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I'll wager that the comments handler on the Urban Mainframe is one of the most frequently revised feedback mechanisms in the entire blogosphere and... I've been at it again...
“avatars help to humanise textual conversation”
The most immediately obvious change is the introduction of Gravatars, Tom Werner's "Globally Recognised Avatars". An avatar is simply an image representing a user. If you've used a web-based forum (or bulletin board) then there's a good chance that you're familiar with them already. The problem with the traditional avatar is that they are generally unique to each website. Werner's system is eminently more useful: you create a Gravatar account in a central database and your avatar will then be displayed at every Gravatar-enabled website.
I think avatars add a lot to web-based discussion. It's nice to be able to put a face (or icon) to each participant. Avatars help to humanise textual conversation. Besides, everyone else is doing it and I'm a lemming!
So I'm enamoured with Gravatars, but their deployment caused a conflict with the comment thread subscriptions.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with my comments handler, you can "subscribe" to a comments thread when you add a comment. Once subscribed, a notification will be sent to you, by email, of each new comment that is added to the thread you subscribed to. In order to subscribe, all you had to do was enter your email address when you added your comment.
However, you have to enter your email address in order to include your Gravatar with your comments. Therein lies the conflict: you might want to have your Gravatar displayed, but you might not want to subscribe to a comments thread.
So I have adjusted the comment form to accommodate this. Now, in order to subscribe to a thread, you have to explicitly request a subscription by checking the "notify me of new comments" checkbox. Naturally, a valid email address is also required.
At this point, it's worth highlighting a few points about comment thread subscriptions:
Several visitors have reported that the "remember my details" option (name, URL & email address cookie) wasn't working for them. I believe I have now fixed the cookie handler for the comments system so this option should now work as expected.
So it's over to you. Go and get yourself a Gravatar and try it out. Put the comments handler through its paces, report any problems, etc.
I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing your avatars!