A few weeks ago Disqus announced a new feature in their commenting system. Namely, it gave comment authors the ability to send a notice to Twitter about their comment. I really like this idea and since reading about it, I had been considering installing Disqus as the commenting system on this site.
Today I saw an update from Doni stating that she was going to implement another external commenting system, IntenseDebate. After looking at IntenseDebate I liked what I saw and decided to install the plug-in.
First, I want to congratulate the creators of IntenseDebate, you have an awesome Wordpress plug-in, it was easy to install, your admin interface meshes really well, and the plug-in didn't mess with my theme at all. I will admit part of the reason I wasn't thrilled with Disqus was the admin interface. Intensedebate on the other hand barely makes itself know. Anyone who has used the Wordpress admin interface would have no problems dealing with comments on a system run by IntenseDebate.
Unfortunately, after looking through it for a few hours I decided it just wasn’t for me. First, if you were a registered user of IntenseDebate, when you posted a comment the link that is shown for your name links back to your IntenseDebate profile. I understand the reasons for this, but I wanted the option to use my website address instead. This isn't a problem when commenting on this site, but if I comment on other sites I want them coming here, not going to IntenseDebate and then having to click through to my site. I also like to send my readers to my commenter’s websites if they choose to post their website. Not having this option was the first knock against the plug-in. Second, the comment system displays Gravatars and gives the administrator no way to not display them. Now many people like Gravatars and Avatars, and I think they have their place. Personally, though for a low traffic site like mine I don't like them. Additionally it relegates the readers that don't have Gravatars into second class citizens by giving them a generic icon.
After a few hours of trying out IntenseDebate I decided to give Disqus a quick try. Here is where I made a decision. External comment systems seem great but they have a failing. If your site is up but the external system is down, your site is going to run slow and it's possible users won't be able to comment. I came to this decision because the moment I decided to try out Disqus, I could not access the site.
External comment systems are beneficial. They allow users to maintain a history of their comments across multiple sites. It also gives you way to backup all the comments you have made across the web without worrying about them disappearing when someone decided to nuke their blog or a commercial site folds. Other users can follow your comments even if they don't visit the same sites as you.
However, even with all of these benefits I think the negatives outweigh them. First, you’re relying on an external site for your comment system. If that site goes down, has a network hiccup, or isn't accessible for another reason, your readers won't be able to comment. Second, a commenter who isn't a member of which ever system you are using, either has to register to claim their comments and has to trust that the 3rd party that they are submitting their comments to is trustworthy.
The alternative should be allowing users to post comments in whatever system they wish to, whether Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, Digg or your site, and be able to pull these comments into your site. Disqus and IntenseDebate offer some of these options, but for me the negatives outweigh the positives.
In place of Disqus or IntenseDebate I setup a system to pull comments about my posts from Twitter into this site. This works well because even if Twitter goes down, if my site is up then the comment is available. I’m going to start searching for ways to pull in comments from Facebook and elsewhere. I hope to share these at some point. For now, if you don't want to comment here, go ahead and post a link to my post on Twitter, my site will find it and put it here allowing other readers to view what you said.
(Image courtesy of Flickr user massdistraction)