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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Livefyre bills itself as "the best real-time conversation platform on the Web." The wording is actually significant: Real-time conversation is something that has the air of social networks about it (Twitter comes most immediately to mind). Sure enough, one of Livefyre's most useful functions is how it serves to loop in people on social networks and allow the conversation to be taken to them.

Major Livefyre clients include the New York Times, MTV, the Tribeca Film Festival, and MIT's Technology Review.

The moderation panel on Livefyre's site can narrow the scope of displayed comments by multiple criteria, selectable via checkboxes.

The setup process starts with creating an account or certifying yourself via an existing social media account. Allowed account types, which are also used to certify commenters, include Livefyre, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and OpenID.

Once that's done, you indicate your blog software, although right now the number of natively supported blog platforms consists of just WordPress and Tumblr. Blogger, Joomla, and Drupal support is coming soon, but for now, everyone without direct platform support has to use the same block-of-JavaScript approach that Disqus and IntenseDebate also use to provide their services to unsupported systems.

WordPress users have only to install the Livefyre plugin to get things rolling. The comment import process requires no babysitting, although it didn't alert me by email after finishing. Not a huge issue, but judging from the number of posts in their support forum about comment import operations that develop problems, it would be nice to have some positive way of knowing the import's done without checking manually.

The comment form Livefyre installs on your blog sports some ingenious features inspired directly by how posting works on social networks. For example, users who type an @ in the comment panel and then begin to type a name will see a list of people autosuggested from the friends lists available on the various social networks connected to their account. This way, people known to the commenter across a panoply of social networks can be pinged to join the discussion, even if they're not actually involved.

The comments panel also sports a "listener" count -- a report of the number of people who are currently reading the site -- which is a quick, at-a-glance way to see how much attention a given post is receiving. The style of the message area can also be customized with CSS.

Comments can be cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter, if those services are registered with the poster's account. The site admin can also automatically have all comment traffic echoed back to specific pages or accounts on either of those services, as a way to further expand the conversation.

Livefyre users can be notified by email when something happens in a conversation they're in -- a reply, a "like" action, and so on. If users don't relish the idea of being bombarded with these notifications, Livefyre lets them either compile those responses into hourly email digests or suppress them entirely.

The moderation panel on Livefyre's site has one very powerful function I didn't see anywhere else: the ability to narrow the scope of displayed comments by multiple criteria, selectable via checkboxes. For example, you can view active comments that are flagged as off-topic and contain a given search term. This is a great way to drill down and identify tricky abuse cases -- for example, users who look legitimate but who are in fact spambots in disguise because they keep posting the same irrelevant material.

Livefyre at a Glance

Price: Free; professional-level pricing available upon request.

Pros: Strong cross-integration with social networking, useful drill-down interface in comment moderation panel.

Cons: Paid version requires a price-quote request.

I also appreciated the ability to change the nesting level for comments -- the maximum number is four, but some site designs don't deal well with anything deeper than two due to narrow columnar formatting. Livefyre's free service tier supports up to 2 million monthly views and has most of the features needed for even a generously sized blog. To get pricing for the professional version (which includes premium support and guaranteed uptime), you need to submit a quote request that includes the average amount of traffic to your site per month. Quoted prices vary depending on traffic, as Livefyre claims each client will have different data migration, support, authentication, and customization needs.

Bottom line: For actively including other social media platforms and extending the conversation into them, Livefyre is the best of the three services reviewed here.

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