Disqus Commenting System

[This was first published at AMPed.]
One of the things that makes social networking is the ability to comment and share whatever it is you’re reading or interacting with to others in your group, whether by email, Facebook, Twitter or social bookmarking sites. On the flip side, one of the downsides is that for nearly every site you interact with, you almost always have to create a login to participate. This is not necessarily a bad thing in that it allows you to control what information about yourself that is available to the site admins, it allows the site admins to also gauge who is using their service and it is helpful if you consistently frequent the same sites on a regular basis.
Personally though, I’m fairly lazy. If I want to comment on a blog or a site, and that blog or site requires me to create a new login, I’m more apt to just not say anything at all rather than go through all the fuss of creating said account. In that respect, OpenID was created with this in mind by creating a universal login that if a blog or site allowed you to login with your OpenID, that’s one less account you have to set up. This is good in theory but in practice, as far as I could tell, it has not been used that extensively. Even major sites such as CNN and The New York Times still require you to create an account on their system to comment or to view special materials, which then defeats the purpose of using OpenID.
This is where Disqus comes in to fill the gap. Disqus is a commenting system that enables your users to comment on your blog or site by logging in via a network they are already affiliated with, such as Facebook, Yahoo! or Twitter (and even OpenID!). Users are not required to create another account on all-in-one service such as OpenID because it is assumed that your readers will have an account on another, existing system. With the rise of such services now making public their APIs, it is becoming fairly common to use your Facebook or Twitter account to login to another service instead of having to create an account on that particular service. For example, the geo-location social network BrightKite, uses Facebook’s API to allow users to login instead of creating a new account.
When we started AMPed, there was some discussion as to what to do about enabling commenting on the site, including but not limiting to time frame the comments would be open, how to handle spam and whether or not a person would be required to register. When I quizzed people as to whether or not they would use the commenting feature, many stated that they would but like me, refrained from doing so due to the having to create yet another account problem. Commenting is not just about espousing one’s opinion on a topic they were interested in but it is also about opening up a conversation. Blogs tend to get thought of as a one-way communique instead of as a community and that was something we wanted to change.
Disqus, in short, is awesome. Not only is it another widget that works directly out of the box but the transparency within the WordPress blog is fantastic. I didn’t have to go through and configure each post individual or hack PHP to get it work, it just did it on its own. As Disqus allows people to login and comment with Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and more, users are not relegated to creating an account on the system.
With Disqus, you then then control what systems people can login with, such as allowing only Facebook or Twitter, turning off anonymous counting. You can also, like the default commenting system within WordPress, decide when to shut comments off from older sites and how to handle spam. Disqus also allows trackbacks, like default WordPress, which they call reactions. This also allows you to see who is linking to your blog and why.
While Disqus fulfills our needs on AMPed, there are some glitches with how the system is set up. Here is what you need to know:

  • You have to create a Disqus account in order to use the plugin on your blog. This is, again, not necessarily a bad thing as you can control advanced options and settings on Disqus’ website. This also allows people who have existing Disqus accounts to also comment on your site.
  • In order to use Facebook and Twitter integration for commenting, you have to have an existing Facebook and Twitter accounts in order for this to work. The reasoning behind this that since Disqus is using Twitter’s API to allow the commenting, it must authorize to an account to get the API to work. While I understand the technical details behind this, this still seems a bit clunky to me. For AMPed, I had to create a Facebook page to get the Facebook API to work and we were fine as we have an existing Twitter account.
  • The settings in WordPress are located in Dashboard->Settings->Disqus which is actually nothing more than a front to the Disqus homepage. You’re still required to login to Disqus’ site to control things and the “manage” settings in WordPress is nothing more than the API and uninstall feature.

Bottom line: The integration into the website is flawless and it gives our readers more control on how they want to participate in our community, Disqus is a great gap filler on how to handle commenting on websites. While the installation of the widget was flawless and transparent, the managing and set-up of the widget is a bit clunky. But for the cost (free) and what it does, Disqus is a great tool to have in your WordPress widget toolbox.