## More comment migration stuff

Because my original import from phpBB to Disqus got botched, and the Disqus to Isso import lost a bunch of useful information, I ended up just going back to my old phpBB database and reimporting it directly into Isso. It mostly went well but there’s a few things that I need to go back and fix. This is my TODO list:

• Unescape <a href> stuff that got converted to &lt;a href&gt; (example) DONE
• Defunge the weirder bits of BBCode where e.g. [quote] turned into [quote:abcde] so it didn’t get converted to HTML (example) DONE
• Clean up some older comments where I was a lot more accepting of Problematic Things (not gonna link to any but yeah they’re there) done, I think
• If possible, reparent comments based on [quote]s (way easier said than done, I’ll probably have to do that manually)
• Update: generate a new comment secret key and fix the thread IDs, because I made an oops DONE
• Looks like when I did the reimport of phpBB stuff I accidentally removed some of the earliest Disqus-based comments (example, also) so I’ll have to do a bunch of reconciliation for that, fun fun… DONE

Also some of my earliest journal comics had comments posted via Movable Type’s comment system rather than phpBB, so I’ll want to also migrate those over (which I never got around to doing back when I was still using Movable Type to run my website); back then I just had “native” MT comments rendered in the MT template, which was Good Enough and I figured I’d get around to fixing it later. Well, it’s later. And that’s done. Even though I’m up way later than I meant to be. Oops.

Oh, and since I set up monsterid for the default avatars I feel like I should try to track down the email addresses of the folks who were posting to Disqus and fill that stuff in wherever possible.

I promise at some point I’ll get back to blogging about stuff other than the website itself.

## Proper comment privacy! Yay!

Okay, instead of trying to modify Isso to support thread IDs that are separate from page URIs, I ended up leveraging the way that Publ request routing works and just made all thread IDs consist of a /<signature>/<entry_id> path, where <signature> is computed from an HMAC signature on the entry ID and a secret key. So, now the thread ID is only visible to people who have access to the entry in the first place (as long as my signing key never leaks), and the fact that Isso only uses the thread ID when generating a reply email link isn’t a problem.

So, for example, this entry has an entry ID of 4678, and the generated thread ID is (for example) /890824f4d450d4ac/4678, so when someone gets a reply notification the email will say something like:

such-and-such <foo@bar.baz> wrote:

Good point!

which will then redirect back here.

It’s not ideal, of course, but it works well enough.

Of course, to do this I had to migrate all of my thread IDs again, but hopefully this is the last time I’ll have to do that, and it also takes care of all my legacy Movable Type-era thread IDs. It does set a bad precedent that I’ll have to migrate thread IDs more in the future if I ever change my publishing system but the fact I was able to get away with not doing that for so long is a pretty good testament to my laziness, which I ended up having to pay interest on in the future anyway. So, lesson learned.

Also, this approach is even better privacy than what I was hoping to get out of the Disqus method; as it stood before, someone on my friends list (or who saw an Auth: * entry) could have theoretically figured out the way I was determining private thread IDs and used that to explore comments on entries they don’t have access to, and also there was an issue that if I ever took a public entry private, its thread ID would remain the same as when it was public. But this way, it’s unguessable as long as my HMAC key never leaks, and if my HMAC key does leak I can just reset it and regenerate the thread IDs. (Edit from the future: Ha. Haha. Ha hahaha ha haha. Ha.)

This approach is also useful for things other than Publ; my advice to anyone who’s using Isso for comments is that instead of using the actual entry URI as the thread ID, they should have some sort of stable mechanism for forwarding an opaque thread ID to the actual entry, and use that. This just happened to be really easy to implement for Publ since Publ already supports opaque ID chasing.

## Comment integration blues

So, there’s an issue with Isso which will require a bit of refactoring/feature work on Isso, which I’d might as well try to do since I can’t be the only one who needs to decouple their thread IDs from their URLs.

Anyway, this’ll probably mean that I’ll have to redo the comment import at some point, so don’t get too attached to anything you’ve posted so far.

Update: Rather than doing the right thing for now I’ve opted to just use the shortlink as the identifier. This means that future site migrations will be more painful, and also I need to do some more work to migrate in the old comments from older entries, but I guess the idea of a single universal migration path is a bit silly anyway.

## Moving away from Disqus

So, Disqus has served me pretty well for quickly embedding comments into my website, but there are a few pretty big downsides to it:

• No support for private/hidden threads
• No way to disable random discovery of hidden threads, by design
• They’re trying to make the whole Internet into their own forum rather than providing “just” a comment system (not that anyone even uses it the way they intend)
• Their UX keeps getting more and more cumbersome and annoying

I’m going to look into alternative comment systems, ideally ones I can self-host. Isso looks promising, if a bit sparse. So does Schnack. (I’m going to try Isso first because its setup/requirements are far less onerous.)

Anyway, thanks Passerine for bringing the privacy leak issue to my attention. I figured there was probably something like that lurking in the shadows, but I didn’t think it was quite so close to the surface…

## Post privacy

I finally have private posts working in Publ. This is just a test; in particular this post should only appear to people who are not logged in, and should disappear as soon as they do.

Think of it as the sound of one hand yapping.

David Yates wrote a great defense of RSS which I completely agree with. To summarize the salient points:

• RSS is very well-supported by a lot of things
• RSS is a suitable name as shorthand for “RSS/Atom” because the name “Atom” is overloaded and basically anything that supports Atom also supports RSS and vice-versa

(Note that there’s one inaccuracy in that since that article was written, Twitter has moved over to algorithmic manipulation of the timeline. This can currently be disabled but who knows how long that’ll last?)

Most IndieWeb folks are also really gung-ho about mf2 and h-feed, and while I don’t see any reason not to support it (and it certainly does have some advantages in terms of it being easier to integrate into a system that isn’t feed-aware or convenient to set up multiple templates), I’ve run into plenty of pitfalls when it comes to actually adding mf2 markup to my own site (for example, having to deal with ambiguities with nesting stuff and dealing with below-the-fold content, not to mention a lot of confusion over things like p-summary vs. e-content), and so far there doesn’t seem to be any real advantage to doing so since everything that supports h-feed also supports RSS/Atom, as far as I’m aware.

For me the only obvious advantage to h-feed is that you can add it to one-size-fits-none templating systems like Tumblr where you don’t have any control over the provided RSS feed, but in those situations there’s not really a lot more added flexibility you’re going to get by adding h-feed markup anyway. I guess it also makes sense if you’re hand-authoring your static site, but that just means it becomes even easier to get things catastrophically wrong.

## Keeping it personal

I just read this great essay by Matthias Ott. It does a great job of summarizing the state of affairs of blogging and social media, and how we can try to escape the current orbit to get back to where the web was meant to be.

I especially like the bit about “Don’t do it like me. Do it like you.” Because that is exactly why I’ve been building Publ the way I have; I have specific goals in mind for how I manage, maintain, and organize my site, and these goals are very different than what other existing blogging and site-management software has in mind. The fact that I post so many different kinds of content and that they need different organizational structures to make sense makes this a somewhat unique problem. I’d like to think that Publ is a very general piece of web-publishing software, but it’s probably so general because I have such specific needs. Which makes for an interesting paradox, I suppose.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to see more types of web-based publishing where the schema and layout fit the content, not the other way around. But it also needs to be able to interoperate with other stuff, while still making sense from a producer-consumer UX perspective.

So hey, Publ now has a tagging system, so I’ve updated my site to show tags in a lot of places. I’m not sure if I should make some sort of tag explorer view or if it’s okay to just pivot between tags within a category listing. Insight or ideas would be most welcome.

What I want to do at some point is tag all of my comics with subject matter and characters, but that seems like a lot of work. I wonder if there’s a way to outsource that to other folks which doesn’t involve opening up my git repo to the world. Maybe I’ll build a simple tool which lets people suggest tags for entries which don’t have tags. Iunno.