The Great Blog Comments Outsourcing Debate

Squarespace blog comments interfaceBlog comments rarely get the love and appreciation they deserve for how beneficial they are. Most blogging platforms have such terrible comment support that bloggers are forced to outsource their comments to third-party solutions if they want a decent commenting experience. But are these services convenient tools to facilitate conversation or are you putting your blog comments at risk by using them? Let the great blog comments outsourcing debate begin.

The Perfect Blog Comment System

Rarely will you find a blog commenting system that is perfect out-of-the box, which I think is a shame. Encouraging easy commenting can have an amazing positive impact on the success of your blog. Ideally, blog commenters need to perform several key tasks to keep the task simple:

  • Leaving comments must be simple
  • Commenters should have the option to subscribe to email notifications when replies or new comments are left on the blog post.
  • Users should be able to like or dislike comments
  • Ideally, commenters should be able to personalize their comment profile by adding a name and profile picture.
  • Bloggers need simple, yet effective tools to keep blog comment spam minimal

If you make commenting difficult on your blog, don't expect people to leave a lot of them. Squarespace doesn't offer a lot of the features above and sometimes I wonder how many more comments I would get if I simply changed to a better experience like the ones offered by third-party solutions such as Disqus and Facebook Comments. But at what cost?

The Dark Side of 3rd-Party Comments

Although tempted to use 3rd-party systems, I've decided to stick it out on Squarespace's comment system and hope and pray that the upcoming release of version 6 contains some much needed comment love. I'm stubbornly avoiding Disqus and Facebook Comments for three main reasons:

  1. Eggs in a Basket - What happens if Disqus starts charging for their services or if Facebook decides to abandon the project? Comment migration can be a messy or even unachievable undertaking. Is the risk of losing everything worth the convenience these services bring? 
  2. Fresh Content is Good - Blog comments can continue to roll in for a blog post months after it was written, keeping it fresh in Google's eyes, and fresh content is good for search engine traffic. Disqus and Facebook Comments can be invisible to search engines due to the JavaScript integration of these services. There are extra PHP steps you can take to ensure your comments remain indexable by search engines, but most people don't take those steps.
  3. It's My Content, Darnit - When someone chooses to leave a comment on Big Picture Web, that content lives on and is a part of my blog. But if they're being pulled in externally from Disqus, are they really my comments anymore? I have a hard time with giving my content to other services, even if I technically retain the copyright.

The Butterfly Effect of Comment Systems

Changing a blog's commenting system can have dramatic and unintended consequences, both good and bad. For example, Techcrunch recently moved to Facebook Comments. They've been reporting far fewer comments than what they had when they were with Disqus, but they're also reporting that the comment quality is much better. It appears that Facebook's authentication helps filter out the anonymous trolls.

Here's another example. Squarespace implemented a comment captcha at the end of 2010 to reduce comment spam. In an odd design choice, the captcha prompt doesn't happen until after you submit your comment. Several people have found this to be confusing and told me that my comments were broken. I wonder if the change meant to reduce spam has also reduced the amount of legitimate commenters as well due to this confusing process.

Squarespace comment captcha effectThe number of comments on Big Picture Web decreased since the release of the Squarespace captcha.

What is a Blogger to Do with Blog Comments?

To be honest, I continue to struggle with the question of what to do with my blog comments, but my current plan is to play it safe and wait until Squarespace rolls out new comment functionality. Am I being too much of a stickler on this one? Am I missing out or smart for sticking to my guns? I'd love to hear your thoughts on comments, from the importance of blog comments to the idea comment management system, whether it be the native commenting system or a third-party partner such as Disqus and Facebook Comments.