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How to facilitate great conversations on your blog.

The essence of good conversation is give and take. The problem blog-based “conversations” is that the essential give and take is almost always missing. I might say something provocative on my blog, and you might be moved to comment, but that’s usually where the back and forth ends. If I’m an especially responsive kind of guy, I can post a followup response. But how do you know I’ve done that, unless you obsessively check the posts where you’ve left comments?

Alternatively, I could send you an email in response to your comment — but then no one else gets to see the reply.

What I usually do on this site is respond to commenters by email. If my response has general interest, I will also post it as a comment. But this approach has shortcomings, because other commenters don’t get any notification that the discussion has continued since they were last visiting my site.

The “comments RSS” link that WordPress and other blogs give you is a possible solution, but it doesn’t work very well for two reasons. One, it seems to be buggy. I’ve never successfully tracked comments on a single post this way, using Bloglines as my RSS reader, and I’m not entirely certain why it doesn’t work. But more importantly, no one wants to fill up their RSS readers — which are already clogged with way too many subscriptions — with a bunch of subscriptions to comment feeds that may or may not generate additional discussion.

Here’s what we need: An instant mini-mailing list for each post on a blog. When someone posts a comment, there should be a checkbox saying “Keep me posted via email when anyone else comments on this.” If you check that box, you’ll get a confirmation email to make sure you really want to be kept in the loop. If you confirm, then you’ll be on the mini-mailing list for that post.

Anytime someone posts another comment on that post, you’ll get an email message–and so will anyone else who has subscribed to the discussion on that post. (There could be daily or weekly digest options too.) If you choose to respond via email, the comment should go to the whole mini-mailing list–and it should automatically be posted to the comments area on the weblog, too (subject to the usual moderation rules).

I went through the work of specifying the workflow for this kind of mini-mailing list for my haiku site, tinywords, where the back-and-forth exchange sometimes creates discussions with hundreds of haiku. But I got daunted by the technical difficulties of implementing it in PHP. Plus, I have a day job now.

Still, it seems like a logical plugin for WP or another blogging platform. Does anyone know if something like this exists already?


  1. jbnimble

    I’m not sure if this meets all your requirements, but I found it on the WordPress discussion forums. (I had remembered seeing a plugin along these lines, which is why I thought to look after reading this post.)


    I don’t use this on my own site, so I can’t vouch for it. Maybe I should start to use it. Hmmm…

  2. Dylan

    Thanks for the tip! Seems to be exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll test it out!

  3. Mark Jaquith

    You’ve suggested some things that don’t exist in Subscribe to Comments (daily digest, respond via e-mail), but the basic functionality of “check a box, get replies sent to your inbox” is there. Definitely check it out… I feel quite passionately about the plugin and its benefits. It really keeps your commenters coming back and staying engaged! I’ve had comment threads with well over 300 comments!

  4. dylan tweney

    OK, I installed the subscribe-to-comments plugin. If it’s working, I should get an email copy of subsequent comments here.

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