Changes to commenting, interim steps

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 24, 2015
We're changing our commenting system. Here's why.

On Monday we talked about changes to the way we display social sharing icons and the information they provide. Today we're reverting to the Wordpress bog standard commenting system. Why?

The last year, we've experimented with social login, adding in the capability to sign in to comment via Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. We did this because we thought that offering the modern user a choice would play well with their social preferences. After all, who needs yet another login method when there are already ways to do so via social applications?

To that end and rather than use services like Disqus, Livefyre or Intense Debate, we chose to go with a service that could be tailored to our needs. That was the right decision at the time but turned out to be a bad decision for the long haul. 'Long' in this context now seems to mean anything beyond six months. I'll explain why in a moment.

Why did we take what some might see as a step back? It turns out that sophisticated commenting systems that are both performant and easy to use are incredibly difficult to build for Wordpress sites. In our case we were faced with frequent issues that were degrading the user experience. People got fed up and understandably so but there was not a lot we could do to solve the problem since we were in the hands of third party developers. Even though we were using a paid service it is perhaps indicative of the relative immaturity of web media that they struggled to keep on top of the problem.

Why didn't we simply go with one of the well known services? We did that in the past with Livefyre but the free version of that service has not been developed for the last year and the paid version is, well, in nose bleed cost territory that we cannot justify at this point in time. My experience with Disqus, while a massively popular service, is poor. It is often a massive drain on resources which in turn has performance impact. We don't want to be monitoring for an unpredictable service in the knowledge that it may or may not perform. That's just bad practice. Intense Debate is a great service but once again seems to be withering.

Why not then simply use (say) Facebook Comments? Easy - not everyone is on Facebook and, while tempting, gives me shivers when it comes to the acquisition and use of the social graph that Facebook controls.

Why not take the re/code route and simply turn comments off? Others have done the same but we think this is tantamount to a form of slow suicide. It represents a pre-internet mindset that only serves to turn your site into a broadcast medium. We don't think that works and definitely doesn't work in a world where everyone has a voice. In our world, we believe it is important to give everyone an opportunity to share their voice but equally, we accept that those voices are being shared in many locations.

We are rethinking commenting and will come up with the next gen iteration soon - I hope. It isn't going to be easy and we may end up choosing an approach that appears radical. But in the meantime, we've reverted to the 'old' way simply because it is the easiest for people to use and because we know that it is familiar - at least for many of those who choose to comment.

Oh - and in case anyone is wondering...yes, we are looking at a very significant refresh. It's about time. More on that later.

Image credit: Change, Same Green Road Sign Over Clouds © Andy Dean -

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