Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Comments, Trackback: Blogger vs Haloscan

[Added 15 May 2005:] I've now added a tutorial post that explains which bits of the Haloscan code are for trackback and commenting, so you can just include the service you want (install Haloscan trackback without comments, or install Haloscan comments without their trackback, which can be combined with Blogger comments too) - plus how to use another free trackback tool.

I recently started combining Blogger commenting and Haloscan commenting with Haloscan trackback. This post wasn't intended to be a comparative review of the two as such, but effectively it is because it sets out what to me are the pros and cons of each system.
What's trackback?: for those unfamiliar with it, my own definition of "trackback" is that it's a system which effectively lets you create a link from another blog post that you've written about, back to your own post on your own blog - so that people viewing that other blog post will see an extract from your post (or whatever else you want to say about your own post) on the other blog, plus a link from there to your post.

This is a form of "remote commenting" - you're commenting on another person's blog, but instead of doing that on their blog, you do it by making a post on your own blog, and using trackback to let them (and anyone else reading their blog) know that you've commented on it, so that they can check out what you said if they want to. Trackback seems especially useful if the other blog is more popular than yours!

(For more on trackback see e.g.Movable Type's explanation or Wikipedia's - this is digressing but it's a pity the "content aggregation" use for trackback never seems to have taken off, though it seems things like Technorati tag pages are starting to serve the same function. Whether trackback as it's commonly used now works generally, and who it benefits, is a whole different debate...).

Why Haloscan?

Originally I used only Haloscan's commenting system, because at the time:
  • Blogger's system only allowed other Blogger members to comment - I felt that was way too restrictive, I'd like anyone to be able to comment even if they're not on Blogger
  • Blogger didn't provide a popup window for comments (I prefer popups for comments - you can more easily refer to the original post while viewing other comments or writing your own comments)
  • I wanted trackback, and Haloscan's was the service suggested by Blogger, so their commenting system was a bonus - plus it was free (ad-supported), and I hadn't a clue back then how to install only trackback from Haloscan without installing their comments system too (their clever auto-install service had automatically set up both).

Why Blogger? Haloscan cons, Blogger pros

I decided to change back to Blogger for commenting because:
  • Haloscan comments vanish after 4 months unless you upgrade to their premium (paid for) service; Blogger's remains free and permanent
  • with Haloscan it's hard to identify which post a comment relates to, as all comments are displayed for all posts on the same page, with newest comments on top and cryptic post IDs rather than post titles [Edit: I've since figured out an easy way to identify the blog post from the ID, at least on Blogger, using just a form or a favelet/bookmarklet - see this post]
  • Blogger have since improved their commenting system to allow anyone to comment, even anonymously, and introduced a popup option (yet on your item pages/post pages all comments are automatically displayed at the bottom of the page without the reader having to click anything, which is to me the best combination)
  • Blogger can notify you by email when a new comment has been added and which post it relates to, as long as you switch on that option via dashboard settings, comments, comment notification address (with Haloscan you must keep logging in to check your Manage Comments page)
  • lately Haloscan servers have been erratic and their comments (and trackback links) sometimes haven't appeared on my pages at all, or have considerably slowed down the loading of my blog, which may put visitors off (yes, I know Blogger has been problematic too, but if their servers are slow or up the spout my blog is stuffed anyway, regardless of what commenting system I use - I just didn't want Haloscan to cause difficulties at times when Blogger happens to be working fine)
  • the Haloscan problems have extended to my accessing my comments page, trackback page, settings etc too.

Haloscan pros, Blogger cons

But there are things you can do on Haloscan which you can't on Blogger:
  • you can edit all comments (text and date), not just delete your own, and ban comments from particular IP addresses [Edited 9 July 2005:] You can in fact edit all comments on Blogger, thanks to a hidden feature discovered by Truckspy - see this post
  • you can get comments via an RSS feed (not obvious, but the feed info is in the RSS icon at the bottom of your "Manage Comments" page)
  • it's easier to control some aspects e.g. "1 comment" (singular), "3 comments" etc and there are free templates for your comment popup window to choose from
  • backing up comments is easy - just "Save as" each comment page regularly (I've no clue how you backup Blogger comments, though the emails you can get, see below, are obviously a form of backup)
  • you can view recent comments quickly, even if they're on old posts - with Blogger you'd have to check out each post (the email notifications you can get of new comments (to the address set via Blogger dashboard settings, Comments, comment notification address) doesn't always work, from what I've heard, though they've worked for me so far)
  • they're introducing beta features like moderation of comments, and "gravatars" (profile pics basically).
But in the end the combination of factors I mentioned above, particularly the imminent loss of old comments, made me decide to switch back to Blogger. It's a shame that Haloscan don't feel the ad funding is enough to support the free service beyond 4 months, but hey they have to make a living.


I'll keep Haloscan trackback because it's free indefinitely (at least for now), according to Jeevan of Haloscan, and Blogger don't offer a trackback service. There are free services out there (e.g. Forret) which let you send a trackback ping to someone else's blog (i.e. comment on their blog and get a link from their post back to your blog). But they won't allow the converse, i.e. someone else sending a trackback ping to your blog, and I think it's only fair that it should work both ways and that I should allow others to do that if they wish by trackback-enabling my blog, using Haloscan. (I'm also going to enable trackback auto-detection, which is now included with Haloscan's auto-install feature - too late for me! - though I haven't got to that yet.)

Transitional phase

I'm also still keeping Haloscan comments for a while, as you can see at the bottom of my posts, in order to display old comments (at least until I have a chance to copy/paste the old comments into Blogger's commenting system - I get few comments on my blog unlike many other blogs, so it shouldn't take too long, but the earliest comments date from Jan so I haven't much time left to transfer those!).

You can view source to see what I did, but if anyone would like a narrative explanation of how I changed my template and which bits of Blogger/Haloscan commenting or trackback code do what, just post a comment to that effect (using the Blogger system of course) and I'll see if I can get to it.

[Added 15 May 2005:] I've now added a tutorial post that explains which bits of the Haloscan code are for trackback and commenting, so you can just include the service you want - plus how to use another free trackback tool.

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Unknown said...

I too am planning to keep Blogger Comments and Haloscan's Trackback. As you mention, can you give me a narrative explanation of how you changed your template and which bits of Blogger/Haloscan commenting or trackback code do what? Thanks.

Improbulus said...

OK satishtalim, I will - can't get to it just yet, but hopefully in the next week or so.

Anonymous said...

TB is / was a good idea, but also a conduit for abuse, ive had over 1000 TB pings to boost other peoples /porn/pills/casino grrr. Today my TB’s are invisible incoming, visible sending. I very rarely use it, but can see how it would be useful to many. Im surprised [B] don’t have one, version X may though.

Halo use to be very good smooth and reliable, like Blogrolling it’s gone down the pan steady since around nov 04. failing to load can blow your site, forgetting comments, even confusing other peoples databases. If it were an open project these bugs could be flushed. /there has to be a better way/ - someone will write one.

Sending you an important email that needs attention in 24hrs just let me know you got it!

Improbulus said...

That's interesting Tab. I've hardly had any trackback pings, myself. What a pain that sounds.

Yes, there are many things one might want with Blogger, maybe one day...

I completely agree about the failing to load blowing my site, that's a major reason why I'm transitioning away from Haloscan. An open source project for a TB/commenting system would be great, let's hope someone does it!

And yes I think I got that email, thanks very much.

Smack said...

Yes yes, blogger comments + haloscan trackback. Thats the solution. Would you go ahead and post your code edits for us when you get a chance?

I'm going to go hack my template myself, but I am absolutely sure that if we solve this, it will be useful to post the solutions somewhere.

Halo comments are fine, my problem with them is the pop-up or no-pop up solutions are both poor compared with bloggers in-line system.

Thanks, and I'll Trackback :)

Alvin said...

oh man! i am confused!
so if i want to make an entry in my blog and tracback from another blog, how do i do it?

Improbulus said...

Thanks for the trackback Smack.

Alvin, I'll have a go at doing a step by step howto on that at some point, though not for a little while!

Elmer said...

since i used haloscan my comment generation increased..but for the last 2 days i keep having an error page when i'm visiting haloscan site. what's the problem with them.

Also if i'm going to transfer back to blogger do i do it...i'm not an html savvy, kindly help. thankz

Improbulus said...

Hi E Akino, thanks for your comment. Basically you turn on comments in Blogger and off in Haloscan (see my tutorial post on how). You should also be warned that you'll lose all your Haloscan comments if you switch to Blogger.