Personal · December 18, 2008

Dear Santa – please let me comment on blogs that don’t allow comments.

In the spirit of the season, I’ll suspend a bit of my disbelief and cast a wish toward Santa (or better yet, toward the LazyWeb.)

Dear Santa,

There is a bit of software that I want to see implemented on the Internet.

I seem to remember a long time ago (well, long ago in Internet terms) that there was a website that allowed people to place comments on another person’s website – even if that website didn’t allow comments. The comment app was billed as a sort of “website graffiti” – where people could stick comments all over the page, in various colors.

I thought it was a good idea back then, if messy. But it disappeared sometime during the Dotcom bubble burst – and I’ve never seen it or anything like it again. Maybe it’s there, and I’ve just missed it? I’d love to see something like that again – a better, revised version.

Because what the Internet really needs is a way to leave comments on those sites that do not WANT comments!

I’m always wanting to leave comments on certain sites. When some blogger with closed comments pedantically proclaims that their words are unopposed by everyone, I would like to disagree. When a government agency touts the benefits of pseudoscience, I’d like to leave a couple of links to peer-reviewed research. I want to be able to leave a comment that gives evidence that the writer is full of flower garden supplements.

I’m not sure how something like this would work. Perhaps it would be a website that held the target website within an HTML frame, generated dynamically. Maybe it could be a Firefox Add-on, that created a lower page in a similar manner to Scribefire. The idea is that the comments would look something like Haloscan comments, and be stored on a comment server that is accessed by the add-on. The server could generate income by adding content-sensitive advertisement into the comment display.

For the want of a label, I’ll call this software “Graffiti comments“.

There could be hierarchical or threaded commenting. There could be comment scoring and the ability to hide comments under a certain score. This would allow community policing.

The best way to reduce comment spam would be to require those who comment to use an OpenID identifier of some sort. Something like the way that Blogger uses IDs from Blogger, OpenID, Livejournal, WordPress, Typepad or AIM. That should cut down on the anonymous trolls, and perhaps reduce sockpuppeting a little.

There could be a requirement to log into Graffiti. Then perhaps the offending person could be suspended or removed if required.

It would be ironic if a person with draconian tendencies in censorship opened a Graffiti comment site and then started restricting comments. But the solution to this is simple – the commenting software should be open source, and could be implemented by anyone who wanted to pay for the hosting database. You don’t like the way that Joe Censor is operating his copy of Graffiti? Start your own!

With open source the community of Graffiti administrators would compete against each other as bloggers do, with some Graffiti site owners becoming famous (infamous?) while others wither in the Internet marketplace.

This Graffiti tool should come with a way to indicate that it is being used on a website. It should affect the target website analytics in some way. The website in question might be targeted by multiple Graffiti sites, and it would be courteous to indicate that it is being targeted. Although the comments may be hostile, the software should not.

Perhaps there is a question of legality here? I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think so. The comments would be hosted in another person’s online database, and would only be viewable to those people who use the Graffiti tool. The bandwidth for the comments would also belong to the Graffiti host. There may be increased bandwidth to the target website – but isn’t that one of the objectives of writing online, to generate bandwidth? The advertisements on the target website should still generate revenue, even if the comments are hostile.

There could be an issue with targeted articles (or websites) disappearing. I’m not sure how Graffiti would handle that. Perhaps the entire comment thread would also disappear? Or be automatically archived? Maybe it would still be viewable, with other content in the target window.

As long as I’m wishing for this wonderful software, here is what I imagine version 1.0 of this tool might look like: (click to make it larger).

Is this possible? I’m sure of it. And if it is made in a way to allow targeted advertising, I’m sure it could generate enough income to offset its own bandwidth.

But I’m not a programmer – well, not in this sense. I can program in ANSI C, but my experience mostly deals with programming embedded microcontrollers – not Windows or web applications. My knowledge of database programming stopped with DBASE III over a decade ago.

So Dear Santa, (or dear LazyWeb) please, just tell me you’ve started on this and I’ll be content for this year’s presents.