Posted by Richard on  UTC 2019-12-01 14:16

The gnarled ones who have visited this website during the course of its four year existence may remember something of our futile dalliance with commenting systems.

The fiddling started a few years ago when we implemented the widespread Disqus system on our site. After only a short test period we rejected it.

From a technical point of view it slowed the operation of the site down considerably. We, who have taken great pains to make the website as fast and as responsive as possible, were forced to watch helplessly as the creaking cogs of Disqus slowed everything around them down.

From a conceptual point of view, we, who never track, record or cookify our visitors, also had to watch one of the most invasive data aggregators on the web doing its dubious work. We are not at all paranoid, but see no reason to be the handmaids of the data miners.

For similar reasons, using any of the other social media giants to collect and monetize for their profit our readers' comments would have been unacceptable. It is not unusual nowadays to find websites offering four or five social media routes to post comments. Each one of these is an active recorder and sharer of your doings.

Ponder… ponder… what to do?

Following a dangerous bout of lateral thinking – called 'lateral' because it never gets you where you wanted to go in the first place – we tried using the Slack messaging platform. Though amusingly West-Coast-hippy-dippy in its ethos, it worked reasonably well and offered many features. Getting an account on our Slack system was quick and very easy, but proved unpopular. On reflection, most people these days are already sinking under a heap of accounts for this and that, meaning that yet another messaging/social media service, yet another user ID and another password were the last things our sensible readers wanted.

Disqus went down like the Titanic (at least on our version everyone got in a lifeboat); Slack went up like the Hindenburg (there was only one person on board, who strolled unharmed and insouciant from the wreck). Where and when would the next comments disaster occur?

Here and now. We have built our own comment system – quick, responsive, no signup, no login, no tracking, no data sharing or aggregation. Whether and how well it works is another matter.

Main features

Our commentators identify themselves with a name – and that is it. How real this name is – well, who knows that? The fiction of a known person as a commentator has been abandoned. All attempts to somehow validate that name using an email address and optionally a website URL are pointless. They have no value at all. 'Alexander Johnson' may appear at first glance as a more plausible name than 'N. Bonaparte' or 'Jumping Jack Flash' but really it is not.

We have no idea who that person 'really' is, which is not so bad and can be an amusing liberation – think of it as a masked ball during the Venetian Carnival. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is what the commentator writes.

Our comment system uses a simple text 'captcha' system to block attacks by evil bots. The input of the captcha is simple (lowercase and usually adjacent keys) and should be over with in a second or two. Your name, once entered, will be preserved for the duration of the session, but a new captcha sequence has to be input for each comment submitted.

Comments are not pre-moderated. They are accepted immediately and unconditionally. We have returned to the state of freedom of expression that existed in most of the Western world in the 1950s, a state in which only libel is an issue. If you choose to make people think of you as a textual hooligan – so be it. If a comment contains vulgar, slanderous or unpleasant material which would not be acceptable in polite society (the fifties definition) we may remove it without further ado.

Comments are threaded: they can be nested up to a depth of eight levels.

Only limited formatting is available. For security reasons HTML markup in comments will be neutralised. Correct URLs are rendered as links, with the full URLs always visible. Readers should exercise caution in following these links (do we need to say that?). These links are not validated by us in any way.

Enclosing a section of text in {curly braces} will cause the section to be rendered as a block quote. For the moment images and videos are not displayed: an online link to the image or video has to do instead.

Nothing is stored beyond the name, date and text of a comment. IP and MAC addresses are unknown to us, they are neither extracted nor stored. This experiment in enlightened, relaxed liberalism may backfire on us, but however much waterboarding in some dank Swiss cellar may be applied, we really do know nothing.

Comments can now be added to nearly all the 600+ articles on this site, irrespective of their age. If the system proves itself we we shall make a list of latest comments available.

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