I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. This has been the subject of a good bit of internal discussion when we decided to use the Discourse engine, which is different than many comment engines in significant ways. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Discourse had threaded comments, but I’m not convinced that their hybrid solution is a bad one. For instance, I personally find Reddit to be bewildering once a post gets a large number of comments. The reality of most conversations is more complex than a simple threaded system allows. For instance, people frequently comment on multiple prior comments, and thus there’s no way to accurately place their comment in the thread. Also, once a post gets enough comments, following the full flow of the conversation is incredibly daunting (for me, at least, it involves tracing a bunch of lines up and down the page to make sure I’m reading the right level). This may just be my own personal inexperience with those systems, I fully admit, but I don’t think threaded systems are anywhere near perfect.
You may not be aware that Discourse actually does have tools to follow a conversation from start to finish. If you start at the first post of a conversation, look for the “[x] reply” grey button underneath. If it isn’t there, either there are no replies or the replies are immediately underneath. Just repeat that step to follow the conversation all the way down. Conversely, if you start at the most recent post, just click the button on the right that indicates which commenter the post is replying to (for instance, this post will have your picture in the right corner), and it will take you to the previous post in the conversation. Again, just repeat that step to follow the conversation all the way to the top. What makes this complicated at the moment is not the Discourse system itself but the learning curve for many of our commenters, who don’t seem to understand that they need to click “reply” next to the post they are responding to.
I’m strongly considering putting together an educational video of some sort to help new users understand all the features of Discourse, because I think a lot of the cool (and even essential) features here are underused.
The nice thing about Discourse is that I, as the admin, can move a “rabbit trail” discussion to its own page. If you think about a Discourse conversation as an actual classroom discussion, a healthy discussion involves each person drawing on all previous comments (by both teacher and fellow students), and not just engaging one person in debate in front of everyone. If I was the teacher, I would tell these students to take the discussion out of the class, and that’s essentially what I do as admin.
Again, thanks for your comments. -BK