User comments and discussions on the internet have a pretty bad rep these days, to the point where many people have just opted out of online commentary completely, going as far as using a combination of DNS filtering and browser extensions to remove them entirely from their browsing experience.

I, on the other hand, have spent the last couple of years refining ways to separate signal from noise in the cacophony of online user commentary, as I have come to believe that the most valuable knowledge I acquire on a daily basis comes from commentary and discussion rather than publishing.

My first stop was to figure out a rough list of sources where discussions overlapped with my interests with the help of Google and word of mouth. I ended up with:

  • Reddit
  • Hacker News
  • Lobsters
  • Tildes

Hacker News, Lobsters and Tildes are all generally known for their tight moderation, with the latter two communities being invite-only (I’m not a member of either), but Reddit as most of us know is kind of messy. You might even be tempted to stop reading here at the mention of Reddit.

It turns out however that there are in fact a number of tightly moderated popular communities on Reddit with a very high quality bar for contributions which I was able to find just by Googling around. Some of my favourites include AskHistorians, AskScience and AskSocialScience (the whole network is great, really).

My next stop, some time later, involved using a combination of the Map of Reddit and the Related Subreddit Finder by anvaka. By this time I had found and subscribed to a number of smaller communities, and it was possible for me to plug them into these tools to find similar communities.

Above is an example of the map area returned when querying for the GZCL subreddit, which is focused on the experiences of users running a number of strength training programmes that build on the GZCL Method.

(I ran a number of those programmes with great success and ended up finally being able to pull a 4-plate deadlift. The comments, discussions, reports and feedback on that subreddit remain today in my humble opinion an invaluable resource for anyone with even a passing interest in strength straining)

At this point, I still felt like there was more interesting, quality commentary waiting to be discovered, but at the same time, I was starting to worry that I was limiting myself to an echo chamber on certain topics.

This led me to my next and (currently) final stop, Kullish, which searches through a number of link aggregation and discussion websites (including Reddit) for a URL before providing a single feed of comments from everywhere.

I often stumble across newer, growing subreddits this way when wanting to get an overview of comments on both niche and lightning-rod topics. While I don’t read every single comment or discussion aggregated here, it’s an incredibly useful way for me to take a look outside my bubble every now and then.

For the most part, whenever I come across an interesting link, I like to run it through Kullish and take a look at the sources to see if I can find any new, focused, tightly moderated communities in the list of sources.

An example of the variety of commentary aggregated on lightning-rod topics

I am quite content these days with how far I’ve come in separating signal from noise in my own consumption of online comments and discussions; I have a steady feeds of high-quality content across a wide breadth of both my more popular and more niche interests, and coupled with the “read it now or read it never” mindset I have developed over the years, my overall content consumption experience is significantly more relaxed and stress-free.

In an attempt to try and share the fruits of my experiences, this year I have started to curate public RSS feeds of high-quality commentary on topics that I am interested in. After all, if the rich and the famous can have people to curate online comments for them, why can’t we do something similar for ourselves?

I initially became interested in sharing public feeds of curated online commentary after reading about how Linus (@thesephist) created Lucerne, which is a beautiful project that I highly recommend reading about.

Unfortunately not everyone is in a position to create and maintain such a project, but RSS feeds are still pretty accessible with a fairly low barrier to entry, both on the production and the consumption side.

I know some people try to use Twitter for this general purpose, but honestly I find the experience very poor both as a producer and as a consumer, as the interesting content too often gets drowned out with low-quality, low-effort, snarky meta-commentary, and there is no way for most of us to filter by a combination of both topic and user.

Below are the commentary feeds that I am currently curating. If you are also interested in curating feeds of high-quality commentary on similar or other topics, share them with me in the comments- I would love to check them out!

  • Software development (What makes good and bad software development experiences)
  • Social media (The state of different social media services, user generated content and recommendation algorithms)
  • Addiction (Living with, overcoming and life after addiction)
  • Mental health (Factors impacting our mental health in the modern age)
  • Capitalism (How capitalism intersects with work, art, technology, urban planning, life and love)