Hands-on: 3 comment platforms make blog management easier

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

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Disqus has become something of the gold standard for third-party commenting systems. It's not hard to see why: It's easy to set up, comes loaded with a good spate of management controls, has a broadly-implemented user base, and gives you ways to migrate your messages both in and out of the system. Major clients include CNN, Time, Engadget, and IGN. (Full disclosure: Computerworld and InfoWorld also use Disqus for their commenting system.)

Its biggest drawback is its price -- if you want to use anything other than the free, basic tier of service, Disqus can get expensive. That said, the core service has no explicit limits on how many comments can be supported or the rate of posting, so it should be a good place for most site admins to start.

The Disqus moderation panel appears either embedded in your WordPress administrative console or can be launched separately.

Setting up a Disqus account takes only a few steps. You register your site and a primary moderator, choose basic settings for how Disqus should behave with your server (such as whether English is the primary language for site prompts), and then install Disqus's comment system on your blog.

That last step is where most of the heavy lifting is, especially if you already have comments in your blog that you want to migrate to Disqus. Fortunately, Disqus provides tools to automate the import process. With WordPress, for example, Disqus offers a plugin that automates everything, including replacing the comments form and migrating existing comments. If you have a lot of comments, you don't need to worry about babysitting the import process; it happens silently in the background, and you're sent an email notification when the import is finished. The total time for import varies based on the number of comments and Disqus's own load; the site advises that imports can "take up to 24 hours to complete."

Disqus can be integrated into 11 other services: Blogger, Tumblr, Movable Type, TypePad, Drupal, Joomla, Squarespace, Yola, DokuWiki, Sandvox, and Chi.mp. It also offers "a generic JavaScript snippet that can be implemented anywhere."

When people post comments to a Disqus-moderated site, they can use several common authentication systems: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, OpenID, or Disqus itself. Site moderators can also allow anonymous comments. That's the default setting, so those who want to limit the discussion to verified users should change this. I had no trouble using my own OpenID server or any of my other account credentials to log in and post.

Individual comments can also be "liked," which adds to a user's reputation score. This is a simple three-tiered ranking system -- high, medium and low reputation -- that allows an at-a-glance assessment of a general user's behavior. High rep means many likes and a high degree of participation; low rep means many flagged or deleted comments.

Disqus's control panel lets you see comments across all your moderated blogs in a single dashboard, but you can also drill down and see comments on individual blogs if needed. Individual commenters or IP addresses can also be whitelisted or blacklisted, and a bevy of keyboard shortcuts make it easy to whip through a whole pile of pending comments.

Disqus enhances comments from the reader's point of view as well as the moderator's. Discussions are automatically threaded, and if you receive email notification of a given post, you can reply to the email and have your reply added to the thread under whatever Disqus credentials are attached to that email address. It's a great timesaver, especially if you're replying via a mobile device with a small display.

Disqus doesn't hold your comments hostage. If you don't want to use the service any more, you can export comments from a given blog at any time. What's even nicer is how comments posted to Disqus are automatically echoed back into your blog's native comment system -- so if you disable Disqus, you don't need to export comments from Disqus and re-import them into your blog.

That said, if you do use the export function, it's nice to know no babysitting is needed there either. The export is done via a queue on the server side, and you're notified by email when the exported comments are ready to be downloaded. Comments are exported in a documented XML format, and there are various tools (such as a WordPress plugin to import comments from a Disqus XML file back into a website.

Disqus at a Glance

Price: Basic (free); Professional ($299/month) adds analytics, reporting, advanced theme control, and priority support; VIP ($999/month) adds unlimited forums and admins, dedicated servers, and uptime guarantees.

Pros: Easy setup and migration, natively supports a broad range of blogging services.

Cons: Import process can be slow on the free service tier

The basic version of Disqus' service is free, and its feature spread should be more than enough for most individual blogs or modest-traffic sites. After that, however, the costs go up. The professional version ($299 per month) adds analytics and reporting, advanced theme control, and priority support. The VIP service level ($999 per month) adds even more goodies, such as dedicated servers, uptime guarantees, and many other things high-traffic sites will appreciate -- and pay for.

Bottom line: It's hard to wrong with Disqus. The free version of the service isn't limited in any significant way, your comments can be moved in and out of the system as you see fit and if you use WordPress or another popular blog platform it's easy to set up and migrate to Disqus.

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