Evaluating Blog Comment Systems

Continuing on my everquest to reach blog comment nirvana, I've been evaluating some of the blog comment systems out there.

I really think that there's a sea-change coming in the way bloggers and readers interact. The lines will blur between the authors and the readers, and even between blogs. That's what needs to happen anyway, IMO.

In the meantime, I've got less lofty requirements. Here's my definition of Blog Comment Nirvana (BCN):

  1. No spam
  2. Encourage comments
  3. Get people thinking and talking about interesting (and maybe just fun) stuff.
  4. Did I mention spam?

Is that really too much to ask?

Here's a quick overview of what I've tested and learned about some of the blog comment services out there. I've looked at SezWho.com, IntenseDebate.com, and Disqus.com.

IntenseDebate and Disqus are very similar products. They both intercept the comment system in your blog and instead of the comments going into your own database, they store them on their servers. They store the comments as "discussions", providing functionality for nested replies, ratings and commenter profiles.

SezWho has a lesser set of features, basically minus the threaded comment management.

All services come with the stated promise of better engaging your readers and turning them into commenters. And all have the potential to reduce comment spam. This benefit will remain to be seen. I don't see how they can stop the comment monkeys.

Intense Debate

Intense Debate is very well designed and nice to use and look at. The comments are nicely formatted on the blog page, including avatars, RSS feeds to follow blog comments and user comments. You can edit CSS to format the comments however you like them. There's even integration with Twitter so when you hover over a user's avatar, you see their latest update.

On the Intense Debate site, you can see stats on your commenting behavior, how many comments you've left, the average size of your comments, and information on your "friends". I haven't come across any of my friends using it though, so I haven't been able to exercise this much, but you can do the typical stalker behavior, view profiles, and see all the comments that your friends are leaving all over the Intense Debate enabled Interwebs.

As a blog owner, you can manage the comments that are left on your blog, but you cannot interact on the intense debate site, leave additional comments, etc. They leave that to the blog itself, which is fine.

Intense Debate has a number of widgets to show stuff like the number of comments and readers, as well as the most recent comments, some of the typical sidebar stuff you might want for your blog.

While it was a little slow tonight while I was poking around on their servers, all in all, it is a very nice system.

Installing the plugin on Wordpress was very, very simple. It has some nice options, allowing you to import all your old school comments into the Intense Debate system, as well as export the comments back into Wordpress if you want to disable it. I did test the latter, and the comments that were entered into Intense Debate have been integrated into Wordpress without a hitch. That's a good feeling.

You can also opt to have intense debate only activate on posts that don't (yet) have comments. So your old posts can still exist as it, with the old comment system. New posts will get the Intense Debate comments.

The major problem I have with Intense Debate is that it is integrated with Javascript. More on this later.

Disqus

Disqus is also very well done and the on-blog comments, hosted by the Disqus service, are well-integrated and look very nice. Customization is possible with CSS. Threaded discussions, avatars, ratings etc. are handled nicely by Disqus.

A bonus for Disqus is that they've been integrated into FriendFeed recently (last week), so your comments can appear in your "lifestream".

There is a bit more going on at the disqus service. Each blog's has a public "forum" where the comments appear and you can participate in the comments on their server as well as on the blog. So for each blog post you have with comments, there's a page on disqus listing all the comments. It appears that they've actually moved away from this "forum" idea and are now calling it "community pages". I don't recall the difference prior to this recent change, but the functionality is similar.

Installing the plugin is also very easy for Disqus. Likewise, you can opt to enable it only on blog posts that don't have any comments. The import and export features are less developed. All comments can be exported to XML and RSS. I don't know if scripts exist to import those. The Export from Wordpress to Discus is "coming soon".

Integrated Blog Comments

disqus-1.jpg

Discus Community Page

discus forum.jpg

SezWho

I also briefly tested SezWho and honestly, it doesn't really compare feature-wise. SezWho matches the features on the commenter ratings, avatars, etc., but doesn't tackle the threaded discussion aspect that the other two do.

Even though I can create a profile on the SezWho server including an avatar, the avatars on the blog are taken from MyBlogLog and were a bit squished on my blog.

The good news here is that they don't disrupt the comment database and display on the blog page, avoiding the Search Engine issues that Intense Debate has. That also means the comments stay right in your own database.

Honestly, to me, SezWho seemed a bit out of place on my blog. Their components are bright red, though perhaps that can be customized, but in my quick test it didn't fit well with my blog design.

My primary goal is to improve my the overall community on my blog, and for that, I really like the threaded comments. So I'm discounting SezWho for now.

sezwho.jpg

The Heavy - SEO and Search Engine Impact

Here's the big area where they differ. At least with the Wordpress plugins, which is all I've tested though they do integrate with other blog systems, the Disqus comments are integrated with the blog content on the back-end. The Intense Debate comments are served up to the client via javascript.

I received feedback from someone from Intense Debate in a previous blog post that Disqus uses the same Javascript method, but this is not my experience. Granted, I'm testing with their Beta version. Maybe their "stable" version uses the Javascript. Or maybe other blog platform integrations must use the Javascript. For me on Wordpress, the comments from Disqus are integrated at the server-side prior to display in the browser so the Search Engines can see it.

A concern that I do have is that a lot of my blog content is duplicated on the Disqus community pages. Hopefully not enough to create duplicate content issues with Google and other search engines, but it's a concern. Perhaps they should provide an optional NoIndex meta tag for the community owner to enable if they wish.

SezWho doesn't intercept comments, so this isn't much of a concern with that service.

Summary

For me, it's between Intense Debate and Disqus.

Feature-wise, it's a pretty even choice between the two. They've both got the user profile and discussion features pretty well nailed. Feature-wise, I don't really feel like I'm missing anything from either one, though they each have their unique nice-to-haves.

It comes down to a few things. Disqus has the risk of duplicate content on their "community pages", though besides that concern, the community pages are a nice extension to my blog. Intense Debate is a full Javascript integration which means that my comments are nowhere to be seen by search engines. And that's the kicker for me.

I'm going to give Disqus a try on this blog, starting with this post. Give it a go. Even if you've got nothing to say, leave a comment!

Posted on Friday, March 28, 2008 at 12:33:09 PM in Blogging
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