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The Disqus Challenge

Last night, I conducted a small experiment: I switched the internal Movable Type commenting system for Disqus.

For background: leaving feedback on my blog, I’ve been told repeatedly, has been too difficult and too cumbersome, and so my rate of feedback has plummeted greatly. This has been caused by a chain of inconveniences:

  1. Years ago, I became fed up with blog spam and wished to have no part of it, and shut off anonymous comments. This is a huge wall for people wishing to leave feedback.
  2. Movable Type’s login methods are largely grounded in a Javascript wrapper that can be finicky.
  3. The types of authentication supported – LiveJournal, TypeKey, OpenID – are not nearly as popular as, say, Facebook or Twitter.

I had received a heads-up on Tuesday that OpenID login was broken. Knowing that debugging it (let alone fixing it) would be a huge effort, I tried to tear down the wall preventing anonymous commenting. Such changes refuses to be reflected on the published site.

So, anyhow, Disqus. My expectations of converting what had been an internal commenting system for the last ~7 years (with about 1,500 comments across about 1,500 posts) were not positive. I was expecting, at the very least, to have to screw around with my templates, and perhaps do some hacking to display the old comments along with the new ones.

To my surprise, this is what the process entailed:

  1. I downloaded the Disqus plugin and installed it into my Movable Type CGI folder. There was no accompanying “static” folder, unlike many MT plugins I’ve dealt with in the past.
  2. I logged into MT, and was greeted with a familiar “Upgrade the database” screen; five seconds later, it finished.
  3. I went to Tools -> Plugins and opened the settings. I was prompted to log into Disqus, and it auto-configured two of the four settings.
  4. I ran the option to import my existing comments into Disqus. They went into the queue; while that happened, I rebuilt my entire site, which took just under seven minutes.
  5. While the rebuild was occurring, I logged into Disqus to set the look and feel, moderation settings, and integration functions. I am particular about my comments forms, so this took about 4 minutes.

After the rebuild had finished and the queue had been processed, I took a glance at the state of the published site, and I was shocked: everything just worked. Comments had imported with minimal permutations, comment counts were functional, and every page had a shiny new comment form.
This morning provided a chance for a subtle stress test when the Google Wave invites hit, and the improvements were apparent immediately:

  • I didn’t have to log in to approve any comments or rebuild entries as a part of receiving comments.
  • The threaded comments were perfect; we had an 8-reply deep thread at one point.
  • The avatars provided better identity for the commenters.
  • My comments were given “moderator highlighting” without any effort on my part.
  • The look and feel matched my existing site without any effort.
  • The external site integration picked up on my mentioning the post on Twitter.
  • While no one took advantage of it, Facebook and Twitter (and OpenID) are available as login options.
  • All of the comments are still integrated into the MT dashboard like they were any other comment.
  • People actually responded! Despite offering to take requests through any published version of the post (syndicated versions go to Facebook and LiveJournal), the overwhelming amount of requests came through the blog itself, which was a welcome change.

Again, all of this came with about 15 minutes of effort on my part. I didn’t have to blast out my templates, I didn’t have to do a bunch of rebuilds, I didn’t have to clear my cache. It worked as software should. It’s still early, no doubt, but these first 24 hours have been a dream.

I was supposed to spend the day falling in love with Google Wave, but instead I was swept off my feet by Disqus.

If you’re running a blog for yourself, you should take a look at Disqus. And huge, 72-point praise to the team who built such a wonderful product. You all rock.