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Today I had a long conversation with the World Table (TWT) people. As you know, yesterday they installed (at Patheos’ suggestion and with my consent) the prototype of their commenting plugin. In that time we’ve had some very strong opinions voiced and I was able to share these opinions today with the devs and C-suite folks. I want to touch base now with the results of that convo. First, let’s talk about the purpose of this test.

First Things First.

(Spoiler: The social media account thing is going away. Also the UI issues are already being addressed.)

This is actually just a test of a prototype. The finished product won’t look like this. Realtime use has been limited up to now and the last 24 hours have produced a shocking volume of information for them to sift through–and that’s going to accelerate development considerably. Three changes I suggested were implemented today, actually: you’ll note that there’s a line about markdown language in comment boxes to show you how to bold and whatnot (my test post looks wonky at the end because it wants a full return after using the quote symbol, not just a little line break); ratings boxes were collapsed and it’s a lot more clear that it’s not a blank post but rather a “rating event;” and the font was made a lot easier to read. That stuff happened between 5:30 my time and 7:30 my time. Other changes are a lot bigger and will take more time (which I’ll address below).

I totally fucked up. I talked about the coming change on Facebook and alluded to it on comments here, but did not fully explain what was going on in a formal post here–and I realize now that not all of you hang out on Facebook so you wouldn’t have gotten the info otherwise. If you’re angry about the sudden jump, then you are totally right to be pissed off at me. I’m sorry. All I can do is apologize and promise to do better.

You are not required to do anything with that TWT tab. Hell, if you want, just append #dq to every single URL I post online and you will automatically be directed to the Disqus tab. If you never once engage on the TWT tab during its presence here, nobody will be upset.

This software has not been in full existence for two years. It’s been a concept for about three, apparently, and was its own standalone site for a while. It was only reconceptualized as a plugin for comment sites (like Patheos) fairly recently. In terms of big projects, it’s totally on par with what I’ve seen in the past.

This is not permanent. And if I end up thinking that in the end I prefer Disqus for commenting, I’ll make that very clear and we’ll drop TWT entirely. Patheos is still considering what they want to do as well. A lot depends on what we end up thinking about it.

I did this because I wanted to have a say in how this commenting system works from the ground up. I don’t want the atheist community to miss out on an opportunity to have a say in how any new potential commenting system for Patheos works. We’ve got some unique concerns and needs going into the idea. If this is what Patheos ends up adopting, I want to be part of how it develops.

We were chosen because we’re an ideal small blog community. I’m not blowing sunshine up your asses. This is a strong, robust, active community full of very sharp, discerning, compassionate, tech-savvy people who really care about things like how we interact together.

Objections, Your Honor!

I saw a few main objections to the World Table system crop up repeatedly.

Security/privacy issues.
This is a big one–and for good reason. As non-Christians in a very Christian and increasingly polarized world (some areas and communities worse than others!), we’ve got unique security concerns that Christians simply don’t have. In a large way, simply because they are the majority still in this country, Christians have had a very big say in how everyone engages. It’s not uncommon to see a Christian whine that everyone online should be forced to share their real name, eye color, and favorite Shiraz–which of course is all to their benefit while being none to our own.

I was pleased to share those concerns with the TWT devs today–extensively. A lot of this was really eye-opening to them but in the end, I was able to make them understand why we’re so concerned–and also make them aware of what’s at stake for so many of us.

They agreed with me and with you. Finding a solution has gone from “not even on the radar screen” to being a priority. At the moment it sounds like they’re going to go with letting you use email addresses to register–like how you use Disqus right now. This is a back-end authentication thing and part of the system’s main wiring, so to speak, so it isn’t going to happen immediately–but YES, the social media thing is going away. If you want to wait till then to hang out there, that’s fine. Again, nothing’s required.

Not seeing the point of this change.
Can’t blame you. Mainly I like the moderation and back end stuff, but you have no reason to care about the moderation tools themselves, and I wouldn’t either if I didn’t have to moderate. Here’s why I think you might like this change once everything’s ironed out:

* It’s got the potential to be way easier to keep the conversation on a productive and enjoyable level; and
* It will allow the community itself to quickly and organically handle problems without having to report stuff and then wait for someone to see it and deal with it.

Maybe R2D doesn’t have a real issue with either of these at its size, but other Patheos sites do–and you can probably think of some other places elsenet that do. Think about someone who makes a huge issue of himself on, say, Godless in Dixie, gets downvoted to oblivion, and then chases one of the GiD mods over here (ahem) to yell at him some more. On this system, that won’t happen. And if someone makes a new account to come here and cause a ruckus, simple downvotes from the community will deal with him quickly enough. Someone with a very good reputation elsewhere won’t want to risk that reputation by making trouble here–because that score will follow them back home and maybe cause issues with their regular commenting haunts. Will that stifle conversation? I doubt it; we’ve always had Christians show up in our comments on Disqus and it’s always worked out fine for everyone that I can see. If it turns out it does and I’m totally wrong about everything, that is something else I’d rather find out now than if/when Patheos dumped it on all blogs on the site.

UI issues.
As commenters, after security concerns and system stability are figured out, we want to be able to make our comments look like what we’re using to making them look like. It’s frustrating to see expanded posts collapse on us or what seem like blank posts; to some extent we’d rather have a voting system that feels more organic, one that lets us speak our minds without fear of looking like we’re moving against the popular commenters. And we need it all to work smoothly and seamlessly.

If we want HTML markup language in our posts, then we’ll have it in a day or two if that’s what we want as a community–so say the word.

Image posting might be a little longer to implement but they’re aware we want it and it is happening whatever the HTML situation becomes. Comment editing as well.

The big interface concern they have at present is the freezing, the compatibility issues, and the jumpy comment box behavior–those have to get fixed before much else.

Secondary Concerns.

They’ve apologized for sounding like they’re taking up a lot of the TWT tab with Christian stuff. They will tone back that involvement.

They might reach out to some of you on Disqus to address specific concerns with the World Table only (not with religion). If they ask permission to talk to you in a comment thread, then you may either accept, decline, or ignore. They won’t pester you unless you accept.

Several folks mentioned that they are concerned with being downvoted just for not being user-cuddly, but the math kinda prevents it. Someone has to be really bad to dip too low to participate–and not a single one of you is normally ever even slightly antisocial enough to worry. The more ratings you get, the less a malcontented or insincere person is going to damage anyone with a bad vote or whatever. If you interact with folks the way you do right now here on Disqus, you won’t have trouble. Please notice that even people who have been very outspoken about not liking the current form of TWT are doing quite well on ratings over there (if anyone who got a low rating yesterday wants me to see if the score can be reset so they can try again, I will check on it). You seriously have to work to do any different. Feel free to ask about the math involved.

So. Changes are coming that I really think will address the bulk of the concerns voiced so far, and both I and the TWT team are apologizing for any mistakes in the handling of this rollout. I hope that some of y’all’s concerns have been allayed. I’ve found them extremely reasonable and hope you do as well. If not… then keep voicing your concerns. You can send feedback to me, to Patheos, or to TWT itself, or comment it below.

I pushed hard for inline images, btw. I’ve been thinking about a Caturday theme day where everyone is invited to respond only in cat pictures. The devs had never heard of Caturday, believe it or not, so maybe this is a good time to share the joy. If you decide to do that now in Disqus, please don’t post any cat by-products like barf. I’ve been crazy sick this week and it’s been bad enough tidying up after my two fluffballs while feeling so under the weather. Thanks for all your time – and thanks for traveling with me all this way. There’s a lot more to come.

You heard him.
You heard the kitty.
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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...