Do 3rd party commenting systems (Disqus et al) support my community, or theirs?

Date: Fri Apr 04 2014 Online Community »»»» Drupal Planet »»»» Disqus »»»» techsparx
It used to be that Web 2.0 was the cool new thing, and a core feature was that the audience could leave comments on websites. It's common nowadays for websites to support comments, and comment areas have become (in some cases) a war zone full of partisan bickering. It was ground-breaking the 10ish or so years ago that websites began to support 3rd party comments. Really.

On the client site I'm working on we're looking at revamping the discussions system. The site was first built several years ago, on Drupal 6, and is still running Drupal 6, and is using the native Drupal comments system. A large community of regular commenters do exist on the site, and on occasion the discussions become brutal. One thing we want is a better moderation tools.

Looking around the Web we see that most sites have abandoned the native comments system offered by the CMS platform they're using. Instead there are four systems offered by 3rd party comment systems which are in wide use: Facebook Comments, Disqus, Livefyre, and Intense Debate. Additionally, Google is pushing operators of Blogger blogs to switch to using Google+ as the blog commenting system. I've written up some notes here:

I personally prefer Disqus, which you can see below, on all my sites except the ones based on Blogger.

The trade-off that we've talked about is - if we switch to a 3rd party commenting system, are we building our brand, or are we building the brand of that 3rd party? Using Facebook Comments, aren't we helping Facebook grow at the expense of our site? Ditto with the other 3rd party commenting systems.

In theory it's useful to own as much of the relationship with your audience as you can. Is it?

The problem I personally have with managing a comments system is the problem of spammers destroying the community experience. Is it a good use of my time to monitor the comments on my blog for spammers? But if I don't then the spammers take over, and ruin the commenting experience. My solution was, as you see below, to install Disqus. But is this the best solution?

Being a Drupal site it's possible to add in some tools that help the commenting community to self-administer. The flag module comes to mind. It's also possible to contact some of the more prolific commenters, and enroll them as community moderators. That would come at the cost of more complexity on the site - and of course, installing more modules on a Drupal site often impacts site performance.

Disqus (and Livefyre and Intense Debate) support easy user authentication, integrating with OAuth tokens from 3rd party social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc). That's another issue with native Drupal comments, is that many people are leery of signing up with yet another site just to leave comments. By letting the prospective commenter sign up using their social network account, it reduces their hassle with just getting on with the process of commenting. It's more likely they'll become a commenter, in other words.

But-- getting back to are we building our brand this way, or not, doesn't this again feed the social networks at our expense?

On the other hand, a fact of the current state of the Internet is that the social networks are king, and that's where the bulk of the discussion is occurring anyway. Someone shares a link to your article somewhere, and a whole slew of people will discuss it, often without even reading the article, and you don't even know about the discussion. It might even happen on a network you've never heard of. (the way I heard of was when one of my articles had a viral discussion on that site, causing a one-time traffic spike)

Should we, then, embrace that fact and be on as much of the social network spaces that we can?

If seen some posts by ProBloggers recently talking about why they're completely turning off comments on their own blog, and instead spending their time participating in the social networks. That's a real head-scratcher given how ground-breaking it was back in the day when commenting systems first became popular.