I'm trying to design comment system for my reddit-like site. I like hierarchical comments because you can sort them to quickly get the best comments for large threads. Unfortunately with hierarchical comments sometimes you have cases when there is long thread and if you present hierarchy using indents you have a problem.

I decided that hierarchy is important only for levels 1-2, after that discussion takes place usually between 2-3 people, and regular flat comments works the best there.

Below (level 1 - comments #1 and #5, level 2 - comments #2,#6, level 3 and more: comments #3,#4)

I'm using colors to seperate hierarchy levels and +/- icon to open/close comment branch (it closes all childs). Take a look at the mockup below. Do you think it's intuitive? Or the indents are the best option to show hierarchical comments?

Hierarchical comments

  • Possible duplicates: here and here
    – Anderson
    Oct 8, 2012 at 19:01
  • I read both and more but they didnt made me 100% sure if my design is intuitive. Oct 8, 2012 at 19:11
  • I'm just curious, how does your upvoting system work in hierarchic comments? If you want to put on top the best comments, don't you have a problem with hierarchy? Or if you prefer to highlight best comments (with color by example), won't you have a problem with your hierarchy color scheme? Also, do you really need hierarchy? Oct 9, 2012 at 7:20

2 Answers 2


Marcin, look at this site.
It appears to have only two comment levels, namely answers and comments.
Anyway, it works very well.
IMO it's a good example of the way to go.
Those extremely lengthy threads with extreme indentation frequently contain no information but a flame + stubbornness combination that tends to throw smarter users out of your pages.
In StackExchange the hierarchical organization is replaced by the "@" addressing.
Comments appear chronologically, which is better for the late readers.
Comments appear grouped by "answer" (or whatever you call the first level comments in the semantics of your site).

  • I think it's the best solution, first level comments, so I can sort by the best comment branch, and then flat comments on level 2. Oct 9, 2012 at 13:31
  • @marcin: I think there is an open source application that implements a stackexchange-like interface, although I can't give a concrete reference now. It might be worthwhile to find it and give it a look. Even if it looks overkill for you requirements as of today, remember that your site might become successful and could need those extra features in the future.
    – Juan Lanus
    Oct 9, 2012 at 14:19

I decided that hierarchy is important only for levels 1-2, after that discussion takes place usually between 2-3 people, and regular flat comments works the best there.

The conclusion from that would be indenting only when the parent has siblings.

I've never seen that tried, but I'd say it's worth a try.

Be aware that these technological choices shape your community (if any).

Flat comments favor self expression, hierarchical comments encourage discussion.

This is part of a greater enseble, though: Do you send indivdual, aggregated, or no notifications? Does the notification contain the body? does it allow to reply directly? Do you show the name of the poster? Signatures? Post immediately vs. review n00bs first? etc.

  • Are there any articles how comments structure affects community? Oct 9, 2012 at 13:30
  • The most comprehensive I know is Joel about the decisions StackExchange: joelonsoftware.com/articles/BuildingCommunitieswithSo.html --- It's just one point, though. I also remember some musings of Chris Maunder (of codeproject fame).
    – peterchen
    Oct 9, 2012 at 13:55
  • That would probably help, but better still IMHO might be to have distinct choices for "continue thread" or "create new thread". Otherwise, it will be unclear whether the first or second reply to a post should be considered a continuation of its discussion thread.
    – supercat
    Mar 7, 2014 at 20:21

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