Pushnote: All talk and no trousers

PushNote is a new service that will be known, for good or ill, primarily for being announced over Twitter by Stephen Fry, who isĀ one of their investors. Similar attempts have been made in the past for a cross-site commenting platform, Google Sidewiki for example, and none have taken off. I really want a service like this to work as having a single point-of-entry for communication and discussion across all sites would be fantastic, but there are a few fundamental issues with this one that will stop me from subscribing to it wholesale at this time:

Poor security on registration
This may not seem to be the greatest security breach we’ve seen, given it’s only a commenting service, but receiving a registration mail with my password in cleartext implies that PushNote stores my password in cleartext at least for as long as it takes to send me a registration email. It also suggests a lazy approach to user registration in general as no confirmation link was sent to my email to check my ownership of the email address before I was fully registered. The registration email also didn’t supply me with a link to cancel the registration should my email have been registered by someone else pretending to be me.

No contact info
This may be a failing of my search-fu, but in trying to report the above issue to them, I failed to find any contact link, Twitter account, or email address for them. Not registering a Twitter account seems particular strange for a service who purport to be focused on providing community-based discussion. I can’t think of a finer model for how to do this than Twitter.

Moderation
There is no way for a site-owner to moderate comments. Of course, open communication is invaluable and censorship is the root of all evil, but there are times when it is important for comments to be moderated. Whether it’s a flood of automated spam 1 or small-minded people flooding the comment stream with manual spam and/or hatespeech, it’s vital that a site owner have control over this. Even reporting such people to the authority, which must be PushNote in this case, to have their account somehow limited or even banned is impossible thanks to the lack of contact info.

Editing of comments
There is currently no way to delete or edit a comment once submitted. Assuming people make mistakes, the only way to correct that mistake will be to double post. This will just add to the noise in the discussion.

Threading
The best comment implementations, for example Disqus, support some form of threading to allow conversations to flow in a comment stream. This is for good reason: it cuts down on the noise and allows active discussions to rise to the top.

Conclusion
The biggest issue I see, aside from the security issues around registration, is that the service doesn’t supply what it advertises. A stream of comments is not a discussion or conversation, it’s just a bunch of people shouting in an empty room. Occasionally you might be able to track some replies to your comment if your name is included in the comment 2 but in general it’s just noise. Until there are threads and a way to dig through to the valuable discussions rather than the most-liked comments, this is not adding anything.

  1. Which this system may be immune to, or at least have some protection against thanks to the email registration requirement.
  2. See the development of the @ standard for replies when Twitter first started

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