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Is ease of use worth loss of control?

Image representing DISQUS as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

External commenting systems have become a popular way to increase engagement on a website. But it means giving up your comments to live offsite. What do we lose and is it worth it?

Both DISQUS and Facebook Comments have become immensely popular since release, and rightfully so. Their ease of use for participants on your site is unparalleled and Facebook comments strips away the anonymity that can make internet commenting such a cesspool.

However, by implementing these systems we, as site owners, are giving our comments away. They now live on a server we have nothing to do with. The comments are no longer really connected with our content. If you want to keep the comments, which are arguably a measure of the value of your site, you are forever locked into using these systems.

If you were to move your website, change your URL structure, or change your blogging system these comments often do not move with you.

Facebook comments does away with the ability to link to commenters’ own sites, a disincentive, even if it does cut down on spam.

If you worry about search engine optimization, it seems that Facebook Comments are useless in this regard and, even if DISQUS does offer a link to a commenter’s social media or personal site, it is still limited.

There are plenty of other SEO opportunities that use of these systems excludes you from. Just look at one of the plugins I run on this blog, SEO Super Comments, to get an idea of what you are missing out on.

What if either or both of these systems were to suddenly disappear? These companies provide both services for free and they could potentially be taken away at a corporate whim. Think about this, DISQUS won’t even guarantee you uptime unless you pay the $999/month package.

The most troubling aspect of using these systems is simply this: by using Facebook comments or DISQUS you give up both full control and ownership of the comments on your own site. Control you probably should keep.

Even worse, it seems you will never be able to take that control back.

I know this all sounds somewhat dire. However, professional news organizations are beginning to adopt these systems. These organizations are responsible for recording history. As news gathering has moved to the web, I believe that comments are part of that history. A record of how the average man is reacting to the way our world is changing. A record that news organizations are apparently giving up without a thought.

There are wide implications to giving up your comments to an external system and if you are considering it, you should think long and hard on the topic. Will you be using the same content management system forever? Are you willing to give up control?

My context.

When I moved from Blogger to this WordPress install on my server, I had assumed that my comments came with me. Others who have made the move seemed to have no problem. It was only when looking at one of my more popular posts when I realized that almost all my comments had disappeared.

The comments still reside on DISQUS, but there is no way to export them or, even if I were to install DISQUS on this site, re-attach them to their appropriate posts. These comments and the conversations I had on those posts are permanently lost from public view.

Is that what you want for your own content?

EDIT: Please read DISQUS’s excellent reply below. It is worth noting that all my dealings with DISQUS have been uniformly positive in the past.

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  1. Daniel Ha on Wednesday 7, 2011

    Hi Aram! If I read correctly (sometimes my speed-reading gets the best of me), it sounds like you’re bringing up two foundational issues: control and portability.

    Completely reasonable. But – we’re all over that. With Disqus, we’re a service FOR publishers or bloggers like you. That means our tools have to work for how you want them to work. If they don’t, then we’re toast. We offer control tools like importing, theme editing, local syncing, and user management.

    Same with portability. If you couldn’t get your comments migrated over to your new site, that’s our software’s fault. Not our philosophy… we want you to be able to move around. You can pull comments out or move them to a new site. We’re happy to help you (and sorry that our software didn’t behave correctly the first time).

    Our support is at disqus.com/support — or just shoot me a note at daniel@disqus.com and I’ll make sure this is solved.

    Again, definitely valid concerns but it has nothing to do with what our foundational beliefs. We want you to have that control and portability.

    Thanks,
    Daniel

  2. Norb Winslow on Wednesday 7, 2011

    Since Daniel has mentioned about the solution, I guess the external commenting systems are worth to try. It can reduces your site load and increases site’s speed. I would like to try it soon ;)

  3. Aram Zucker-Scharff on Wednesday 7, 2011

    There are definitely benefits to using either system. I’m just uncomfortable with the idea of giving up full control over my blog’s comments like that.

  4. illz on Wednesday 7, 2011

    “Since URLs can change, we highly recommend using the Disqus identifier.” if your urls change this helps comments find it’s new home. I think MANY people don’t use it.

    Disqus allows you to export comments. Importing them is the issue if the place you want to import doesn’t support xml.

    Seems like your whole article can be fixed by reading http://docs.disqus.com/developers/

  5. Aram Zucker-Scharff on Wednesday 7, 2011

    Hi @illz That’s a great find. I didn’t know about DISQUS identifiers. It’s good to know. However, it doesn’t help with the issue of Facebook comments and the ability to take your comments from DISQUS to some other commenting method still seems pretty limited to me.

    Since writing this post I have found http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/disqus-comments-importer/ – I’ll have to try it out and report back.

  6. Aram Zucker-Scharff on Wednesday 7, 2011

    It seems I can’t get it working. I’m not the only one with the problem. See – http://wordpress.org/support/topic/plugin-disqus-comments-importer-invalid-file-please-upload-a-valid-disqus-export-file

  7. […] been of the opinion that comments are part of the stories that they run on. Many organizations will give up control of their comments to an external provider, or turn them off entirely. I think that’s a bad idea. The authors of our comments (the […]

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