Review: Should You Use DISQUS Comment System? Maybe…

By Michael Stelzner

Perhaps you have seen the DISQUS comment system on other blogs and wondered, “Should I add this to mine?”  This blog post will reveal some things you need to know BEFORE you make the leap.

I have been blogging for more than three years now and there have been a lot of things that have evolved.  One new area is the advancement in blog comment systems.

I am an avid reader of Mashable.com and noticed they use the DISQUS  (pronounced discuss) commenting system.  So I decided to give it a try.  Here is my (detailed) analysis of the system…

First, the positives:  It is a very impressive system that brings a lot of new capabilities to us bloggers.  For example, the ability to do threaded replies is very good.  This means anyone can engage anyone else directly, rather than replying in general to all.  The threaded replies are indented, making it easy to track sub-discussions.  I would say this is one of my favorite features.

The system also pulls Gravatar pictures automatically based on email addresses.  This is good because a visual identity of an individual remains, whether they are registered with DISQUS or not.

DISQUS has a lot of integration as well.  For example, they work with integration partners to allow the following:

  • Logging in with Twitter ID
  • Logging in with Facebook ID (however the website owner has to go through hoops to make this work)
  • Logging in with OpenID
  • Leaving a video response (requires Seesmic account)
  • Tracking social media response (via UberVU)

There are also impressive controls we bloggers have, including:

  • Placing comment box at top or bottom
  • Sorting comments by age
  • Setting comment pagination, fonts, gravatar sizes and much more
  • Determining the text to display when no comments are there (such as “Be the first to comment” rather than “0 Comments”)
  • Assigning multiple moderators for your blog (this is nice)

Now for what’s missing…

The first thing you should know is DISQUS literally overrides all of your existing comment related plugins.  For us WordPress users, that means Askimet (the spam comment system) is gone.  It also means some of the plugins you may have added (like subscribe to comments) are also gone.  You literally see a window in your control panel to the DISQUS website, where all controls happen and comments reside.

Some other BIG things that are missing include:

No hotlinks on names:  In the past, when a commenter enters a comment, their name was hotlinked to the web address they entered (allowing folks to check them out).  Now that capability is shut off by default UNLESS that person registers with DISQUS.  Once the email is registered, only then will the name be hot linkable.

Names often come out wrong: When a user does register with DISQUS, they need to pick an ID (like mikestelzner). When that person leaves a comment, the ID replaces his or her name by default.  I learned this the hard way.  I needed to go back in and change my name to be something other than my ID in DISQUS in order to change what was displayed.  However, one trip over to Mashable.com and you can see that most people don’t know to do this.  The result is no longer a personal name, but some short nickname that is not personal.  The good news however is that if you ever change your name, all posts are updated.

Comments and control reside at DISQUS:  You will notice that everything about your comments and their moderation is actually residing on DISQUS servers, not your own.  Thus, if they ever decided to charge you OR if their servers go down, you are in big trouble.  Now it does seem for WordPress at least, that the comments are also mirrored (meaning a copy seems to reside in WordPress).  However, all the moderation actions are not mirrored back into WordPress.  So the real big question is what will happen to DISQUS down the road and how will that impact your comments (which are a rich part of your site).  Also, if you tag a comment as spam inside DISQUS, it does not also tag it that way in the WordPress database.  So, if you uninstall DISQUS, you will need to go back through all your comments and remoderate them.

Social media comments don’t work: I thought it would be real nice to see all the social media comments from Twitter, FriendFeed and other sources linked on my blog post.  However, I quickly noticed a LOT of junk (AKA spam) also listed.  For example, a post from last week had maybe 25 social media responses, of which a good 10 seemed to have nothing to do with the post NOR did they link to it.  A possible exploit by spammers?  I think perhaps.  I quickly shut that down because you have no notifications and would never know this was happening unless you constantly checked EVERY blog post on your blog.  This feature is NOT ready for prime time.

Subscribe to comments is not good:  It is not obvious how a commenter can subscribe to comments. They see a little icon that looks like a letter with the word subscribe.  The blog owner has no control over whether this is defaulted to on or off.  Rather, the user/commenter has to set a policy to either subscribe to all or not.  And if you set that policy, they also ask you to double opt-in each time you comment on any blog.  This makes the pull back factor for comments very weak.  The exception is if someone comments in a thread directly to you.  Then you will receive an email. UPDATE: Since I posted this (less than 24 hours ago), it seems that DISQUS has updated this feature.  It now does have a better subscription option for “non-logged in” folks to subscribe.  However, once you are registered as a DISQUS user, I see no obvious way to do this.

UPDATES SINCE THIS REVIEW WENT LIVE…

Moderating comments is lame: With DISQUS, when you get a comment that needs moderation, it’s not obvious.  The way it works is you get an email with a subject like this: “[writingwhitepapers] Re: Should You Use DISQUS Comment Syst.”  Unfortunately, that is the same email subject line you get with all your “approved” comments.  And, when a comment comes in, you first get the email with the comment.  Then a duplicate email comes through that has little sentence in it’s opening with, “NOTE: This comment is waiting for your approval…”  Thus, it is very easy to overlook comments that need approval.  And, when you login to the admin panel, there is no obvious clue that says you have comments waiting to be moderated (you simply must remember to look).  Really lame compared to WordPress.

When DISQUS is down, comments go in WordPress:  The bad news is there is no way to get those comments from WordPress into DISQUS.  You need to actually act you are the commenter and manually enter them.  An issue arises if that person already has a DISQUS account, as you are prompted with their password.  DISQUS really needs a way to port over comments when they down.  By the way, this issue only happened after a month of use and I hope it is an rare occurance.

Summary: Lots of promise and granular control that has never been seen before in comments.  However, if you use a variety of plugins to do create comment stuff (like auto subscribes or posting the commenters last blog post), all that is gone.  I think the weaknesses of DISQUS are still very strong and actually might decrease comment participation on your blog, rather than increase it.  I will keep experimenting with the service, but may likely remove it in the near future unless some of these issues are addressed.

What has been your experience?

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