The Submarine Social Network

Disqus is the ubiquitous comment system that everyone uses but rarely discusses. We get the inside scoop on the secrets to their success.

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The reader scans through an interesting online article, growing increasingly incensed at some travesty and feeling highly compelled to contribute an opinion at the end.  Fortunately, the site includes a discussion section after each piece, and in this case it’s powered by Disqus.  The reader already has an account, so she easily logs in and imparts her insight.

But the impact doesn’t necessarily stop there.  Disqus is a rapidly-growing meta discussion board system that streams through the Internet, linking up disparate ports of textual entry.  A different reader on another site could stumble upon some other comment left by our outraged opinionator, and check out her profile for other posts.

In a social media milieu where Facebook and Twitter garner the lion’s share of attention, and Google+ clamors loudly for a bit of it, Disqus is quietly and deliberately taking command of the virtual water cooler.

This is a profound development, considering that Facebook has long worked to wall off its garden, and Twitter is even now gathering bricks.  For some reason, Disqus captains don’t mind steering their monster ship through open waters.  And they seem content to avoid the persistent maelstroms of controversy swirling around others in their space.

If it seems like Disqus is everywhere now, that’s because it very nearly is.  Curious about its plans, post404 interviewed the company’s friendly Vice President of Business Development, Ro Gupta.  You might be surprised at some of his responses.

post404: Disqus seems to be really gaining in popularity lately.  Can you share some growth data with us?

Gupta: When I joined in 2009, I think Disqus had been installed by about 40k sites reaching 10-15 MM visitors each month. Today we are one of the largest networks on the web with over 1.5 million installs and 750 million monthly visitors, including 80 million commenter profiles.

post404: It’s looking like Facebook’s comment system may be your biggest competitor.  What are your challenges there, and how are you addressing them? Facebook is both a partner and a competitor.  They have done a nice job getting websites to use their social plugins including their commenting widget, but it hasn’t negatively impacted our growth.  In fact, if anything they may have helped — our network has grown by over 300 million visitors since Facebook launched their latest comments plugin in 2011.  They are a good foil for us in many ways as they ultimately serve a specific master ( vs Disqus which has no destination site so we are very publisher-centric (e.g. with respect to user/data ownership, admin controls, integration, support, etc.) and platform-neutral (supporting a number of social integrations, not just FB).  Our data shows that Facebook being in our space may have actually led to more sites and users discovering us as they helped raise mainstream awareness for the concept of third party commenting.  In truth, basic commenting built into publishing and blogging platforms is still the biggest competition for both us and Facebook.

post404: Other than Facebook, there’s the Google question.  They have their own comments engine and certainly plan to do more in that space.  What are your thoughts on their efforts?

Gupta: We’ve heard Google+ is planning to do a similar thing to what Facebook has done but it’s still speculation.  If and when they do, I think all the points above would apply there as well.

post404: You empower many online communities with your free discussion board, and have for-pay options as well that get a bit pricey for the average community manager.  Any thought of exploring additional pricing models?  Maybe even a built-in donation feature?

Gupta: We recently reduced the price to get our most demanded paid feature, single sign-on, to just $99/month (before it cost $299/month to get our Professional service which included SSO).  In addition, the new Disqus core (free) service is even richer than before — by far the most full featured free service of its kind — including an end-to-end realtime experience which used to be a premium feature.  [editor’s note: oops, we missed that!]

post404: DISQUS profiles are useful but not nearly as complete and compelling as those offered in other services, such as Facebook.  Do you see that improving?

Gupta: I agree! I don’t think replicating profiles that the destination social networks have is something we’ll do, but we are planning to improve Disqus profiles with respect to more information about interests and better insight into reputation and expertise, and we also allow websites to integrate their own proprietary member profile systems.

post404: Facebook, Twitter and Google+ provide only unary feedback mechanisms (Like, +, Favorite).  Disqus is more useful to viewers with its binary Up/Down comment voting.  Amazon goes even further with a 5 star range.  What are your thoughts on the values of each feedback mode?

Gupta: We used to have only likes as well, but the new Disqus has a more sophisticated quality management component to it.  Up and down votes, as well as other factors, are now taken into account to determine prominence in each comment thread of what’s deemed the best vs. the worst content.  We have debated this internally before, but ultimately felt it’s important to have more signal vs less in order to promote quality discussion and build real communities for our publishers vs other platforms that have different goals.

post404: Just a general question: where do you see Disqus in five years?

Gupta: Self-driving cars.

Just kidding…

5 years is an eternity in this world — double the lifespan of the company today — so hard to say, but broadly we aim to be synonymous with community for the independent web.

post404: More a statement than a question: the latest Disqus update is really nice and makes post404 look even better.  Thanks for the continual improvements!

Gupta: Glad to hear it!  Adoption of Disqus 2012 has exceeded expectations and there is still a lot more to come so we really appreciate the encouragement.

Here at post404 we would like to see Disqus get into full forum services as well, especially for WordPress, enabling two-way linkage between such a site forum and article comments.  Support for WordPress categories would be key.

Mr. Gupta’s remark about community and the independent web should resonate strongly with readers here.  One of the attractions of Disqus is its independence, and ease of integration into other services such as WordPress and Gravatar.

An area of concern for open-web advocates is acquisitionSome speculate that Disqus is a perfect target for a company like Google, which still struggles to achieve Facebook-like adoption of its social experience.  Understandably, Mr. Gupta declined to address the subject of acquisition and we can only hope that Disqus chooses to continue in its current form.  The company just recently moved into new headquarters, which certainly suggests confidence in their present and future viability.  Here’s hoping to their continued success!

Disclosure: post404 uses Disqus for its commenting system.

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Editor-in-Chief. Making tech accessible since the Jurassic. Personal ramblings at Follow @texrat on Twitter.

Latest posts by Randall "texrat" Arnold (see all)

  • Qole

    I am incenced by the travesty that is this article! I feel highly compelled to contribute an opinion!

    Well, actually, I just want to say that this is a really interesting
    interview with a service I honestly hadn’t thought about much. Gupta’s
    right, too; the introduction of Facebook’s commenting system (and my
    repulsion to that concept) really raised my awareness of the whole
    third-party commenting concept. And he’s also right that Facebook’s
    commenting system definitely drives people like me into the arms of
    services like Disqus.

    (There’s a problem with the comments section on this site, however. As the comment gets bigger, the post button disappears below the black section at the bottom of the screen. I maximised the browser window, and the black section disappeared.)

    • Randall Arnold

      Thanks for braving our comment bug. It appears to be something with the theme. I will continue working with the theme provider to get it fixed.

  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    Disqus is my favourite discussion tool that I find myself commenting more on articles that have Disqus implemented versus those that do not. Another advantage is that they integrate with Engagio which is my tool for organizing and tracking my social conversations across the social networks.

    • Randall Arnold

      I agree!

  • Talton

    Finally, a link I can use when people ask me what Disqus thinks about Facebook Comments. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Additionally, I’m personally excited about getting better reputations for users within Disqus. There are certain features of web technology which result in something that seems somewhat “magical”. While the best example of this is SEO, other good examples are Spam Detection and Reputation. It’s exciting to see these features improve and simply “just work”.

    Features like these couldn’t have been developed without the help from our awesome community, which is why making them available to any blog or website is exciting.

    • Randall Arnold

      Thanks for commenting Talton!

    • Michael Hazell

      I don’t know why, but on certain sites all of my comments end up getting caught in the spam filter, and some never get published because mods don’t check their dashboard that often. Tyler (I think) fixed it, but now the issue is back again.

  • dansus

    Love Disqus. No Disqus? No comment. Simplz

    • Randall “texrat” Arnold

      Nice formula. ;)

      • Michael Hazell

        And it definitely works.

  • Michael Hazell

    I love to use Disqus for comments, and I use it at my website. It increases discussion without a doubt.

  • Michael Hazell

    Hmm….perhaps I should interview Disqus one day. Right now, though, I am working on writing tech tutorials for my website right now. @danielha:disqus

    • Randall “texrat” Arnold

      There are plans for tech tutorials here as well. :)

      • Michael Hazell

        I just did one at my site about using CCleaner. Have you used it before? Right now I am working on hammering down some basic stuff concerning Windows, then I’m going to start covering Linux tutorials as well. Are you interested in seeing my CCleaner tutorial?

        • Randall “texrat” Arnold

          I haven’t used any formal tutorial tools. I just tend to write. ;)

          • Michael Hazell

            Well I don’t use any tutorial tools either. Besides making bold headings and attaching images, it is all down to how good you write the text which is what most of a tutorial is about.

  • Michael Hazell

    @texrat:disqus did you know that there is also a display issue with your website and Disqus 2012? When you load the webpage, Disqus 2012 loads fine like it is supposed to, but your site footer does not expand like it should when you view the page in Chrome. Did you know about this issue? I can provide a screenshot if you can’t replicate the issue.

    • Randall “texrat” Arnold

      Yes, I’m aware. It’s a problem with the WordPress theme and/or framework. It’s been worked on but so far no 100% fix…

      • Michael Hazell

        For now I also see the issue happening in Chrome, but not as often. I think pressing F11 to go in and out of full screen should fix the issue.

        • Randall “texrat” Arnold

          Good tip, I’ll share that with the theme developer to help them troubleshoot.