There's nothing worse as a blog owner to discover that your site isn't loading properly. Saturday night at 10pm my time (3am PST Saturday) just before I was going to switch off for the night, The Inquisitr started doing funny things, like not loading the front page. I fired up Firebug to troubleshoot, and quickly discovered the issue was one of the Disqus widgets we had in the sidebar.
Disqus has experienced some downtime this year. Bloggers using a local install of WordPress and running the API plugin don't have much to fear: comments revert to native WordPress comments when Disqus is down. Someone asked me this week if we'd dumped Disqus because one recent post wasn't showing Disqus, so they were down at some stage earlier in the week as well. But that's great if you're only using Disqus for commenting: if you're running widgets from Disqus there's no fall back; if they don't load, they stop everything past that point, as they did with The Inquisitr Saturday. The answer of course is to not run Disqus widgets, but we'll get to that in a second.
Whether it was Disqus alone with issues I'm not sure. Ripping out the Disqus widgets caused more of the site to load, and then Outbrain was slowing things down a lot, so both may share a data center. I checked the one site I knew was running both: LouisGray.com and it was having the same issues. Our Technorati Engage 125px units also started throwing errors, so they're still down today, along with FriendFeed integration.
I pinged Louis and his wise advice was that sometimes sites have outages, and it was the middle of then night so it wasn't an issue for him. He's right about it happening, but I don't have to like it. For a 2 hour period we had only 200 visitors when we'd usually have 2000-4000, so it hurt.
In my anger I started shopping around for a Disqus alternative. SezWho and Intense Debate were the two sites I hit (JS-Kit is another service), and I decided to play with Intense Debate; it's a small thing but Intense Debate offers far more information on their service than SezWho does, and it was the selling point.
I briefly ran Intense Debate here on The Inquisitr before switching Disqus back on once the issues had passed. Disqus is still running as I write this post, but I won't commit long term to keeping it this way. Here's why I nearly switched, and why I might yet.
Intense Debate For
Integrated WordPress commenting: no iFrame for Intense Debate, instead all comments are shown natively in WordPress. It's an "advanced" view that delivers Intense Debate services in the one spot. Disqus by comparison has a highly confused interface: for example you don't have all moderation features in their admin view, but you do on the post itself. In WordPress you get an iFrame.
Integrated FriendFeed comments: if I switch this will be a big selling point. Intense Debate imports FriendFeed comments into the comment thread itself, so they just look like standard comments. We've previously been running them here at The Inquisitr, but they aren't combined in the comment thread. Disqus has previously talked about doing this, but they don't do it today that I'm aware of.
Integrated Twitter support: not a huge selling point, but at a time where Twitter has never been more popular, the option to allow users to Tweet their comment complete with link can only help drive traffic back to your site. Disqus doesn't offer anything similar.
Reputation Management: Both offer reputation management, but with Intense Debate it's a stronger part of the presentation.
Better looks on site: You can customize CSS with Intense Debate embeds, but out of the box I prefer Disqus for looks. Intense Debate was more imposing on the page, from aggresive feature boxes through to a big "powered by Intense Debate" line at the base of the comments. Bugs: One of the reasons I didn't stick with Intense Debate was bugs; I'd swapped out Disqus due to server issues on their end, but the Intense Debate code caused local issues with their plugin and code base. I jumped on their support forums and others had reported issues as well. Better still, at the time of writing Intense Debate doesn't support WordPress 2.7, which is all the more bizarre when you consider it's owned by Automattic, the company behind WordPress itself.
Community: The biggest reason I'm sticking with Disqus for the time being. I'm sure Intense Debate has a reasonable community, but I know among our regular readers that many have Disqus accounts. I also know many others sites we link to and share with run Disqus as well. Community is THE KEY selling point to Disqus, it was one of the reasons I cited when we signed up, it's a key reason why using Disqus has driven comment growth here, and dumping Disqus risks the inverse effect of costing us commenters, and it's a gamble I'd rather not make, at least now.
Better Widgets: when they work, Disqus widgets integrate better on blogs, and I use two of them for that very reason. The widgets for Intense Debate felt clunky, didn't integrate well, and needed hacking for better looks. Lazy perhaps, but Disqus is better out of the box.
Underdog: I like supporting Disqus because they are a small, independent startup, and it helps that CEO Daniel Ha is a great bloke who can't do enough to help you when you get stuck (well accept in the middle of the night naturally :-) ). Intense Debate is an Automattic service, a big company with a near monopoly on self hosted blogs. Competition is best encouraged by supporting (within reason) the little guy.
As much as I'll never get my lost sleep back from Saturday night (the light went out at 3am) my annoyance with Disqus gave me the opportunity to seriously look at Intense Debate, and I'm grateful that I did. It's an impressive service, with many strong selling points. Competition in the market drives players to continually improve their service and features, and Disqus can easily improve in a number of areas based on what Intense Debate is doing. Disqus has my business for now, but that business could be snatched away in the future should a competitor be able to mount a strong enough reason to switch.
If you're starting a new blog, or haven't joined the commenting 2.0 revolution, you should have Intense Debate on your list. The switching path is easier than Disqus, and you could do far worse.