Take Your Discussion Elsewhere

There are many different types of content management software. Some of them are designed as collaborative tools, for sharing documents between people working on some project together, allowing them to collectively edit those documents. Others are designed with discussion in mind, like a bulletin board or forum for a flamewar quorum. Still others are community sharing venues, where people present what they have found or made to the world -- or at least to each other -- for review and admiration.

Then, of course, there are the moderated or single-user publishing platforms. This category includes Weblogs. This is the kind of content management system Lump is meant to be.

Keepin' It Real

Real Simple, that is.

Adding a comment system to this Weblog would require quite a lot more code than it takes to make a Weblog. In fact, I am pretty sure that managing a commenting system is the primary reason that Weblog applications need RDBMSes on the back end, though of course I've never built my own Weblog CMS from scratch before, so I don't have quite the same experience with the bottlenecks and resource needs of such things that, say, the WordPress and Blogger developers have.

I want to avoid that kind of complexity in Lump itself, so for the time being at least there are no plans to integrate discussion with Lump.

Getting Social

The term Web 2.0 doesn't seem to get the same buzz it did just a couple of short years ago, at least among the technorati. I do not tend to hang out with a bunch of buzzword addicted middle-managers, though, so for all I know they might still be talking about the term as if it was the name of the Universal Solvent.

In any case, that Web 2.0 stuff has, as far as I can tell, faded into the background noise. What seemed shiny and new and special a couple of short years ago has, to a substantial degree, become the norm. I do not just mean "rounded corners" and "AJAX" and other front-end interface design features that had become associated with "Web 2.0", either; I mean the social web, leveraging the power of the masses to enhance the value of a Website, trading information for viewership and viewership for information in a virtuous circle like Hacker News, reddit, twitter, and Wikipedia.

I do not remember for sure who it was that said he thought that discussion should most likely be mediated through online social networks, offloading the responsibility for that kind of content management to "the cloud". I think it might have been Reg Braithwaite. In any case, the idea was that if people with something to say really want to say it, they can do so in their own Weblogs. For those who do not wish to manage their own Weblogs, they always have social linke/news discussion sites like reddit to satisfy that need. At first, I was inclined to think that was a terrible idea, but I tried to keep an open mind.

I have finally come around to that way of thinking, at least for the purposes of blogstrapping -- and blogstrapping is at the moment the only site using Lump, and I am Lump's target userbase. As such, I have "added" my "comment system" to Lump already, in the form of a link to reddit. That link you should see at the bottom of every blogstrapping entry points to the submission page at reddit if the entry has not yet been submitted there, or to a discussion in progress if it has. I would like to have it list the number of comments (if any) already made there, but I have not yet figured out how to do that in a non-kludgey way. The good news is that clicking that link will not commit you to starting a discussion there; you can back out if you see that there is no discussion yet.

It is not a perfect solution, at least yet, but it is something at least. If you have any ideas for how to improve it, do not hesitate to let me know via the issue tracker for the Lump project at BitBucket. You can get there via the "Bugs" link in the menu box on this page.

While I am at it, I do know for sure it was Mr. Braithwaite who said something else about not hosting comments that, for the nonce, rings true for me:

I lose a lot of good feedback, but I also shed myself of a damaging temptation to pander to the crowd. When blogs become "conversations," they also tend to converge on a common group-think.

I am increasingly inclined to agree with this estimation of the problem of comment discussions.

No Hassle

One of the things that convinced me to avoid running my own comment system is, of course, the fact that it needs constant management. It seems that every time I post some new entry at SOB, I get two or three or maybe even half a dozen or more legitimate comments -- following which I get a trickle of spam comments that lasts for a month or more.

This is only the smallest of security issues with a comment system. Of course, simplicity is security, and complexity is fairly antithetical to that. Worse yet, taking input from arbitrary strangers tends to increase the danger to security. I really do not want to have to deal with that, either on the back end when maintaining the design of the software or on the front end when trying to moderate and filter comments as the site administrator.

I Can't Fight City Hall

Finally, of course, there is the danger of legal hassle. Law and precedent protect Websites, at least somewhat, against civil and criminal responsibility for content that has been contributed by visitors to the site -- and rightly so. Even in a best-case interpretation of the legal state of things, though, content hosts must be prepared to take down content for which they have received complaints that could lead to litigation, which amounts to selective censorship on behalf of people the content hosts have probably never even met. Most of this kind of problem comes from copyright enforcement, of course, but there are other areas of law that could also cause problems.

Even worse, those protections for content hosts are constantly under attack, and it may be the case that these protections might ultimately be worn down to the point that it is simply not reasonable to host contributed content any longer without a huge, corporate stable of lawyers at one's beck and call. While one might argue that I should just host contributed content until that day comes, I have decided to take a more proactive and "safe" approach, and just farm out third-party content hosting to others.

After all, when rights and liberties are worn away, the change tends to occur by way of some "test case", where those wearing it all away attack some hapless schmuck to set precedent, and make an example of the unfortunate soul. I have no interest in being that target, and while the chances are slim, it is easier for me to avoid the problem than it is to try my luck anyway -- at least in the case of Lump and blogstrapping.

I still host contributed content elsewhere. I have not decided what I will do with that, yet, so I'll just keep on hosting it for now.

The End(?)

The "final" word -- at least for now -- is that anything here you feel like discussing will have to be discussed by visiting some third-party Website that hosts contributed content. The link to submit to reddit at the bottom of each entry, as of this writing, is a hint. I would like to add a similar Hacker News link, but have not yet bothered to sort out how to write a submission link for that site. Feel free to let me know via Lump's issue tracker or via reddit discussion (whichever is most appropriate to the approach you want to take to letting me know) if you have ideas for how to do that.