Making Comments and Trackbacks harder than they should be

I’ve been investigating how to add commenting support to this blog. The easy way would be to sign up for .Mac (since I’m using iWeb at the moment). But I have a very hard time parting with money. Some features of .Mac I already have available to me, and some others I don’t care about, which means the cost per-feature list of remaining features that are useful to me seem pretty steep with the $100/yr price tag of .Mac.

Enough people on the discussion forums at Apple seem to share the same sentiment, and have posted several alternatives. The most popular solution is HaloScan, which seems to be an online service that allows you to embed Javascript that points to their systems so people can add comments to their web site. They also support Trackbacks, which is something I’ve seen around but never used and have little knowledge of. Being a person who generally doesn’t read many blogs, comment on blogs, or have their own blog, these features are something I never paid much attention to. (I also run with Javascript disabled a large percentage of the time, so many of these features are inaccessible to me anyway.) But in putting up this blog, I can see the appeal of providing such features.

I checked out a few random websites that use HaloScan. The interface isn’t the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. It also either pops-up in a new window or has to redirect you to another website. Still, for a free service, I guess this is not unreasonable. I suppose something is better than nothing in this case.

So I’ve been playing with HaloScan, trying to integrate their comment and trackback support. Most of the posters on the Apple forums seem to recommend iComment, a $10 utility that automates the integration process. But again, I’m still experimenting and I’m not committed to this path. While $10 may not be unreasonable, I still have a hard time parting with money. But since everybody seems to be using iComment for this, I could not find any specific documentation for setting up HaloScan in iWeb. HaloScan’s own documentation says look at iComment for iWeb, and I found an alarming number of broken links on HaloScan’s own website when looking for additional documentation. (I also noticed some forum posts trying to alert HaloScan of some of the broken links, but these posts seems to have gone unnoticed as some of them are at least a month old.)

But in searching the web for more documentation on this matter, I came across some disconcerting information. It seems that HaloScan will remove comments after 4 months. If you want the comments back, you must ‘donate’ at least $12/year. (Sounds like you are paying for service to me, not a ‘donation’.) I came across some angry bloggers trying to understand why all their comments suddenly disappeared.

Normally, I wouldn’t concern myself with such a matter, since they are (presumably) a business and need to earn money. But the lack of upfront disclosure of this important fact bothers me. I checked back on their website looking for where they disclose this information. I could not find this anywhere on their main website. I rechecked the Terms of Service agreement you have to agree to when you sign up, and there was no mention of this fact there either. I had to dig through their forums before I found any mention of this. I cannot distinguish between users and HaloScan representatives so I don’t really consider this authoritative documentation (though I believe the information is true).

So before when I said ‘something is better than nothing’. I changed my mind. I rather have nothing. I don’t expect to get many comments for my blogs. But I do expect some of the information I write to be useful for some extended period of time (which is a primary reason I’ve abandoned my anonymity and started this website). I believe the comments become an essential part of that information as people can offer corrections and clarifications. I also think there is an expectation that those comments will remain since people took the time to write them. So for the comments to suddenly be removed strikes me as wrong, and I rather have nothing since in the end, that’s all I’m going to have anyway. And in this case, I don’t waste anybody’s time. (Would you bother writing a detailed constructive comment if you knew it was going to be deleted right after?)

I think I read somewhere trackbacks will not be deleted after 4 months. However, I don’t have any authoritative documentation on this one either. But I may go ahead and try using them since I don’t think the time-and-effort-wasted-loss of a disappearing trackback is significant (if I’m understanding correctly what a trackback is).

I found one other iWeb poster recommend a service called JS-Kit for comments. It also works by embedding some Javascript into your pages. They also provide ratings, user reviews, and polls. It’s also interesting that they don’t seem to require any kind of formal registration. They seem to compare site URLs and cookies to determine if you are the site owner if you need to do management. The benefit of this is one less password for me to forget.

But like HaloScan, their web site isn’t clear about the terms of usage. I have no idea if these comments are going to disappear or not. I can’t even tell if you are supposed to pay them for this service or if they offer services you pay for. I can’t find any user complaints about comments disappearing unlike HaloScan so I’m a little more optimistic. So I’m trying to integrate their comment system for now. (But I’m struggling with getting the sizing and positioning to work in a reasonable way.) But I can’t speak to how long these comments may remain, so be warned. It may be safer to write your own blog response and use the trackback feature.

As for other alternatives, I was thinking about Google Groups. With Google, I believe it is far less likely they are going to remove content from being available and try to extort money from me to get it back. I know it could happen, but I place the odds at reasonably low given the way their business model works. If anybody has any ideas on how I could integrate Google Groups to be a comment system for my blog, I would love to hear about it.

Update: I found one comment on another blog claiming that HaloScan changed their expiration policy some time back. The poster implied they were with HaloScan and provided a link to a news announcement. However, the HaloScan link was broken. Seeing as how I am having some sizing incompatibilities with iWeb and JS-Kit, I am starting to reconsider HaloScan. I am also considering dropping the whole thing.

Update 2: I've tried posting on both the HaloScan forum and emailing them directly and I have received no responses on the issue.

Update 3: I'm trying on Sandvox now because some of the iWeb limitations were starting to annoy me. There was an Xmas sale via MacSanta for Sandvox. I saw Dan Wood give a presentation at Cocoaheads awhile back, so I thought I would give it a try now that I'm actually trying to build a website. Unfortunately, I think I've hit a bunch of different limitations which are preventing me from doing what I want (and a lot of crashes when I use Undo), so I'm not sure if I'm ahead yet. I will continue to experiment. Anyway, one feature built into Sandvox is HaloScan integration, so I'm flipping on the switch. Be warned though. Your comments may disappear. If you write something good, I would suggest doing a Trackback or have me follow up on the Google Group creation.

Copyright © PlayControl Software, LLC / Eric Wing