One of the key goals when I started blogging was to encourage a healthy discussion area in the comments. I’ve always been a firm believer that the real gold to any blog post can (and does) come from the comments left afterward.
Depending on how encouraging the blogger is to foster open discussion, the comments can take the original post in a whole new direction. From challenging the post itself to debating the thoughts left by other commenters, a blog’s comments can extend the life of a post infinitely (unless the blogger switches comments off after a certain period of time).
Because comments are so integral to the complete blogging experience (unless you’re someone like Seth Godin), there’s been a rise in the number of ways your readers can interact and leave a comment.
While many bloggers prefer to stick with their native comments system, whether it’s WordPress, Blogger or any other of the popular platforms, others are preferring to use third-party systems like Disqus, IntenseDebate and Livefyre, amongst others.
So is there any benefit in using one system over the other, and if so, which one is right for you?
One of the immediate benefits of using your own comment system – as in, the one that comes as standard on the blogging platform you use – is that it fits with the rest of your design.
It doesn’t matter if you use a free blogging theme – like the ones that come pre-installed with your chosen platform – or go the premium theme route, the commenting system will be styled after your blog’s design.
This keeps the look and feel clean as well as uniform, and gives your readers a smooth transition from post to comments.
You can also code the native system a lot easier than you can a third-party system, if the comment code allows you to use your own CSS style.
Of course, there are a ton more benefits to using the vanilla commenting system than just the design angle:
- Less load time. One of the things all third-party comment systems are notorious for (or have been, as they look to continuously improve) is the way they add load time to your blog. Because a vanilla comment system is integrated, it’s part of your blog design’s file base. Third-party systems usually rely on adding a plug-in and this slows down your site.
- You can use CommentLuv. One of the best plug-ins around, CommentLuv allows your commenters to leave a link to their most recent blog post. It’s a nice way to say thanks for commenting, by showing off one of their own posts. While IntenseDebate allows integration of CommentLuv, the styling isn’t ideal, so it’s better on a native comments system.
- Easier buy-in for commenters. One of the biggest advantages of using your native comments system is that commenters don’t need to create an account to leave a comment – all you need is an email address (and sometimes not even that). While you don’t necessarily need to sign up to use a third-party comment system, it is required if you want to get the most benefit from it.
- Control, control, control. Perhaps the biggest plus to running your own comment system is exactly that – it’s your comment system. It’s not hosted on another server; you’re not screwed if their server goes down; and your formatting isn’t messed up because you decide to switch off and go back to your own system.
Add in that vanilla comment systems are for more mobile-friendly than third-party systems, and you can see why so many bloggers prefer staying with their blog’s built-in comment system. So are there any reasons why you wouldn’t want to use the standard set-up?
Third-Party Comment Systems
Having used pretty much every third-party comment system at some stage – Disqus, IntenseDebate, Livefyre and Echo – I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand why they’re so popular. (Although, to be honest, I didn’t use Echo much as it’s just too messy and noisy for my liking).
The main advantage that third-party comments have over native comments is the ability to combine your other social networks into the conversation, as opposed to just the readers of the blog post.
So, for example, if Ari had a third-party system installed here, you could then tweet or update your Facebook status directly from the comment itself, and share what you had to say. Taking that one step further, if you were using the Livefyre system, you could use the little “@” symbol and type the name of one of your Twitter or Facebook connections, and bring them into the comment / conversation (they’d be alerted that you mentioned them).
Third-party comment systems also offer real-time updating and alerts (some better than others). This, in essence, turns your blog comment section into the equivalent of a chat room as opposed to a standard comments system.
I used this feature from Livefyre a few weeks ago on my blog, when I had David Siteman Garland as a special guest to promote his new book and talk about business, branding, community and more.
The experiment was a huge success, and saw a great and instant interaction between readers and David. It was a whole new way of using a blog comment system, and perhaps offered the future of what real community integration could look like.
Some other benefits of using a third-party system include:
- Social media reactions. You can see how popular your post is on the likes of Twitter, Facebook and more by having tweets and social network updates as part of the comments (either integrated or as a trackback).
- Single sign-in. If you do create a profile with a third-party system, that follows you around the web (as long as other bloggers are using your chosen system). It means you can track your comments easier, and see where you’re visiting the most.
- Recognition. One of the more useful options on third-party comments is the points system. Here, you can vote up a comment if you like it (and vote down if you don’t). This allows you an instant visual on which of your commenters is adding the most value to the comments (at least in the eyes of other commenters).
There are other benefits too – the ability to highlight who you’re replying to, for example, and the option to reply to a comment direct from your email.
As you can see, there are benefits to both options – so which one should you use? It really depends on your needs.
I’ve been using Livefyre for the last 2-3 months, and it’s by far my favourite of the third-party options. However, it’s still in private beta and, as such, invitations are limited at the moment. Additionally, because it’s in beta, it’s still experiencing some glitches, so it may not be something you want to try on your live blog.
My new blog design reverted back to vanilla WordPress, until some of the new features in Livefyre are implemented. For example, I love CommentLuv and I miss having that option for my commenters.
I also like the control that running your own comment system provides. Like I mentioned earlier, you’re not tied to a third-party server, so if they have performance issues, at least it won’t impact your blog. A prime example of this is when Twitter’s API struggles (which it often does), and this affects the load time of your blog (due to third-party systems using Twitter’s API for sign-in ability).
Having said that, third-party options do offer far more social network integration without the need for more plug-ins, and they can encourage further discussions because of this.
If I had the option, my ideal mix would be the custom design you can give vanilla comment systems with the interactivity of third-party options. Until then, though, my first choice would always be vanilla WordPress, Livefyre next, and then the other third-party options after that.
How about you – what’s your preference when it comes to commenting, and why that one in particular?