My Cheapskate Commenting System

February 03, 2022

My blog now has comments! Well, kind of

I went down a two day long rabbit-hole trying to find the best solution for implementing comments on my static website (generated via Jekyll FYI). There are a ton of options out there and many open source models that allow you to spin up your own instance with something like DigitalOcean or AWS. But I’m a cheap bastard. I refuse to spend $5/month on a blog mostly used for fun and one that I have zero incentive to “monetize”.

So, what free options did this old miser have left to chose from? To my surprise, there were two solid options that initially caught my eye! Let’s take a look then, shall we?

Remarkbox

Overall I don’t have many bad things to say about Remarkbox. It looks nice, is easy to implement and runs a “pay what you can” pricing model. What more could you ask for?! The major issue (for me, personally) is precisely that; the free model. This makes it difficult for me to trust 100% that this system will still be around in 3-4 years. Now I know - even paid systems can shutdown unexpectedly, but I find free tier options end up shutting their doors sooner. There is an option to self-host Remarkbox, but that requires a yearly license and also comes back to the point I made about not wanting to pay for hosting…

Utterances (Github-based)

The other major option was Utterances. This system was almost the winner due to it’s pretty great feature set:

  1. Open source
  2. No tracking, no ads
  3. All data stored in GitHub issues
  4. Free!

But take a look above at point number three. The fact that readers wishing to leave a comment are required to have a Github account. For me, this is a non-starter. I don’t want to force my audience to sign up for or sign in to any account just to leave a simple comment on my humble blog. Considering a number of my readers are part of the FOSS community, this just seemed like a bad fit.

Finding Inspiration

I absolutely love the solar.lowtechmagazine.com website (both for it’s content and design) and indirectly found my comment system inspiration there. Okay let’s be honest, I completely stole their commenting system “concept”. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

My Comment System is…

E-mail. It’s just plain e-mail.

I’ve setup a basic .html in my _includes folder that contains a mailto action button1:

<a href="mailto:myemail.com?subject=RE: { { page.title | uri_escape } }">
    <button>Comment via email</button>
</a>

This include template is placed at the bottom of every article automatically. Then, that action pulls in the article’s title as the e-mail subject line in the user’s default mailing app. That’s it.

Pros

Cons

Fun Experiment

I figure either way, this will be an interesting experiment. I don’t know my audience size (since I don’t use any type of tracking) but I assume it’s very small. Those willing to write me a personal e-mail in order to share their thoughts on my stupid little blog probably have something interesting to say. At least I hope so.

Let’s see how this thing goes…

  1. Big thanks to cketti for letting me know about using uri_escape to avoid issues with mail clients. 

As always, I'd love to read your feedback in my public inbox!