Thread management: comment nesting, direct replies, forking conversations
I get the value of nesting replies to comments in Loomio threads. It allows me to reply directly to the content of a comment, eg by answering a question or offering corrections or clarifications, even when the resulting comment wouldn't make sense as a reply to the discussion starter, or lost within the general flow of comments proceeding from it.
The problem is, in my experience with groups that use comment threading, it creates two kinds of confusion. One, it can be hard to tell when and where new comments have been added to a thread since last time I checked it, and to read them in the context of the preceding discussion. I usually find I can only do one or the other (although the 2.0 UI has elements to may make that easier). The more serious problem is that as more and more conversations branch off from direct replies and go off on their own tangents, threads can tend to metastatize into unwieldy mega-threads. These become increasingly hard to navigate, as well as chunking together things that in many cases would be easier to find, and *make decision* on, in their own thread.
My initial response, in a nutshell, was that instead of infinite regression of nested replies, replying to comments could "fork" the conversation, by starting a new thread. The context box in that new thread could be auto-generated, with text giving the title of the original thread (linked), and the text of the comment being replied to and the name of the author, with a link to that comment.
However, as mentioned above, I can see the value of being able to make direct replies within the body of a thread. Also, if every one-off reply that attracts no further discussion ends up creating its own thread, that would create another sort of clutter.
So maybe the default is that only one layer of nested replies is displayed in a thread. If a group member replies to a reply, that tends to suggest a new discussion is branching off, so that's when a new thread is created. Maybe instead of "reply", the text on the button could say something like "fork", or "branch". Maybe clicking it could pop up the usual new thread popup, populated as above with links to the original discussion, the comment the new thread is branching off from etc. Both the comment that was the root of the new discussion, and the first reply, could have a UI element (a fork or branch icon?) indicating that a new thread has branched off them, and linking to it.
Another thing I notice is that users tend to click 'reply' when they're not really making a direct reply at all, just adding to the main discussion on the topic of the thread. Maybe when these buttons are clicked, the UI could ask the user if it would be better to make a general comment using the comment box at the bottom of the page, rather than replying directly to this comment or branching off a new thread? With the "reply" button, this text could be in the comment editing box, and disappear as soon as the user starts typing. With the "fork"/ "branch", it could be included somewhere in the new thread popup.
In fact, this misuse of the direct reply feature to continue the main discussion might also be reduced if the comment box was always available at the bottom of the screen, maybe in a minimized form, that maximizes into the full comment box when clicked on. An even more effective way to limit the misuse of direct replies by starting whole new discussions inside them could be to limit the number of characters they can be. Once the user goes over that limit, the UI could suggest they instead make a general comment, or start a new thread. This notice could give them a UI element to click that takes them to the other comment box, or it could just be a warning that comments over X characters will be added as a general comment in the main discussion, rather than nested as a direct reply.
EDIT: in a small group, it's easier to evolve norms for how to use Loomio, and larger organizations that work together a lot and have other channels (especially in-person meetings or voice conferences), can decide on norms and train group members out-of-band to understand and follow them. In large, loose networking groups though, where the Loomio group may be the only place members interact, and participants may drift in and out over time, this is difficult if not impossible. In my experience, such groups really need the UI to guide new or occasional participants in their groups on how to use the tool productively.
BTW: Sorry if I'm creating a double-up on existing thread(s) about comment nesting and forking discussions. Global search hasn't been implemented in the 2.0 beta (and I can't figure out how to turn it off right now), so I did try looking manually for any threads on these topics but couldn't find any.
EDIT: Here is the forking topics discussion, which is tangentially relevant to this: https://www.loomio.org/d/cDPIAS95/forking-topics