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the Buzz

Date:  27th February, 2004


The astute visitor may have noticed the recent addition of new panel on the right of the home page. "the Buzz" lists the ten pages that have most recently had comments posted. Each item links directly to the relevant comments page...

The function of the "Buzz" is quite simple - to draw attention to those pages that have recent comments.

The rationale behind its inclusion will take a little longer to explain, but it goes something like this...

There are several websites within which I actively participate, either by posting comments or joining discussions in forums. I also follow the weblogs of authors who I find insightful, funny or who discuss topics that interest me. All this activity means that, on an average day, I visit ten or twenty sites purely for the sense of community.

I can keep track of various aspects of this macro-web. My RSS aggregator informs me of new pages that I might want to read and the forum systems send me email advising me of new topics and replies to threads I am "watching". However, I often lose the more immediate threads of conversations based on weblog comments.

Weblogs are, in most cases, very dynamic environments. The author publishes an article and his audience responds. The next day, the author might publish another article and the cycle is repeated. The older posts move down the page, then off into the archives and simply disappear from the audience's view. By which time, the conversation threads are long forgotten - the users have moved on.

This is perfectly understandable. We all tend to suffer from information overload these days, so commenting on the latest post, then letting that conversation simply die seems to be the only logical course of action. Furthermore, it is arguable that weblogs would lose something of their spirit if the older content were constantly being regurgitated with the ebb and flow of new comments, especially since most blogs reflect the "current affairs" of the author's persona.

Occassionally though, there are posts and or comments that, by their nature, have a longer shelf-life. Whitespace is a case in point - looking through the archives, one can see that the older content is as relevant today as it was when first published. One can also see that there have been some very well-considered discussions taking place too. A new visitor to Whitespace might well want to add his opinions to those already expressed there and these contributions can trigger a new whole round of discussion. The standard comments system would fail at this point because other visitors wouldn't be aware that a new comment had been added, since the article in question would have dropped off the "current" list.

With his typical attention to detail, Paul Scrivens has anticipated this. The front page of Whitespace has a "Recently Commented" panel which helps to bring users back into a conversation (and which inspired the "Buzz"). Other bloggers have created mechanisms for maintaining older threads too: Dunstan Orchard implemented an opt-in email notification system (familiar to anyone who's ever subscribed to an online forum), keeping participants up-to-date with comments posted in response their own posts.

I have decided to combine both systems on this site. The home-page now has the "Buzz" and I will soon be deploying an email responder (as soon as I can find the time to write it).

Hopefully these volatile threads of discussion can be kept alive a little longer with these systems in place. Only time will tell of course (I'll keep you all updated of my findings).