One feature that you will not find in Windows Live's What's New list, which shows a feed of a the activities from user's social network, is inline comments. A number of sites that provide users with activity feeds from their social network such as Facebook and Friendfeed allow comments to be made directly on news items in the feed. These comments end up showing up as part of the activity feed that are visible to anyone who can view the feed item.

When Rob and I were deciding upon the key functionality of the What's New feed for the current release of Windows Live, we voted against inline comments for two reasons.

The key reason is that we want the feed to be about what your people in your network are doing and not what people you don't know are doing or saying. However with the Facebook feed I often have lengthy threads from people I don't know in my feed taking up valuable space above the fold. For example,


In the above screenshot, I find it rather awkward that a huge chunk of my feed is being taken up by comments from people I don't know who are from Randy's network. Besides the social awkwardness it creates there is another issue with the above screenshot. Given that there is limited real estate for showing your feed it seems counter productive for it to be dominated by comments from people you don't know which are never as interesting as actual feed items.

For the second reason, let's look at a screenshot of an activity feed from FriendFeed

in the above screenshot there are 24 comments on the feed item representing Robert Scoble's blog post. These are 24 comments that could have been posted on his blog but aren't. The more sites Robert imports his blog feed into, the more it fractures and steals away the conversation from his blog post. This is in addition to the fact that there is some confusion as to where people should leave comments on his blog post. I've had people get confused about whether to respond to my posts as a comment on my blog, in Friendfeed or on Facebook and it didn't seem helpful for us to add yet another decision point to the mix.

For these reasons, we don't have inline commenting in the What's New list in Windows Live. This isn't to say this is an irreversible decision. It has been pointed out that for feed items that don't have their own comment threads (e.g. status messages) it might be useful to have inline commenting. In addition, I'm sure there are some people who believe that the benefits of inline commenting outweigh the drawbacks that we've mentioned above. I'd love to hear what users of Windows Live think about the above decision and thought process behind it. Let me know in the comments. 

PS: If you are interested in more behind the scenes looks at some of the big and small decisions around the What's New feature in Windows Live, you should read Rob Dolin's ongoing series of posts entitled Series: What New in Windows Live “What’s New” and Why.

Note Now Playing: Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy Note


Friday, December 5, 2008 1:23:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I don't know... I have a lot of fun *making* the event-contextual comments on Facebook. It feels a lot more fun than profile-contextual comments. (I think it's because I don't have to bother trying to establish event-context in what I type... it's like being able to point at a thing when talking to a friend, instead of having to describe the thing first & watch your friend get bored)

I absoutely agree w/ you about the fragmentation case, when the source of the event has its own commenting mechansim (I hope you're thinking more on how to detect that case), but you definitely need to enable contextual comments for native Windows Live events. Inline MSN Messenger to the rescue? :)

As for the *reading* issues, Your above-the-fold argument is a reason not to do it the way Facebook & Friendfeed do it, but is it not just a matter of figuring out a better way to collapse that content? The earliest/middle N/latest mechanism Friendfeed uses is pretty good, although I'm not sure why Friendfeed thinks it's necessary to show the whole text of the comment by default.
Friday, December 5, 2008 1:43:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I think commenting is great but implementation is key. Look at the Facebook iPhone app for instance. It shows you the item and next to it a number for the number of comments on it. You have to click it in order to see the comments.

The problem with Windows Live is that you have "Post Note" next to each item that reads to me as "comment on this item". Instead, it merely posted on the Live equivalent of the wall. I found this confusing.

Friday, December 5, 2008 2:25:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
@James, the Facebook iPhone app's a great example of a 3rd way to handle the fold problem. But I think the iPhone app de-values the friends and content in the conversation (it just lets you know there is one, not who or what.)

Imagine seeing 6 unknown people (maybe they are your friends, maybe some or all or are not) talking at a distance. Do you want to walk over and join them? There is defintely a better design somewhere between all of these.
Friday, December 5, 2008 5:30:30 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I think the first argument is valid, and occasionally I think it's strange to see friend-of-friend comments (BTW usually it's when the 1st-order friend isn't really a "true" friend.) But sometimes they're clever and I actually learn something new. I mean, "learn" in the context of Facebook, where every message is a useless time-waster anyway.

The second argument -- fragmentation -- is completely bogus, sorry. This has been a known problem ever since one blog let you link to another & comment on it in... (heaven forbid) .... your -own- space rather than theirs! The solution isn't to prevent out-of-band comments, it's to connect them to the original article. Trackbacks, pings, reverse-link searches, embeds, etc. have not completely solved the issue but they do about as well as you can probably expect. In fact, you even use a delicious widget on your blog that tells me there are 3 delicious "saves" of this very article so far, any of which might have comments...

Friday, December 5, 2008 6:06:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I tend to use FriendFeed comments a lot. I even tend to tweet on Friendfeed and let them show up on twitter from there so I don't have to spend so much time forcing a message to fit the twitter length. (FriendFeed automatically provides a short URL to the full text of the truncated twitter version.)

I agree that the Live Profile comment indicator is misplaced, or it needs a tool-tip that says where the comment will go -- maybe it is semantics -- should be "create a note on this ..." except not sure context is preserved. So, two problems with having the button on the item. The note doesn't have context and we don't know there isn't a comment stream on the item itself.

I would think having a collapser on items that were commented (were that supported) would be interesting.

Looking at the problem of balkanization and disconnection of comments, there is obviously a need for something more useful in that regard. The services for tracking comments across blogs and social spaces seem to be pretty lame. There is an opportunity here, especially with the nice federation mechanisms that Live is demonstrating.

As a recent example to demonstrate how giant the opportunity remains to be, I was startled to see that has accepted a commenting system that is terribly viral and not well-explained. The IntenseDebate comment service is one of the poorest-functioning aspects of the site. Working through the error messages or failing to get an OpenID to kick in are two examples in my original experience, and the service also mangles the comments themselves, has a length limit but doesn't say what it is and how close you are, etc. But most of all, when you "register" there is no clue what it is you are signing up for and there is not much assistance in puzzling it out, if all you want to do is be an identified commenter on
Friday, December 5, 2008 7:40:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare is a sharp guy and I respect his opinions but I think the issue of whether to allow inline comments or not on any given social network becomes less important with each passing day and that Dare himself has proven that fact. His post is about why Windows Live choose not to allow inline commenting. He complains that inline commenting permits comments from people he doesn’t know and/or necessarily care about. He also notes that the more sites one imports his blog feed into, the more it fractures and steals away the conversation from his blog post which in turn confuses the readers as to where to post their comments.
He then turns around and posts the entry on Friendfeed where it is open to exactly the evils from which he claims to be protecting Windows Live users. While Dare’s blog is not on Windows Live, he notes in his post that the decision to not allow inline commenting was made jointly by he and Rob Dolin whose blog is on Windows Live. Rob Dolin is also on Friendfeed ( and he has posted from his Windows Live Space to Friendfeed as well. Aren’t they as guilty of perpetuating the offenses they rail against as the rest of us?
As a potential commenter, I tend to decide where I am going to comment on an ad hoc basis and my decision isn’t limited to an either on inline commenting pristine blogs like Windows Live or on chaotic social networks such as Friendfeed. While I sometimes post to one or both, I also sometimes use the contact form on some blogs, IM, Twitter (update, replies, or direct message), and/or email. In the case of this post, I am going to post my comments to Dare’s blog and here.
Cross-posted to under Dare’s link to this post
Robert Banghart
Sunday, December 7, 2008 7:07:08 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Nice site...
Monday, December 15, 2008 4:37:47 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
@morpheus: ;-)

@Dare: I think the inline commenting is still the best way to share fun and relate to the item we are commenting on. Bloggin it away from its origin is out of it, for me.

But reading comments, and all that stuffs of friends-of-a-friend that i dont know is what makes me dislike facebook. I have receiving feeds that are not part of my business. It make social network a nonesense place that you get tired of easily.
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