, or a misunderstanding, but my site ThePickards does provide each comment with a permalink; a feature I like because it gives me the capability to easily cite my commenters on the odd time I’ve been discussing something actually of interest to more people than just me…

    …but I suspect the features offered will, for the most part, be dependent on the blogging engine used – any chance of a breakdown of results by blogging engine?

  4. Russ says:

    @JackP: Yes, you are correct, ThePickards does have permalinks – and the chart above has just been corrected. My apologies!

    Re the breakdown, not at this point due to time – but a great idea. As you say, most blogging tools will either provide some or most of these options out of the box, or with plugins.

  5. Myles Eftos says:

    What about blogs that allow HTML in comments? Some allow just a subset, some insert the tags automatically other don’t allow anything. And some still use different markup languages such as textile.

  6. Russ says:

    @Myles – a good point. These are probably attributes of the actual comment field

    No HTML
    HTML
    - markup
    - textile

  7. I include permalinks for each comment, though I’m not certain I like the way it is done. I’m pretty sure that I just used the default in WordPress, which was permalinking the time of a comment on the post.

    For example:

    http://www.boxofchocolates.ca/archives/2006/03/30/five-business-mistakes-ive-made#comment-4917

  8. Ben Buchanan says:

    The 200ok Weblog does actually have permalinks, but only on the main post page. Blogger’s comment handling is slightly odd that way, as it takes you to a separate page to post the comment and that page doesn’t have the permalinks. It’s also frustrating that Blogger doesn’t let you style author comments differently.

  9. JackP says:

    ..and I’ve now added site owner flagging, which I’d been meaning to do for some time, thanks to your prompt :-)

  10. housetier says:

    avatar – check
    date – check
    time – check
    permalink – check
    number – check
    author name – check
    author url – check
    actual comment – check
    flagging – negative

    We have considered owner flagging but decided against it.

  11. Russ says:

    I’ve just updated the post and chart, as the permalink column was incorrect. I’ve also found, via Snook, another aspect within comments – “Other comments by this person”

  12. lm says:

    may be i’ve missed it but i dont see yet “edit your comment” feature here on a list, as it is on Noscope blog (of Joen Asmussen).

  13. lm says:

    (forgot to give you a link to it):
    http://www.noscope.com/journal/

  14. I have most of the elements listed above, the only really important thing missing from the list is indeed whether html or other markup languages are allowed or not (I’m using markdown myself).

    As for editing comments, this is always a fickle point. Maybe authors should be able to for some short while, but as soon as the next comment is posted reediting earlier comments can become annoying (as people further down the line might have reacted to your comment already). I think a functionality like this is better suited for forums.

    Other comments by this author sounds interesting although I doubt whether it holds a lot of value.

    The permalink I included just last week. Never used it myself, my blog is not big enough for them to have a real use anyway. But the more comments you get, the more important the permalink becomes I suppose.

  15. James says:

    Another aspect is threading, which needs the comment section to be quite wide. Scoring tends to only be a feature of big discussion sites, of which only Slashdot and reddit are worth learning from. OpenID is increasingly used for commenter identification. LiveJournal allows (paid) users to edit their posts until someone replies to it.

    http://microformats.org/wiki/comment-problem has a few thoughts about tracking comments.

  16. Russ says:

    @James, i like the idea of only allowing edits til someone replies.

  17. This is an exceptionally detailed look at an area of the web that is all-too-often neglected. I know, because I tend to neglect it. :) Thanks for your efforts!

  18. Russ says:

    @Rob: Thanks for the feedback :)

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