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Expanding comments to respect readers who talk back.

I’m releasing a new WordPress plugin today that allows you to use shortcodes to embed comments and comment threads into the body of stories.

It’s called Response Stack.

The goal is to build stories out of comments and help both the original story and the discussion around it live on. You can see the first story we built with it live on

I’ve long been of the opinion that comments are part of the stories that they run on. Many organizations will give up control of their comments to an external provider, or turn them off entirely. I think that’s a bad idea. The authors of our comments (the non-spam ones) are contributing to the conversation around our work and that means they’re growing it. They deserve our respect and those conversations deserve our attention.

Gawker’s Kinja shows that the comment section as an area where each comment can expand into its own universe. That’s good. That’s not everything. Allowing comments to grow into their own stories on our websites is a great idea, but it’s not really a journalistic one. Journalism sites succeed when there’s a sense of editorial decision-making. There’s a decision to write or to aggregate a story. That decision is a big part of what creates value and interest for readers.

The way some comment systems have reflected that is by allowing editors to select a ‘top comment’. That’s an OK idea, but it breaks the commenting section, it takes a thread of conversation and breaks it up by trying to pull out individual ‘good’ items. I’m not particularly excited about that.

At CFO Magazine, we’ve been thinking about open threads, the life-cycle of articles and how we can help useful or exciting articles continue to live and thrive past their publication date. Out of our discussion came the idea of a reader response post. These aren’t a new idea, but I wasn’t able to find a tool to make building one easy. Nor did I really like the old formats sites had built them in (mostly supplanted by embedded Tweets now).

The initial goals:

  • Keep the comments we embedded ‘alive’.
    • Continue to connect comments to their original location on the old post.
    • Replying is easy.
  • Make it easy to create response posts.

To accomplish this, I made it possible to embed individual comments and entire comment threads using their ID numbers and made sure that users could continue to click to the original positions or the comments and even reply to them while in the body of the new story.

So, working with our editorial and management team at CFO, and building on work being done by Human Made to develop into a better WordPress site, I built a better tool and now we’re opening it up for use by anyone. If you have any problems, just comment here or open an issue on the GitHub repository. If you have ideas, contribute to the project!

Keep an eye out, I’m hoping to make this even easier to use and to expand this tool with more ways to build on your readers’ comments in the future.


How it works:

Response Stack uses WordPress shortcodes to pull comments (and comment threads) into a post from other posts on the same site. To get the shortcode working type the following into its own line in your post:

[responser comment=”id” thread=”depth”] where id is equal to the integer ID of the comment and depth is equal to the integer depth of the thread of comments you want visible.

Readers looking at the comments can even respond to them within the shortcode’s post, submitting threaded replies that will then take them to the original conversation.

You can find the comment id by looking at the hyperlink attached to any comment datetime stamp (on the post or in the comments page of the dashboard), where it will be in the format of http://site/post-link/#comment-CommentIDNumber.

Response Stack assumes you are using default WordPress comments. Support for other commenting systems is to come. If you’d like to add support for your commenting system, contribute to the project GitHub at:

  1. borisa on Tuesday 25, 2014

    My name is Borisa Djuraskovic. I am associated with Web Hosting Hub community team.
    I found your Response Stack plugin at very interesting. I would like to translate it to my native Serbo-Croatian language and help people from my community find your plugin useful too. But you would need to create the translatable .pot file first in order for me to proceed. Please let me know if you are willing to do that so I can translate it.

    Borisa Djuraskovic

  2. […] they deserve our respect as journalists,” Aram Zucker-Scharff, the content strategist at CFO who built Response Stack, told […]