Realizing the Commentariat

The posting of a 500,000th officially approved comment at Ordinary Times this week inspired me to rush a new bit of code into production.

I call the application “Commentariat.” My larger objective is to “turn the site upside down” by putting the latest comments first, arranged in a way that’s different from the usual output of “recent comments” widgets. In this initial, partial realization of the concept, we display a page of a site’s 50 most recent comments (if at this point it has produced at least 50 comments), organized by recency and secondarily by post, producing a kind of “dashboard” in which the user can survey the up-to-the-moment general state of discussion.

I’ll provide the code at the end of the post. The result or main part of it as of this writing looks like the following – and you might be able to view it in action, prior to further development developments (which for all I know will radically alter it, and soon move it to another address) at Ordinary Times:


Commentariat 0.2 Display at OT

It’s a little different from what I originally imagined – a product of built-in WordPress capabilities as I found them and results as I discovered them when they were applied to OT, an active blog. I’d originally intended, and spent some time getting at, a different kind of post/time sorting combination, but I find this result more readable, and better at conveying the state of the site at any given time.

The objective I sketched a few months ago, while in discussion with “Will Truman,” another “Ordinary Gentleperson” (“OG”), looked like this:

Commentariat Concept

Commentariat Concept

Even though the realized version produces a lot of white space- an alternative would be Pinterest-style mosaic-tiling – I’m not sure that’s a defect. I’m also not sure if a three column + sidebar format will turn out well under any design also intended to convey the gist of particular comments, even with fonts reduced in size, though a full-width design would have room for as many columns as the user/browser allows.

Though I find myself already using Commentariat as my alternative OT home page, I haven’t gotten any feedback on it from users, and I still haven’t decided how much further to take it, or in what time frame. One next and relatively easy step will be to add “comment-featuring” – different ways to highlight particular comments, as per authorial, editorial, or site-democratic inputs – but I think I’ll let featured comments remain “within thread/sequence” for a while, if not permanently. Other useful features might include the ability to display the entire comment on hover or click, and possibly to reply to it directly from the page. Not sure about pagination and the prospect of scanning through comments potentially all the way to the beginning. Adding sidebar items linked to archives, as suggested in the sketch, and eventually a Commentariat blog (Meta-Commentary) might also make for interesting next steps, if and as time permits, but there are other changes to OT that I think probably ought to come first. Among those will be re-expanding the sites “multisite” capacities – organizing and developing what the OGs call “sub-blogs” – which in turn may call for a multisite or network Commentariat.

Here’s the code, which I am currently adding via the Shortcode Exec PHP plug-in. Another next step from a development perspective would be to write it as a plug-in, making for my first “official” independent addition to the WordPress Plug-In Repository, also to be offered at GitHub. Got to start somewhere, even if it’s a still primitive somewhere. First the PHP, and then the basic CSS, which will have to be developed further to be made suitable for general application, since it currently rests on OT’s stylesheet:

[gist /]

The CSS:

[gist /]

8 comments on “Realizing the Commentariat

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  1. I noticed it! And I’m still contemplating. I saw an earlier version that I think didn’t emphasize the title posts as much, and that made it less intelligible for me. What I’m seeing now is much more useful. It feels like a “Gifts of Gab” pro version.

    Anyway, it’s interesting. I hope others give you more feedback.

    I wouldn’t be shocked if a lot of people haven’t yet noticed it. The top nav bar has been useless and outdated for so long that I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of readers have gone numb to it. When you pointed out the issues with the masthead what now seems like nearly a year ago, my first thought was “we have a masthead?” and “someone looks at the masthead?”

  2. Could you put a link to it somewhere?

    My only complaint is that there is a lot of white space. I think I would prefer it either simply be linear or organized by post, instead of the lumpy combination of the two that is there now.

    Unless, that is, you could find something to do with that space (like “Featured Comments”) that take the first available whitespace. That sounds like it might not be easy, though.

    If linear, when subblogs return you could have FP comments on the left and (all) subblogs on the right.

    If by post, then they would be out of order, but it would be easier to find the conversation I’m interested in. I’m not positive which I prefer.

    • Link’s in the navigation bar under Commentariat (as state of the discussion/last 50 comments).

      Personally, I enjoy this view on the state or development of the discussion, even if easily rendering it as I have means relying on a white-spacious display. I broke it so that none of the pieces go longer than 4 comments before re-stating the title of the post, to prevent extremely long single columns from developing.

      With a bit more thought and work, however, could close down the white-space and introduce color-coding or some other format-typing to identify comments by post – so would still be strictly reverse chronological, and user would still get an at-a-scroll heat map, but would fill up available space.

      I think that’s probly the way to go, eventually, but means assigning unique formats to post-ids on the fly or persistently…

      Immediate idea was have plug-in fill an array with post-ids as they turn up, and assign colors/formats to same, so that all comments for post-id, whenever they came, would have the assigned color. But that would means the assigned colors would change on any new refresh with new comments.

      So would want to generate or recover persistent IDs/formats…So that if I look at the page, I can immediately pick out all comments belong to post a, all comments belonging to post b, etc., and if I come back twenty minutes later, post-a-blue comments are still blue, and post-b-yellow comments are still yellow, even if the most recent comment is for post-b not for post-a.

      Unless: Could assign n different formats to the posts by sequential or chronological  factor, then add a second time-based factor, so comments on posts older than x (time period)-old would be in different formats  than comments on posts z old. While all comment on posts > z old would take on a different hue entirely.

      So: Would it be better if most-recent post was always white, second most-recent post powder blue, third most light blue, all the way to dark blue for oldest post…?

      Or would it be better if every 10th post sequentially or chronologically by ID was always white, every 10th offset 1 was always powder blue, every 10th offset 2 was light yellow, etc.?

      Don’t feel obligated to answer that if you don’t get what I mean or just don’t know. I may code each different version along the way (and others that may occur to me or that someone suggests) to see how I like ’em. If I like ’em all very much, could even make it user-switchable… just not sure how interesting (generally, to me) it will be, especially compared to other things I could be trying.

  3. I like your second idea better than the first. A lot better. By which I mean, I would prefer consistency rather than the colors rotating because somebody put up a new post while I wasn’t looking.

    • Thanks for that! As it happens, that approach would I think be much easier to code. I think I’ll try it with around 5 different stylings, then perhaps look at a different styling for posts older than the oldest of the most recent 5.

      There’ll also be some additional presentation options to consider, but my first impulse is to do five different light-colored shadings (powder-blue, cream-yellow, light pink, etc.), leaving other options (borders, font-weight, width, full comment instead of excerpt, etc.) for the (future) featured comments. End result might end up looking a bit more like the original draft.

    • Have gotten to a good plateau point on a new feature I was already working on, something I’ve always wanted to have for use in complicated discussions. (You can check out the rough version currently as “Comments This Thread by…” )

      On next post here, and maybe soon at OT – depends on other work – could be able to debut a package including the new and improved Commentariat List soon. Will connect up with work on Authors/Contributors.

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