I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography, time lapse and the occasional well deserved rant. Follow along with a monthly email, RSS or on Facebook. About 7,250,102,795 people have not visited yet so it might be your first time here. Suggested reading: Got It, or roll the dice.

Commentary

I started with Blogger many years ago. It worked well for a while and then it didn't. I forget why but I wrote a tool to migrate from Blogger to BlogEngine.net.

BlogEngine.net was good for a while, but I never loved the commenting system. I switched to Disqus and I wrote a tool for that as well.

Then Disqus decided to monetize more aggressively than I liked, and I moved on to Facebook comments. Having used these for a while I have come to the conclusion that most people just hate Facebook comments. They're convenient but not many people use them. Also, pages just load much faster without all the Facebook JavaScript. So today I'm switching to home grown manually moderated comments. Just about every comment ever left on this blog has made it from Blogger to BlogEngine.net to Disqus and finally the new system, even the nasty ones. I'll moderate to cut out spam but never dissent. Enjoy!

How to get SEO credit for Facebook Comments (the missing manual)

How to get SEO credit for Facebook Comments (the missing manual)

I've been using the Facebook Comments Box on this blog since I parted ways with Disqus. One issue with the Facebook system is that you won't get SEO credit for comments displayed in an iframe. They have an API to retrieve comments but the documentation is pretty light and so here are three critical tips to get it working.

The first thing to know is that comments can be nested. Once you've got a list of comments to enumerate through you need to check each comment to see if it has it's own list of comments and so on. This is pretty easy to handle.

The second thing is that the first page of JSON returned from the API is totally different from the other pages. This is crazy and can bite you if you don't test it thoroughly. For https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/comments/ the first page is https://graph.facebook.com/comments/?ids=https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/comments/. The second page is embedded at the bottom of the first page and is currently https://graph.facebook.com/10150360250580608/comments?limit=25&offset=25&__after_id=10150360250580608_28167854 (if that link is broken check the first page for a new one). The path to the comment list is "https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/comments/" -> "comments" -> "data" on the first page and just "data" on the second. So you need to handle both formats as well as the URL being included as the root object on the first page. Don't know why this would be the case, just need to handle it.

Last but not least you want to include the comments in a way that can be indexed by search engines but not visible to regular site visitors. I've found that including the SEO list in the tag does the trick, i.e.

<fb:comments href="..." width="630" num_posts="10">*Include SEO comment list here*</fb:comments>

I've included the source code for an ASP.NET user control below - this is the code I'm using on the blog. You can see an example of the output on any page with Facebook comments. The code uses Json.net.

FacebookComments.ascx:

<%@ Control Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeFile="FacebookComments.ascx.cs" 
  Inherits="LocalControls_FacebookComments" %>

FacebookComments.ascx.cs

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Globalization;
using System.Net;
using System.Text;
using System.Web;
using System.Web.Caching;
using Newtonsoft.Json.Linq;

// ReSharper disable CheckNamespace
public partial class LocalControls_FacebookComments : System.Web.UI.UserControl
// ReSharper restore CheckNamespace
{
    private const string CommentApiTemplate = "https://graph.facebook.com/comments/?ids={0}";
    private const string CacheTemplate = "localfacebookcomments_{0}";
    private const int CacheHours = 3;

    public string PostUrl { get; set; }

    protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {
        try
        {
            if (!string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(PostUrl))
            {
                string cacheKey = string.Format(CultureInfo.InvariantCulture, 
                    CacheTemplate, PostUrl);

                if (HttpRuntime.Cache[cacheKey] == null)
                {
                    StringBuilder commentBuilder = new StringBuilder();

                    string url = string.Format(CultureInfo.InvariantCulture,
                                               CommentApiTemplate,
                                               PostUrl);

                    while (!string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(url))
                    {
                        string json;
                        using (WebClient webClient = new WebClient())
                        {
                            json = webClient.DownloadString(url);
                        }

                        // parse comments
                        JObject o = JObject.Parse(json);
                        if ((o[PostUrl] != null) &&
                            (o[PostUrl]["comments"] != null) &&
                            (o[PostUrl]["comments"]["data"] != null))
                        {
                            // first page
                            AppendComments(o[PostUrl]["comments"]["data"], commentBuilder);
                        }
                        else if (o["data"] != null)
                        {
                            // other pages
                            AppendComments(o["data"], commentBuilder);
                        }
                        else
                        {
                            break;
                        }

                        // next page URL
                        if ((o[PostUrl] != null) &&
                            (o[PostUrl]["comments"] != null) &&
                            (o[PostUrl]["comments"]["paging"] != null) &&
                            (o[PostUrl]["comments"]["paging"]["next"] != null))
                        {
                            // on first page
                            url = (string) o[PostUrl]["comments"]["paging"]["next"];
                        }
                        else if ((o["paging"] != null) &&
                                 (o["paging"]["next"] != null))
                        {
                            // on subsequent pages
                            url = (string) o["paging"]["next"];
                        }
                        else
                        {
                            url = null;
                        }
                    }

                    string comments = commentBuilder.ToString();

                    HttpRuntime.Cache.Insert(cacheKey,
                        comments,
                        null,
                        DateTime.UtcNow.AddHours(CacheHours),
                        Cache.NoSlidingExpiration);

                    LiteralFacebookComments.Text = comments;
                }
                else
                {
                    LiteralFacebookComments.Text = (string)HttpRuntime.Cache[cacheKey];
                }
            }
        }
        catch (Exception)
        {
            LiteralFacebookComments.Text = string.Empty;
        }
    }

    private static void AppendComments(IEnumerable comments, 
        StringBuilder commentBuilder)
    {
        foreach (JObject comment in comments)
        {
            // write comment
            commentBuilder.AppendFormat(CultureInfo.InvariantCulture,
                                        "
{0} ({1})

\r\n"
,
                                        comment["message"],
                                        comment["from"]["name"]);

            // also write any nested comments
            if ((comment["comments"] != null) && (comment["comments"]["data"] != null))
            {
                AppendComments(comment["comments"]["data"], commentBuilder);
            }
        }
    }
}

Comments Restored

I've restored all the comments that vanished after I removed Disqus last weekend. This is after a considerable effort to get everything out of BlogML and into WXR a couple of years ago. At some point I'll just have to give up and decide it's faster to write my own blogging and commenting system but for now Facebook Comments are enabled for all posts.

Disqust

Disqust

I just discovered that Disqus started running adverts on my blog without permission. It's probably been going on for a little while and I should have paid more attention, sorry.

By 'without permission' I mean that I'm sure I clicked though and didn't read a terms of service document that said they could do what the fuck they like to my site. And reading other accounts of this issue I'm sure I filed without reading the email they sent out that mentioned this new 'feature' in passing. So in a legal sense they probably had all the permission they needed. In a moral sense they're switch-and-bait scum of the highest order. 

They should have made this feature opt-in and then sent out an email explaining it in detail. Some sites don't want to run ads. You could have non-commercial Creative Commons content on a site that is suddenly a commercial concern. 

It's a free service and at some point they need to make money, fine. If this had been presented as an option I might have considered it. If they wanted to charge for the service I'd probably have paid for it.

Instead I've disabled Disqus and hastily hacked in Facebook Comments which should be coming online as I write this post. 

A side effect of this is that all the existing comments are currently unavailable. I have an archive and will try to get them resurrected soon.