Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Is Disqus evil?

Disqus logo One of my proudest blogging achievements is that I seem to be winning the war against participation inequality and engaging in a genuine conversation with the people who read my blogs.

How do I know? On MicrobiologyBytes, the number of comments exceed the number of posts by nearly two to one, and on this blog, I often get feedback on ideas and observations within minutes of posting them.

One of the most important things I have learned is that anything which is a potential barrier to someone leaving a comment on a blog for the first time is evil - once people have joined the conversation, they stick around to participate. On MicrobiologyBytes, Askimet does a brilliant job of stopping the spam (and spam comments exceed genuine ones by 135:1 on that blog), allowing commenters to write their comment and publish it with a single click - no registration, catchpa, or any other barrier, just write and click. And the most important thing I did on this blog last year was to remove comment moderation (although I have kept the Blogger catchpa), allowing reader's comments to appear instantly on the site - one less barrier to joining the conversation.

In addition to making it as easy as possible for people to leave comments on my blogs, the other side of the blogging equation is to comment on other people's blogs. As wide a variety of blogs as possible, and to comment early and comment often. And that creates a problem. If you want to stay in the conversation, how do you track all the comments you leave across dozens of blogs?

When I first heard about disqus a few months ago, I thought it might be the answer to this problem, as disqus is intended to do just that - track the conversation across multiple blogs. But the last 24 hours may have changed my opinion about disqus. Twice in that time, disqus has prevented me leaving a comment on other blogs, the first time in response to Terry Elliott's commentary on my PLE tutorial, and the second time on Rocketboom's new tumblr blog.

It may be that I'm missing something. Or it may be that disqus does not work with OS X (although there is no mention of that that I can find on their site), but that's not important. What is important is that disqus is a barrier to the person who is trying to leave a comment. Because disqus take over the commenting system on a blog, leaving no alternative, and requires registration, many first time readers will slip away without ever joining the conversation. So disqus does not appear to be the answer to the problem of conversation across multiple blogs.

So maybe there's a better solution?

Update: Very prompt response from the disqus team. On further investigation, one problem seems to be with using the Flock browser - I was able to leave comments with Firefox.


  1. At JS-Kit, we agree that tracking comments across sites is potentially valuable. However, we also feel that this value is highly network dependent (ie, proportional to scale) and that users should be able to access their own conversation or follow other threads from where they are, and not via yet another anoline destination. Look for announcement from JS-Kit on both of these fronts in the coming weeks.

    Eric at JS-Kit dot com

  2. Thanks for the update. I have not personally experienced any issues with Disqus on the Flock/OSX but I will look closer into this.

    Happy New Year,

    Daniel Ha

  3. Interesting that you have come to the same conclusion about 'comments' as I have, so I am waiting to see how I do with spam.

  4. On my blog, spam comments have outnumbered actual comments 168:1. Most but not all of the spam has been caught by Akismet. The spam that sneaks through still outnumbers real comments more than 10 to 1, so I'm inclined to keep moderation on.

    If I check at least once a day, I don't think moderation is much of a barrier to participating, though the opinions (and the mileage) of others may vary.

  5. OP, you are right on. Disqus is evil, and so is everything else that hinders communication.

    Props to you for realizing that so very many people just cannot and will not be bothered to comment, if there is any kind of login or other overhead involved, and for keeping your comment section restriction-free.

    Unfortunately, 99% of the Internet -- especially "big" sites -- fail to realize they are shooting themselves in the foot by requiring logins. Or maybe they are just "playing dumb" to serve their own ends, placing more value on capturing the personal information of a few users, vs. getting a _real_ discussion going, potentially amongst _all_ visitors.

    So much talk about "community" and "crowdsourcing", etc., but the truth is: those "communities" and "crowds" are only composed of people who actually can be bothered to register/login/jump through whatever other hoops/etc., and thus are not representative of the general population.

    I think I'm preaching to the choir here so I'll stop. Keep up the good work!

  6. Not only is Disqus is evil, but poorly managed. Trolls can flag on commenters accounts and have them banned, while they have free reign on the sit. You get some real anal moderators on there too, curbing freedom of speech.