Comment count in RSS January 10, 2008 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Pony request: Is it feasible to get the current comment count in the rss feed?

The only downside I see to this is it may encourage people to increase the polling frequency on their readers, but I personally think it's a great way to discern which posts have a lengthy conversation attached to them.

Also, I would be willing to donate/volunteer development time to implement this if needed.
posted by butterstick to Feature Requests at 10:40 AM (27 comments total)

Where would you see it included? In the description field of the thread? On the individual comment items?
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:44 AM on January 10, 2008


I think feedburner can do this, lemme look into it.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:06 AM on January 10, 2008


There's also kind of this "why" question: what's so compelling about seeing the number? I'm asking as someone who don't really use feed readers frequently, and certainly not to read mefi, so I may just not get it because of that.

Why and when do you need to "discern which posts have a lengthy conversation attached to them"?
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2008


Why and when do you need to "discern which posts have a lengthy conversation attached to them"?

Larger number of comments means something is happening right? Something interesting and good, right, not another flamefest, right, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:14 AM on January 10, 2008


Cortex, I'm not sure I grok the second option. Description doesn't really seem all that correct, but the only alternative I can see is cramming it in the title. In the title, it's probably a bit more relevant, but in the description it'd probably look better. Lemme look at the dtd/xsd for this feed and get back to you.

As to why, I doubt there is anything here I could consider "compelling". I often consider the comment count if I'm on the fence about following a link or a discussion. Considering that, I need to click through my reader to get that info, which is actually more "work" than just using the front page. Kinda diminishes the utility of using the reader.

Is that any clearer?
posted by butterstick at 11:16 AM on January 10, 2008


The problem with adding the comment count (in the body of an entry item, at least) is that the entry will appear to be "updated" every single time that an RSS aggregator requests the feed from you. That means that rather than being able to use the power of the HTTP 304 response (not modified), you'll have to send the entire feed out every time, just because one entry has one additional comment added to it. Seems not to be worth it.

(In addition, even if you're OK doing that, there are a hell of a lot of feed readers out there that don't do the right thing and replace items with their updated new versions, so in these readers, I'll see multiple entries for every MF posting that garners at least one new comment since the last time my feed reader requested the feed.)

(And further in addition, the readers that *do* do the right thing, replacing items with their updated versions, generally re-display those items to users when there's an updated version available... so that means that if I read an item, and then it gathers one or more new comments, my reader is going to redisplay that item to me. That highlights that this mechanism -- updating entries and then having them redisplay in feed readers -- is meant for *real* updates (e.g., "more information on this that I didn't have when I posted it the first time", or "I've corrected this inaccuracy"), not for keeping a running tally of the comment count.)
posted by delfuego at 11:16 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


And to add on, since you've clarified that it might belong in the title of the entry, butterstick: that, too, would "bump" an item in most feed readers back into unread status. I, for one, would be majorly annoyed if MF started doing that to me.
posted by delfuego at 11:18 AM on January 10, 2008


Brandon Blatcher: "Larger number of comments means something is happening right? Something interesting and good, right, not another flamefest, right, right?"

NO YOU SHUT UP.
posted by Plutor at 11:19 AM on January 10, 2008


[NOT ANTI-BLATCHERIST]
posted by Plutor at 11:20 AM on January 10, 2008


Brandon, I think so yes. Obviously there is nothing hard and fast about that rule, but in general I can use the comment count + post subject to determine if I should reconsider looking into it. Maybe there is more "there" there.
posted by butterstick at 11:21 AM on January 10, 2008


[DEMONSTRATING WHY MORE COMMENTS DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN A BETTER THREAD.]
posted by Plutor at 11:21 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


To get around the problems that delfuego mentions, wordpress.com and feedburner use an image to update the comment count. The HTML for the image is static, but the image itself is dynamic so whenever you check that item in your reader the count will be current. This is kind of an ugly hack because the font the image uses doesn't match the rest of the entry, but it beats infuriating all subscribers with constantly updating items.
posted by pb (staff) at 11:22 AM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


Delfuego, that is enlightening, and would seem to be a dealbreaker. I also would be annoyed if that's how it played out.

pb, that is very interesting if that is the case, and would offload the problem to feedburner instead of mefi.

Plutor, hush now. We're talking about big people stuff.
posted by butterstick at 11:24 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Strangemaps does this in their RSS feed (it's on Wordpress). I like it.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:44 AM on January 10, 2008


no likey.
posted by terrapin at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2008


Chrysostom and terrapin, care to elaborate? What do you like or no likey about it?
posted by butterstick at 12:33 PM on January 10, 2008


Well, different people use the site differently. I read the various sections of the site via RSS reader and look for links that interest me (blue) or questions that I may be able to help with on AskMe (via tag RSS). I couldn't give a rat's ass as to how popular a particular thread is. I understand that some folks think that the site is about the discussion of said links, and that is fine. If that is the case than perhaps using the site and not a reader is a better solution to what I perceive as a non=problem. If the pony requires hacking at the way RSS feeds are intended to be created, then, not being a fan of hacks, I don't like the solutions used by Wordpress as described by pb above. If there is a chance that my feeds will be "updated" based on a flame war then I really don't like it. Good enough?

While we're at it, plutor is an accomplished programmer and is therefore adult enough for this conversation no matter how he presents his arguments.
posted by terrapin at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2008


I think of feed-readers like standing in a room and having a bunch of people reporting to me about what's going on in a bunch of other rooms. I'll want to go check out another room if I think there might be lively discussion going on there, but it means I have to leave the room I'm in. Knowing whether or not there's activity out there helps determine if I want to check out one room over the other. So yes, count me in for comment counting!
posted by iamkimiam at 1:48 PM on January 10, 2008


Check your original MetaFilter contract: all mefites are obligated to read every single word in every post and comment in all parts of the site.
posted by Cranberry at 2:08 PM on January 10, 2008


I'd like to see comment counts in the rss feed as long as it doesn't create the update/multiple entries weirdness described above.
posted by yarrow at 2:14 PM on January 10, 2008


but it beats infuriating all subscribers with constantly updating items.

delfeugo was describing the inability to serve 304 not-changed notices because the data would be constantly changing. An RSS reader that marks items as new every time a byte changed would be genuinely useless to the point where I doubt anyone's using one. So it's about bandwidth, not user experience.

(btw, a lot of readers can understand the slash:comments element, if you're cautious about changing the description element)
posted by cillit bang at 2:54 PM on January 10, 2008


thanks for the clarification, cillit bang. slash:comments looks like the perfect solution.
posted by pb (staff) at 4:05 PM on January 10, 2008


...but I haven't found any readers that support it yet. After verifying that the Slashdot feed has slash:comments, I fired it up in Google Reader, Bloglines, and NetNewsWire with no luck viewing comment counts. I think we'll have to go the image route, maybe with Feedburner's help.
posted by pb (staff) at 4:35 PM on January 10, 2008


Chrysostom and terrapin, care to elaborate? What do you like or no likey about it?

Pretty much what iamkimiam said.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:08 PM on January 10, 2008


I determine what links I'm going to pay attention to based on the comment counts. Then I decide what comments to read in those threads based on their favorites count. I can basically read the days worth of interesting stuff here in under 10 minutes. I'm very efficient.
posted by puke & cry at 6:41 PM on January 10, 2008


I'd like to see comment counts in the rss feed as long as it doesn't create the update/multiple entries weirdness described above.

And I'm willing to ignore comment counts in the rss feed as long as it doesn't create the update/multiple entries weirdness described above. Don't really want them but is easy enough to pretend it's not there.

I have a pretty aggressive auto deletion thing going on in Thunderbird where messages only hang for a couple of days, having them become re-unread or re-downloading themselves would be annoying. But I assume pretty much everyone would find that kind of thing annoying and therefore pb won't implement a system that has these issues.
posted by shelleycat at 9:58 PM on January 10, 2008


To bypass the image generation/alternate font problem, why not use an small iframe instead of the image? Then, just have a URL that returns the comment count for a thread...
posted by bkudria at 4:12 PM on January 11, 2008


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