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When you have a site that has practically no limit on the comment length, and you inevitably get very long comments, you obviously have to crop them by default in order to keep the page neat, and then only expand them when users click to Read more.

But if that Read more button then turns into a button that collapses the comment back, this means you still have to go through scrolling the entire length of the full comment, which can be humongous (for context, the longest comment in my database has ~58k characters), and then you're screwed if you don't want to finish the comment, because navigating either way is now very hard.

While putting the show/collapse button before the comment text feels super awkward to use.

What's the best way to deal with this?

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design for the 80% use case. If your average comment is 200 - 400 characters, and you don't want to enforce a comment length, then expand to a clipped box they can scroll within.

Do you have data on the distribution of your average comment length?

I don't know your domain, but commenters (and comment readers) most likely are a small subset of your visitors, who focus on the content.

Make a trade off: allow superlengthy diatribes to be read, but in a reasonable amount of fixed scrollable space.

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In a situation like this, I find it helpful to ask two questions to help make a design decision:

  • How problematic is it for a user who expects a certain behavior, if that behavior is not there?

  • How problematic is it for a user who does not expect a certain behavior, if that behavior is there?

I strongly feel that collapsing (or "cropping") comments is bad design in most situations. And it's exactly because of those two questions above:

  • If I do want to follow along in a comment stream and actually read most of it, I don't care much whether the page looks "neat" (in the purely aesthetic sense, mind you). Having to click Read More links to expand a lot of collapsed comments, though, quickly becomes tedious and distracting.

    If I do want to skip a comment, well, I can just scroll ahead to the next one.

  • If I do not want to follow along in detail and just skim the conversation, scrolling ahead will work just as well.

In other words, the extra burden of having to expand collapsed comments for someone who does want to read them is far worse than the burden of having to scroll and manually "hit" another comment.

So, instead of collapsing the comments, consider making sure that the stream as such is easy to navigate: making the comment headers (with their author's avatar, etc.) stand out visually will allow visitors to easily make out the beginnings of a new comment even when just resorting to using default scrolling.

If you do insist on collapsing the comments, though, try providing a Expand All affordance, to reduce the interaction overhead to a minimum for those visitors who do read 'em all.

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  • Hm, it's weird how opposite our conclusions are based on the same premise. When you proposed those questions, I was sure your point was gonna be that collapsing is good. For the people who want to read average length comments it would be super disruptive to have to scroll past one of those 58k char comments; while for people who might read the entire thing it seems insignificant to invest a click. I think the expected behaviour is reading the comment thread, so a ~1m per comment as you go on seems reasonable; not have one person's long comment hog all the attention. – Digital Ninja Jun 13 '20 at 6:28
  • I'm not aware of any research on this particular design topic, but it'd be interesting to learn more about what "average" users prefer here. I've been using the internet before the web was invented ;), and it's been the normal approach for me to scroll through comment lists. In contrast, following a thread in a "collapse-happy" UI such as LinkedIn's is pure hell due to all the clicking that's required. I could see, though, that this is related to the typical length of posts, and to the relative occurance of really long (i.e, multi-screen-height) comments. Do keep us posted on your decisions! – JochenW Jun 13 '20 at 20:10

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