Top 3rd Party Commenting Systems, Platforms for WordPress and Why I Don’t Use Them

The wrong commenting systems can create undesirable reactions. Scary. (via iStockPhoto)

[Image via iStockPhoto. This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series.]

The commenting system that you use is vitally important and you should put just as much thought into it as you do choosing the right blogging platform and software. In fact, it should definitely inform your choice in the end!

Most people though just go with the “native” commenting system that’s built into the blogging software itself and feel pretty good about it but for those that feel like they need some additional power or feature set there are a handful of well-respected and well-used 3rd party commenting systems that you can choose from.

Here are 5 that you might consider and the one that I (obviously) have opted to use for my blogs:

1. IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate is a commenting system that was independent at one point but was eventually purchased by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. For many bloggers that fact alone is enough to jump right into it but it’s not without issue and I’ve had some patchy installations in my experience.

But it’s a very robust solution and a top contender for sure.

Tons of options available for customization.

Here’s a look at the full feature list:

  • Comment Threading
  • Reply via Email
  • Email Notifications
  • Commenter Profiles
  • Moderation and Blacklisting
  • Reputation Points and Comment Voting
  • Plugins and an API
  • OpenID
  • Widgets
  • Twitter Integration
  • Facebook Integration
  • RSS Readers and Tracking
  • FriendFeed Integration
  • HTML Formatting
  • Gravatar

And specifically for WordPress:

  • Two-Way Comment Sync – This is very important as it backs up comments made in ID into WordPress so if you uninstall you still have the comments!
  • Admin Panel Integration
  • SEO – ID outputs the standard comments so that search engines can index them.
  • Trackbacks
  • Profile Sync – Logging into ID logs you into your blog.
  • Numerous Post Settings
Quick look at the profile page

One of the nice things about this system is the ability to reply to the comments via email which is something that the WordPress system (self-hosted) does not have the capability to do. For many this is the #1 feature and one of the most significant value propositions that bring them over.

I enjoyed it but it wasn’t enough for me to abandon the native system.

2. Disqus

Disqus is another 3rd party system which has found a home on many bloggers systems. It’s very similar to IntenseDebate in feature set and form but you’ll find a few key differentiators as well. Here’s a look at their main features:

  • Real Time Commenting System
  • Notification and Reply via Email
  • Inline Media Embedding
  • Mobile Commenting
  • Community Profiles
  • Social Integration and Social Sharing – Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Community Box – Widgets
  • Moderation Tools
  • Spam Management
  • Mobile Apps available
  • Blacklist, Whitelist
  • Internationalization
  • Tweets and Reactions via Social Media
  • Profile Management
  • Activity Streams
  • Connected Communities

And for WordPress:

  • Import and Export
  • SEO Friendly
  • Theme and design customization
Fully customizable

One of the nice things about Disqus is that it’s relatively easy to customize via CSS so that you can match the style of it to your blog. Most bloggers won’t touch the styling but for those that have the interest, skill, or cash to do it then it’s available and very powerful.

Pretty straight-forward and easy to use.

Overall I find the differences between IntenseDebate and Disqus to be relatively small and you’d probably be happy with either one.

A look at the dashboard.

Still, it’s not enough for me to jump into it and use it exclusively.

3. JS-KIT, ECHO

JS-KIT, now called ECHO is another 3rd party commenting system that really has some neat features that you won’t find in the above 2 options, especially in terms social media integration. They have really tried to up the ante, so to speak, in terms of real-time commenting and social engagement.

Here’s a list of their core features:

  • Real Time Comments – No need to refresh the page.
  • Premium Support, Features
  • White Label the system for use in other environments, businesses.
  • Single Sign On
  • Fully Customizable
  • Works everywhere
  • Moderation
  • Analytics
  • Game Mechanics, Reward Systems
A look at their commenting system.

A while back I tried their “Premium” solution and paid them a bunch of money that enabled even greater integration and neat options. I tried this for 8 days and it was so broken that I asked for my money back. It just wasn’t that good!

Simple user profile.

They responded eventually and gave me a free lifetime copy of the system but I still won’t use it. Some people swear by this system but I never understood why

4. Livefyre

Livefyre is definitely one of the newer players out there and as of this posting has been around for about a year and a half. It’s gained a significant user baser of niche blogs and technologists who are unhappy with the “mainstream” 3rd party comment systems like IntenseDebate and Disqus.

Here’s a list of the full features:

  • Live Comment Stream
  • User Ratings
  • Media
  • Moderation
  • Comment Voting
  • Nested Replies
  • Live Listener Count
  • Mobile Specific Interface
  • Comment Import
  • Community Moderation, Flagging
  • Multiple Moderators
  • Email Notifications
  • Spam Control, Whitelist, Blacklist
  • Social Media Integration
  • Site Profiles
  • Game Mechanics
  • Single Sign On
  • API
  • Custom Domain Integration
Familiar interface for comments.

I used it for a few moments and instantly decided it wasn’t for me. The feature set was nice but it seems like it lacked the userbase for it to grow and become ultimately successful – even their business blog hasn’t been updated since December of last year!

A look at the profile page.

Without continued support and community use a system like this will ultimately die. I’m not interested in having that happen!

5. Facebook Comments

Facebook has continued to release more options for bloggers who want to closely engage their blog users with Facebook itself, and one of the biggest changes recently in that side of the house is Facebook Comments.

The features set isn’t nearly as robust as the other systems but it might just be more effective for you, depending on your particular needs and strategy.

Sure, it doesn’t have integration with Twitter or Google but you get the instant viral nature of having any comment posted on your blog sent to Facebook directly as well as any “Likes”. It also forces people to have a real identity thus getting rid of the “anonymous” commenter.

Simple yet effective.

The biggest issue though is that there are currently no backups or synchronization systems (unless you use a plugin) so that any comments made in this system aren’t going to be saved into your WordPress blog.

If you’re interested in using this system you can integrate it yourself (which might prove to be a little more difficult for the average user) or try one of these WordPress Plugins:

I personally tried this on a smaller blog and was happy with the results but would not use it for larger and more established blogs.

I like my comments straight up!

Love Me Some WordPress Native

Now that I’ve gone through what I consider to be the Top 5 Commenting Systems that are currently available I’d like to simple tackle the one that I use: The native commenting system that ships with WordPress!

Now this is what I’m talking about! As you can see I’ve opted to use the commenting system that comes right out of the box with WordPress and the style is simple (via Standard Theme).

Why have I chosen to do this when the feature sets of the previous commenting platforms seem so attractive? Here’s why:

  • Adding another system obviously adds complexity and more complexity means that you will have tons of other issues, such as styling issues, browser and caching challenges, loading of scripts from other sources, and even simply outright failure (unfortunately not uncommon).
  • Comments are really important to me and I’d rather control the entire blog experience as best as I can from end-to-end without banking on another 3rd party to serve up this valuable part of my experience.
  • Load time can significantly increase for many blogs as the some of the scripts aren’t exactly light. For shared servers and hosting this could increase the page load time by more than a few seconds. Is it really that worth it especially when load time is factored into SEO?
  • I honestly have never found the feature sets compelling enough to switch, even if a few of them were pretty attractive. Call me simple but that’s one of the biggest reasons.

And unless I probably create my own system I’m quite satisfied to never abandon them. In fact, I’ve done quite well and been able to create comment user workflows out of the native system – I’m not sure we can do stuff like that with 3rd party systems!

What about you? Which ones do you use and why? Do you really understand the full impact of using another solution?

Please note that I’m not dogmatic about using WordPress’ native system and many of you will find great value in a 3rd party system! I’ve just chosen not to use them.

[Image via iStockPhoto. This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series.]

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