Launched in 2007 as a Y Combinator startup, the third-party commenting system Disqus has since become an essential component in many popular websites and blogs (3.5 million to be precise).
However, due to issues concerning privacy and security, Disqus has also become a subject of much controversy. Some love it. Some hate it. Some probably think it’s a kind of Frisbee.
Still, the sheer ubiquity of the service demands that it at least be considered by anyone starting a website or blog. To help you determine if Disqus is right for you, here are the top Disqus pros and cons.
Pro: Easy To Install
Even the coding-illiterate can integrate Disqus into their website architecture. After signing up for the service, the Disqus installation page provides you with step by step instructions on how to install the commenting system in sites that are either hand-coded or sites built on web builders and microblogging platforms.
Disqus works on static websites as well. Static websites display fixed content and appear the same to every user.
They don’t require advanced programming or scripting and are often base on just a few HTML/CSS web pages. Static websites are cheaper and quicker to develop, and need little maintenance, but the very nature of static websites does not lend itself to user engagement.
The ability to integrate Disqus into a static site could help transform a stagnant, static website into an active one.
Con: Security Flaws
Since its inception, Disqus has experienced multiple security issues. Perhaps the most publicized of these concerns occurred in December 2013 when a flaw in the Disqus code made it possible for malicious users to obtain the email address of any Disqus user.
Another flaw, discovered in May 2014, concerned a remote code execution exploit in the WordPress Disqus plugin. The exploit could have enabled attackers to execute malicious code on every affected website.
However, Disqus is continually enhancing their security measures, and advises websites using the system to:
- Regularly change and strengthen passwords
- Use unique passwords and/or reputable password managers
- Keep application and browser software up to date for security patches
- Exercise healthy skepticism when confronted with any unusual or obfuscated link or email
- Use new and/or unique email address to register sensitive social accounts
- Turn locking or private profile settings on for accounts that are at risk of unwanted following
- Avoid and report websites that appear to violate privacy law and/or terms of service.
Pro: Less Spam, Higher Quality Comments
Disqus fights spam on two fronts.
First, it requires user authentication. In order to comment on a Disqus-powered comment system, users must sign in using Facebook, Twitter, or email. This authentication process helps prevent bots and dissuade spammers who want to remain anonymous.
Second, Disqus uses a heuristic anti-spam software that learns over time how to more accurately identify and filter spam comments. The software works in tandem with the website owner’s moderation techniques, identifying patterns and preferences in your moderation behavior.
If you regularly moderate comments that contain a certain phrase, for example, Disqus might pick up on that and filter those comments automatically.
While you’re certainly able to moderate comments in real-time, Disqus also allows you to pre-moderate. By setting up a list of criteria a comment must adhere to, Disqus will approve or reject the affected comments by itself.
For example, you can choose to only pre-moderate comments from users without verified emails. You can also choose to pre-moderate comments containing links, as these comments are often spam.
Con: Less User Engagement
There are two sides to the highly intelligent coin that is Disqus’s advanced spam filter. While it encourages higher quality comments by thinning the herd of bots, trolls, and spammers, it also makes commenting more difficult.
Users have to actually sign up. They have to pass through pre-moderation checklists. They have to be careful about linking to external websites.
These obstacles may sound arbitrary, but remember, we internet users have become conditioned to instant internet gratification. The more hoops we have to jump through to comment, the less likely we are to go through with our plans.
- How many times have you stumbled upon an interesting-looking GIF, realized it’s actually a video and said “screw it”?
- How many times have you tried to sign up for something, saw there was a captcha, and clicked the back button?
The same principle applies to Disqus, so if you want to court the lazier portion of internet users, consider making it as easy as possible for them to engage with you.
Pro: Enhances User Interaction
If encouraging quality discussion on your website is a priority, providing your users with a Disqus-powered commenting system is a major step in the right direction. (Disqus, Discuss. Get it?)
Commenters have the option to be immediately notified by email when someone:
- replies to their comment
- tags them in another comment
Thanks to this feature, discussions can develop in (close to) real-time. And unlike some other commenting systems, Disqus commenters cannot choose “no-reply.” Anyone can respond directly to anyone else, and every reply is visible to all.
Disqus also makes it easier to connect with your fellow commenters. Clicking on another commenter’s profile icon takes you to their profile page, which displays the user’s:
- social handles
- comment history
- frequented communities.
Clicking on your own profile icon brings up a similar batch of information.
Con: Selling User Data
As a website owner, you have a certain responsibility to either protect your users from privacy violations or make them aware of these potential violations. So it’s important to understand that when using Disqus on your website, you’re condoning the selling of your users’ data.
Disqus does make money from their Freemium pricing structure, but just like so many other social platforms, the big bucks come from mining user data and selling it to third-party advertisers.
Here is how they do it.
Once you sign in to Disqus as a commenter, Disqus gains the ability to track you across different websites (keep in mind that you don’t even have to make a comment for this to happen).
Tracking you provides them with valuable data, such as,
- browser cookie data
- IP addresses
- device identifiers
So if you sign into Disqus, comment on a rock climbing blog about losing some of your gear, then trot on over to a vegan cooking website and browse some recipes, you might soon see a targeted ad for vegan energy bars.
Pro: Boosts Traffic
Disqus doesn’t aim to be a mere commenting system; it strives to be a community. If you visit the Disqus homepage, you’ll see a leaderboard of popular discussions from across the web.
This gives users the opportunity to explore and discover new websites and blogs, and if a discussion on your own website or blog gains enough traction, it may end up on the Disqus homepage.
And this means traffic.
Looking at this another way, whenever a user comments on a Disqus-powered website or blog, their comment, and their digital identity, is now eligible for the Disqus leaderboard, and may one day be propped up in front of millions of people.
Whether this is a pro or con is up to the individual, but it should be noted.
Con: Comments Could Be Forever Lost
Because every Disqus comment is stored on Disqus’s server rather than local servers, if Disqus ever shuts down unexpectedly, millions of comments will be lost forever.
Sure, 99 percent of internet comments are nowhere near Library Of Congress-worthy, but for better or for worse, they are part of the fabric of the internet, and of web history in general, so it would be a shame to see a big chunk of them suddenly disappear.
However, if a site administrator is truly concerned about internet comment preservation, he or she can choose to export all Disqus comments as an XML document.
This is a useful feature if you decide to change to a different commenting system.
Hopefully this information has helped you pick a side in the great Disqus debate. Running Disqus on your website can put your users at risk for security breaches and data mining, but it can also help cultivate a strong community of good-natured commenters.
Disqus can boost your traffic and enhance interaction, but it can also discourage engagement. It’s a give and take, but at least all the cards are now on the table. Good luck!