I made an off-the-cuff suggestion on Hunter's Daily Kos 4.0 Suggestions Thread regarding changing the Diaries-and-Comments site structure of Daily Kos. The idea's been growing on me ever since; and I think it bears fleshing out in a separate diary.
See, the current structure of Daily Kos is like this: Each story or diary acts as a "seed"; and the comment threads for each diary conceptually form a "tree". Each diary+comments tree grows for a while, until the diary scrolls off the list. Then the discussions end; the branches die out; new diary seeds are planted, and the old, abandoned diaries and their comment trees are filed away into the near-oblivion of the archives.
But with just a few changes (detailed below), that underlying structure could be radically transformed: Instead of a series of discrete trees with limited lifespans, we could have a continuous, evolving "grapevine" of interconnected discussions. This would solve a number of persistent site complaints as a side effect; and it could be done without radically changing the site's interface or giving up any of the advantages of the current diary+comments system.
The fundamental changes that would need to be made are these:
- Eliminate the distinction between diaries and comments. All user contributions would be of the same fundamental type (call them "posts"). (They would still look like diaries or comments; see below.)
- Every post must be — in some sense — a reply to one or more existing "parent" posts. (If not otherwise specified, the parent post could default to the most recent Open Thread.)
- Each post could appear in either "Diary Mode" or "Comment Mode". The initial mode would be set by the poster, but could subsequently change depending on circumstances. Only posts in Diary Mode would appear on the Recent/Recommended list(s).
- Each post in Diary Mode would be presented like diaries appear on the current site, but with a link to its parent post(s) under the title. Beneath the post would be the replies thread, with reply posts in Comment Mode presented like comment threads currently appear. Mixed in with the Comment Mode replies, however, would be links to those replies which were themselves in Diary Mode and had their own pages.
- In some circumstances, posts could automatically switch from Comment Mode to Diary Mode or vice versa. For instance, when a replies thread gets too long, the replies with the most recommends (and/or most replies of their own) "spawn" into separate Diary Mode threads (leaving links to the spawned threads in their place). Conversely, when a Diary Mode post fails to get enough replies or recommends, it switches to Comment Mode, "folding" into the replies thread of its parent.
That's the basic idea, but there are a lot of ways this concept could be tweaked and embellished. For instance, the interface for showing parent and reply posts could be used to show offsite sources and trackbacks as well. If a post were referencing a news article or another blog, a link to that reference could be listed among the "parents" of the post. Similarly, if a blog on a different site was written in response to a Daily Kos post, that blog could send Daily Kos a trackback ping which would cause it to be listed among the links in the "replies" thread. This would provide an organic way of showing the discussion flow between Daily Kos and other sites.
Another possible variation would be to provide an alternate "post browser" interface. This interface would be "centered" on one post at a time, but would show that post's parent threads and reply threads for a few steps in each direction. Clicking on one of these other posts would "re-center" the browser, allowing the reader to move up or down the various branching threads. Since all the posts on the site would be connected in some way, a reader could browse entire site by exploring the connections between posts.
Replacing diaries and threads with a single post type would have a lot of side benefits, too:
- No thread would ever get too long.
- Diaries that ought to be open thread comments would become so automatically; comments that deserve to be diaries would also become so, with existing replies preserved intact.
- The best interface elements of comments and diaries would be available to all posts: "comments" could have polls and tags (and tags could be auto-inherited from parent posts); and "diaries" could be troll-rated when needed.
- Diary whoring would be unneccesary. Instead of creating a diary and then leaving comments referring to that diary in the threads of other relevant diaries, your post could simply reference the other relevant posts as its "parents". Links to your post would then get automatically added to their reply threads.
- When there are multiple posts on the same topic, their reply threads could be merged together by referencing both posts as parents. And in general, the ability to have cross-thread replies will tend to "de-Balkanize" the discussions.
Anyway, the more I think about this concept, the more possibilities seem to open up. What do you think?