Which comments are relevant?

Okay, not to pick on Buzz (which is fine for my purposes and which I’m using a little), but here’s a very basic user interaction bug that Iam seeing.  It shows up on conversation systems from to time, and I bring it up to encourage others to think this through better.

Like most online conversation systems, Buzz notifies you where there is new content in a conversation you’ve already read — that’s generally good.  (Although they really ought to make it a little more obvious how to mute a conversation you’re not interested in.)  Like many, it elides many of the old comments that you’ve already read, so you can skip quickly to the new stuff — also good.

The bug?  It elides all the old comments to the post except the first one.  That’s broken in two respects.  First of all, in an unthreaded conversational system, you virtually never give a damn about the first reply.  (You occasionally do in a threaded system, and I kind of wonder if they are mixing up the models.)  In an unthreaded system, the first reply is old news — neither the root of the conversation nor a recent reply, and more often than not irrelevant.

The second issue is that it doesn’t show you the most recent reply.  In an unthreaded system, that’s usually the one you really do care about, because it provides the context for the new replies.  Unthreaded conversations are by their nature often pretty linear, with replies to replies in order on the stack.  So quite often (I’d guess more often than not), the new reply that just came in makes little or no sense if you don’t have the one or two directly above it in the conversation.

Again, it’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t mind if Buzz was labeled as the beta that it is: this is the sort of thing you’re supposed to fix in beta.  But it’s the sort of basic user-interaction glitch that looks kind of embarrassing in a supposedly released product.

(Am I off-base here?  My perception is that this is just a design bug, but I’d be curious to see if anyone cares to argue that it’s actually appropriate…)

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