Saturday, May 10, 2008

Debating Disqus Seems Stupid, But He Did it Anyway

David Risley, most likely in an attempt to glom on to a "meme" about Disqus on TechMeme (and it worked!), wrote a post called Debating Disqus Seems Stupid. After reading the post, I think what he really seemed to mean was USING Disqus seems stupid. I have no qualms at all with rabble rousers stirring the pot , especially if it generates some useful conversation. I’m not quite sure yet whether Risley is just a chucklehead, but I can weigh in on why we didn’t think using Disqus on was a stupid decision.

Disclaimer: TVbytheNumbers while niche is more targeted to a mainstream audience rather than an early adopter/Internet or social media enthusiast crowd. As we push towards 100K monthly uniques (currently just over 80K), if 1000 of them have ever used Twitter or heard of FriendFeed, I’d be surprised.

Having said that, it’s not like we lack data. We can see what people do. While we have a fair amount of commenting on our blog, not only do our visitors overwhelmingly NOT post comments, they overwhelmingly don’t even read them. And at this point we have a lot of data to suggest that even people who comment often are not reading any of the comments. So from our perspective comments are just a way to give people who want to speak up a voice to do so, it also enables some two-way communication that is very useful for us. Over time, we garner a fair bit of knowledge about the stuff we write about as a result of comments people have made.

But for us, the debate over comments, while perhaps not stupid is mostly moot. For this reason, things like “Disqus doesn’t post trackbacks in the comments section” is completely irrelevant to us. Usually most of the trackbacks were from scrapers anyway and just got caught in our spam filter and were something to manage. It’s not like we had 50,000 people a month thinking, “Wow, nobody frakking links to these guys, I can’t ever read this blog again!” While I would like to be able to give blogs that link to us some visibility, I don’t see it as a huge downside for us or for them. Our experience is that links within posts can sometimes drive a fair bit of traffic to other sites, but links in the comments, trackbacks or otherwise get very few clicks at all. I don’t think though that our average reader is as “click-happy” as the average avid Twitter user.

While it’s nice that I can share comments on FriendFeed for like the 5 (ok, 30) people who are following me, it’s not a huge deal. I imagine most who follow me hid my Disqus comments because they’re mostly about TV and not relevant to the early adopter crowd. We have no issue at all that Disqus can centralize our comments. If 20,000 people a month are reading our blogs comments via Disqus, sure we’ll care. But it won’t even be 200. I’m not sure it will be 20!

So who cares? Our readers certainly don’t. After one week on Disqus, where Disqus was only on new posts, we flipped the switch so that it would be Disqus on ALL posts. This had the downside of nuking existing comments off our site, but since our readers aren’t all that obsessed with these conversations, why should we be? We’re not seeing any less commenting as a result not even on older posts.

Still, I think the biggest downside of Disqus for most is that there’s no easy way to integrate it with whatever comments you already have and still wind up only having one comments system to manage. But we switched primarily for two reasons:

- We wanted better looking comments but I didn’t want to screw around with restyling the CSS for the comments.php in our Wordpress theme
- We wanted to be able to reply to comments by e-mail. This is a really nice benefit

Disqus accomplished both things without alienating our existing readers. I haven’t seen one comment or e-mail complaining about the switch, though I did field a couple of e-mails about the Disqus registration being buggy and some pain in trying to upload a picture for use (Disqus is aware of this and working on it).

I’ve seen some talk about because of the way Disqus works comments can’t be indexed in search engines so there is no SEO value. For some blogs that may be an issue, but I doubt there are many blogs getting significant traffic based on comments coming up in organic search. I’m sure it’s not “nothing” for many blogs, just so close to nothing as to be irrelevant.

So if switching to Disqus:

- Didn’t piss our readers off
- Didn’t reduce overall commenting
- Made the comments easier to read/look nicer
- Didn’t put any extra burden on readers or commenters

- Made it easier for us to respond to comments
- Has no negative impact on our traffic

…how can it be stupid?

P.S. David, I linked to your blog post rather than your FriendFeed feed linking to it, but this blog gets no traffic. I'm not holding back the "Google Juice" (not that there's much at a PR of 5!), it's just not appropriate subject matter for that blog. But at least you got the TechMeme link...

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