Guestbooks were a fairly common feature of web 1.0 personal sites and an early form of commenting. Visitors would fill out a form that usually included the visitor’s name, email, geographic location, and personal website url. Notably, guestbooks did not require any sort of registration or verification, making it an early mechanism for anonymous comments. Guestbooks provided a step away from person-to-person communication, email, and toward the person-to-platform communication that is now ubiquitous online in the form of comments and 1-clicks. Signing guestbooks allowed visitors to share links back to their own sites, which led to the rise of guestbook link spam.
Neocities is the only place I still routinely see guestbooks. A couple of popular guestbook (or guestbooklike) providers include htmlcommentbox (see 2bit), smartgb (see halfacookie), and 123guestbook (see neonriser). The benefit of the former is you can integrate it into your site directly, unfortunately it requires a gmail account for moderation. The use of guestbooks on Neocities is not entirely nostalgia-driven, Neocities’ activity page allows neocitizens to comment on each other’s profiles and updates but there is a 2 week waiting period for comments from new accounts, effectively gating it from drivebys but also potentially discouraging casual benign comments (hey, great site!).
I’ve thought off and on about adding a way for people to communicate with me other than email and have traveled a few rabbit holes regarding comment implementation on static sites. I’m still ambivalent on a general commenting mechanism like a guestbook, I might set one up eventually, but enabling comments on posts is definitely a hard no. I don’t mind a guestbook for the same reasons I don’t mind the Neocities activity feed/profile comments, but it’s important to keep a little corner of the web that is just my voice and thoughts, uninterrupted.
A few links from this excursion: