Since my feeds are now customized as part of my theme, I thought I'd take a look at some of the interesting things you can do. I knew that WordPress supports a variety of feeds at different levels (main feed, main comments feed, per-entry feed, per-category feed, etc).

What I was wondering was if there was a way to link each post in the feed to the comments feed of that story. This would allow a good feed reader to let people easily subscribe from the main feed to the conversation feed of a particular story where they have left a comment. Turns out it was fairly straightforward.

Doing a quick dig around the web turned up RFC 4685, which is an extension to the Atom format to support "threading". It's been around since 2006. Apparently there was a similar effort on the RSS side called commentsRss.

Anyway, the spec addresses much more than I need at the moment. All I want to do is, for each <entry> element, to include a link to the comments feed for that post. I do this by adding the following element inside each <entry> element in the feed:

  <link rel="replies" href="<url-of-story-here>?feed=atom">

To do this, I updated my feed-atom.php file to:

<link rel="replies" href="<?php echo the_guid() . '?feed=atom' ?>" />

Ta da. Then I thought I'd track this down in WordPress and see if there was a bug/patch. Guess what... Sam has already submitted a patch for this. Two months ago. It will be in WordPress 2.5. Weird... Cool...

But the real question is why haven't feed readers (like Google Reader) made more use of this? I think this is the biggest problem with having conversations in the blogosphere. You may subscribe to a feed that you enjoy. You may read a good story that someone publishes. You want to contribute to the discussion so you post a comment. Now if you want to keep following that story you either have to search for that story's comment feed or (more often than not) you have to continue visiting the web page to see if anyone posts a new comment. Wouldn't it be great if your feed reader provided you with a button next to that story you can click to automatically subscribe to that conversation (i.e. the comments feed for that story). After a while the conversation may dry up, upon which you can unsubscribe by unchecking a box in the UI or something.

Hey, this may already be out there and I might get laughed off the face of the blogosphere for still re-visiting web pages throughout the day. Feel free to leave your laughter below...

§434 · February 27, 2008 · Software, Technology, Web, XML · Tags: , · [Print]

1 Comment to “Feeding The Conversation”

  1. Phil says:

    Good ideas. I think I have used feeds before which have had a comments feed link at the bottom. Although I do not know if Opera put it there from some link element or because the link was in an anchor tag in the content of the feed.

    What would be nice is if the feed reader would put feeds like this as children that open from a plus sign by the main feed like a tree-view.

  2. @Phil: Exactly the kind of thing I had in mind (the + sign)

  3. Grah says:

    I have been using this kind of “logic” as a user of the my.opera community site. You can subscribe to blogs, which gives you notice of new posts. When reading those, you can “watch/subscribe” to them on an individual basis, which gives you notice of comments to that post.

    On an off-topic note… could you check your feed with Opera Nightlies and investigate what makes the scrolling break (makes the article url inaccessible)? Also, the SVG images appear huge in them here. I’m not familiar with rss/atom at all, so I have no idea if it’s a bug in Opera, how it may be solved or whatever.