On June 2nd of this year, my inbox pulled in an email with a link to an article with this headline: “Your Comment System Is Killing Your Discussions and Community Building Efforts.” I was immediately intrigued for two reasons. One, it was written by Sam for the Yakezie network which I had most recently joined. I love Sam’s writing and the ideas he puts forth so naturally I was going to read.
I also was interested because I was using the DISQUS commenting system on my blog at the time. I had installed that at the very beginning of Luke1428.com after doing some reading about how to monitor the comment section of a blog. DISQUS was promoted in the literature I read as being a system that 1) helped block spam, 2) raised the quality of conversation by weeding out gutter-trash commenters, and 3) provided options for monetization if the user wanted to go that route. Plus it was being used by several well-respected and highly trafficked blogs I was reading at the time. So I thought if it’s good enough for the bigwigs it’s good enough for me.
But I suspected Sam had an ulterior motive for preaching against comment systems. A few weeks prior to his post, we had an email exchange one day because he couldn’t log on to DISQUS at my site and make a comment on one of my posts. After several emails we eventually got it worked out and he left a comment. But I was frustrated one of my users had to go through that mess just to comment and I’m sure he was a tiny bit annoyed as well.
So I figured when I clicked to read the article that DISQUS and all other third party comment systems would be skewered. I was right.
In general, Sam’s main argument for abandoning comment systems is that they put up a wall to engagement in that a potential user has to register with the system to comment. They must keep track of their username and password at all times if they want to join the discussion. Many people will balk at that request, refuse to comment and thus the discussion and community building efforts are hindered.
Sam admitted to me in response to my comment on that post that his observations were anecdotal, based solely on his own experience. So I decided to run an experiment to put some data behind his observations. Perhaps then I could find out if DISQUS had actually been hurting my community building efforts.
On July 12th, I scrapped my DISQUS commenting system in favor of the traditional WordPress commenting platform. All the original comments transferred over without problem. The only addition I made to the system was adding the CommentLuv plugin, which allows other bloggers to leave a link to their most recent post when they comment on your article.
Notable Observations From My Experiment
Four months and 57 posts later here is what I’ve found:
1. Total Comments are flat, sort of. There are a total of 1,366 comments (which includes my own) from the 57 posts I’ve published since I discontinued using DISQUS. The prior 57 posts before scrapping DISQUS generated 1,360 total comments. Both average out to 24 comments per post.
Initially this looks like a wash but I feel it can be explained by looking deeper at what I’ve been doing at Luke1428 the last four months. I’ve published eight guest posts on other sites. Even though I linked to that article on my blog, those posts drew no comments at my site. All the comments were at the site that hosted my post. Based on my average comments per post, I could easily have added 200 more comments to the 1,366 total had I published those articles on my site.
In addition, I’ve had nine posts on my site that were written by a guest. While quality articles, for the most part guest posts produce less interaction in the comment section due to the fact they are not written by the site owner. I’ve only had one that drew above average comments. So I could conservatively estimate in another 100 total comments had I written my own post on the days those guest posts were scheduled.
Finally, I think comments are flat because I haven’t been as engaged myself with commenting on other blogs the last two months. Consequently, bloggers who reciprocate on comments haven’t been coming as much to Luke1428, thus reducing overall comments.
2. Comments per page view are down. Comments per page view are down from 1 comment per 16 page views in the four months prior to dropping DISQUS to 1 in 23 page views in the four months prior. I see this as a good development however, as it means more users have been coming to my site. I don’t see another issue relating to comment systems to extract out of this statistic.
3. New blogger engagement is up. A quick scan through my comment filter in WordPress shows me that I’ve had approximately 15 new bloggers come on in the past 4 four months and stick as a regular commenter (regular being someone who comments once a week). Without even looking I know I didn’t have that many in the previous four months.
Again, it’s hard to pin this one on the comment system itself. This could be due to many factors outside the scope of the comment system including the growth of my site, new bloggers starting their own sites, and bloggers wanting to utilizing the CommentLuv plugin to drive traffic to their site. So I can’t conclusively pin this development on having an open system, even though the uptick in new bloggers commenting coincided with the switch.
4. Non-blogger engagement is up. This is the development I’m most excited about. I have people now leaving comments who don’t have a blog. With DISQUS I almost never had non-blogger comments. Now, on posts where I hit my average comment number, at least 1-2 of those comments is from someone who is just a reader. It’s still a small number but a positive development and a step in the right direction to building a broader community that doesn’t rely solely on bloggers to drive the comment section.
5. An uptick of spam has filtered through. This is the development I’m least happy about. Coupling DISQUS with a spam filter plugin created a barrier where no spam would trickle through. Now using only the Akismet spam filter plugin, I have 1-2 a day that find their way to the comment section of an article.
Granted that’s a miniscule percentage based on the nearly 2,000 spam hits a day that Akismet blocks on my site. And it’s not difficult to track them down and delete them. I simply go into the “Comments” section of my WordPress dashboard and scroll through until I find one. It takes three minutes max per day to find and delete them. It is another task though I’ve had to add to my daily regimen to keep the site free of spam.
6. My general observations are positive. My feeling is that the four-month experiment has been productive and highlighted some issues I hadn’t considered before.
The look of the standard system is appealing on my site – simple, clean and obvious how to use.
I like how comments and replies are nested within one another, making it easier to see who is responding to whom.
I like the fact I have one less plugin to manage in my dashboard (having deleted the DISQUS plugin).
The system also has an advantage of DISQUS in that it presents a more intuitive way to be redirected to a blogger’s home page by simply clicking on their call name at the top of their comment.
I also like the opportunity to give back to other bloggers in the community via the CommentLuv plugin (DISQUS did not support that). Anyway I can connect my readers to other quality bloggers in the personal finance space is a clear advantage in my book.
And contrary to what I had read, I have not had my site overrun by gutter-trash commenters. The civility and usefulness of the dialogue has remained in tack for which I am grateful.
Did I Prove Sam’s Theory?
Change isn’t always necessary. My personality is such that I really need a concrete reason to change. Just because someone says I should is not reason enough. That’s why I went through this, to convince myself there was an alternative avenue that was better. I needed the evidence to help me back up a decision to change.
So did I prove Sam’s theory? I’m not 100% sure. At the least you could say the comment system experiment was a wash based on total number of comments. However, after considering all the factors involved I see it definitely trending in validation of everything he initially wrote about.
I won’t be going back to DISQUS…not because I hate it or refuse to comment on someone’s site that has it. I just like what I have now so much better and I think it’s moving me in the right direction.
What comment system are you using? Have you ever had issues leaving a comment using DISQUS? How do you decide to make a change even though the thing you are doing might be working fine? Do you need to prove things to yourself before making a change or will you simply go with someone’s advice?
About the author: Brian Fourman is a former private school personal finance and Bible teacher now turned stay at home dad and blogger. You can now openly comment on his blog at Luke1428.com or connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.