82 votes

I'm planning to enable the "mark new comments" feature for everyone - any major concerns?

Tags: privacy

Something that's come up in discussions a few times recently is how important it is to have good default settings. Even users who are quite technical and involved don't always explore which settings are available, and that's totally fine—they shouldn't need to. The default setup should be as good as possible, with changing settings mostly for specialized cases.

One particular place on Tildes where this isn't currently being done well is for the "mark new comments" feature, which has always been disabled by default. I think it's one of the best features on the site and makes it much easier to follow ongoing discussions here than on other sites with similar comment systems, but overall, not many users have enabled it.

For example, Tildes got some attention on Hacker News again yesterday, and about 80 new users have registered so far from that. Only 9 of them enabled "mark new comments", even though the welcome message strongly encourages it. Looking at longer periods of time, this seems typical: only about 10% of users ever enable it.

As it says on the settings page for the feature, my reason for disabling it by default was out of privacy concerns. However, I've been doing some review of the data that Tildes stores lately and realized that this was kind of misleading and inaccurate. Because I have HTTP request server logs and some other related data (which is all only kept for 30 days), I effectively have topic visit records from the last 30 days for all users anyway, whether they have the feature enabled or not. The data is more convenient to access for users with the feature enabled, but it's available either way.

Because of that, and because the data will be very useful to combine with some of the upcoming changes I mentioned in the last ~tildes.official post, I'm planning to enable this feature for everyone. Here are the general plans:

  • Data about which topics' comments pages a user visits will be stored (for 30 days), along with when and how many comments were there at the time. This enables displaying which topics have new comments since your last visit, and marking those new comments.
  • There will no longer be a setting to disable this, but you can still choose whether previously-seen comments are collapsed when you return - the same as the existing checkbox on that page for "Collapse old comments when I return to a topic".
  • I will probably implement some sort of "stop informing me of new comments in this topic" feature (separate from the new Ignore one) to stop having the info about new comments in a topic showing up for you.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or concerns about this. If nothing major comes up, I intend to make this change later this week.

42 comments

  1. [3]
    ali
    Link
    I really like the idea of this feature, I have entered many threads looking for the new post, which took a long time to find sometimes. I also didn’t know this feature existed before

    I really like the idea of this feature, I have entered many threads looking for the new post, which took a long time to find sometimes.
    I also didn’t know this feature existed before

    25 votes
    1. [2]
      Deimos
      Link Parent
      Another minor feature you may not have noticed that helps with that is that on every comments page, there's a link in the sidebar below "Last comment posted" that you can click to jump straight to...

      Another minor feature you may not have noticed that helps with that is that on every comments page, there's a link in the sidebar below "Last comment posted" that you can click to jump straight to the newest comment.

      11 votes
      1. cfabbro
        Link Parent
        @Bauke's Tildes ReExtended (Firefox addon link) also has a "Jump to New Comment" button which will take you one by one through all the new comments in a topic, which is super handy.

        @Bauke's Tildes ReExtended (Firefox addon link) also has a "Jump to New Comment" button which will take you one by one through all the new comments in a topic, which is super handy.

        7 votes
  2. Gaywallet
    Link
    You made me double check whether I had it on or not, I honestly couldn't remember a time it wasn't on. I'm in agreement that it should be turned on for all and to instead become an 'opt-out' option.

    You made me double check whether I had it on or not, I honestly couldn't remember a time it wasn't on. I'm in agreement that it should be turned on for all and to instead become an 'opt-out' option.

    16 votes
  3. Wes
    Link
    I understand the reason why it wasn't on my default, but I've always felt this was letting absolute ideology get in the way of pragmatism. The privacy risk is quite small, but the utility is...

    I understand the reason why it wasn't on my default, but I've always felt this was letting absolute ideology get in the way of pragmatism. The privacy risk is quite small, but the utility is large. The site is just way better with it enabled.

    So yes, I'd definitely support this change. Being able to simplify the rather information-dense page explaining it all would also be an improvement.

    14 votes
  4. spit-evil-olive-tips
    Link
    I've had it turned on since forever, and would find the site much less usable with it turned off. One of the many things I like about Tildes is that Reddit has the same feature but it's only...

    I've had it turned on since forever, and would find the site much less usable with it turned off. One of the many things I like about Tildes is that Reddit has the same feature but it's only available if you pay for Reddit Gold (or whatever they renamed it to).

    I think the usefulness of having it on by default outweighs the privacy concerns (and as you say, you could already get the same information from server access logs, if you really wanted to).

    10 votes
  5. [2]
    cardigan
    Link
    I may be alone in this, but I was aware of this feature and never wanted it. Maybe I don't understand it correctly. I think it's a good default to have, but for me personally it would just be a...

    I may be alone in this, but I was aware of this feature and never wanted it. Maybe I don't understand it correctly.

    I think it's a good default to have, but for me personally it would just be a distraction. Without it, I am more likely to reread older posts that I may not have read very closely before. One of the things I like the most about Tildes is that, by default, it doesn't give new comments a preferential treatment. I believe this is important in maintaining good discussions, because things that people said previously are just as important as things people have just said a few seconds ago. In the worst case scenario, this will lead to an "obsession with the new" that discourages the thoughtful reconsideration of older replies, and promotes addictive behavior like refreshing the page over and over again to look for new comments.

    To reiterate, I think most people would want this on by default. I would be interested in the choice to opt-out of it entirely, but it won't be a dealbreaker. Still, it's important to think even more carefully about the changes that seem inconsequential. Doing so will help prevent Tildes from going astray.

    8 votes
    1. NaraVara
      Link Parent
      On the other hand, in some threads I really would like to sort by new. A perfect example is the "What are you playing/reading/watching" threads. Not that much discussion happens there, but I would...

      In the worst case scenario, this will lead to an "obsession with the new" that discourages the thoughtful reconsideration of older replies, and promotes addictive behavior like refreshing the page over and over again to look for new comments.

      On the other hand, in some threads I really would like to sort by new. A perfect example is the "What are you playing/reading/watching" threads. Not that much discussion happens there, but I would like knowing when new stuff is posted because each of the comments is kind off like a mini-review on some bit of popular media from a poster. It tends to get drowned out if it always ends up at the bottom of a ton of old posts.

      3 votes
  6. jacoblambda
    Link
    As one of those new users from HN, I figured I'd give my 2 cents. I signed up, experienced the site for a bit, and closed the tab to get back to work. I only just today went into my settings to...

    As one of those new users from HN, I figured I'd give my 2 cents.

    I signed up, experienced the site for a bit, and closed the tab to get back to work. I only just today went into my settings to look at the options because it was mentioned here however I normally give the site a week or two before I start poking around in the settings and customising my experience. This is how I handle most new sites or software just because I try to learn the default experience first and see what works or doesn't for me. I figure I can't be the only person who is like this which might explain the low use numbers of a non-default setting for us new members.

    That being said. I like the setting and think it should be a default but I disagree with removing the ability to turn it off. More features is rarely ever a bad thing, especially ones that may be relevant from a privacy standpoint (potential for tracking or fingerprinting).

    Another point I should bring up is that the settings page could benefit from being redesigned a bit. At first glance I thought that the link to enable marking new comments was just description text for the Site behaviour settings section. After looking at the page for a bit it made sense but I can see it being more confusing for people who are less technically savvy. I think putting links to new sections like this at the very bottom of each section would help distinguish this.

    TL;DR Set mark new comments as the default, don't remove the ability to disable the feature, and possibly rework the settings page to make links to settings sections more apparent.

    7 votes
  7. Bullmaestro
    Link
    Never knew it was a thing. Either I didn't notice or simply ignored the welcome message. Enabling it now because I don't care that much about my privacy on a site I already post personal opinions...

    Only 9 of them enabled "mark new comments", even though the welcome message strongly encourages it. Looking at longer periods of time, this seems typical: only about 10% of users ever enable it.

    Never knew it was a thing. Either I didn't notice or simply ignored the welcome message. Enabling it now because I don't care that much about my privacy on a site I already post personal opinions on and because it sounds really useful.

    6 votes
  8. [2]
    moocow1452
    Link
    Just as a offhand thing, It would be nice if we had a quick button on the front page that would "mark all comments as read" to scratch my inbox zero itch if we're making "mark unread comments" as...

    Just as a offhand thing, It would be nice if we had a quick button on the front page that would "mark all comments as read" to scratch my inbox zero itch if we're making "mark unread comments" as a default option.

    5 votes
    1. Wes
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Similarly, a "Mark as unread" would be nice to remove the record entirely. Sometimes I click into an active thread and the "X new comments" keeps grabbing my attention, so I feel the need to...

      Similarly, a "Mark as unread" would be nice to remove the record entirely. Sometimes I click into an active thread and the "X new comments" keeps grabbing my attention, so I feel the need to return. Occasionally it would be nice to just opt out of those threads, without hiding them completely.

      Maybe good candidates for the new Actions dropdown.

      8 votes
  9. reese
    Link
    Just here to dogpile in agreement. I was meh about this feature when it was introduced... and then I turned it on, realizing it differentiated my experience on Tildes versus everywhere else. It's...

    Just here to dogpile in agreement.

    I was meh about this feature when it was introduced... and then I turned it on, realizing it differentiated my experience on Tildes versus everywhere else. It's so useful. As for security, the attack surface is basically the same with or without marking new comments. This should be the default. Opting out takes only a couple clicks, although I wonder how many will.

    4 votes
  10. NaraVara
    Link
    Necroposting here to provide some feedback on the change. So after not realizing this feature existed to having it turned on, I just want to say I really like it. I find myself much more engaged...

    Necroposting here to provide some feedback on the change. So after not realizing this feature existed to having it turned on, I just want to say I really like it. I find myself much more engaged in following discussions and threads that I wasn't directly involved in.

    4 votes
  11. rmgr
    Link
    Was not aware that was a thing. I just turned mine on because it sounds super handy!

    Was not aware that was a thing. I just turned mine on because it sounds super handy!

    3 votes
  12. Moonchild
    Link
    You could make it be tracked on the client side, so there's no actual tracking. The downside is that that doesn't work across devices--or, even, across browsers on the same device. Perhaps have...

    You could make it be tracked on the client side, so there's no actual tracking.

    The downside is that that doesn't work across devices--or, even, across browsers on the same device. Perhaps have that as an alternative option?

    1 vote
  13. [2]
    blitz
    Link
    Is there any place where we can get data about the speed of growth of Tildes? I'm really curious about how many users register, how many come back, how many active posters we have, etc.

    For example, Tildes got some attention on Hacker News again yesterday, and about 80 new users have registered so far from that.

    Is there any place where we can get data about the speed of growth of Tildes? I'm really curious about how many users register, how many come back, how many active posters we have, etc.

    1 vote
    1. Deimos
      Link Parent
      Not currently - adding a statistics page of some sort is planned: https://gitlab.com/tildes/tildes/issues/229 In general, the site's usually had about 1100 active logged-in users for the last few...

      Not currently - adding a statistics page of some sort is planned: https://gitlab.com/tildes/tildes/issues/229

      In general, the site's usually had about 1100 active logged-in users for the last few months, with about 500 different users posting.

      2 votes
  14. [2]
    envy
    Link
    Your reasoning makes complete sense to me. The ability to comment on very old threads, and the new comments feature are significant differentiators for this site. I am curious why you want to...

    Your reasoning makes complete sense to me.

    The ability to comment on very old threads, and the new comments feature are significant differentiators for this site.

    I am curious why you want to purge all records of articles I have seen after 30 days.

    If I could opt-out of this behavior, I would, in order to see only new comments on very old threads.

    1 vote
    1. Deimos
      Link Parent
      That's mostly just a general approach to data retention for Tildes. As much as possible, I'm trying to only keep "incidental" data for 30 days, and only keep data permanently when it's something...

      That's mostly just a general approach to data retention for Tildes. As much as possible, I'm trying to only keep "incidental" data for 30 days, and only keep data permanently when it's something the user does more consciously and deliberately. For example, if you use the Bookmark function on a topic or comment, that's kept forever.

      As I mentioned in another comment, it's planned for you to be able to specify a time frame for marking/collapsing comments in a particular thread, so that should cover the cases where an old visit has been deleted but you still want similar behavior.

      6 votes
  15. adalricus
    Link
    That makes sense, anyways that data is collected as part of logs so might as well use it in some useful way. I think there should be an option to disable this & also it's fine as default but it...

    Data about which topics' comments pages a user visits will be stored (for 30 days), along with when and how many comments were there at the time.

    That makes sense, anyways that data is collected as part of logs so might as well use it in some useful way.

    There will no longer be a setting to disable this.

    I think there should be an option to disable this & also it's fine as default but it should be done for new registrations only & not previously registered users.

    So any new user will have that turned on by default but existing users will have their preferences as is. Maybe you could add a notice with a link to that preference for sometime but changing existing user's config feels wrong.

    1 vote
  16. [3]
    666
    Link
    I understand why it'd be useful for most people but it isn't for me. It stresses me and psychologically affects me. It causes me anxiety and keeps me coming back to the same threads (which I don't...

    I understand why it'd be useful for most people but it isn't for me. It stresses me and psychologically affects me. It causes me anxiety and keeps me coming back to the same threads (which I don't want to do). That's the reason I keep it disabled. But if it's more work to keep the option than it is to replace it with a default "all enabled" just go for the default, I'll find a way (probably write a script or some CSS) to undo the changes.

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      Deimos
      Link Parent
      It should be very simple to hide it with CSS: .topic-info-comments-new { display: none; } .is-comment-new > .comment-itself { border-left: 0; margin-left: 0; } I'm fairly sure that's all it takes...

      It should be very simple to hide it with CSS:

      .topic-info-comments-new { display: none; }
      
      .is-comment-new > .comment-itself {
          border-left: 0;
          margin-left: 0;
      }
      

      I'm fairly sure that's all it takes to get rid of all indicators of new comments.

      You should probably also liberally make use of the ignore function so you can stop seeing topics you don't want to go back to.

      4 votes
      1. 666
        Link Parent
        Thanks for the code (I'm going to start using it, I will convert it to a uBlock filter). I'm probably not going to use the ignore function, I actually want to go back to old topics but at my own...

        Thanks for the code (I'm going to start using it, I will convert it to a uBlock filter). I'm probably not going to use the ignore function, I actually want to go back to old topics but at my own pace instead of letting that be dictated by a number on the screen.

        Edit: uBlock Origin filters for anyone who wants them.

        tildes.net##.topic-info-comments-new
        tildes.net##.is-comment-new>.comment-itself:style(border-left:0;margin-left:0)
        
        1 vote
  17. [9]
    NaraVara
    Link
    So does this mean after 30 days, all comments uncollapse since the data on visit times is gone? Also, is the "new comment" marker based on initial post time or last edited time?

    Data about which topics' comments pages a user visits will be stored (for 30 days), along with when and how many comments were there at the time. This enables displaying which topics have new comments since your last visit, and marking those new comments.

    So does this mean after 30 days, all comments uncollapse since the data on visit times is gone?

    Also, is the "new comment" marker based on initial post time or last edited time?

    1. [8]
      Deimos
      Link Parent
      Yes, that's how it works right now. If you don't visit a topic for 30 days, there's no longer any record of when you visited, so it will be treated the same as a first visit. It's based on the...

      Yes, that's how it works right now. If you don't visit a topic for 30 days, there's no longer any record of when you visited, so it will be treated the same as a first visit. It's based on the visit time though, not the age of the post, so it's only when you haven't gone back to the topic for at least 30 days.

      There's a feature in progress that will allow you to change the highlighting threshold to whatever you want while you're viewing the page, so you can just choose something like "mark comments newer than 3 days" without needing to have visited at that time.

      And yes, it's based on the time the comments are posted, not edited.

      5 votes
      1. [7]
        envy
        Link Parent
        This will fix a little niggle I have with the current UI. If I click on the expand all button, there is no way to go expand only the new comments. Currently I avoid the expand all button like the...

        There's a feature in progress that will allow you to change the highlighting threshold to whatever you want while you're viewing the page, so you can just choose something like "mark comments newer than 3 days" without needing to have visited at that time.

        This will fix a little niggle I have with the current UI. If I click on the expand all button, there is no way to go expand only the new comments. Currently I avoid the expand all button like the plague.

        2 votes
        1. [6]
          Wes
          Link Parent
          Heey, you might like the Collapse Read feature I contributed. It adds a button that does exactly that. It was tweaked a little upon merging so it only appears if the setting "Collapse old comments...

          Heey, you might like the Collapse Read feature I contributed. It adds a button that does exactly that.

          It was tweaked a little upon merging so it only appears if the setting "Collapse old comments when I return to a topic" is disabled. Unfortunately you'll have to choose between having new comments expand by default, or expand when you click the button.

          3 votes
          1. [5]
            envy
            Link Parent
            That's exactly what I was looking for, except I wanted it with "Collapse old comments when I return to a topic" enabled. Oh well.

            That's exactly what I was looking for, except I wanted it with "Collapse old comments when I return to a topic" enabled. Oh well.

            1 vote
            1. [4]
              Wes
              Link Parent
              Well it doesn't hurt to ask. @Deimos, would you consider enabling the button regardless of the "Collapse old comments..." setting? My use-case echoes envy's. I find it useful to toggle between all...

              Well it doesn't hurt to ask.

              @Deimos, would you consider enabling the button regardless of the "Collapse old comments..." setting? My use-case echoes envy's. I find it useful to toggle between all and new comments, but would still prefer that new comments are shown by default.

              2 votes
              1. [2]
                envy
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                I took your code, added it as a javascript bookmarklet, played around with it.... I have to say, it works really well. User Story: I want to initially see only new comments, then quickly refer...

                I took your code, added it as a javascript bookmarklet, played around with it....

                I have to say, it works really well.

                User Story: I want to initially see only new comments, then quickly refer back to an old comment before replying to a new comment.

                Positives

                • Lets you quickly view old comments then quickly change focus back to the new comment in a long running thread

                Negatives

                • Collapse read is potentially confusing. I read "read" as active not past participant. "Expand New" would be consistent with other verbiage.
                • Changing the sort order or refreshing the page would make the button go away.
                • Wouldn't work for threads you visited 31+ days ago

                There is a new feature comes which allows you to see new comments within x time period, so I know we should wait to see how this works, but my thinking is that this puts the burden on the user to decide what time window they want, and the time window you actually want will depend on the activity in the thread.

                3 votes
                1. Wes
                  Link Parent
                  That was a tough call because the meaning will differ depending on the user's "Expand old comments..." setting. For some, the comments will already be fully expanded so "Expand new" can be a...

                  I read "read" as active not past participant. "Expand New" would be consistent with other verbiage.

                  That was a tough call because the meaning will differ depending on the user's "Expand old comments..." setting. For some, the comments will already be fully expanded so "Expand new" can be a little unclear.

                  The language was changed as a result of feedback during the merge request, but I can see it argued either way. Maybe it'll be more consistent with the upcoming changes to this feature.

                  my thinking is that this puts the burden on the user to decide what time window they want, and the time window you actually want will depend on the activity in the thread.

                  I'm not able to think of a better way to do it, but if there's a heuristical approach that can choose something logical by default, you should suggest it!

                  I find the UI reddit uses pretty unfriendly as well, and a big dropdown with timestamps isn't great. Maybe instead of tying it to the user's visits, logical increments could be chosen by default. eg. Last minute, last five minutes, last half hour. And a special default setting for "since last visit".

                  3 votes
              2. Deimos
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                Sorry, I meant to reply to this and then forgot to actually do it. But yes, once the feature's enabled by default, let's definitely figure out a better way to integrate that feature you added. I...

                Sorry, I meant to reply to this and then forgot to actually do it. But yes, once the feature's enabled by default, let's definitely figure out a better way to integrate that feature you added. I think it'll work great once people can change the highlighting.

                3 votes
  18. [9]
    Kuromantis
    Link
    Given you already have that data, I'd say it's fair, even without the option to opt-out. Does this fact by extension apply to the 'live user count' request from not too long ago? If so then that...

    Please let me know if you have any thoughts or concerns about this. If nothing major comes up, I intend to make this change later this week.

    Given you already have that data, I'd say it's fair, even without the option to opt-out. Does this fact by extension apply to the 'live user count' request from not too long ago? If so then that can be added too.

    1 vote
    1. [7]
      Deimos
      Link Parent
      I haven't decided about that idea still, but I think I'm unlikely to add it. I'm generally trying to stay away from features that make people feel like they need to check in constantly because of...

      I haven't decided about that idea still, but I think I'm unlikely to add it. I'm generally trying to stay away from features that make people feel like they need to check in constantly because of time pressure, and I think an active user count goes in the opposite direction.

      11 votes
      1. [6]
        hungariantoast
        Link Parent
        It's a totally different idea, but this is as good a place as any to ask about it: Instead of (or in addition to) showing the subscriber count for each group on the groups listing page, show the...

        It's a totally different idea, but this is as good a place as any to ask about it:

        Instead of (or in addition to) showing the subscriber count for each group on the groups listing page, show the number of topics and comments posted in the last twenty-four hours for each group.

        I think I remember you mentioning wanting to make a change like that at some point, but I could be wrong. Either way, thoughts?

        5 votes
        1. [5]
          Deimos
          Link Parent
          Yes, I want to make that change soon. My plan is to get rid of the subscriber count (I think it's almost meaningless) and replace it with counts for how many topics and comments are generally...

          Yes, I want to make that change soon. My plan is to get rid of the subscriber count (I think it's almost meaningless) and replace it with counts for how many topics and comments are generally posted in that group per day.

          I'll probably do this by averaging out the previous week, instead of just the last 24 hours. That will probably be a better representation and won't fluctuate as much because of things like the slower activity over weekends.

          13 votes
          1. [2]
            tomf
            Link Parent
            Do we even need this? I've rewritten this a dozen times -- let me know if you need/want/care for any clarification. My thinking is that some users wouldn't bother posting in a subgroup that was...

            ...and replace it with counts for how many topics and comments are generally posted in that group per day.

            Do we even need this? I've rewritten this a dozen times -- let me know if you need/want/care for any clarification.

            My thinking is that some users wouldn't bother posting in a subgroup that was less active, even if it is the best fit, but instead opt for a lesser fit in a more active subgroup.

            It'd be best for people to join groups based on the subject alone and not have that desire interrupted or influenced by 3 posts, 2 comments-- same with 1200 posts, 2900 comments.

            3 votes
            1. Deimos
              Link Parent
              It's not needed, but I think it's nice to have some kind of information about how active groups are, and this isn't a secret. You can just go into the group and take a quick glance to have a...

              It's not needed, but I think it's nice to have some kind of information about how active groups are, and this isn't a secret. You can just go into the group and take a quick glance to have a pretty good idea of how many topics/comments are being posted. If people post in the wrong groups their post can be moved, which already happens occasionally now.

              5 votes
          2. Eylrid
            Link Parent
            I'm interested to see what the comment to post ratios work out to for the different groups.

            I'm interested to see what the comment to post ratios work out to for the different groups.

            2 votes
          3. NaraVara
            Link Parent
            Averaging out over the course of a week might lead to some weird crests and troughs based on when people check. Things like holidays, the school year, whether an Apple event just happened (for...

            I'll probably do this by averaging out the previous week, instead of just the last 24 hours. That will probably be a better representation and won't fluctuate as much because of things like the slower activity over weekends.

            Averaging out over the course of a week might lead to some weird crests and troughs based on when people check. Things like holidays, the school year, whether an Apple event just happened (for tech pages), whether it's near E3 (for gaming pages), etc. would all dramatically affect levels of activity.

            I suppose as Tildes gets older you'll have more years of data to draw on to normalize around those sorts of things.

            2 votes
    2. ReapersGale
      Link Parent
      I'm not sure if anyone mentioned it in the original thread but at the current active user counts it could allow fingerprinting of which specific users are online. For example there tends to be a...

      I'm not sure if anyone mentioned it in the original thread but at the current active user counts it could allow fingerprinting of which specific users are online.

      For example there tends to be a lower level of activity over the weekend so if there was only a few online users at 5pm aedt (6am gmt) on a Friday you could kind of infer that it's likely a few Australian users and it was broken down into groups you could potentially figure out if a specific person is online.

      It's not that it's a bad idea, I just don't think it meshes well with the privacy ethos of tildes at this point in time.

      3 votes