a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

Because Reading is Fundamental


This is certainly true for most articles, but I don’t know if I agree with it for discussions (which the post focused on in the beginning). The Internet is a great medium for discussions since it will store everything that’s been said so far in sequential order, and it facilitates conversations that can go on for months (or even years!) without slowing down. If I come upon such a discussion that I’d like to take part in, or even just read, I’m thankful for paginated comments. It’s much easier to read a few pages of posts a day as I work my way through the conversation than to load a massive infinitely scrolling page and then try to find my place every time I come back.

Pagination is inappropriate for a lot of things, but I feel like it definitely has its place.


I firmly believe the first point about pagination is great. In fact, on sites where I have to click to see the next page, I often stop reading. Yeah, that is a little bit of lazy, but I like to read a lot and don’t like the interruption. I’d rather have an add bar show up periodically in the article and be able to scroll past it.

I’d remove any posting level stats on profiles too. One that might be useful is how many ‘good’ posts a user has, which are voted on by other users (clicking thumbs up or some such mechanism).

Good post.


It’s true, polarizing issues are a huge problem when trying to have a meaningful discussion. You’ve mentioned gun control, climate change, and gamergate, and I definitely have my opinions about those things.

However, I think you miss the point when you say that there is no reason to read the whole article in those cases - in fact, it’s necessary, as long as the article is a serious attempt to communicate. If I disagree, I must fully understand the opposing viewpoint to be able to attack it effectively. If I agree, I must make sure they are putting forward the best arguments and the most accurate information.

In that respect, I hugely value a site that would reward this behaviour, because it lets me know that even though we may not agree, we can at least be working from a place of respect and common decency. There are many terrible commenting systems that reward being first and loudest, and I am glad that there are smart people trying to find a better way - Disqus doesn’t do too bad a job either, for example.


I generally agree with you for articles that present arguments and go through the reason, logic, and premises, and are trying to debate their side of the point.
More often the articles are rhetorical talking point dispensers. Porn scanners at airports is answered with “But 9/11!” (or “7/7!”) as if that is an argument.
The first thing I usually try to understand is if I’m reading someone who is actually sincere about the issue, or merely regurgitating the talking points. If all I get is emotion and rhetorical flourish, I am talking to a parrot, not a person. (E.g. for “gun control”, nothing about the practical problems of criminals ignoring gun laws, or of the latency of police response, just “think about the dead children whose blood will be on your hands if you oppose it”). For climate change, you can have alarmist v.s. denier, or advocate v.s. skeptic. The latter paring is rare, but the former labels are applied to the latter.
There aren’t two sides, there are four. Pro- and Con- along one axis, but Rational-Dialectic and Emotional-Rhetorical on the other axis (I’m misusing “rhetorical” a bit as the purpose is to clarify instead of manipulate).
Few dialectic people punish the people arguing badly (both rhetoric and dialectic) when they support their side. Many at freethought saw no irony in purging Thunderf00t.
Emotional rhetoric is also an “attempt to communicate”, but not an attempt to bring understanding. It is an attempt to substitute anger, fear, lust, hunger, or some other feeling or emotion.
And I think the target audience is the problem. They want to be spoon-fed talking points they can repeat to sound intellectual instead of understanding and maybe solving the problems.


Yeah, I was always told to read Don Quixote, Romeo & Juliet, Cyrano de Bergerac. And people told me those where the DEFINITE books and that academic books are not that important. Guess even teachers are afraid of being replaced by a book.


I’m sure that there are writing techniques for making users want to continue reading your article, and writing techniques to make users aware that a concern that they might have will be addressed later in the article.


That’s an interesting way to frame the conversation.

What you say about talking points does highlight a problem, that the comment sections on most news sites are basically drive-by shootings. You can’t carry a conversation across multiple articles, and you rarely go back for replies (unless it’s a better commenting system like Discourse). It’s not that surprising that it creates a spammitude, because you must continuously reiterate your points in each thread, even multiple times on the same article, to fully represent your position. It’s exhausting.

Those who are arguing emotionally are certainly less likely to acknowledge fallacies in their own arguments, because they have an investment in their position that is by definition irrational. Gun control skeptics rarely talk about the logical fallacy of arguing that we shouldn’t have a law because criminals will break it (why have any laws at all, if criminals will just break them?).

Emotional arguments can, however, be a powerful tool for creating empathy for your position, as well as for building solidarity within a community. For good or for ill, gamer gate was a powerful rallying cry for those who felt marginalized, even if in reality the AAA video game industry is still built on catering almost exclusively to the young white male demographic.


Guns and Illegal immigrants both are in the USA and there is no easy way to eliminate them. But dealing with the problems that sometimes are created is difficult.

On gun control, the question is the merits of a particular proposed law. If all it does is inconvenience law-abiding citizens, it may make people feel good, but accomplish little or even be counterproductive. There are also cases - someone had a felony conviction for writing a bad check, got his life together and still owned a gun and went to a pawn shop to sell it to get cash for his family. I think he got an automatic life in prison for doing so. Hard cases make bad law, but those are the only ones left. And politicians are the worst for grandstanding instead of trying to be statesmen. But this is why it is nearly impossible to have a discussion and make any progress.

CS Lewis’ “Bulverism” http://www.barking-moonbat.com/God_in_the_Dock.html is worth a read and is on point. And it was written probably before any of us were born. I think discussion used to be higher on all levels. Now the first problem is to simply switch the conversation from the rhetorical to the dialectic. That the issues, truth, premises, logic, etc. are what matters. I find myself having to descend into the rhetorical and use some verbal judo to even get an opening. It happens so often that I find a truly rational discussion a rare pleasure. Yet I find it on both the right and the left. Vox Day has a blog, and Glenn Greenwald, now at the intercept, and a handful of others. They actually think through their positions. I respect a thoughtful disagreer, and detest team sycophants.

Here is the central excerpt from “Bulverism”, but do click the link

The only line they can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not - which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed. But if that is so, we must then ask how you find out which are tainted and which are not. It is no earthly use saying that those are tainted which agree with the secret wishes of the thinker. Some of the things I should like to believe must in fact be true; it is impossible to arrange a universe which contradicts everyone’s wishes, in every respect, at every moment. Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant - but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method [Note: This essay was written in 1941.] is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father - who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third - “Oh, you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds - a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

On the talking pointless comment sections, you can explain a dozen times but they WILL not understand. It isn’t a matter of can’t - they have the ability - they just don’t want to. That you disagree with them is THE problem that allows them to dismiss you a priori.

On GG, the AAA industry has young white males as its target demographic. There are Korean beauty supply stores who have black women as their target demographic, and no one suggests they should add a barber-shop section. And it wasn’t marginalization. GG is split, but has a lot of rational people. Perhaps the SJW side does, but they aren’t as prominent and the “shouting down” is continuing. GG had a repo on github to coordinate and it was censored. Freebsdgirl’s censorship blocker for twitter will probably be there forever - and apparently the Raspberry Pi foundation is now using it to filter their tweets (anyone who follows anyone on the list is censored). Is this a way to have a discussion? And what was exposed is “We want you to make your games nicer for women, i.e. dumb them down, even though it won’t increase sales, or make the games better”. Then simply asking why gets “you are a racist sexist homophobe and I’m reporting you for threatening me!”. There is bad behavior on both sides, but I can’t find one from the SJW side who want to listen, which is what this post is about. Being good at debate, making good points is apparently “abusive”.


Thanks for the memory, haven’t thought about RIF in years. :slight_smile:


While this won’t encourage reading everywhere, the “banana” issue can be helped (somewhat) by adding inline comments.

This reminds me of a “true” story of a college student who had to hand in some paper.
Halfway through, he wrote “If you’ve read all the way here, I owe you a can of Coke.” Later on he added, "If you’ve reached this far, you get two cans of Coke."
After grading the paper, his professor approached him with a smug grin, saying, “You owe me a can of Coke!”


It looks like simply typing bananas to prove that I read the whole thing doesn’t work, nor the bunching of bananas, tried two bananas and three bananas, alas it would not have any of it, thus I have been forced to, bananas, write this rather long winded, elephant, paragraph in the hope that it gets published, but I did read the whole thing, I swear Gov.

On more serious note, some good thoughts there as always.


IMHO infinite scrolling is all about gaming advertising metrics at the expense of usability. It maximised on-page time, and defers the moment when the reader is motivated to make a call about whether they really care about continuing. We then count scrolling content loads as “reading”, even though many users are just scrolling to find out how long the piece is - behaviour we’ve provoked by lying about the length via an incorrectly sized scrollbar.

OK, maybe this is just webdesign fashion rather than crafty advertising practice. Or maybe both. But either way, there are a bunch of UX fundamentals being disregarded. The one claimed benefit is that we get to keep the guy who can’t be bothered clicking to the next page. Well, if we care about engaged readers rather than metrics, explain to me why that guy is worth keeping?


I don’t think that having “points” for leaving the browser open is a good thing, because people can just leave it sitting there all day and give the system (and other users) an illusion of reading while not actually contributing. You might want to only contribute these “points” by measuring the time the user has actively been on the page - mouse-moving, scrolling, etc.


Damn, is it my impression or are there too many people bashing on how bad infinite scrolling and the reading metric are?

Hahaha, inception irony indeed! Safari’s got endless scrolling for sites and in there there’s a site with endless scrolling. :smiley:

I got some idea how. It will have to be custom made to each user, because quality is highly subjective.

I hope it will be for Discourse, though! :slight_smile:


The key difference being that I’ve already indicated that I want to read what’s in the infinite scrolling Safari Reading List, while sites want me to forever read other articles on their site, or the ever-useful comments.


I think that a lot of sentiments against infinite scrolling are not so much a problem with infinite scrolling, as they are problems with the common implementation of infinite scrolling. Some commonly listed issues:

  • Deceptive scrollbars: Easily solved by having a more accurate, context-dependent “reading progress” display - exactly like what Discourse is doing with the small post counter at the bottom of the screen. Pagination is one of the ways to accomplish this, but definitely not the only one, and probably not the best one either. Even the argument that it’s a “poor reimplementation” is not really valid in the end - as opposed to browser-provided scrollbars, a custom “progress bar” can provide a realistic estimate. For example, you’re really not interested in how long the page is, you’re interested in how many posts there are to read.
  • Hard to link to positions in a thread: A proper implementation of infinite scrolling (again, like what Discourse uses), will change the URL depending on the position on the page - that same URL, when opened by a third party, should refer to the same (approximate) location on the page, with the same state (insofar that state is not user-specific).
  • Search doesn’t work: Again, can be solved with a custom implementation. Again, exactly like what Discourse does.
  • Back button doesn’t work: See above point about links. Easily solved with history manipulation (or, in older browsers, URL fragments).

The general sentiment that “you shouldn’t try to reimplement browser-provided behaviour” also isn’t really a valid one. Sometimes what a browser offers is simply not the ideal solution to a problem. Hell, if people blindly followed this sentiment, we wouldn’t even have content loading through AJAX, and the web would be a lot clunkier as a result!


True. But, thinking about it, not exactly 100% true.

You visit a forum and start to read a topic, you’ve indicated interest in that topic. So you opted in there.

You visit a page and add to Safari’s Reading List, you’ve indicated interest in that page. So, agreeing with you there, you opted in that page.

You don’t need to expect either to be paging-less. The only difference is that once you know Safari does it, then you know it that’s how it will behave - but that might change in the future.

From all I read here and those good points, such this one you brought, I keep getting positive feedback on thinking discourse was able to get even “endless” scrolling right! :slight_smile:

Spot on! The whole list.


Yes, that topic. What I did not opt-in to was, when I’m done reading one topic, to be shown another topic, which is what a couple news sites I’ve seen have started doing. Once you’re done with one article, they add another to the bottom of the page, and another, and another, and another, in a seamless transition so for a bit you don’t even realize you’re reading a completely different article (like how on television they put one show’s closing credits at the bottom of another show’s cold open, so as not to give the idle viewer a reason to leave the couch).

If I’m linked to a thread in a forum, I want to read that thread, not every thread. Infinite scrolling is not a license to try to trap me on a site for the sake of advertising and engagement metrics, or to show me unrelated content. Linking to other content is fine, simply loading it into the current page is not.


Aaargh, that looks more dangerous than the infinity knot!


posting is also important because SOMEONE has to generate the content for others to read.

That is precisely the wrong reason to post something. We are not starved for content. What we do lack is a high signal-to-noise ratio, and the original point was “how do we increase the signal?” The assertion then is that lurkers only post when they find something genuinely interesting and high value to say. (Whether and how this point could be disproven is left as an exercise to the reader.)