I want to avoid the classical way of replying into replying into replying that goes like this

    --> Reply 1
    --> Reply 2
    ---->Reply 3
    ---->Reply 4
    ------->Reply 5
    ---->Reply 6

I will be expecting lots and lots of replying levels and the horizontal space is limited.

So I am looking for any good alternatives to that matter. Any ideas?


2 Answers 2


Thread Arcs are a way to display even long and complex discourses in a compact way. Threadvis exemplifies this within the Thunderbird mail client.

Threadvis basics

Individual messages are represented by circular shapes here, which are aligned on a horizontal axis. Several types of messages are distinguished: normal vs. selected and by viewer or by others. Ownership (me vs. others) is indicated by shape variation, i.e. a hollow disc (a concept that could be extended for forums with different user roles like Moderator or message types like question / answer / comment / support / counter-argument …).

Highlighting messages is done with color or opacity; it also applies to the arcs which show the reply relationships. Unlike seen here, arcs are traditionally half-circles, but it makes sense to flatten them for GUIs so that all have very similar height. It helps to take advanced of top and bottom sides so the human eye can form continuous oscillating lines.

Threadvis complex

Color may be employed to distinguish different authors when there’s not enough room to show user names or avatar pictures. Arc length can show temporal distance, which may make sense to be scaled logarithmically. In the variant shown, there’s no indication of topic/subject changes.

Thread Trees

Thread Tree is the traditional approach that accurately shows reply hierarchy but not chronology. They come as either Tree Diagram a or, more frequently, as (collapsible) Tree Table b, e.g. in Microsoft Outlook (Express) as far as I remember.

Threads in MacSOUP

Thread Trees can be displayed spatially more efficiently if reply edges alternate between vertical and horizontal alignment. I don’t know whether this design pattern has an established name.

Apple Mail on the other hand supports only Conversations for grouping messages. They are always sorted chronologically regardless of reply relations. Twitter is similar, but @mention is based on people, not messages. Classic chat clients cannot even do that much.

Most of these can also be adapted to visualize thread structure when showing the actual text and metadata (author, title …). For a blog, for instance, I can see nested Conversations as being worth a try, i.e. comments on the original article would be listed (anti-)chronologically in the vertical dimension below the blog posting and each of these major comments could have minor sub-comments that would chronologically show right of it. Thread Arcs wouldn’t work that well in this scenario, though, since they work best as a detached overview at a fixed position.


You could put replies which are too deep onto a different page (linked to in the thread).

See reddit as an example.

  • No I want something that is almost biological. Does this makes sense to you. Something that is like interconnected and display it this way. Does this make any sense?
    – skoumas
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 11:45
  • I don't understand what you mean by that. You need to find a way to show the relative positions, the relationships, between comments / comment-trees.
    – jezmck
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 11:47
  • Because the replys are always contained in a same sised small box I can use an alternative to show them by floating the boxes on the left. Box | Box(3) | Box | Box Only problem is that if Box 2 has (3) replies as showed above I don't know how to make it visible below. And even worse if all boxes have replies is imposible to show them all at the same time.
    – skoumas
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 11:52

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