Comments Since Last Visit, Reloaded, Augmented, Installed, In Two Steps

Last week at the Developing Ordinary Times (sub-)blog, I introduced a set of more advanced “new since last visit” functions that I’m in the process of turning into a WordPress “plugin.” Some feedback from a handful of interested users and some further testing led me to add a few more features, and eventually to re-work and rationalize the code and underlying approach, whose initial outlines I had borrowed from developer John Parris.

With discussion there having run its course, and with some substantial additional work having been finished, this slow Sunday with football on seems as good a time as any to try it out. To make the transition easier, I’m installing it in two steps, leaving the old new new comments since last visit formatting and headings in place while the new new comments since last visit gathers the info it needs to work.

Using Comments Since Last Visit Reloaded (CSLVR)

For those of you not engaging with the site during the transition, the first thing you may notice may be what’s not there: Leftover new comment formatting from the prior regime. You’ll be starting with a clean slate, and won’t see anything at all until you’ve visited a thread at least once, and there’s at least one new comment to highlight.

At that point, I think most of you will be able just to dive in, but, if you’re not so sure about it, here’s a quick video demonstration of what CSLVR does – or of what you can do with it:

Using WP Comments Since Last Visit, Reloaded

In words:

1. CSLVR highlights comments new since your last visit on a per-thread basis, and preserves highlighting for the duration of a session, currently set at 15 minutes. In other words, after you have visited a post for the first time, comments made after that point will show up as “new” on your next return visit. They will remain highlighted for 15 minutes whether or not you add a comment of your own or browse to another post.1

2. You get a button for skipping directly to new comments and, through use of a “Go to Next Clicker” that appears next to each new comment, scrolling quickly through new comments separately. When you reach the end of a long comment list, the GTN Clicker will take you back to the top of the comments section (in most cases: the functions can be sensitive to environment). The GTN Clicker will be available immediately, the GTN button will appear in phase 2 of the transition.

3. Another button will give you the option to Show New Comments Only (again, for the particular thread only):

4. A third button, which will appear on the Show New Only display, will let you Sort the list of new comments either Newest to Oldest or Oldest to Newest.

5. If you click on any link within the Show New Only display, it will open a new browser tab or window, leaving the new comments list intact in the prior tab or window. (There’s a bit of a mysterious transition in the demo video where I click offscreen from the new window back to the old one.)

6. CSLVR also includes a bit of responsive formatting for small screens. For example, the GTN Clicker shifts to the left, while its container quadruples in size and goes dark without hover, to make it easier to find and click:

cslvr_new_comment_mobileNOTE: Not all mobile browsers will be optimized for all CSLVR features: You may get confusing execution lags and other unexpected behaviors – please let me know if you encounter any, and please provide device/browser info along with precise descriptions if you want me to see about improving your results!

7. You will be able to re-start the thread-session at any time by clicking a Mark All Read button that appears at the far right and bottom of the regular and show-only threads.

About The Cookies

The application relies on setting three cookies in your browser, so, in addition to being thread-specific, it will also be browser-specific. That means that, if you like to switch between browsers and devices, then what’s new or old for you on Firefox/Windows may not be on Chrome/Android and so on.

As for the cookies themselves, they shouldn’t add any appreciable burden to your browser. In addition to being quite compact, the CSLVR cookies all have relatively near-term expiration dates. The session cookies are set to expire after 15 minutes (the session length), and the two cookies that define last visits are currently set to expire after 30 days. Though all of the cookies will be frequently updated, each new cookie of the same type replaces an old one. So, if you visit the thread once, you get 3 small cookies, of which 2 persist, but, no matter how many times you visit again, you still will have only 3 cookies at most per visited thread. If you visit 30 different threads once each over the course of 30 days, you’ll have the same amount of cookie in your browser as if you visit 30 different threads 30 times each over the same period.2 If you’re like many internet users, your Google and Amazon cookies alone may take up more total space – among likely hundreds of other cookies collected within your favorite browser.

I’ll leave the cookie discussion here, as I’m not sure how well-understood cookies are to the average internet user or how much even the typical above average user wants to know about them. It may be enough for you to know that many websites depend on them in different ways, as do users for many conveniences – like being “remembered” by a site. On the other hand, though your cookie assortment may not say as much about your virtual travels as your “history,” it will still reveal a lot about where you’ve been. If where you go – yes, that certain Tumblr site you clicked to that day… – is not something you’re comfortable with anyone who’s interested finding out, you might want to consider looking into the matter further.

Implementation

Big thanks, again, to all who helped, and especially to OGs nevermoor and Vikram Bath, who provided invaluable suggestions all along. Any defects in what I’ve done with some of their suggestions, however, or any problems that may arise with the proto-plugin in this first broad implementation, will be entirely my fault.

In the last connection I hope you all like Comments Since Last Visit Reloaded, or that the general liking of it clearly outweighs whatever hating of it, but I will be surprised if there aren’t still some hinks to work out and improvements to be made. For my own part, I’m still curious about how well it will handle very long and complex threads, since making them easier to keep up with is a main reason for creating the plugin in the first place. It may be that a bit of real in-the-field testing will reveal severe problems and require de-activation: I’ve tried to simulate “real blogging life” both off-line and at Developing…, but at some point with these things you just have to see how your logic handles the slings and arrows of outrageous browsing.

  1. The previous version defined “visit” somewhat more vaguely and for some users confusingly, combining both site-wide and per-thread information. []
  2. If you use Chrome, or Firefox with the Firebug add-on, you can right-click and choose Inspect Element anywhere in the page, then check Resources/Cookies or the Cookies tab, respectively, to see the timestamp magic happen. While you’re there, feel free to delete any old stale cookies you see, though, if you don’t, they’ll expire on their own in due time. []
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50 thoughts on “Comments Since Last Visit, Reloaded, Augmented, Installed, In Two Steps

    • Recognizing I’m probably way too invested at this point, a few thoughts:

      1. The clickable buttons are showing a thin rectangle instead of an arrow. Maybe an invalid character reference?

      2. It’s not clear to me exactly how the buttons work. What I expected was that the button at any particular comment would point at the subsequent unread comment. I’m getting different behavior:

      Assume 10 unread nested comments. If I have 1-3 on the screen, and click the button next to #3, it scrolls from 1 to 2. If I instead scroll down so that 4-6 are on the screen, and click the button next to #6, it seems to scroll to #5 (i.e. “next after top of screen” logic). I think my expected behavior would be more intuitive and functional, but you’re the designer.

      3. It appears that the last button points to the top of the comment thread. Might prefer the first NSLV comment, but there is (of course) a button right there so we are only talking an extra click.

      4. The only UI issue I see with putting a button at the bottom right of a comment (especially with the functionality in #2) is that it breaks focus when reading. This might be because I’m used to scrolling through threads with a keypress, but I find myself pulled away from text to find the button I need to click when jumping to the next group of NSLV comments. I’m not sure what the solution is (other than parallel shortcut keys),

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      • Thanks for the feedback, and please don’t apologize for taking an interest: You’re the only one who has.

        1. Are you able to provide a screenshot? Also, what browser/os?

        2. Again, knowing browser/OS combo would be helpful, also if you view the threads at some unusual magnification level. In general, clicking the button should take you to the comment with the next one. With long comments or in other ways oddly vertically situated comments, it might take you a second click, or an extra scroll, to get to the clicker.

        I haven’t noticed the behavior you found about being on 3, and going to 1 or 2. If you could point me in addition the specific thread where you encountered that sequence, that might also be helpful.

        3. I found from my own experience that going to the top of the comment thread to resume the cycle was more convenient, since at that point I might very well want to show only new or refresh as start the cycle again with the first new comment.

        4. Noted. But I think you’re right about your being used to having a keypress alternative.

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        • 2: normal magnification (Windows/Chrome) Was playing around with buttons in this thread. Maybe it’s an interplay issue with your comment snaking, as I happened to be looking at reverse-nested comments at the time I wrote that, but if I have the screen centered on North’s “I’m gonna check it out!” with the comment from Glyph above entirely in-screen (and both unread), clicking the button next to North’s comment scrolls to the top of that comment rather than the next one.

          3: fair explanation.

          4: I definitely recognize there’s a limit to which your solution should cater to my unusual preferences.

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          • on #2, that sounds a little less unexpected/problematic than the earlier description.

            If you start with the GTN BUTTON up at the top, then click your way through clicker by clicker, you should ideally bring each comment in succession to the top of the screen, then reach the last one, click, and be returned to the top of the comment section.

            If you jump ahead, or start the sequence by clicker rather than by button, then it there might be a slight hitch when the code calculates its target: as an offset from the top. It will end up finding the prior clicker and scrolling to show the associated comment as “next unread.” BUT next click it should continue proceeding down the list, and, only at the last, targetless clicker, scroll back to top.

            So, if there are comments 1 through 10, and you have come to a screen showing you 4 and 5, and click 5, the code first finds the 5 clicker as the “next target,” and then should go to 6, as new next target, on next click.

            In my use, I found that kind of within “bounds of the expectable,” if you will. But clicking on 4, then 5, then getting stuck in some kind of loop that never got you to 6 and beyond – that I would find disturbing.

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            • To be clear: there was never a loop. I would just expect that no matter what my screen is showing clicking “next” at a comment will take me to the NSLV comment after that.

              People won’t just click through all the comments (in part for the UI reason I noted above) but will likely scroll through unread chunks until they need the button to jump ahead. It’s strange, under that use condition, to click the button and be jumped back up thread.

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              • Next time you run across the problem, please take a very close look at what’s happening that you find confusing. It’s hard enough to state clearly, but I think that wherever you are and whenever you click, unless you’re on the last new comment, you’ll always go down. I figured users would find that sufficiently in bounds (and just keep clicking!), but I agree it’s not toadly optimal.

                So, first I’ll replace the character code with image icons,, and then I’ll see if I can jigger the jQuery to make things smoother for out-of-sequence/midthread clickers. It may be simple, or it may require more complicated offset calculation and array counting. Either way, it may facilitate some other more advanced indications (like producing down icons when down-clicking, and an up or recycle icon when you’re on the last new comment in the list – but no promises!).

                Thanks as ever for getting down into the details on this.

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              • You know one thing I forgot to ask: I’ve already replaced the arrows character in the top button with an image icon version, but I wonder if it was showing for you while the side-clicker wasn’t.

                Will get to the side-clicker shortly. EDIT Er – later…

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                • Arrows now displaying correctly.

                  The time it goes up is when I’ve read a few comments on the screen and clicked the button next to the last of ’em. Makes the screen scroll backwards/up every time on my setup.

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      • The clickable buttons are showing a thin rectangle instead of an arrow. Maybe an invalid character reference?

        It renders properly on my screen. This does raise the philosophical question as to what makes an invalid character reference. The character code is a valid Unicode glyph; OTOH, lots of fonts fail to define the arrow glyphs. This is part of why I’ve made the Noto fonts my default — Google has committed to defining every glyph at least up through Unicode 6.2 for them. The other reason is that with some spacing tweaks, the Noto Serif font is quite attractive.

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    • Thanks for that. I’m still looking forward to the day that we get a comment thread in multiple snakeback mode: I’ve seen several reach from snake-left (pink) to snake-right (blue), but none yet from s-l to s-r and s-l again, much less full-on multiple sl’s and sr’s. Having a breakpoint (formerly max-depth) at 10 makes that harder to achieve, but I think we have it in us.

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