Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Technical considerations regarding the discussion aspect of blogging

18th July 2008

Technical considerations regarding the discussion aspect of blogging

When making a start in the world of blogging, there are so many things to consider that you almost need a trial run first to learn the lingo. In fact, getting up to speed by using a service like that offered by Blogger or seems a very sensible starting point. Even so, the business is like building a house in that you only really know what you are doing after you have done the deed and made all the mistakes. That is particularly true when you go down the self-administered blog route. For starters, it’s so easy to pick the wrong domain name or hosting provider. Selecting your blogging software is the next step, but that may not be so tricky; WordPress does a reasonable job and there’s always Movable Type, Expression Engine, Drupal (yes, really) or Habari.

That mention of blogging software brings me to something that I encountered recently: commenting functionality. I am coming around to the idea that this is probably something that needs to be considered up front because of the nature of blogging. After all, anyone who reads The Blog Herald regularly should be familiar with the idea of blogging conversations and that means that the technology to make it happen should be easy for visitors to use and easy for bloggers to administer. However, the two can collide. For one thing, there are a myriad of choices available to the blogger and the blight of comment spam is ever pervasive and growing.

When it comes to comment spam, it is best to realise that there are two sources of responses to a blog post: visitor comments or trackbacks (pingbacks?) from other blogs. I reckon that the latter is probably the channel where most of the detritus travels and various anti-spam solutions are on offer to curb its spread. Names from the WordPress world like Akismet, Spam Karma, Simple Trackback Validation and Bad Behaviour come to mind. The former can also be used, particularly when the unscrupulous make use of low-cost labour in low-cost countries, and that’s when the thorny questions of user registration and CAPTCHA‘s arise. There is something to be said for not going to extremes with these and just sticking with less onerous rules and filtering on the server side.

I must admit to having staggering into forcing visitors to register prior to adding a comment and then making them log in thereafter. I think that it’s for security reasons, but WordPress creates a password and then sends it to the person who is registering rather than displaying on a web page. That can create another problem: what happens if the email fails to arrive? In the last week, this has happened with a visitor to my hillwalking blog and there could be a number of reasons for the non-arrival of the relevant email. One is ironic: being an automated email, it gets stuck in the spam filters of the recipient’s mailbox and so never gets to them. It could also be a bug with WordPress itself (I have raised a ticket and I am awaiting what Automattic might have to say to it) or a consequence of some setting made by a hosting provider. All of that makes it hard to track down the cause of the issue but it kicks off other thoughts as to its resolution. One is to remove the needed for registration and logging in the first place, but there are third-party services that may help too. The former has turned out to be the case for this blog and it seems to be performing well enough so it is an acceptable option.

When it comes to using third-party comment handling systems, what needs to be considered is how well they work with your blog. For instance, I gave Disqus a quick whirl and soon realised that I needed to update the themes for my WordPress blogs if I were to use it on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, it worked fine but I was left wondering if it would have been better to have brought it in when I started a blog rather than part way through and with comments made using the existing WordPress functionality. There’s also Intense Debate and I am almost certain that there are more like it but I’ll be sticking with what WordPress offers for now. The theme for my hillwalking blog has been modified to allow prospective commenters to get in touch with me if they are having problems. That is only an interim approach while I consider what the way forward will be.

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