The new commenting system has been chosen!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blogger is a wonderful tool for many reasons. It's free; a dedicated team is constantly improving it and releasing new features; and it is indexed well by search engines. I have been disappointed by the commenting system though so I decided it was time to look at a 3rd party service for the blog. After careful consideration I've settled on using Intense Debate's commenting system on Effortless Anthropologie.

Here are the things I was looking for in a new commenting system:
- threaded commenting (most important)
- ability to add photos to comments (very important)
- ability to subscribe to comment threads
- ability to edit/delete comments
- reply by email
- a good moderator dashboard with easy add/removal of features
- wide range of login choices

I vetted 3 commenting systems: Disqus, Echo and IntenseDebate. Each system had things I liked and didn't like.

Disqus is used by a bunch of fashion blogs, from The Chloe Conspiracy to Refinery 29 to Fashionista. So the hurdle to user acceptance would be lower for Effortless Anthro. It's easy to create a Disqus account and setting up my avatar was easy. I like the threaded conversations and it's easy to share comments on Twitter, Facebook and the like. But I wasn't thrilled with the lack of login options. You can only sign in via a Disqus account, Twitter or OpenID. That's fewer options than Blogger's own commenting system. It doesn't look like you can comment Anonymously either, which is important to me since Anthropologie employees will often drop hints to the community on the blog about upcoming sales and new releases. I also was unhappy with the way pictures are represented in the comments.

On the back-end, the admin dashboard has some nice moderation tools. I found the feature set lacking though. It doesn't really seem like any new features have been released this year. Additionally, the interface seemed rather clunky to me. I was looking for something better.

Social media techies out there probably remember Echo when it was originally known as js-kit. The URL remains the same but the company got all prettied up with a nice new website and a stunning logo. (When I read the launch story on TechCrunch I complimented their logo and I still love it each time I see it. Major kudos to Echo's branding team for creating a logo that is both functional and beautiful.) Echo wins the feature race easily: the photo upload tool allows you to upload locally-stored photos into your comment; you can log in via several services (including Blogger/Google!) and you can even embed videos in your comments. There are also social gestures like reputations and rankings. You can't comment Anonymously though, which was the first strike against this system.

What I hated is that this service isn't free. Clearly this service is aimed at large corporations that want to pay someone to implement -- and perhaps moderate -- comments, but for a small hobbyist like me the $40-$50/month I'd have to pay is really tough to swallow. As my site traffic grows the price will only go up. I remember when js-kit was $12/year and even that seemed like a lot when I was implementing it for clients. So clearly Echo's plan is to keep raising rates which is lame. I can't fault them for wanting to make a profit I suppose but when there are so many compelling free options out there who wants to pay? Sorry Echo, as long as you cost you lose.

And finally I looked at IntenseDebate. I'm familiar with their commenting system because TechCrunch recently implemented it. I was able to comment there using my Twitter login which I appreciated. I like how clean the comments look on the page and there are easy customization features in the admin dashboard to match colors and show/hide user features. You can comment Anonymously and there are several login options...though Google/Blogger aren't included. It was super easy to install IntenseDebate on my blog and I didn't lose my old comments in the process -- very nice! IntenseDebate didn't beat Echo for ease of adding pictures to comments but at least the feature is there. I do hope they improve it so you don't have to use HTML to add photos. A smarter tool for photos/videos would be nice. I also like the social gestures like rankings and the like tool, though I think it's confusing how they represent your comment count as "points." This isn't an RPG and I think there will be a learning curve for my readers, who are more shopping-savvy then tech-savvy. Lastly, I like that the company is located in Colorado because I went to college there. They may be in Boulder -- which as a Colorado State alumna is kind of hard to swallow -- but I'll support my old state any way I can.

That's not to say the system is perfect. I found the avatar setup very confusing. I initially just uploaded the photo I wanted to use straight into IntenseDebate but it didn't display on my posts. So I started using Gravatar but it took me 3 or 4 tries to get the avatar displaying correctly. That was very annoying! The avatars are important in the Effortless Anthro community. It's how we recognize each other. It needs to be more intuitive. I also wish this system supported logging in through Google/Blogger. It's so frustrating to need to create an account with every damn service. True you could just use OpenID. This works for the tech-savvy. But will my readers even know what OpenID is? Probably not. I would not know what it is if I didn't work in the Internet world.

In the end, IntenseDebate was closest to what I wanted while being free and so that is the commenting system I settled on. Hopefully the community will like it as well! The new system will flip on tomorrow and I am creating a FAQ page to help the community adjust to the new system.