Tracking comments

Tracking conversations on other weblogs is a perennial problem. Some people swear by Feedster, others by Technorati, maybe you could track incoming links to your own site where new people have clicked through from a comment you left on another site (to give some idea of activity). Some weblogs (notably WordPress) provide a per-post RSS feed, but that can be annoying if your aggregator displays your feed list and you watch it spiral out of control and have to spend time managing it. Other weblogs like Movable Type (and, I guess, Typepad) let you subscribe to comments on posts via email. And there’s trackback, which is even usable, to an extent.

Needless to say, all of these methods are rubbish.

Until Firefox 1.0 I was using the Bookmark schedule/notify feature to keep track of posts I’d commented on – I’d make a comment, bookmark the post and set a daily schedule for checking if it had changed, but it was backed out for 1.0 and is currently on the “todo” list for post 1.0. But obviously I now need a new method.

There are quite a few other ideas about how comment tracking could work, and out of these there are a few practical ideas and suggestions.

First of all Blogger, Typekey and LJ (and other gated communities) should let you track comments you’ve made on those systems in the same way that Flickr lets you track comments you’ve made on other people’s photos. If you haven’t used Flickr yet, the feature looks like this:

A screenshot of how 'my comments' work in Flickr

Of course that still leaves every other system under the sun. At first I thought the solution would be a personal web proxy which stores the contents of textareas when you POST a FORM, but that seems a) pretty heavy implementation-wise and b) isn’t portable – as soon as I move to another PC I’d have to install my proxy again.

Bill Kearney’s long post musing on the subject gave me a better idea: Never post directly to the site. Instead use a bookmarklet which pulls out the FORMs on a page and passes them through to a hosted proxy where you can then fill it out etc. etc. (or use a bookmarklet to rewrite the form so that it posts to your proxy with the old POST URL as a hidden INPUT so you can stay on the same page). Then your proxy server can poll the original page for updates and inform you when it changes by whatever means you like: RSS, Email, IM, etc.

I’m aware that there are any number of desktop applications or hosted services which will monitor webpages for changes for you, but the desktop apps are out for reasons of portabiity and all of the hosted ones I know of are commercial.

I don’t think this would be too hard to get going, at least in a rough fashion. Now someone just needs to write it for me 🙂 How about you, lazyweb?

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9 thoughts on “Tracking comments”

  1. LJ, emails you replies to comments you make already.

    It’s very effective.

    Additionally a page monitoring system should be a couple of lines of java or php or whatever and a bookmarklet.

    You have a server don’t you?

    Lazyweb? LazyPhil more like 😉

  2. Yes, it’s all easy, but I’m a busy man 🙂

    There are already two projects I meant to release last week and haven’t got around to!

  3. I just recently read about the subject of comment-tracking on another blog (it’s in German, otherwise I would link to it). The idea is to ping your own blog from wherever you’re leaving a comment (reverse trackback), and there *seems* to be an implementation in the works here: http://commentstrack.net.

    Oh, and there’s been a Lazyweb request, too: http://www.lazyweb.org/archives/008972.htmlSorry if you were already aware of this, just thought you might be interested.

    Andrea(PS. Is the “Books” part of your site supposed to serve a 404?)

  4. The problem with reverse trackback is that every weblog system that does and will exist needs to support it (i.e. provide a form field for the comment tracking). It doesn’t help with the installed base of weblogs.

    I figured there had probably already been a Lazyweb request, but didn’t realise it was so recent (on a side note, Lazyweb seems to need to be trackbacked to for questions to show up again – I thought that had been changed?)

    Oh, and I read German (and French) just fine (I can just about struggle on with Italian and Spanish) so please don’t worry about linking to foreign language articles! 🙂

  5. (What the. First Blogger breaks my comment, then doesn’t allow <p> or <br> tags?)

    Oops, shouldn’t make assumptions about other people’s language skillz. The blog entry I meant is here: http://www.das-netzbuch.de/article/2102/, with links to related blogtalk. As I said in my comment to that post, the simplest way to track your own comments would be to temporarily bookmark the blog conversation in a toolbar folder and check back later for replies. Not a real solution for geeks, of course. 🙂 (And not exactly the thing you were talking about.)

    Andrea

  6. Cheers for the link Andrea!

    Although it doesn’t say so on the posting form, Blogger automatically inserts <br> and <p> tags for you when you use a carriage return.

    The bookmarking of comments is what I was doing before (but with automatic updating instead of manual), but Firefox 1.0 doesn’t support it any more. And like you say, it’s not for geeks 🙂

    I’ve actually written the bookmark which rewrites forms to post through to a proxy and inserts the old POST destination as a hidden INPUT, but there’s a problem: with Blogger you don’t enter the comment on the same page as the post, so whilst you may be able to keep track of a comments you’ve made on Blogger blogs, the system won’t actually know which page to monitor to keep track of new comments. Don’t know what to do about that yet.

    The other problem with my idea is, of course, that you’ll be notified if the page changes in any way such as site design, amendments to the post, etc.

    Still worth a try though 🙂

  7. Okay, the talk of FORMs and INPUTs went right over my head. Woosh. As far as I understand it, right now there are possible server- and client-side as well as desktop solutions to the problem, and all of them have drawbacks, mostly due to blogware diversity. My proposal: everyone starts using WordPress and someone writes the required plugin. There, problem fixed. 😉

    I read your post again, especially the bit about Firefox’s bookmark notify feature. I had never even noticed that, oops? I did have an extension installed that checked my bookmarks for broken links and updated pages, but that was when the browser was still called Firebird, and the extension wasn’t updated for use with the 1.0 release.

    I just emailed the author of the extension to ask if he could consider an update, but if he declares it a dead project (it’s in the ‘obsolete’ directory on his homepage), I might just make a Lazyweb request, HAH.

    Andrea(You should un-break that books page, so that one could stalk your reading list if one wanted to. :-))

  8. Yep, everyone should just move to WordPress, that’ll make it a lot easier.

    But you can buy all the hosting. 😉

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