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New at SH: Comments and social media sharing!

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Short version: each piece published at Strange Horizons now provides a way to post comments right there on the page, and everything except reviews and blog entries now provides buttons to let you Like or +1 or tweet about it. Go check it out!


Longer version:

For the past seven years or so, Strange Horizons has had a forum system where readers could, in theory, post comments and discuss the material we publish.

The forum was a replacement for an older system that was basically just one long text file that people could add comments to through a web form. We heard a lot of grumbling about that original system, so we replaced it in 2004 with a spiffy full-featured ubbthreads forum system.

But the ubbthreads forum was never used much, and in the past couple of years it's been hit hard by comment spam. We set up a registration-moderation system whereby new members had to be approved, but that didn't stop spam, just cut it way down; and it meant that I had to manually scan a list of a couple hundred potential new members every week and make fairly arbitrary decisions about which ones to approve and which to reject. I was troubled by the arbitrariness, but consoled myself by reminding myself that it was almost certain that over 99% of the signups were spambots.

Still, it was an extremely imperfect system, and it required too much of my time for too little value. And almost nobody ever posted comments anyway, and we heard a lot of grumbling about various aspects of the system.

It was decided a while back that when we launch the magazine's redesign, in a few months, we would switch to adding comments directly on each page, much the way blogs handle things. The Reviews department has had a fair bit of success with that model; they're the only department that's consistently gotten comments and discussion in recent years. That may have more to do with the nature of reviews than with the department's commenting system; still, it would be hard for a system to get much less use than our forum, so changing approaches seems unlikely to hurt.

(It's been pointed out that one advantage to both of our older commenting systems is cross-fertilization; in theory, a reader could go to look at comments for one story, and see interesting comments for another piece, and go check that out. But in practice, there've always been so few comments that I don't think there's much likelihood of that happening. In theory, a forum system also allows for discussion of things other than the material posted; various websites have thriving forums that talk about all sorts of stuff. But again, in practice this almost never happened in our forum.)

So some of us were discussing all this a couple weeks ago, and our new webmaster Shane said, more or less, “Hey, I could make you a comment system; it would be easy.” And we said “Cool!” and he did it. And now it's live.

And while we were planning that, we also figured it couldn't hurt to set up social-media sharing buttons. I think there was already a plan to do that for the redesign, but we decided to go ahead and set it up now rather than waiting.

So if you like something that we publish at SH, please let people know. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, under the author bio, and you'll find a Facebook Like button, a Tweet button, a Tumblr button, a StumbleUpon button, a Reddit button, and a Google +1 button. Some of them just do the equivalent of a Like, others let you post a comment to the relevant service along with a link. Try 'em out!

The social-media buttons and in-page comments are currently available only for new material, but we'll be adding them to old material when the redesign goes live.

Oh, and while I'm here I should mention that we've closed the forum to new member signups. Existing members can still post there, but we're no longer creating new threads for new material. When the redesign goes live, we'll be shutting down the forum entirely.

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