creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by RobotSkirts

Blog comments. Once the only social network, the way we conversed among blogs, wikis in the pre-twitter, pre-facebook era. It was, really, where the interaction happened.

Now, thanks to Google providing the link bait incentive, blog comments are the honey pots for bot gibberish; Akismet snags some 10,000 spam comments per week on this site.

comment spam

But they are still rather important in Connected Courses— nothing, absolutely nothing, motivates someone new to blogging, reflecting in their own space than getting feedback. Especially when it comes from a person they do not know. It cracks open the “why” of what may appear to be pointless blabbering.

We seek to be hear, to be acknowledged. Blog comments do that in a simple, but effective way.

There is, and has been, for a long time a desire to be able to “track” comment activity. Because they exist elsewhere on the web, and are formatted, stored in variable formats, there is really no simple means to track one’s comments elsewhere.

Way back in those web olden years, there was an attempt at a few services; I recall trying cocomment which, is DOA, but you can find shreds in the Internet Archive

coComment is a service for managing, powering and researching conversations online. When using coComment, you can keep track of your comments across any site, share them with friends, and get notified when you get a response.

Have you ever posted comments or questions on articles and blogs and then forgotten where you’ve left them? By tracking your conversation with coComment, you can see all your comments on one page and get notified. You will never miss a response, and will always be part of your online conversations!

If you’re blogger or site owner, you can integrate coComment to power or track your conversations, while becoming part of the growing coComment community.

Great idea, execution? Well, the downfall, was to make it work, everytime time you went to a blog to comment, you had to remember to click a JavaScript bookmark tool to register the comment.

People, especially me, are too fallible for that.

I was intrigued when I saw Gordon Lockhart’s tweet:

It was something he had done previously for #rhizo14 What I did not realize that I learned from reading his documentation was that Blogger provided RSS feeds for comments- for some reason I thought that only WordPress had that feature.

He’s put it into motion for Connected Courses- see the results at

comment scraper

What it does well is that it allows you to see somewhat the conversations happening on the distributed blogs of Connected Courses, like a high level scan. If I understand his approach, he is taking the feeds from all WordPress and blogger sites, and checking the posts for having a “ccourses” label/tag and matching the comment feed action to the posts (some python magic).

Its definitely useful, but of course, you have to keep in mind it is missing the blogs that do not have comments at all (tumblr) or the platforms that lack comment RSS feeds (everything other than WordPress/Blogger).

Still, compelling.

I rigged up something similar for the Thought Vectors site, a Thought Vectors Comment reader:

I have some gnarly technical notes on how this was done — essentially, from the main site’s collection of syndicated feeds, I was able to do a database query to identify the blog generator (essentially a way to find which of the feeds were wordpress), then wrote the script to output all of those feeds as an OPML file, with the RSS URLs re-written to reflect the blog comment RSS URL — essentially for an RSS feed from the comment feed is

I probably could do the same for Connected Courses, but augment the code to check as well for Blogger sites, since I know now how to construct RS feeds for its comments.

I always used an RSS reader when I taught ds106 as a way to see and respond to the comment activity on my students sites. It truly is the one valid time saving piece of technology.

That all said, I have a pretty laisez faire feeling about comments. A few clicks back I had a back and forth DM conversation with Maha Bali about this. To me, being able to organize and track comments is really not something I crave. I think of comments as conversations, I certainly do not want a database of every conversation I had. I think of conversations as ephemeral, and happy if I can remember having a conversation, not really needing to have total recall.

We had a laugh because she tried to recall a comment IO made on her blog expressing that ;-) just google recursion.

I know others feel differently and would like better tracking and documenting of comments. It’s a feature of known that intrigues me because in that system, comments are stored primarily on your own personal site and pushed out to the site you are commenting on, likely a more logical data flow.

There are some low tech approaches one can try. For while I was trying to add a custom string of mishmosh characters as sort of a tracking code to my comments. In theory, I could run a google search on that. But it is my own downfall that I did not remember to do it everytime (the same problem as cocomment), so much I cannot even recall my secret code.

I also have gotten in the habit thi last year of always putting in the name field of a comment box:

Alan Levine (@cogdog)

On my own computer it is usually filled in as autocomplete. If I was smarter I might do something more unique, but I can try a rough Google search on that string (filter out results from my own blog)

google alan

It does bring up a lot– but is it everything?

So for me, I’m okay if I have an incomplete record of my comment activity– its really ore important to be contributing conversation than trying to ensnare it like some obsessive accountant.

It’s messy.

But essential.

So please, leave me a comment? Or better yet– find a random syndicated connected courses post

and give someone else some comment love.

The post "Grasping for the Holy Comment Grail" was originally emerged from the primordial ooze and first walked on land at CogDogBlog ( on September 21, 2014.


  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    Nerdy, nerdy, nerdy…but you always revert to the humanistic by the end of your ruminations, which why you are always worth reading!

  • Have to say: I LOVE THE RANDOMIZER.
    And the power of randomizers to spread the love evenly (randomly) is what really appeals to me.
    And to me, that is the big challenge about comments; I’m not interested in archiving them; I see them as ephemeral… but at the same time I really want all my students to be commenting and be getting comments. Randomizers seem the best way to do that; I randomize my students into groups every week for something kind of like quadblogging, but with the groups changing every week at random so that if someone is less participatory about commenting and someone else is more participatory, both the “more” and the “less” get spread around thanks to the power of the random gods.
    I randomize commenting on projects the same way.
    Randomization: IT SCALES.
    Love the power of random. :-)

  • Like in “real” life, the comment strings I remember over time are the ones that have the most impact. I find myself thinking bout #ccourses quite often throughout my day.

  • Gordon Lockhart

    Thanks for mentioning my comment tracking efforts. I missed your original technical notes on the Thought Vectors Comment reader – need to digest! (The Thought Vectors Comment reader link seems to be broken (?) so I can’t see any output.)

    Yes comment conversations are ephemeral. I started my tracking program during the CCK11 MOOC because I kept finding lengthy comment threads after everyone else had moved on and the buzz had expired! It’s also useful to identify new posts before comments appear and for this reason the current version retains posts without comments for 3 days.

    For MOOCs, I’m now more inspired by “stitching together fragmented parts into cohesive wholes for individuals” (George Siemens, ), particularly for cMOOCs where chaos and confusion can be off-putting. An ideal ‘MOOC defragmenter’ might combine several services including comment collection and comprehensive blog aggregation without undermining the role of individuals’ blog spaces.

  • This is something I have been thinking about a lot, too. My angle is more focused on tracking conversations across various disconnected service. For example, you blog this, I comment on it, someone else could write a blog post about my comment, which gets posted on Facebook and Twitter – all of these allow comments, so many, many conversations could be happening that you have no access to just because you have my comment. Maybe something like Known or POSSE will change this. Other than that, we would probably have to re-design the entire web to be centered around people and not websites as much. Not to get rid of sites, but to change the focus. I wrestled with some of these thoughts in a blog post a while back ( – ignore the post title, I was in a funky mood that day), but the reality is we will have to hope that some hack or browser extension will come along to make this happen. But I hope we discover the epic grail soon (nice Monty Python reference!)

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog

      It’s a bit of a dream. There are too many different systems and structures for comments for the way this is played out to ever really be structured enough to track. POSSE is interesting, but it’s like having a BetaMax revival effort when the stores are full of VHS.

  • Scott Johnson Notreally

    Hurray for the randomizer! Humans are designed to encounter and, hopefully, survive the unexpected; to make sense of non-sense and generally be at a loss the definitive answer–except conservatives. I blog, no one answers, I phone my cardiologist, no one answers. I dodged the draft in the 70s and was happy not to receive comments or even good advice. Now I mostly exist on cMOOC face book threads where people respond and I respond back and things fade away.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog

      There is a balance at the table, what Mike Caulfield defines as the “StreamMode” (message statusing) and “StaticMode” where people write reflectively, more long form, about the moment. The StreamMode is energetic, but in the long run, is like water running down the hill. It’s not either/or we can do both.

      I’ll keep quiet on the whole draft dodging thing. Which is, a cool thing to be able to say BTW

  • Hey, I didn’t know anyone else used “gnarly” this way besides Rudy Rucker! See his blog on the term at

    And, I do like the randomizer as well. It’s a great way to find the blog-thoughts that aren’t in the blogs I regularly check. With the scale of ccourses, it helps bring in more of the participants to one’s awareness. In real-life large classes, only a few speak out, and many can’t hear them anyway. This method helps in a Connected Course.

    • Scott Johnson Notreally

      Good point Bill about checking blogs you might not look at otherwise. My wife was describing web search techniques for an online class she was building and recommended starting at page 10 of the search results. This way you can find unique sources to quote, look studious as hell (like buying used books that already look read and annotated) plus the process of explaining the actual relevance of the site you found to the sights you were supposed to find expands your creativity and your horizons. Of course you you won’t pass the course but will have learned a useful skill.

      • Alan Levine aka CogDog

        Tell your wife about Million Short – you can lop off the first 10, 1000, 10,000, etc results to go to the long tail

        I got that from the great Darren Kuropatwa

        • Scott Johnson Notreally

          Thanks Alan, I’ll send on the Million Short link. The whole concept of finding things quickly spoils the wander through the junk-yard walk strategy. Who cares if it’s “relevant”? What is relevant anyway? It’s at best a process and not an end point.

          We used to spend hours trying to figure out what the dog dragged home and if you want a pop-quiz on anatomy you can hire our cat. He horks-up the strangest things on the back porch. As a small-mammal search engine he can’t be beat:-)

          As for draft-dodging I grew up in Berkeley in plain view where half the population were spys for somebody. Always hide in the open.

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