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I realize this is a pretty minor thing but anyway. I'm adding comment support to my website/blog. I'm trying to decide if I want the comments to be sorted from oldest to newest or from newest to oldest. Which one generally makes more sense, or does it even matter?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

I prefer comments to be in chronological order and threaded.

That way, when comments turn into conversations - and they often do, those are easy to follow. Any other order of comments makes it impossible, or at least very hard.

Newest on top means you have to go down to see what is being responded to. And if you decide to start at the bottom, you are continually switching between scrolling up (newer comment) and down (within a comment) to read what was going on between a couple of posters.

Sorting by relevance really messes up conversations. Plus: how is relevance being computed? May not be the reader's interpretation of what comments are relevant.

Conversations should really always be threaded to make them easier to follow. When you turn on threaded conversations, newest or oldest on top becomes less important, though you should still account for people responding to an older comment without using the "reply" option. Which is how I arrived at my preference: threaded conversations and oldest on top.

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I may go to threaded eventually, but right now I expect no more than 4 or 5 comments on my fairly low traffic and low activity blog –  Earlz Mar 15 '12 at 14:21
    
@Marjan Fully agree that 'relevance' messes up conversations –  greenforest Mar 15 '12 at 23:18
    
It looks even nicer if "progressive disclosure" rule is in use. Please see the facebook - you can usually see last x comments with option to show all the comments in thread. –  Bartosz Rakowski Apr 10 '12 at 11:04
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It's a tradeoff. Chronological order is better for readability of threads, worse for diminishing the value of comments from latecomers, and for enabling early-bird campers to permanently stamp their agenda on the page.

  • This sums the first readability problem up neatly (credit: someone's forum signature, I forget where):

    1. They break the natural flow of a conversation.
    2. Why?
    3. I don't like them.
    4. What do you think of comment threads in reverse chronological order?
  • And this xkcd cartoon, "First post" neatly sums up the dangers of the other approach, where comment 1 will always have pride of place.

enter image description here

For a small blog, that xkcd issue is unlikely to be a problem (unless it's an issue that attracts fanboys) - but you can get in the situation (common on tech/specialist blogs) where a popular post has a relevant, important comment like "This has since changed, it's now (new thing)" buried never to be seen under 50 "Wow, thanks!" comments, and where newcomers with valuable comments to make will be unlikely to bother posting them because they can see that their comment will never be seen.

Here's some good compromise options I've seen:

  • The simple progressive-disclosure 'accordion' approach: Show comments in chronological order for good readability, but accordioned in such a way that by default only the most recent n (say, 10) comments are visible, below a large promenent comment-width button reading something like "Show all 32 older comments" (naturally where there are less than n comments it just lists them all). Some sites do a simpler version of this with pagination - chronological order but with most recent page of comments first - but this can be confusing if the fact there are more older comments before the first visible comment isn't communicated clearly.
  • An approach popular with news sites that are particularly at risk to agenda campers, like the bbc (example): Have the comments block in two tabs, the default of which shows selected 'best comments' (could be chosen editorially or by some upvote-based formula). The other shows all comments, by default reverse chronological, but with the option to switch direction or to show by rating/relevance if desired.
  • The 'Facebook feed' approach. Separate comments are reverse chronological (to promote fresh, recent comments), but replies to comments are threaded chronologically. Sometimes this can work brilliantly and intuitively, but it's delicate, and can easily be painfully confusing depending on how it is presented and what type of discussions you get. If, like items in a Facebook feed, main comment items are independent of each other, it can work really well, giving the best of both. FastCo's otherwise excellent blog (example - see also screenshot below) is, I would argue, an example where it fails: what's going on is not clear at all at first, due to unintuitive visual cues and interaction where not all comment threads on a page are independent. Trying to untangle a narrative between comments is headache-inducing until you figure out the pattern.

In case they update their design, here's an example of the FastCo comments threading to illustrate how delicate Facebook-style threading can be.

enter image description here

Confused?

  • Cotic is replying to Scott Byorum (above), whose comment is responding to Stimski and Ken Nohe (below).
  • Steve might be responding to someone much further below, or, might be responding to the article itself, above. At the point you read Steve's comment, you can't tell.
  • Stimski's comment about a flowchart, which provoked Scott Byrom's retort (above), also provoked comments from Gee and Michael Cameron (below).
  • You don't know if Mokamami's comment "I second that emotion" refers to George's "Zappa poster is awesome!" (above) or Carlos's comment, "Awesome!", below, until you have to have figured out that right alignment of the header signifies that a comment is a reply and therefore switches from reverse chronological to chronological order.
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I would say the ideal option would be on the basis of the relevance of your comments (but I am not sure if your blog or any blog supports a feature to make a comment as useful or relevant).

However I would recommend going by newest comments first since the comments would be more in sync with the updates made to the blog post if any or in response to the questions or points raised by users in previous comments.

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I would suggest the old to new as top to bottom.

  • Always reading mindset is top to bottom
  • Also better understanding, if there is any conversations
  • If there is any "word" or "spell" or "anything missing" blog owner can be corrected in the comments.
  • date & time can be readable/ascending order
  • Most of the blog has "Leave a comments" form at the bottom, so we can reply/write comments for last / specified comments.
  • We need to give page navigation for comments exceed of 200, so old to new order is usable
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In a blog, like in this stackexchange site, there are answers to the post and answers to the answers.
Like in this site, I'd set the answers to the post initially in chronological order, and the answers to the answers in chronological order hanging from the original answer to the post.
Allowing a voting mechanism would be valuable in that it might surface the preferred comments and send the trolls down, if the comments are sorted by relevance measured as number of votes.

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