Disqus: The Case For And Against

Editors note: I’d actually started writing this before this post hit Techmeme, so I’ve updated this post to fit.

Disqus is an embedded commenting system that’s getting a lot of viral support lately, and even some money via Fred Wilson and others.

Disqus, not unlike the original incarnation of CoComment offers centralized comment tracking, threaded messages and third party support. Those who use Disqus outsource their comment systems under the premise that what Disqus offers is better than what they have available to them on their current blogs.

I’ve had a lot of suggestions since launching The Inquisitr last week about services this site should either support or be running, and a couple of people have recommended Disqus. I’ve not been warm towards the service in the past (I was a fierce critic of the original incarnation of coComment), but I know if something is getting a ton of buzz it’s at least worth some homework. As far as I can read it, this is the case for and against Disqus

For

The case for Disqus can be easily broken down into parts. Primarily it provides a super-charged comment cross platform comment system. Features include threaded comments, user profiles, spam control and centralized tracking. Third party commenting isn’t new and has been available from the early days of the blogosphere, particularly back when (the now Google owned) Blogger didn’t offer built in support for commenting. Disqus is clearly a cut above what we’ve seen previously in terms of feature set.

Where the case for Disqus gets interesting is with an appeal in the social media sharing space. The short version argues that using Disqus encourages more people to comment and visit your site as people will be tracking your site via Disqus. Steve Hodson describes it against negatives as such:

“I came to the conclusion that the potential for having WinExtra accessible to a potentially wider audience because of the community features the Disqus team were building into the framework out weighted what Google could do for me.”

Fred Wilson doesn’t really provide the best case for Disqus (there’s nothing in his main points that cant be done via other services or plugins) but he does note the social benefits that seem to be (perhaps) the key case for Disqus

“Since I converted from TypePad comments to Disqus last August the number of comments I regularly get have gone up by a factor of at least five and maybe ten.”

Against

Approaching Disqus before writing this post control was my number one concern. In outsourcing your comments to Disqus you are outsourcing your control over those comments and they are no longer unique to your own site. I was impressed to learn that the Disqus team are bending over backwards trying to address this concern. Already you can export your Disqus comments out of the system and back into WordPress (although I’m not sure how hard bringing them back in would be). The ability to bring your existing comments into Disqus though is lacking, although they promise they are working on it.

In terms of implementation you can choose to keep WP native comments on posts that already have comments and only implement Disqus on posts without comments or new posts, which is a nice touch.

Ryan Spoon tried Disqus and quit after five days, and in doing so he raises another serious concern: the lost SEO benefits of native commenting. Native comments are indexed by Google and contribute to your search status. My understanding is that the API version of the plugin (not the JS version) is fully indexable, so using this overcomes that problem, although you then may suffer a duplicate content penalty… I wonder if you could pay an annual fee to make sure Disqus blocked your comment pages on there site from search engines?

Ryan’s other point is a lack of support for trackbacks/ pingbacks, and that’s an issue I don’t have an answer for, and it’s a serious worry. Good bloggers should support pingbacks and list them; I’ve always considered it just reward for someone linking in to you, and vice versa if I was linking out to them.

Daniel Ha from Disqus writes in Ryan’s thread:

Agreed. Trackbacks are important but I don’t think the current approach is very good. We’re working on something pretty big with this. It’s an understandable frustration that there is no explicit support for the traditional method yet, however. We will address this.

Sooner hopefully rather than later.

One last point in terms of control: in outsourcing your commenting you lose the possible benefits of registering those users later as Mashable has done in a native social network. I’m not about to say I’m going to launch a social network here at The Inquisitr, but I might want to 6-9 months down the path. I’d like to see better support from Disqus in terms of easy API support (they have an API, but that doesn’t mean I know how to use it), something like Google’s social widget offering this week, or even OpenSocial widget support. Disqus is already a social network of sorts, but allowing people to better build on that (without the tech knowledge) would be a great value add.

Conclusion

Despite some concerns over control and trackbacks, I find the social argument compelling. Since embracing FriendFeed earlier this week I’ve found that FriendFeed, despite in part taking conversation away from the site, has actually increased page views. Not by a huge margin, but FriendFeed keeps popping up in the top ten list of refers every day.

I’d like to see Disqus tackle the pingback issue, even if it means tweaking the plugin so that native pingbacks are displayed alongside Disqus comments.

Will I implement Disqus? I had a quick play today with the WP API plugin and even had it running here for a short time. Pingbacks aside the only thing holding me back from switching it on now: tweaking the CSS for the Disqus comments is a pain. It doesn’t automatically accept the CSS from the site, and simply the comments here under Disqus looked dicky. I’ll play some more over the weekend and you might see them here from next week.