Comments will lead to annotations and annotations will lead to something else and eventually we’ll get the commenting system we need

Felix Salmon riffs on the possibilities of online annotations:

“… if this takes off, it could be a significant evolution in the way that we talk about web content. Right now, for instance, if I want to link to something somebody said on a web page, I’ll normally just end up linking from Twitter to an undifferentiated page, rather than to the specific thing being said. And more generally, the conversation around things like blog posts tends to happen mostly on Twitter and Facebook, where it’s easy to miss and almost impossible to archive.”

He articulates a problem many of us face. If comments / annotations worked properly, each of us would be able to comment on individual sections and the whole story — and the interface would make comments intuitive, easy, open, shareable, and customizable. You’d also be able to store comments in your own public or private archive, and archives could be united into a super archive that’s searchable. You could remix all this material into different types of content.

This will happen. The maturation of comments will eventually lead us to a space or a thing or a moment where the right way to do this will be clear.

Medium and the evolution of blogging

I’m a fan of blogging. I like the process. I like the idea of posting something regularly. I like how RSS and social components allow the information published through a blogging platform to spread through the Internet’s nooks and crannies.

But I’m also kinda bored of reverse-chronology layouts and the headline-body-comment structure. Those methods are fine, and they deserve to stick around, but can’t we do something different already?

I’m not talking about something dramatically different. What I want is to see blogging’s evolutionary step — what will this form look like in 10 years?

That’s why I’m intrigued by Medium. The category pages — dubbed “collections” — are organized differently (example):

Screenshot of Medium's 100 word stories collection

It’s tablet-friendly, that’s for sure.

It’s also not defined by time.

If you’re a news site, time matters. You want the latest up front because “the latest” is what you’re all about. But how many of us run news sites? Hell, how many of us want to run news sites?

I have to imagine many people out there are focused on a topic or an idea. That thing may be tied to time, but time is not necessarily the defining characteristic.

Medium, like Flipboard and Gawker, is about showcasing “the big thing.” I like that.

Medium is also trying to break away from the post-comment hierarchy. Dave Winer picked up on this:

Users can create new buckets or collections and call them anything they want. A bucket is analogous to a blog post. Then other people can post to it. That’s like a comment. But it doesn’t look like a comment. It’s got a place for a big image at the top. It looks much prettier than a comment, and much bigger. Looks are important here.

That’s really interesting. What if we made the post and the comment equally important? What would that look like?

I don’t think Medium’s current form represents this vision, but the idea is intriguing.

And even if Medium doesn’t usher in the evolution I’m looking for, the fact that people are talking and experimenting in this space suggests good things will happen.

(I acknowledge and embrace the hypocrisy of complaining about traditional blog structures in a traditional blog post.)

“Set It and Forget It” Doesn’t Apply to Comments

Fred Wilson discusses the effort behind good user comments and conversations: But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the…

Fred Wilson discusses the effort behind good user comments and conversations:

But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the loudmouth bullies, and generally runs the comment threads like a serious discussion group, a serious discussion will result.

It’s an issue for the news industry because tending to comment threads is not part of a journalist’s traditional job. But I would argue that it is now and they ought to get busy doing it. For one, the journalists that do it and do it well will be better read. And they’ll be better informed. They’ll get tips in the comment threads. They’ll get constructive criticism that will help them do their job better. And they’ll get leads on new stories before others will.

I’ll add this: The tipping point for comments is when users stop talking to the author of a piece and start conversing intelligently with each other. Reaching this commenting utopia requires an inclusive mindset from the original author/writer/poster. You have to value discourse, not just top-down pontification.