If you’ve visited 40Tech since its inception back in June, you may have noticed a few changes to the system for visitor comments. We’ve been searching for the "perfect" system, and we’ve tried out Disqus, Intense Debate, and JS-Kit Echo on this site and a test server. For a few reasons, 40Tech is now back to using the default WordPress commenting system, with some enhancements. What are the reasons for not going with one of the third- party systems? Let’s take a look at our experience with each of these three third-party commenting systems.
I really wanted to like Disqus. When it works, it is the most elegant and visually appealing solution of the three external systems. It is also powerful, while maintaining its simplicity. Disqus allows visitors to use their Disqus dashboard to monitor their comments on all Disqus-enabled sites. For blog owners, Disqus will seek out and retrieve comments and mentions from other sites, such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, and YouTube. Disqus supports real-time posting and updating, as well as threaded replies and comment replies.
We used Disqus for an extended period here on 40Tech. We ran into a problem, though, with the comment count on the home page and individual post pages either not displaying the count, or not even displaying the word "comments." A checkbox to fix this in the Disqus dashboard did nothing to fix the problem, and Disqus support never responded to either a support request, or a post in the Disqus forums (those forums have since been replaced). Eventually, I was able to fix the problem by hacking the Disqus plugin.
Recently, though, Disqus updated to version 3, which broke Gravatar integration here at 40Tech. The only images that were showing were the images of registered Disqus users, and Twitter users. This time, I at least got a response to my support inquiry. One of the developers asked for more information, but I received no follow up after that. This also happened when I made an inquiry via Twitter. I understand that Disqus is a free service and top notch support can’t be expected, but I couldn’t use a broken system on a site, and deactivated Disqus.
Like Disqus, Intense Debate was also visually appealing, and it worked as advertised. Intense Debate also allows users to monitor all of their posts on various sites from one central location, and will retrieve comments from FriendFeed and republish them back on your blog. Intense Debate also allows users to associate multiple sites with their profiles, and supports "reputation scores," so that other users can "thumb up" or "thumb down" comments.
I liked Intense Debate, but it had one fatal flaw. Specifically, if you click on an Intense Debate user’s name in a comment header, the link takes you to that user’s Intense Debate profile, not to the user’s blog. If you hover over the user’s avatar, then a link to his or her blog appears, along with other information, but this won’t be obvious to many visitors. We want to give visitors a chance to promote their own sites, so this was a deal breaker. If a visitor isn’t an Intense Debate user, that visitor can comment as a guest, and then his name will link to his own site. This is a curious design choice by the Intense Debate developers, as it actually discourages use of Intense Debate profiles. I have an Intense Debate profile, but never use it on sites powered by Intense Debate, because I’d rather have my name link go to my site, instead of to my Intense Debate profile.
JS-Kit Echo is perhaps the most powerful of the three commenting system. JS-Kit Echo provides a base commenting system, but also captures all sorts of conversations related to your blog post from across the internet, and displays it within your comments. Within the comments section of an Echo-powered blog, you’ll find a stream of comments, twitter posts, Delicious bookmarks, Google Reader feeds, and more. Each one of these pieces of content has been pulled to your site because it references the initial post in some way or another. Echo gives commenters the option to share their comments with multiple "recipients," sending comments to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, or Twitter. Echo therefore is almost all-encompassing, both in the content it retrieves, and the content that users can send out to other sites.
Because Echo is so powerful, it is also the most convoluted and hard to understand. For casual visitors to a site, it takes a bit of study of the comment form to figure out exactly what is going on. It is even more difficult for casual users to get their brains around exactly what Echo does.
I also found the default skins to be ugly and unwieldy, and I wasn’t confident that I could modify them enough with CSS to make Echo easier to swallow. Echo also was slow in my testing. When loading my pages, I would keep an eye on my browser status bar, and at times Echo would take 30-60 seconds to load. The same happened with other sites I visited. That was several weeks ago, though, and I’ve since visited other Echo-enabled sites that now load much faster. Echo might be worth another visit once it has gone through its growing pains.
Echo’s pricing also seems to be somewhat of a moving target. There was a free version when I tried it out, but now the cheapest version appears to cost $12, and the price of the other versions isn’t even listed on the JS-Kit site.
For now, because of the above "dislikes" with each system, 40Tech is back to using the default WordPress commenting sytem, with some modifications. Although the other commenting systems do allow customization and even some theming options, this doesn’t match the customization options built into the default WordPress commenting system. The WordPress commenting system is also supported by a treasure trove of extensions.
The ultimate factor in deciding on a commenting system comes down to how it affects the quality and quantity of comments left on a site. The number of comments at 40Tech actually spiked the first time I dropped Disqus for the default commenting system (before I reenabled Disqus). That, though, could have been due to the site content at the time, which did feature a few higher traffic articles. I wonder, though, if that was the sole reason. I suspect that most people aren’t interested in bells and whistles, and want to be able to say what they’re thinking with a minimum of fuss and confusion. While streams of information from other sites might be of interest to blog owners, and may even stimulate more conversation, it also can clutter a blog and distract visitors.
That said, don’t be surprised if you see continued exploration of comment systems at 40Tech. We like pain.
If you comment at sites, do you have a system that you prefer? If you have your own site, which commenting system are you using on your site, and how do you like it?