A blogreader with comments? Unfortunately, no.

As a blogger, I read other blogs--many of them about local goings-on, written by people I've met--and occasionally read or post comments. Comments are one of our basic tools for establishing ties between blogs (another is linking to other blogs in our own posts). But following conversations in comments isn't easy. Every day I witness new wonders in the world of social media - can't we do this better?

I read blogs in Google Reader. It's one of many such services, and it provides a nice minimalist presentation of the content. But what it doesn't do is show me people's comments on the posts I'm reading. I figured that couldn't be difficult, so a couple months ago I set out to find a blog reader service (or application) where I could read comments.

I quickly found this blog post from late 2007, saying that Bloglines fits the bill. The author also does a nice job of explaining why it's important. So I signed up for Bloglines - but the feature is currently nowhere to be found.

My second search revealed a directory of RSS aggregators, with a handy row entitled "has_subscribe_to_comments". I jotted down the names of the aggregators with a check mark in that row:
FeedEachOther
FeedLounge
GreatNews v1.0 beta, Windows, June 2007
MonkeyChow
NewsIsFree
RSS Bandit v1.8, Windows, October 2008
I went down the list and investigated each one. Four were defunct. GreatNews appeared to be available, but there hadn't been an update in two years. RSS Bandit showed promise, but to make a long story short, the feature only works on blogs that use an obscure protocol (CommentAPI), to wit, the blogs written by the authors of that program and virtually none others.

Aargh. Can this possibly be so difficult? I can understand not allowing people to *post* comments from a reader, but at least we should be able to read them!

Another approach is to use a third-party service, such as FriendFeed or Google Reader Sharing or about a thousand others like them. Users of those services are posting and reading comments about a blog post, but not doing it at the blog itself. This does not build community, in fact, it splinters it; this separate collection of comments is only visible to those within that specific third-party network.

My current workaround goes like this. The great majority of blogs allow readers to subscribe to RSS feeds of the comments on individual posts. (In Blogspot, you can only do this when viewing an individual post, not from the home page or the comment-posting page.) So when I read a post I like, I click through from Google Reader to the source page; there, I read the comments and subscribe to the comments' RSS feed. These comment feeds are added to my Google Reader subscriptions - which is rapidly being overwhelmed with clutter. Still, it's better than nothing.