Intense Debate and Disqus, most notably - working to provide technology that enhances the conversational dynamic. Now, a new open source project from Jim Jeffers promises to enhance commenting in a way that is both natural and conversational. Meet Encouraged Commentary.Commenting on blogs is - by and large - broken. Designed with the hope of proffering interaction among bloggers and readers, commenting has generally devolved into a series of one-off responses with little actual conversation. Why? It's not designed to facilitate conversations. That's why you see any number of people -
The new commenting features - built using jQuery - take their inspiration from Ubiquity, allowing users to highlight the sections of text that prompted them to comment and immediately respond. Using that context, Encouraged Commentary begins to string conversations and content together.
Encouraged Commentary currently offers three compelling features:
First, highlighting any section of a post avails a "respond" button that allows users to immediately comment. Clicking respond grabs the highlighted text and adds it - in blockquote - to the content of the comment, simply and easily referencing the exact passage that the user is discussing.
Second, working with comments, themselves, offers additional functionality. Highlighting and clicking respond within a comment automatically establishes the familiar "@user" addressing to make the intended recipient aware of the conversation directed at him/her. The highlighted text, again, is brought into the comment for reference.
Third, the connections among comments are tracked. Mousing over any commenter's name reveals a list of his or her other comments in the thread. Clicking on list items allows users to "jump between related comments and responses quickly" - something that threaded conversations have been working to capture. Reply and Quote buttons allow the user to jump into the conversation without highlighting.
Granted, the young project is not without its rough spots. Users are reporting issues with IE (shocking, I realize). And some of the implementation of the concepts could use refinement. No doubt that will come as more people engage in the project.
But those issues are easily overlooked. Because what is most compelling about this approach is the natural conversational dynamic that Jeffers has captured. You do what seems natural: highlight and respond. And you do so with context. That dynamic provides both Encouraged Commentary with content and the "hooks" to track the history of the conversation without adversely impacting the user. What's more, it provides a series of reference points that encourages new users to enter the discussion - and to do so just as easily as the conversation began.
If we see widespread adoption of this sort of thinking, it's quite possible that we may see the conversation returning to comments.