diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 12, 2009

A quick message to everyone who uses Haloscan comments (which would be me, and a lot of your blogs, and everybody who comments here). You may not have noticed, but all Haloscan comments are about to change, or completely disappear, within the next few weeks. Steel yourself.

Haloscan is an old-school commenting system from the days when blogs didn't tend to have inbuilt commenting functionality. A few years ago it was quietly mothballed by its owners and left to stagnate, and would undoubtedly have collapsed by now had it not been snapped up by new guys JS-Kit. They have their own commenting system, Echo, and seized the opportunity to commandeer a huge customer base of global bloggers. It's taken them ages to get their act together, but this week they've finally announced that all Haloscan users are shortly to be switched over to the new system. And there's a simple choice. Pay up, or get out, or get deleted.

When your blog's turn comes for the enforced upgrade, a button will appear on your dashboard. You'll then have precisely 14 days to make up your mind. You can pay $10 (a year) to switch your comments to the new Echo platform. You can export all your comments and attempt to reposition them elsewhere. But if you do nothing, JS-Kit will delete the lot, everything, umpteen years worth, instantly, overnight. And soon.

EchoTen dollars isn't a lot, although this may be a special introductory offer, and the cash would mount up over the years. But Echo is a very different prospect to Haloscan - a bit like comparing the latest video-enabled mobile to a 70s trimphone. Haloscan is simplicity itself - a box in which to write text, and anybody can respond without having to sign in. Echo, on the other hand, is commenting with bells and whistles on its bells and whistles. Echo is a real-time streaming widget, rendered in Javascript, which aggregates updated content and then hyper-distributes comments to a variety of social networks. It's all a bit flash, so it takes longer to load, and in some older browsers fails to load at all. It's optimised for collaboration, with a multitude of log-in and drop-down and pop-up options. Echo is so much more than just text in a box.

Which is a shame, because I like text in a box. I feel comfortable with text in a box. I want something to read, not a few words ostentatiously presented. I don't need video embedding, or Twitterstream feedback, or "social gestures". JS-Kit assume that I do, indeed they're almost Tigger-like in their evangelistic zeal for the Echo system, but they're being woefully presumptive. I really don't want to switch to Echo, because it's over-fussy and over-complicated. I'm worried about the transition process, and concerned that embedding multimedia comments into this blog may not be practical. I fear that Echo is so complex and off-putting that many of you who comment now are never going to comment again. I'll switch if I absolutely have to, but I'd much rather find an alternative.

Alas, I'm not sure that there is an alternative. Most of the other old-school commenting systems that evolved around the same time as Haloscan have collapsed. Blogger's own commenting system doesn't allow imports, so I'd not be able to display past comments on 8 years of archived posts. There's a free comments service called Disqus, I believe, but that looks just as social-centric as Echo. I don't want to move everything I've ever written over to Wordpress, Typepad or some similar professional service, because I'm happy with free and simple blogging. I just want to carry on as near as possible to how I have done in the past, however impossible that may be. I'm looking for a commenting lifeboat, but all I can see is JS-Kit's approaching pirate ship.

What really worries me is the possibility of permanent disappearance. If I don't act, I lose 41000 comments. If other bloggers don't act, all their comments vanish too. There are hundreds of thousands of Haloscan-enabled legacy blogs out there, many written by people who've since passed on, whose comments will be extinguished overnight. If you don't pay Echo's subscription, for whatever reason, it's put up or shut up. There must be another way. I hope I find it, and I hope you find it, because the clock is ticking.

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