“We have the largest and deepest audience profiles on the web.” — David Fleck, general manager of advertising at Disqus. Translation: We’re tracking everyone who visits a website with Disqus enabled and building a profile of them based on the content of the sites they visit and any comments they leave. “Deeper” than Facebook.

“So I’m particularly excited to announce that we’re bringing our native advertising product, Sponsored Comments, to the world of programmatic and we’re doing it on a global basis. […] Starting today, Xaxis clients, which include some of the best brands in the world, will buy and place Sponsored Comments advertising across much of the Disqus network.” Translation: It’s not comment spam if we’re getting paid for it.

I was just reading some comments the other day and thinking how it’d be great to see some sponsored brand content there instead of users, like there already was on the rest of the page. Glad there’s a solution for that on a global basis now.

40 thoughts on “Disqus Spam + Ads

  1. This is disappointing but not surprising. Why do WordPress bloggers elect to use something other than the already built in commenting system? I’ve never understood that… but… then again… I’ve never been in it for the comment counts or advertising revenue…. I’m no major blogger but have been using WordPress for almost a decade. JetPack and Akismet manage my comments just fine…. the rare times people these days decide to leave a comment that is…. 🙂

    1. I think the main reason folks use non-native comments is that systems like Disqus offer more features. Remember that Jetpack is not the “built in commenting system” – it’s very similar to Disqus in functionality, and if Automattic wanted to, they could profile Jetpack comment users in the same way that Disqus is profiling their users. I don’t see Automattic doing this, as they have other revenue streams, but from a technology standpoint the systems seem very similar.

      1. Aaron … Yeah I was thinking JetPack sign on… Should have specified that. And Automattic could do the same as Disqus. I thought of that too. Do you use Disqus? If so do you like it?

    2. I guess one main reason why I use Disqus on the majority of my sites is to somehow lessen the number of people commenting just for the backlinks. I’m so sick and tired of people saying “nice post” when it’s so obvious they didn’t even bother reading.

      1. I wasn’t sure about your own URL in that regard, which I’ve removed. It is tough when you get comments from real people with very commercial sites, but I see that across every platform including Facebook.

    1. I’ve heard people say this before but haven’t seen any data that Disqus is actually faster for users, seems like it’s loading a lot of code (and now ads and tracking) from a third party which is going to be slower and bigger than anything on-site. I could see if you were doing static page caching and didn’t want comments to invalidate that, which any JS-included solution would help with.

      1. I don’t think people use Disqus for speed, but for scalability. As long as you don’t have the sync’ing with WordPress setup, Disqus can result in a dramatic reduction in server load.

        I wouldn’t touch it myself though. I just see the logic in using it (or an equivalent platform) on some sites.

      2. If you don’t sync, though, you lose your data. The fact you can sync is actually one of their better features. I’m actually a big fan of the Disqus *product*, just not this business model. I wish more companies would have the courage to really try for a non-ads route, at least at first.

      3. My main experience with Disqus is a spinning loading circle, during which not only can I not comment, but I can’t see any other comments. At least with WordPress, the comments are there. So I don’t buy the “faster” reasoning. I admit I also get embarrassingly confused with the arrangement of comments and the upvoting. Knee jerk? I assume the top comment is the first, and then on down the line. Disqus confuses the heck out of me. It’s a silent shame.

  2. And this is why I use Ghostery in Firefox. It blocks Disqus by default.
    Strange that companies like Disqus would probably decry the privacy practices of the US and other govts yet deem it fine that they build deep profiles.

  3. It is good to keep in mind that when a service is free, you are not the customer, but the product. That is not necessarily a bad thing, just make sure you understand the business model of that service.

    1. Wil – very good point!! My free WordPress.com blogs run ads on my site to generate revenue. I’m ok with that. Better than having to pay for monthly hosting on old content that I’m just archiving on the freebie site.

  4. I don’t like how some websites use basic WordPress commenting system and some use Jetpack for additional functions. When you make comment you have confirm that via a link. Some websites even ask you to create a login to comment. You don’t get to choose for email notifications between all comments or reply to your comments. Disqus solves all these problems. It’s consistent across networks.

    1. “When you make comment you have confirm that via a link” – I’m not sure if I ever experienced this in my life.

      And I don’t see anything wrong with websites that require you to register in order to comment. Those site owners want to focus on regular readers and that’s not a bad thing. Regular readers = high quality comments = interesting discussion.

    2. One more reason not to use Disqus. And yes, Disqus solves all the problems you mention, and creates two more for every one it solves.

  5. The native WordPress comment system is ok but I was getting like 30,000+ spammy comments per month! Now that I have started using disqus the spam comments I get to dat is 0.

    Also due to the spammy comments I was getting using wordpress default system that have a major affect on server and user experience. Thought it is disappointing to hear this news I will continue to use them for some time to come. Also if I can opt out not to show comments ads I will.

  6. It is worth mentioning that Disqus has, by far, the best comment-voting system and that did not happen by accident, I have seen first-hand how they sweat the details. For blogs of certain types, with a certain size of audience and more geared towards lengthy discussion, the advantages are sufficient to justify the use of non-native comments. If a WordPress plugin offered the same commenting experience, most sites using Disqus would switch to that.

    LiveFyre’s Sidenotes, which allows users to leave comments next to a particular paragraph (similar to comments on Medium.com) is another example of a feature that simply cannot be replicated using currently available WordPress plugins, so, for sites that need that, it is good that LiveFyre makes it possible.

    Many see comments as unimportant, I completely understand why some chose not to enable them, but I believe they are have been an important ingredient in the transformative power of WordPress. Therefore, I am somewhat disappointed that they have not been the focus of more innovation, so, I welcome the efforts of commercial companies are.

    I do agree, however, that “sponsored” comments are a step too far, it will be interesting to see how sites using Disqus react.

    1. I really want to like the Medium-esque sidenotes commenting method, but it feels like fisking to me. I’d rather they waited until the bottom to comment, having read the whole thing in case I foolishly buried the lede.

      1. Yes, I agree that traditional end-of-post commenting is best for most types of content but there are specific types of post that can benefit from the ability to tie comments to specific words, sentences or paragraphs.

        For example, I used WordPress and Sidenotes to make a simple proof-of-concept website, at RedPen.com, that allows people to post any text they want their friends to proof-read for them.

        I am pretty sure that many more useful uses for side-commenting will emerge once people become aware of the possibility, that is why I would love to see many more plugin developers turn their attention to comments.

  7. Matt, I think the self install version of WordPress core needs to have better support for logins, upvotes/downvotes/community self-moderation and broader moderation terms. A commenter I might want to watch isn’t necessarily a spammer. Having a watch list or other functionality would help me get away from Disqus or recommend it for clients. I love being able to tell clients that a commenting systems allows the community to self-police, including unpublishing of comments with a flag count of _x_. Disqus wins on interface, ease of installation and usability. But the privacy price for that is clearly getting higher.

    Comment moderation is a huge issue for large sites with active communities and explains, to some degree, the success of Disqus.

    Having robust community management built-in would go a long way to making the internet a better place. It’s been my biggest pet peeve of CMS software since at least 2002:Commenting as a feature is half-baked.

    1. Many of the things you suggest are outside the scope of the core software, and really require a network approach (centralized service) to be effective. I’d encourage you to explore some of the alternatives to Disqus that don’t have an advertising model, and perhaps make a list of what you miss the most with screenshots for other product devs as feedback.

  8. I was just reading some comments the other day and thinking how it’d be great to see some sponsored brand content there instead of users…

    Me too!

  9. I don’t even comment on blogs with Disqus system because it forces me to create an account with them (and remember passwords, etc.) in spite of logging in using my facebook profile. Then why have the FB login option?

    Once upon a time I used Disqus with a Blogger blog as Blogger didn’t support threaded comment replies back then. But I have deactivated it long since. I am very happy with WP commenting system. I just wish there was an option to email my reply to a particular comment to the commenter, instead of asking them to subscribe to all the comments. The reply notification for logged-in users is a cool feature for WP blogs.

    1. I also won’t comment on blogs with Disqus for similar reasons. Plus I block third party cookies which means I also have to put in exceptions. Too much work for two cents.

  10. There’s an important part of that article you didn’t share here, Matt:

    “Publishers, advertisers, and Disqus will not receive any personally identifiable information about the users brands are targeting. Instead Disqus will create anonymous profiles.”

    So, not all that different from Automattic in that regard:

    From Automattic’s Privacy Policy:

    “Like most website operators, Automattic collects non-personally-identifying information of the sort that web browsers and servers typically make available, such as the browser type, language preference, referring site, and the date and time of each visitor request.”

    “Automattic also collects potentially personally-identifying information like Internet Protocol (IP) addresses for logged in users and for users leaving comments on WordPress.com blogs.”

    “Certain visitors to Automattic’s websites choose to interact with Automattic in ways that require Automattic to gather personally-identifying information. The amount and type of information that Automattic gathers depends on the nature of the interaction.”

    We haven’t seen the full information from Disqus yet. While I don’t use their system on my own blog (I prefer Livefyre), I do use it on sites for family and friends, and the last time Disqus did something like this (ads at the bottom of posts instead of related content), it gave users the option to have this on or off.

    Perhaps we can see it in action before decrying it?

  11. I used to use Disqus in the past & let me tell you something, brother!! (insert Hulk Hogan jokes here)

    I don’t use it now, but I JUST LOVE the feature to simply reply to email notifications to reply to emails.

    But… I’m completely satisfied with the Jetpack Comments 🙂

  12. I feel that this is a weird approach to conversation. This is due to several reasons.

    1. I comment when I have something I need to get off my chest (like this comment). If someone tries to hi-jack my conversation with what I would regard as spam, then I’m less inclined to actually comment in the first place.

    2. Often I find that the conversation that gifted and intelligent people have regarding an article is of better value than the article itself (or at least the comments of an article can make the article soooo much better). The article is a catalyst for the fruitful conversation. If we now have sponsored comments disrupting the conversation, it will devaluate my attention to the gifted people who comment on the article. And maybe they will also be hit by number 1. That would be a shame.

    3. I could start to get doubt regarding where the idea of the article started. Did it start with a great idea/problem that the author encountered, or did it start with the company wanting to send a message, and then the author wrote an article.

    I fear the scenario where I, not knowing, am reading a sponsored post with sponsored comments, thinking I’m getting smarter, but in reality I’m just getting dumber…

    1. Your third point is great. At this point, I assume nearly everything is an advertorial. (Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement.)

      I confess that one thing I do appreciate Disqus for is that when someone leaves a particularly rude or bombastic comment, I can click on their name and see their profile and learn whether or not they have a habit of doing that (the answer is typically yes), or if they are generally reasoned commenters who somehow lost it on my post. In that way, Disqus allows me to put the person (and their comment) into context based on how they tend to respond and what blogs they are reading/commenting on.

      Which is sort of creepy, I guess.

  13. Everyone has to make money and advertising is the lazy thing to do. It’s a business model completely lacking in imagination.

    I’m about to start writing a post on Medium entitled “The Fallacy of Free”, addressing advertising’s ugly cousin, the freemium model.

  14. Just out of curiosity does IntenseDebate not have similar potential tracking issues. In that presumably it’s also tracking individual users across sites.

    Is it simply company philosophy that is different in that this data would not be abused, or is their technological difference in the way it’s siloed?

    Is this not a route that comment hosting services are going to be forced down to survive if not how should they be monetised.

    On a side note be interested to see what a the UK ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) thinks of such comment spam, and if they hold the site owner responsible for it and it’s contents especially if it’s not clearly branded.

    1. Anything remotely hosted, including Jetpack and Intense Debate, potentially have tracking issues. But the business models for those products are not ad-supported.

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