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Ajax for all!
November 7, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

Ajax updates that allow us to see new comments without reloading an entire page have been a wonderful addition to this site. Any chance we could get Ajax posting as well? This would be really helpful in long threads which can crash my browser after I post a comment.
posted by grouse to Feature Requests at 8:33 PM (49 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I second this pony!
posted by ocherdraco at 8:35 PM on November 7, 2012


I think the real issue here is the crashing browser. Posting comments inline would be one potential solution to that problem—it's something we can think about. There might be other options to consider as well. We've had a very long election season with an unusual number of very long threads. If those become more of the norm than the exception, yes, we'll need to rethink a number of things so people can use the site without technical glitches.

Every solution has downsides. Inline commenting would work well with modern browsers, maybe not as well in every situation. Faster inline commenting would push MetaFilter more toward a chat space. So there are site culture issues to think about too. We are thinking about them.
posted by pb (staff) at 9:06 PM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, even when my browser doesn't crash, having to wait forever for a long thread to reload isn't awesome. The thread doesn't even have to be that long if I'm posting from my phone.
posted by grouse at 9:14 PM on November 7, 2012


Yeah, I think having the chat server running has really put the difference between these two types of conversation into relief. With the chat server you just type a sentence, hit return, and your words appear. It's a very similar experience to Facebook or Twitter.

A MetaFilter thread feels similar, but not as synchronous. So I can understand the frustration if you're expecting the speed of chat. They are definitely different experiences. Maybe MetaFilter is heading toward a more real-time chat future, I don't know.
posted by pb (staff) at 9:20 PM on November 7, 2012


pagination
posted by carsonb at 9:58 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter's asynchronous experience as it's been so far feels preferable to the more insistent "real-time chat." Real-time chat spaces exist in a variety of forms, different from MetaFilter's more persistent, and at its best, hopeful and deeper quality of conversation. I wouldn't want to encourage any technical change that moved site participation closer to real-time than it already is.
posted by cgc373 at 11:01 PM on November 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


The thing is that Ajax commenting would have to be something you can turn off easily. Tons of people's browsers can't handle the Ajax refresh thing, so they have that turned off.
posted by koeselitz at 12:10 AM on November 8, 2012


(Also, that chat thing drove me completely insane, and if Metafilter becomes more like that I would be sad. This isn't necessarily asking for that, I guess. But I take pb's point that it could push us in that direction.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:11 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


pb: "Faster inline commenting would push MetaFilter more toward a chat space. So there are site culture issues to think about too. We are thinking about them"

This was my initial worried thought upon reading grouse's request. We already have enough trouble with people not reading every (or most) comment before posting, and I think rapid-fire AJAX responses would ruin things quite badly. But then, I'm half of the mind that you should be forced to Preview before Posting, so I'm clearly voting for the Slow-Thread party!

However, that's not to say I don't think there needs to be some changes in posting for large threads because it does take a mighty long time in hundred+ comment threads. But perhaps the solution is to offer an opt-in paginated view of large threads for people who only want to see the last N comments? The refresh on something like this would be significantly faster without impeding things too much, and it wouldn't change threads for the worse.

I feel that this latter idea has been suggested before and shot down on technical counts, though, so who knows. But overall, I'd have to vote for shooting this pony before it gets out the gate.
posted by barnacles at 1:53 AM on November 8, 2012


Faster inline commenting would push MetaFilter more toward a chat space.

I think this is an important point. Did you check chat.metafilter.com when it was busy? Because that shit was crazy. Really hard to keep up with the conversation(s).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:53 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I went in Mefi chat, there were over 500 people in the room. I said hello, briefly looked at something else, and came back to find my hello had scrolled several pages up. I don't think I could have followed chat unless I never looked away.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:33 AM on November 8, 2012


pagination

NEVAR
posted by shakespeherian at 5:18 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Argh, huge threads. Sometimes the only way to see them is to constantly refresh Recent Activity.
posted by elizardbits at 5:40 AM on November 8, 2012


On my iPod touch, to which I'm limited this week because I'm on vacation, the election thread had become almost inaccessible. About 75% of the time it crashes while loading, and if I'm lucky enough to get it loaded then refreshing or following a link in it crashes the browser anyhow. Happens both in Safari and an otherwise stable 3rd party browser. It's a 4th gen Touch, not a dinasour. I'm not even posting in that thread and it's a serious problem.

Every solution has downsides.

What other solutions are you considering? What if long threads were broken into a few pages, like 1000 comments each?
posted by jon1270 at 6:26 AM on November 8, 2012


It certainly discouraged me from commenting in the election thread, because it would take a minute or two to reload the thread after commenting.

Whether that's a feature or a bug seems to be up for debate.
posted by smackfu at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2012


The problem we've always had with pagination is that it breaks the conversation into silos. With the current one-page, flat structure there's an expectation that commenters have read the entire thread. If someone joins a thread at page five, that expectation isn't there. So we could have much more repetition of information within a single thread, for example. Hiding any part of the conversation removes important context. There are technical questions with paging too. How do you link to a single comment? Do you need to know which page it appears on so you can get the correct URL? Paging would absolutely help things load faster in 1000+ comment threads, but it breaks some very strong conventions we've had since the beginning of the site.
posted by pb (staff) at 7:07 AM on November 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's also a bugger to read any comment thread that's paginated.

Personally I don't think that MetaFilter should change its core behaviour based on what are clearly exceptional threads; hard cases make hard law and all that. Besides, four years ago few people could read MeFi on their phones, four years from now with the new election threads our brand shiny IPhone 17s will laugh at paltry 7,000 comments threads.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:13 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I prefer the less chat-orientated MeFi, at least on Blue & Green. I feel that the "slow boil" threads are the ones I come back to multiple times even after commenting has closed.

On the other hand I don't mind chatty Grey, but the Grey always feels less formal and more fun.

(Maybe MeFiChat [not MeCha, MeCha is a separate adorable creature] should be a subsite. I suggest it be "the Purple.")
posted by subbes at 7:19 AM on November 8, 2012


I think this is an important point. Did you check chat.metafilter.com when it was busy? Because that shit was crazy. Really hard to keep up with the conversation(s).

A chat room has different conventions, so people act in a different manner. On top of that it was a temporary feature debuting on an election day. It would be like judging regular MeFi threads by the election thread.
posted by ersatz at 8:02 AM on November 8, 2012


Yeah, and I think that remains the key context here: we are having this conversation just after the peak of a pretty weird year and couple of months in particular, and part of the reason we have a handful of very long threads at top-of-mind is the debate liveblogging thing that was sort of a social and technical experiment in its own right. Historically super long threads have been a weird outlier, and they still are numerically but less weird the last couple months because we haven't been hardcore about shutting that liveblog stuff down, but my takeaway has not been overwhelmingly positive on those as things-that-happen-as-Metafilter-threads specifically.

It's partly just tricky that we've simultaneously seen larger threads and a scaling down of the screen size and UI richness and horsepower of the devices a lot of people are reading those threads on. And that's something we have to think about, certainly, but part of the trickiness is that "just do whatever makes it easiest to switch from laptop to smartphone" isn't really our top design goal with the site. The convenience that comes with that comes at a cost, so we're stuck looking at this in terms of that tension.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:31 AM on November 8, 2012


With the current one-page, flat structure there's an expectation that commenters have read the entire thread. If someone joins a thread at page five, that expectation isn't there. So we could have much more repetition of information within a single thread, for example. Hiding any part of the conversation removes important context.

I'd be hesitant to tamper with patterns and principles that work too, but this explanation rings hollow to me in the context of extremely large threads. How many users who haven't been relentlessly following a long thread from its conception are likely to read thousands of comments before adding their own thoughts to the current tangent the conversation has taken? It seems clear that very many users don't.

Technical hurdles aside, I guess I'm thinking that since so few threads reach this problematic scale, a limit like 1000 comments per page would rarely kick in, and probably have near zero effect on users' habits with regard to reading before posting.
posted by jon1270 at 8:50 AM on November 8, 2012


Sure, but on a flat page if I have a stupid link to post I can at least do a quick Ctrl-F to see if it's been posted already.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:55 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My ideal would be Ajax commenting with a mandatory delay of ten seconds between hitting post and the comment showing up. There should be a visible down-counter and a red "ABORT"-button.
posted by springload at 9:50 AM on November 8, 2012


This is a pony I would not like to ride. Sorry.
posted by immlass at 10:14 AM on November 8, 2012


jon1270: “I'd be hesitant to tamper with patterns and principles that work too, but this explanation rings hollow to me in the context of extremely large threads. How many users who haven't been relentlessly following a long thread from its conception are likely to read thousands of comments before adding their own thoughts to the current tangent the conversation has taken? It seems clear that very many users don't.”

Users often don't read all comments in a massive thread. That doesn't mean we should just give up completely and start actively discouraging them from following the conversation.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 AM on November 8, 2012


I see the ctrl-f issue, but where one problem is in tension with another, I don't think it's helpful to say BUT PRINCIPLES and dismiss change as if that fixed or settled anything. To make a choice you need to know which is the bigger problem, not which is the newer problem.
posted by jon1270 at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2012


When I was in the huge thread, and wanted to comment, but didn't want to lose my place, I would keep two tabs open on the thread. If I wanted to make a comment I would switch to the second tab, make the comment there, and then go back to reading in the first tab. (It could take 10+ seconds for the tab I'd posted in to come back.)

If crashing is a problem, you could open two separate browser instances and use one for posting and one for reading. If your MeFi reading device can't open two browser instances, well, <snarky dismissive comment>.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:42 AM on November 8, 2012


This points to a bigger problem (and a recent one, strangely) that MetaFilter was never designed to handle 5,000 comment threads. The UI breaks down, the browser starts to break, etc because we never intended threads to get this big. Making commenting easier/faster would exacerbate the problem.

Ideally, things work best here when even the most popular threads are only in the few hundred comment levels. It's kind of weird how this is a sudden issue for us since the debate threads and has become almost normal in the course of a few weeks, but ideally we should think of ways to prevent 1,000+ comment threads from happening. I think it's mostly the debate threads and people being so used to Twitter/Facebook that posting dozens of short text bursts is an expected way to use a website (back when MeFi was designed, long thoughtful paragraphs of text were the design goal).

Putting up the chat server was a stopgap measure to get real-time commenting off the site and into chat, and I'm considering the possibility of maybe paginating at 1,000 comments per page, but I hate to do anything to encourage more numerous comments. I think it's more of a social issue than a technical one, though we're seeing the limits of the site break browsers and hopefully discourage mega-threads just by that virtue alone.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:14 PM on November 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


jon1270: “I see the ctrl-f issue, but where one problem is in tension with another, I don't think it's helpful to say BUT PRINCIPLES and dismiss change as if that fixed or settled anything. To make a choice you need to know which is the bigger problem, not which is the newer problem.”

Oh, I agree completely. I don't think any of us are simply dismissing any options here. We have talked about possible solutions to the large-thread problem here many, many times, and some of us have set opinions about it. But it's still good to remain open to various possibilities.

As mathowie says above, however, I think this starts to push the site toward kind of natural limits. For a while, the answer to this was "load time discourages massive threads," but that isn't really true anymore sadly. In the past six months it seems like there have been dozens and dozens of threads that shoot up beyond 3,000 comments. It's clearly becoming a problem.

One of the things I heartily believe Metafilter is built on is the preservation of a very simple, very direct comment mechanism that is intuitive and obvious to even most new commenters. Comments are in sequence, not threaded; there isn't an excess of strange formatting and images; and all comments in a particular conversation are on one page. I tend to feel as though this simplicity is a very important thing as far as maintaining the ability of any person to log on and understand what's going on in a Metafilter thread. I appreciate that that might not be something we can keep in the future, but I do believe it's something we should at least try to hold onto.
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2012


Have you considered just closing threads after the first 1000 comments?
posted by grouse at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine 6 separate thousand comment threads would be pleasant to moderate in one evening.
posted by elizardbits at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2012


Suggestion: Only handsome people can post comments
posted by shakespeherian at 1:46 PM on November 8, 2012


But I really like your comments, shakes.
posted by koeselitz at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2012


I can't imagine 6 separate thousand comment threads would be pleasant to moderate in one evening.

There would be no new comments in the closed threads and therefore no ongoing need to moderate. I think I like this idea more than pagination, as it starts over with a clean slate, removing any expectation that you read the previous pages (which doesn't happen).
posted by grouse at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2012


But I really like your comments, shakes.

I am willing to sacrifice for the benefit of my superiors.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:56 PM on November 8, 2012


Plus the inevitable rush to post the next 1,000 comment thread as soon as the first one ended, leaving us with multiple FPPs all competing to be the next one in line?
posted by elizardbits at 1:57 PM on November 8, 2012


Question: are there significantly more active users now than four years ago? In other words, are the new long threads primarily a result of just more people, or are they a result of behavior change?
posted by ocherdraco at 2:31 PM on November 8, 2012


grouse: “There would be no new comments in the closed threads and therefore no ongoing need to moderate. I think I like this idea more than pagination, as it starts over with a clean slate, removing any expectation that you read the previous pages (which doesn't happen).”

I agree that this would probably be better than pagination, but I can imagine some messiness when it comes to the times when monster threads really come up most. The debates and particularly election night would have been leapfrog nightmares with threads closing and opening left and right. There's already really a polite contravention of the site's policies whenever that happens – we're really supposed to be posting neat stuff we found, not coming up with an excuse to continue a conversation. The mods have started to allow it more and more simply because when one thread gets to 5000 comments it's pretty much got to go somewhere else. Having that happen even more routinely would mean pushing Metafilter away from the model where each post is an interesting link someone found and toward the model where each post is an instance of a conversation thread; and that seems like it would be a real change.

Not sure if that's a terrible thing or an acceptable thing at this point; I'm really just thinking out loud. Auto-closing threads at something higher, like maybe 3000 comments, would be an interesting idea; even then, there would be nights when it would get messy. Pretty sure those debate threads crossed over the 3000 comment mark a bit past midnight, and the thread-close model would mean new threads suddenly popping up just after.
posted by koeselitz at 2:43 PM on November 8, 2012


In other words, are the new long threads primarily a result of just more people, or are they a result of behavior change?

Anecdatally, I think we have more frequent commenters but not necessarily a ton more of them, and they are worldwide so a busy thread never loses momentum, for days.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:44 PM on November 8, 2012


Presumably the ability to have metafilter everywhere, with the spread of smartphones and tablets, also contributes. A user might, for example, hypothetically read metafilter on their phone late into the night when they are supposed to be sleeping.

*cough*
posted by ocherdraco at 2:48 PM on November 8, 2012


We've been talking about that, ocherdraco, and we feel like it's the behavior. There isn't a significant uptick in new users. Like mathowie mentioned, people are just more used to participating online than they were years ago. Sites like Facebook and Twitter encourage frequent, short bursts of text and they could be training people to participate online in a particular way. Or maybe the same number of active users are just contributing more in general.

Here are the number of threads with over 1,000 comments, by month. The third column is the number of posts that month. So these really are outliers even though we had six (!) last month which was the highest number.
posted by pb (staff) at 2:59 PM on November 8, 2012


I'm also not going to write an essay of a comment with lots of links on my smartphone. Short and simple so I don't swear too much at my iPhone keyboard.
posted by smackfu at 3:16 PM on November 8, 2012


Have you considered just closing threads after the first 1000 comments?

I'd favour pagination before that. Pagination with extremely big pages though, so we hardly ever hit it.
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on November 8, 2012


What about something like http://metatalk.metafilter.com/22178/Ajax-for-all/last=100 for people on RAM limited devices?

It wouldn't have to be a link. People that need it could just modify the URL since it is such a edge-case.
posted by johnpowell at 9:43 PM on November 8, 2012


Honestly, I'd prefer if we just didn't have such long threads. Maybe once we realize a thread will become massive, we should enforce a higher quality of commenting. Tell the "me too!" squad to take it to chat, the same way we tell the "you suck!" squad to take it to MeTa.
posted by vasi at 10:30 PM on November 8, 2012


Its just that one wants to comment on that megathread but reads instead via recent activity for fear of imploding one's device.
posted by infini at 11:28 PM on November 8, 2012


If these long threads really are just a substandard device symptom of twitterfication of metafilter then maybe the right response is a brake on the twitterfication rather than treating the symptom. Something like a mandatory preview with a five minute delay between preview and post. Might even help with GRAR levels.

grouse writes "Have you considered just closing threads after the first 1000 comments?"

That would be even worse being essentially pagination but encouraging people to repost comments in the new thread. Certainly I've seen and been guilty of this myself in the latest Sandy/Marathon pairing. IE: I made a comment in the Sandy thread and then when the Marathon discussion moved to a new thread I made a similar comment there.
posted by Mitheral at 4:29 AM on November 9, 2012


Its just that one wants to comment on that megathread but reads instead via recent activity for fear of imploding one's device.

It's also a problem when you browse from the Popular Favorites page: You have to judge for each snipped-down comment if it seems to belong to a long browser-crashing thread before clicking through. This effect lasts long after activity in the thread has subsided.

Really, I think a few seconds of quarantine after clicking "post" would do much to keep noisy comments out, perhaps also some of the aggressive ones.
posted by springload at 7:19 AM on November 9, 2012


Bah. Just accidentally clicked on the thing in Recent Activity and killed my phone browser to the point where a reset was required.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on November 9, 2012


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