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27 Jan 2009

Should You Use a Commenting System?

January 27, 2009Social Media, Tips

If you’re reading this post, you likely are familiar with blog sites, posts, and the comments left on them. But are you familiar with the software that powers blogs? WordPress, Typepad, Moveable Type, are some of the platforms that drive the largest percentages of blogs on the Internet today. These blogging platforms, and most others have built in commenting capabilities, and why wouldn’t they? The very nature of blogging is basically a two part process: I’ll write and publish this post on our website, and you’ll read and (hopefully!) leave a comment telling the world how much you agree with what I’ve said ;)

Or you’ll disagree with something I or one of the other commentors before you have said. And you’ll enter your comment into the built in form that comes with the blogging application. You then hit "submit" and depending upon how the site owner has things set up, your comment is shown on the site immediately, or just as soon as the administrator approves of your words.

What then is this new added feature known as "Commenting Systems"? If comments are already a part of the platform, why is there a growing number of website owners and administrators that are opting to replace the stock commenting functionality and using these third party commenting systems?

The quick answer is that these sites are hoping to increase readers interactions with blog authors as a result of the commenting systems "social community". Several of the leading commenting systems in the marketplace today are deployed to tens of thousands of websites. Features of the systems include allowing the viewer easy access to statistics of commenters including excerpts of comments they have left on other websites. Not only can a visitor receive more meta data on commentors, they may even choose to head to another site where that registered user has left comments.

And that little aspect is another big reason why many site owners like using commenting systems: they offer the promise of increasing a web site’s incoming traffic. But at the same time, the very mechanism that brings them in, takes visitors away just as quickly! 

So who are some of these commenting systems? Likely the top three: 

For the most part, the systems all work the same. In a nutshell, you read the blog post, and any comments that may have been left prior to your visit, and should you decide, a form that invites you to leave your own comments on the post and/or other comments. All systems are simple, straightforward, and if you have ever left a comment before, you’ll know how to use these new systems.

But what if you are a web site owner or administrator and you’re considering installing and using a commenting system? Should you take the plunge? Well, the first thing you might consider is reading the indepth evaluation on blog comment systems that Scott Jangro wrote up not too long ago. In his article, Scott goes into great detail about the various differences between the systems, and I highly recommend you add the article to your reading list.

Why might you not want to use a commenting system? Well, one of the early arguments agaist using them was the fact that you lost control (read ownership) of the actual data that made up the comments your visitors left on your site. Thankfully, the developers of theses systems, realized this and all have the options to both export and import the content data from and to your websites. Clearly making back ups of all your data is the smart move prior to trying any of these data movements, but I’ve only read a very small number of bad case scenarios concerning data corruption causing a loss of comments, so the numbers are very much on your side, and you’ll experience a high rate of success.

The only real reason you might not want to consider one of these systems is that you’ll be locking yourself into a proprietary system of commenting that won’t interact with any of the other commenting systems. To date, there is no universal system or standard that provides for interactivity between Intense Debate and Disqus. So, if you have decided on Disqus and want to get the attention of the thousands of Intense Debate users, you are pretty much out of luck. Of course you can employ other techniques to bring in traffic to your site, and you should do that regardless. Just realize that until standards are in place, comments whether hosted by your platforms built in system or a third party commenting system will all do pretty much the same thing. It’s just that the size of the commentor pool will definitely be larger. And that just might make it the smartest choice.