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Leaving Comments On BBC Blogs

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Jem Stone Jem Stone | 12:01 UK time, Monday, 25 February 2008

A year ago, I wrote a long post for PM blog users asking for patience with leaving a comment across our network of blogs.

I also, rather optimistically as it turned out, revealed that:

There are technical improvements in the pipeline over the next few months which should make commenting on all blogs quicker and more reliable.

pm_blog_comments.pngClearly, this hasn't come to pass. Apologies. Although thousands of you are still managing to accomplish what should be a relatively simple task and leaving comments across our network of 40 blogs every week and many more are increasingly quoting, linking and referring to BBC bloggers on your own sites or in non-BBC forums, we are fully aware that the user experience for leaving a simple text comment is still less than satisfactory. Timeouts are a regular occurrence, as are unfriendly error messages leading many users to give up.

Paul Canning's blog post is just one of the many pieces of feedback we have received about this issue. I left a comment apologising but thought it worthwhile sharing that with everyone here. So first of all: sorry. This has, for all sorts of reasons, taken far longer than I expected.

Thankfully, I actually have some progress to report. Over the last few weeks, we've trialled a new system for leaving comments (you can see it in action on the PM blog) and feedback from users has been very positive. We are hoping to introduce this across the rest of the network in early April, with a complete change to look and feel and a host of new features following a couple of months later.

I'll keep you updated here with progress. Obviously I'd understand if you took that pledge with a pinch of salt.

Jem Stone is an executive producer in FM&T's social media group

Comments

  1. At 06:12 PM on 25 Feb 2008, An 800lb Gorilla In The Room wrote:

    Honest question - why are you reinventing the wheel to begin with?

    Is there any particular reason why the BBC seems institutionally biased against using existing proven open source solutions?

  2. At 06:14 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Kenneth Tipper wrote:

    Usually, my comments have been published and I have to tell you that I am having lots of fun blogging Auntie Beeb writers. However, I have sent two blogs to the sports editor and have had no luck. I even sent him a blog asking why but I can't find an answer anywhere. I am a Brummie who has lived in Florida for 50 years so this medium affords me a connection with my homeland. Good luck with overcoming problems.

  3. At 10:18 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Charlie wrote:

    What's wrong with wordpress?

  4. At 09:39 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    Well it's worth noting that Movable Type's currently being used. If MT's struggling, wouldn't Wordpress too?

  5. At 11:21 AM on 26 Feb 2008, paul canning wrote:

    Hi Jem

    thanks for this. Your response is much appreciated.

    Just to clarify, my point was about customer interaction, not simply a moan about tech issues which everyone experiences.

    Changing your '502' error message and at least considering being blunt on the blogs about possible comment failures so customers don't 'feel' misled. Having Help which addresses customer issues like commenting failure too.

    My experience with sites is that people will cope with tech problems if the messaging is right but absolutely hate it when problems aren't explained. This is why I point to things like Comedy Central's 404 which manages to make 'site down' sound like 'site improvements underway for YOU'.

  6. At 12:12 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Alan Connor (BBC Internet Blog) wrote:

    NB: Andrew Bowden has, as well as commenting here, written at greater length on his own blog.

  7. At 02:19 PM on 26 Feb 2008, An 800lb Gorilla In The Room wrote:

    Nothing wrong with WP, or MT. Check the link given to the PM blog - DNA is a whole 'nother animal.

  8. At 04:16 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    There's nothing wrong with Movable Type for most sites - I use MTOS myself. But there are, alas, very clear and obvious issues with the current BBC Blogs Movable Type installation, in that it's not working very well for comments!

  9. At 05:17 PM on 26 Feb 2008, stuart wrote:

    I think I usually give up on about 50% of all comments made to the blogs here, so it is definitely needed.

    On a slightly different topic - is there any plan for the BBCs websites to use up more than half the page on modern monitors?

    (second attempt 502ed first time)

  10. At 08:05 PM on 26 Feb 2008, munzy wrote:

    Hi Stuart, maybe the BBC are hinting that we should be browsing multiple pages/sites simultaneously to get a more well rounded view of the world :)


  11. At 10:50 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Abdelilah Boukili wrote:

    Hi Jem,
    I hope these technical problems which have lasted more than they should will be resolved without incurring new ones. As a regular contributor to BBC WHYS, I had the experience of not having my comments through. Now as you now, there an alternative ( temporary) blog http://worldhaveyoursay.wordpress.com/.
    I hope in April it will be sorted out once for all.

    Regards.

  12. At 12:09 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Bob Goodall wrote:

    Dear Mr Stone and the BBC blog team

    I think you are doing a great job, its a great opportunity to express our opinions, thank you for this, problems need to be seen in the context of what you are achieving here, no progress worth making has every come without problems to be overcome. If something was achieved without overcoming hurdles, it might suggest people are not being ambitious enough?

    so many thanks for this, keep pushing the envelope! no criticisms at all from me

    best wishes
    Bob

  13. At 09:53 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Bryan wrote:

    Is there any way of telling whether a comment didn't get through because of technical difficulties or simply because the BBC cens...err moderator didn't like the comment?

    And is there a reason why Have Your Say is quite simple to comment on (comments go through OK though they may not be published due to a flood of comments or because the moderator doesn't like the political content) while The Editors blog is so often an exercise in frustration?

    And a related question: Does The Editors attract a smaller, less abusive and more thoughtful bunch of contributors than Have Your Say or is it simply the case that the technical problems only allow a small percentage of comments through?

    Often I will try to comment here and the comment will "hang" for ages before the error message appears. This often happens around weekends when your blog appears to go into hibernation for three or four days. conversely, comments that go through with no problem often don't appear on the site.

    And what about the point others have raised regarding letting people know directly about the difficulties when they post their comments?

    You guys are in the communication business. Don't you think it's
    about time you started to act like it?

  14. At 01:36 PM on 29 Feb 2008, Aaron Scullion (BBC) wrote:

    Hi all,

    Thanks for the responses to Jem's post. I'm one of the people working with Jem on this project.

    To answer some of your queries

    Charlie (3) - The BBC's been using the MT platform for two years now, and a decision has been made to continue to do so. It's important to note that the current technical problems are not fundamentally due to the choice of software platform - rather due to problems with our implementation of it (as Andrew says in comment 8).

    Paul (5) - Your point about customer interaction is well taken. The problem is that with the way the system is set up, making changes to the interface across the current platform is a labour-intensive job. That said, we're going to make some changes to flag these problems up to users over the next couple of days (Jem's post being the first step).

    Stuart (9) - You may have seen the new BBC homepage, which is designed to take advantage of the changing nature of people's screen. Later this year BBC blogs will be moving in a similar direction.

    Bryan (13) - Currently, there's not much transparency about how we moderation comments on BBC blogs. In future, after we finish our upgrades, you'll have access to the same level of information about the decisions taken about your comments that you would have if you were using BBC messageboards.

    As to the difference between The Editors and the BBC's Have Your Say pages - the two sites are built on different hardware platforms, and use different software. Hence the massive difference in performance levels.

  15. At 04:16 PM on 29 Feb 2008, Danie Jones wrote:

    I'll try this one then and see if it works. I have almost given up trying to comment on BBC blogs and articles because *your* system and *mine* don't seem to communicate. Shame, as I spend much of my lunchbreak reading (and muttering about) articles on the site and would feel much better if I could actually let the writers know what I thought! You are, however, not alone, as Cambridge Evening News has a similar problem on their Cyclists' blog which I have been trying to comment on for some weeks now. Can I comment, can I...(insert descriptive of choice)

  16. At 04:50 PM on 02 Mar 2008, Ynda wrote:

    I like the opportunity to comment to the bbc - my favorite news outlet - but getting the "502 Service Not Available" almost every time I've used it this year is rather miserable.

  17. At 03:03 PM on 04 Mar 2008, Dan G wrote:

    The BBC's blogging requirements are pretty big, but not as big as what Wordpress already demonstratably copes easily with, without constantly grinding to a halt and requiring regular "firefighting".

    It seems to come down to that, when the BBC wanted a blogging platform, it wanted to pay for one rather than use a free one. "If it's free it must be bad, right? Or they'd be charging for it? And if something costs a lot of money, it must be good..."

    Today I'm sure everyone at the BBC realises that that was wrong, but for some reason don't want to bite the bullet and move over to Wordpress.

  18. At 08:51 PM on 13 Mar 2008, Dominic wrote:

    submitting a comment on a web form with 4 fields on it is something that you can learn on the 1st day of a web course.

  19. At 11:43 AM on 14 Mar 2008, Robb wrote:

    Use PHP, CGI can be glitchy

  20. At 06:40 PM on 14 Mar 2008, Mark wrote:

    Just tried posting a comment to a blog today and it continually times out. Rubbish.

  21. At 11:06 PM on 14 Mar 2008, Kevin Brown wrote:

    Me too.

    Just got the '502' error too, whatever that means!

    Screenshot here

    Kevin

    PS, In spite of technicals, the BBC blogs are a good thing, thank you.

  22. At 01:19 PM on 16 Mar 2008, John Watts wrote:

    Thank you for the update, explanation, and efforts to improve the system.

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who's experienced some problems. I had started to wonder if it was me or my system.

  23. At 10:43 PM on 18 Mar 2008, tom wrote:

    I've never had a single comment actually WORK on a bbc blog. Thats out of a dozen or so attempts from several different PCs over 6 months. I doubt this will work either.

    New BBC home page is cool, but still only takes up half of my screen.

  24. At 04:12 PM on 21 Mar 2008, Len Burch wrote:

    I too cannot get the normal BBC comments to work

  25. At 09:31 PM on 21 Mar 2008, Wes wrote:

    But I don't understand what makes leaving comments so hard. Isn't it a very simple design issue or maybe the BBC are trying too hard on a very simple thing.

    Without knowing too much about the code behind the post button I think there is a very complex solution there for a very simple thing.

  26. At 04:37 PM on 25 Mar 2008, Edwin Cruden wrote:

    Licence-payers' money pays for these systems. The fact they don't work is an embarrassment. #13 put it perfectly...you guys are in the communication business...

    Oh...what a surprise...it didn't work!

  27. At 12:47 PM on 27 Mar 2008, RP wrote:

    I'm posting a comment here, though I fully expect it not to work, to vent my frustation at trying to post comments on any BBC blog.

    I've pretty much given up on trying because every time I post a comment, nothing happens except for an excruiatingly slow blue loading bar at the bottom which I would expect eventually gets to a Timeout screen except I never get that far because I just close it down instead.

    If the comment going through after 10mins I don't think its going to at all! Please sort it out BBC!

  28. At 05:08 PM on 27 Mar 2008, Jem Stone (BBC) wrote:

    Thanks again for everyone's patience. We're now looking at implementing our upgrade in around 10 days time. We're still receiving and publishing tens of thousands of comments a week but i really do appreciate and apologise for the continued poor service.

    It won't be much longer.

    Jem (BBC)

  29. At 02:57 AM on 28 Mar 2008, Peter Jones wrote:

    I have just tried posting on Nick Robinsons blog(yet again)with no success (yet again).I also note that in at least one of the columns that the same post is repeated twice(and on two occasions to boot).I'm thinking 'is there any point'?I think not.I'm going to try and send this now,let's see what happens.

  30. At 09:20 AM on 29 Mar 2008, John Russell wrote:

    Keep punching Jem, Aaron and colleagues. You can do it gang. Just don't let the re-launch be like Terminal 5. But you'll never make it into Govt. lads- you accept resonsibility, communicate with your constituency, and then do something about the problem.

  31. At 12:54 PM on 30 Mar 2008, Andrew wrote:

    I have to agree with John Russell. Well done for admitting a problem and dealing with it.

  32. At 01:14 PM on 31 Mar 2008, Nicomo wrote:

    As an ex-pat working in Europe I find it annoying that none of my posts to any of the blogs are posted - most of the time the webpage freezes up.

    Theres no guarantee that this post will get through. Though I do get to Have my say on the HYS forums - I'm just a bit confused with the inability to comment on blogs :(

  33. At 09:35 PM on 01 Apr 2008, Taavi wrote:

    Yeah, right... tried to leave comment from both IE and Firefox, no luck... either timeout or:

    502
    Service not available.

    Unfortunately a server error occured whilst trying to retrieve this page:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/cgi-perl/mt/mt-comments.cgi
    We are currently working to correct this
    Please try the following options instead:
    Search bbc.co.uk

    * Return to the bbc.co.uk Home Page
    * Use our site index
    * If you still encounter problems then please try the help section.

  34. At 01:45 PM on 02 Apr 2008, K Edwards wrote:

    Argh! 502!!

    Now my least favourite number, surpassing 404, and even, from a pre-Internet time, 13 and 666.

    PS to the Blog Moderators: If you notice repeated posts, please remove the duplicates. Clearly, they are the result of those wretched 502 messages admonishing us to try again.

    And now I brace myself for yet another rash of 502s...

  35. At 06:59 PM on 02 Apr 2008, Timon of Bath. wrote:

    I haven't watched any TV for 4 years and 3 months, but I pay my licence and the only thing I DO ever ask of the BBC is that they stop doodling with their/my news website. All that white space is a waste of our electricity! It's so irresponsible. The new font looks like gyrating ants and the page doesn't fit my damned picture.

    It's much harder to find the Complaints (aka Contact Us) page from the new design. That isn't to discourage people from proferring corrections, is it?

    I intensely dislike the AWFUL new layout. Please tell me, as a matter of
    some urgency, when it will go back to Normal.

    I've threatened to destroy myself over these sort of changes before and I mean it.

  36. At 11:45 AM on 03 Apr 2008, John Russell wrote:

    Jem, Aaron and colleagues. Whisper it lads but I think you might have cracked it. Nice job. I may just be able to put my censorship-paranoia a little nearer the back burner at this rate.

  37. At 07:17 PM on 04 Apr 2008, enjoyicecoldcesc wrote:

    I am sick of not being able to post comments. It is the one thing i really hate about the bbc site. Even writing this, I think, whats the point as it will probably not even work. And yet I never have this problem anywhere else! Granted the bbc is a site that gets a lot of traffic, but even more reason why they should sort it out. It's one of the basics!

  38. At 01:00 AM on 05 Apr 2008, John Braddock wrote:

    This is a test !!!!!

    I gave up commenting on any of the blogs several months ago because those damnable '502's refused to forward any of my deeply intellectual musings . So I vented my spleen on Have Your Say - only to find the choice of topics there rather limited - which makes me want to fulminate yet again.

  39. At 01:06 AM on 05 Apr 2008, John Braddock wrote:

    My last comment 502'ed its just like before

  40. At 10:18 PM on 06 Apr 2008, Josh Smith wrote:

    Ooohhh... It's the tenth day since Jem promised change. Will we wake up tomorrow to see shiny new BBC blogs?
    *crosses fingers*

  41. At 09:24 AM on 07 Apr 2008, Mistydiva wrote:

    Re the gorilla in the room.. A few cyberpals I have made on a couple of messageboards I have used talked oft about this phrase.

    I think the hairy ape might have been me, or else I went head to head with said gorilla.. I dunno. I got nothing against gorillas, meself. The animals, that is...

    David and Goliath or summat *smirks*

  42. At 12:04 PM on 07 Apr 2008, Jem Stone (BBC) wrote:

    well we are very nearly ready but its going to be beginning of next week now!

    Few minor delays porting over old blogs into new database/system. i will do a full blog post explaining this release (and our future release plans) when we're absolutely ready.
    Thanks for bearing with us.

  43. At 04:00 PM on 08 Apr 2008, Phil wrote:

    This system is bloody hopeless. This must be about the 10th time I've tried to post a comment to a blog. Nothing ever seems to get through.

    I don't agree with the person who congratulated the BBC team on their efforts to fix this stuff. It's simple stuff that a fresh graduate ought to be able to do in his spare time not major technology. Why not spend some licence money on professional IT staff rather than the incompetents that seem to inhabit the place currently?

  44. At 12:55 AM on 09 Apr 2008, tom wrote:

    I finally had a comment work today. I must have tried at least 12 times over the last 6 months to post on various blogs, and I've always got a timeout and an error.

    I'm mostly posting this to test if its really better, or if that was just my lucky 1/12.

  45. At 11:55 PM on 09 Apr 2008, Jenny wrote:

    So there I was, trying to post a comment to the Newsnight blog and getting the 502 Error every time, when I saw the link to here. I'd being trying 12 hours, leaving a couple of hours between attempts to see if the comment had actually got through and been put up. But then I read here what seemed like a clear indication that 502 meant it had not got through. So I went back and tried again and again until, at last, the proper response appeared. Great. Only four hours later I check the blog and find the moderators have put up my comment three times in a row, with timings minutes apart, making me look a newbie idiot who doesn't understand there's always a moderation delay. Is this a game, or has no one told them about this 502 problem? Why is there not accurate information about it for everyone to see? What the heck are they moderating if it isn't the simplest housekeeping task of keeping the comments clear of a succession of duplicate postings when the system misleads those trying to comment?

    Oh, and I see ranking spammers are taking advantage of the fault too. Somehow they can get around it, but reporting them doesn't. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2006/04/who_really_bought_those_modern.html#c7585183, listed currently as "being discussed now", and the page the "sender" has linked as their home page.

    Lets see how this comment does. This is my fourth try, after three 502s.

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