Conversation is massively important online for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helps you build rapport with your audience, and secondly it provides you with fresh as a daisy content for your site. An active comment stream is also a sign that your content is both healthy, useful and engaging, and with typically less than 1% of visitors commenting; over the past few years I’ve seen a number of social comment systems crop up out of the woodwork which have attempted to make that process easier.
There are a number of potential solutions available for free on the web today, yet personally, I haven’t implemented a social commenting system here – other than the standard WordPress solution. Mainly, I have concerns over these solutions being another potential point of failure. What happens if one of their servers going down, and will it negatively impact the speed of my site? What costs to site speed, and the overall experience will these additional requests place? That said, I am a late adopter / stick in the mud / grumpy git at times, so my decision is somewhat irrelevant. Anyway. I digress..
I’ve highlighted the solutions here which leave your comments still attached to your database, your comment markup unchanged, and make their business model known to customers – so you can be confident that content which belongs to you, aren’t likely to be monetized by a third party, or that the SEO benefits of comments are still intact. Considerations which should all be taken into account before implementing any third party widget or tool on your blog in my opinion – no point in working your hiney off, for some other web application to swallow it for lunch, without so much as a thank you. So without further ado – the low down on social comment systems on the web.
Data held: Both On Disqus servers, and your own.
Search Friendly? Yes
Noteworthy Disclaimers: “By posting content, you are granting permission to us and others to access and use it in connection with the Services, the Site and otherwise in connection with our business.”
Business Model: Additional features for larger publishers (paid)
Installation Difficulty: Medium / Low
YCombinator backed Disqus offer a number of features to their comment system. Firstly, the login system has integration with Facebook connect, Twitter, OpenId and Yahoo. Users can also choose to leave a comment as a guest, much in the same way that standard blog comments do.
Logging in does obviously have its benefits – firstly it makes your users accountable, as comments are tied to a social profile elsewhere on the web, and secondly your users get a few simple benefits such as their profile images being associated with comments, and name and url fields being autofilled in. The other major benefit is that your profile remains logged in from site to site; meaning you only have to login once with Disqus, and that persists then on every website which utilises it’s system.
Comments which are made once logged in are also recorded from around the web in a central location, allowing Disqus users to manage comments (including deleting them), in one place. ‘Connections’ allow you to integrate other social properties from around the web such as Tweeting or sharing comments on Facebook, or adding those comments to your blog. Incidently, tweets are brought in by default, if a twitter user posts a link back to your page. this allows you to see the Twitter conversation alongside your own “traditional” conversation really easily.
Data held: InstaComment Servers
Search Friendly? No
Noteworthy Disclaimers: “You understand that by using our service, it may cause unwanted server operation on your end, which we are not responsible for.”
Business Model: None obvious. Free service.
Installation Difficulty: Low
There are a number of features available, such as RSS feeds, Akismet integration, cross browser support, captcha tag and advanced IP banning if you find abuse of your comments becoming a problem. Overall a well written little solution; albeit, perhaps too lightweight for some.
Data held: Both on Echo servers and yours
Search Friendly? With some work. See here.
Noteworthy Disclaimers: None to be found
Business Model: Paid service
Installation Difficulty: Medium
One of the sexiest comment systems I’ve seen on the web so far is Echo. With a number of additional extras such as bringing photos and videos to the comment stream, it offers a much richer experience than any other solution out there on teh web today. Acquiring other comment solutions (namely SezWho and HaloScan) has led to Echo becoming a major player in the comment solution ecosystem. SezWho in particular, bringing commenter reputation and identification firmly to their offering. They are however somewhat elusive; you need to be generating up to 1 million pageviews a month before you get a lookin at pricing, so that will put many of the smaller publishers off. If they could squeeze out a cut down product, I’m sure those in the 500,000 PV range would bite.
There is a strong concentration on realtime within the Echo implementation, which turns your comment stream into a living, breathing entity, and a number of social profiles are supported to lower the barrier to commenting.
Echo “listens” to data streams from Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, Del.icio.us, and other social sites. If they find that someone is mentioning your post (by URL), then they insert that item into Echo chronologically.
For the user side, at time of writing, Facebook, Google, Twitter, FriendFeed, Yahoo, Blogger, OpenId – and old Haloscan and JS-Kit accounts are supported for your visitors, and within each of these that you attach to your account, sharing support with your network is implemented, helping to drive traffic back to the publisher website with each comment placed.
Another much needed feature which works particularly well, is clustering of comment threads, allowing multiple comments to be placed as replies to each, then collapsed on a set limit, allowing other fresh comments not related to a thread to exist alongside. This includes Tweets and Retweets, which Echo automagically pulls in alongside your comments in a similar way to Disqus. A very tidy solution all round.
Data held: Both yours and Intense Debate servers
Search Friendly? Yes, if on a supported platform.
Noteworthy Disclaimers: “I hereby do and shall grant IntenseDebate a worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicensable and transferable license to use, edit, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Submissions in connection with the Site, the Service and IntenseDebate’s (and its successors and assigns’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Site (and derivative works thereof) or the Service in any media formats and through any media channels (including, without limitation, third party websites) and to allow others to do so.”
Installation Difficulty: Low
Intense Debate was acquired by Automattic (the guys behind WordPress) wayyy back in 2008. They have produced a system which has comment threading, email notification and comment voting available out of the box. As with Disqus reply by email, allowing your audience to respond right from their email client – giving a certain level of control from mobile devices.
The social profiles which are implemented to allow your visitors to get involved are the usual suspects (Facebook and Twitter) and also, OpenID – which frankly doesn’t get much traction on its own, without being wrapped up in a similar way to Clickpass. There is much more of a social network feel to what IntenseDebate have built, as your own central comment profile allows you to ‘follow’ other users, and keep up with the conversations they are partaking in.
Really there isn’t much between Disqus and IntenseDebate, personally, I’d probably say Disqus has the edge, as it both has a larger number of platforms supported, and the installation process seemed to be a little slicker. That said however, both implementations keep your data in the WordPress MySql db – so you should be sweet to implement both and try them out for yourself.
Others Worth a Mention
KickApps Comment System – Really interesting API which allows you to garner custom information from your customers, and display both their thoughts AND their feelings.
coComment – Keep track of every single one of your comments, or someone else’s, and the responses to them… wherever they occur. CoComment summarizes all of your comments, and the responses, in a single location and notifies you of any updates to any of them.
Tangler – a live discussion forum, which can also double up as a comments system.
SiteLife Comments – High end comment system for high traffic blogs driving additional engagement.
BazaarVoice – ratings, reviews and comments on e-commerce platforms used to drive additional sales.