Hands-on: 3 comment platforms make blog management easier

Disqus, IntenseDebate, and Livefyre can help site owners keep control of the conversation

Anyone who manages a high-traffic website knows the importance of the phrase "audience engagement." That's Webspeak for having an audience of readers who regularly post lively comments, keep the discussion going, and give your site another reason to be visited.

The hard part is when managing those audience conversations becomes a job unto itself. The task of administering comments and/or discussion threads is limited both by the capacity of the host and the architecture of the system being used. What works well for an audience of dozens may implode when suddenly faced with an audience of thousands. Screening out spam and moderating messages can turn into a full-time job. And if a particular post goes viral, the sheer server load generated by a sudden spike in comment traffic might be more than your Web provider can handle.

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One solution to such discussion dilemmas is to switch the comments portion of your site to a third-party discussion-management system. All comment-related traffic is offloaded to their servers, managed with their tools, and spam-screened by their own spam-detection systems. You're no longer limited by whatever comment-moderation tools your blog site or CMS originally came with, and you are more protected from everything from traffic overload to spam floods.

Currently, three services hold sway as the reigning champs for third-party discussion systems: Disqus, IntenseDebate, and Livefyre. All provide the same basic functions but serve slightly different administrative needs and target audiences.

I tested three systems using a WordPress blog that I ran on a shared-hosting Web service account and that contained 1,200 comments over 1,700 entries that needed to be migrated. I also looked at integration with other blog platforms, the import/export process, accepted credentials for posters, comment moderation, and higher tiers of the service (if any exist).

I chose WordPress as the target platform because all three supported WordPress directly, and because of WordPress's sheer ubiquity. All three also have provisions for supporting blog platforms for which they don't have native integration, although that requires knowledge of HTML and JavaScript.

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