The Great Disqus Deployment

Several weeks ago I deployed the Disqus commenting system on GothamSchools.org.  The editors there are happy with this new system.  So this week I deployed Disqus on StreetsblogNYC, StreetsblogLA, StreetsblogDC, StreetsblogSF, Streetsblog.net and Streetfilms.

Technically, it was a pretty straightforward process. I had to strip out our old commenting system on these sites, which integrates with LivableStreets.com, and then install and style the Disqus system.  This will allow us to shut down LivableStreets.com for good, something we’ve been wanting to do for some time.

I did run into some problems exporting our existing comments to Disqus.  For some reason, the built-in exporter kept hitting errors and failing.  The Disqus engineers were responsive to my complaints and said that they’re building a command-line tool for large exports to be in the next release.

Disqus synchronizes new comments back to our WordPress databases.  This way, if we want to turn off Disqus at any time, we will have our own copy of comments to fall back upon.  This isn’t perfect, however.  Currently, synced comments are sent with the wrong timezone and moderation actions performed on Disqus aren’t replicated.  It is accurate enough, though, for me to use our local comment store to populate some parts of our sites, when convenient, such as in the all comments listing on Streetsblog.

Initial Reactions from Readers

We switched to Disqus with the hopes of providing richer and more powerful conversation tools to our readers.  The numerous benefits of Disqus are outlined in the post Ben wrote, introducing it on Streetsblog.

What is interesting is the reactions from commenters on the various blogs, and how they have taken to the new system.  This table summarizes this:

blog date released good reviews bad reviews notable comment
GothamSchools.org 2/18 4 1 I guess I’ll give it a try. It doesn’t hurt to go with the program…
Streetsblog.org 3/28 9 7 this SUCKS why did you mess with it?

Onward into the future!

dc.Streetsblog.org 3/30 - -
la.Streetsblog.org 3/31 1 2 A couple hiccups on the avatar, but it seems smooth so far…
sf.Streetsblog.org 3/31 3 0 Disqus is one of the few services that actually works, and it provides a lot of flexibility for the user…
Streetsblog.net 3/31 - -
Streetfilms.org 4/1 - -

It’s interesting to see how reactions differ between the different communities, displaying reactions that are: supportive, critical, humorous, outspoken, trusting, suspicious, whining, curious etc.

Comment Box Placement

On StreetsblogNYC, we initially configured Disqus to list comments chronologically, by default, and to have the comment box at the bottom of the list of comments.  This is consistent with how comments used to be on the blog.  A couple of people complained, however, that they couldn’t find the logout link, which is placed at the top of the comment thread.

This prompted a discussion about whether we should have the comment box at the top of the comment thread, to have it closer to the logout link and other relevant Disqus controls.  Along with this, we thought it might make more sense to list comments reverse-chronologically, so that newly posted comments would land right below the comment box, instead of way down at the bottom of the thread.

Another advantage to this orientation, is that new comments will be the first ones that people read when they come to the post.  This would provide incentive to people wanting visibility for their comments.  Alternatively, if there are many comments, beyond the 40 comment pagination limit, new comments would land below the first page of comments and would have much less chance of being read.

An advantage for keeping our old chronological orientation is that people normally want to read through a thread chronologically, to get up-to-speed on the discussion.  So it would be more natural to read from top to bottom on a thread.

Ben put the issue to his readers who had some strong opinions.  GothamSchools has been using the reverse-chronological approach since day one with no complaints.  Sometimes it’s hard to know when to act on readers complaints and when to go with our own judgement.  People who react to a change may come to appreciate the benefits of the change later on.

Feature Usage

Next week I’ll take a look at how Disqus is being used on the blogs, which features people are using, which ones they’re ignoring, and how this differs from blog to blog.  Stay tuned.

One Response to “The Great Disqus Deployment”

  1. Tyler Hayes Says:

    Moderation actions aren’t synced back to WP because WP didn’t used to handle those moderations in a similar way to how we do; we’re looking into elegantly improving this in future plugin releases — it’d be nice to have, for sure. Can you send us an email elaborating on the timezone issue?

    Thanks for the write-up (especially enjoyed the initial reactions from readers).