The Problem With Disqus

Disqus, the very popular outsourced blog comments engine, seems to be going downhill lately. Now…don’t get me wrong, it’s still a solid product–one that’s very easy to install and one that loads very quickly via JavaScript. I use Disqus on all my blogs right now. But…

The problem with Disqus is simply this: bloat. Disqus are trying too hard to be useful and relevant that they’ve ended up spamming their own product with features I don’t need. And I say “I” because I won’t speak for anyone else here. I really don’t know–maybe people enjoy all those “like” buttons and profile popups, but for me, they’re just not useful.

When I read comments on blog posts I want to do just that: read comments. I don’t want to have to dig up comments in a pile of other semi-relevant data (e.g. user profiles, how many other people liked this reply, like/dislike/reply/flag buttons, subscribe buttons, sort controls, trackback urls and so on…). It seems the purpose then of a good comments system is to make these comments as readable as possible. Good typography and layout are key here, as is the elimination of everything unnecessary–that’s just good design.

Almost 100 lines of my CSS on this blog is dedicated towards simplifying the styling of Disqus comments. I use “display: none;” to hide as much of all those extra popups and buttons as I can. But it seems every week the Disqus team adds something new, and I have to go and hide that. I remember recently they’ve added the thread “hide/show” buttons. Now they’ve added the “Like” buttons right at the top of the thread. I’m not even sure what that’s for.

When Alexis built the Toto blog engine, it was like a breath of fresh air for blogging. Gone are all the maintenance and security woes of WordPress and enter the simplicity of writing your posts in text files and working with a handful of template files to style your whole site. Unfortunately, because Toto doesn’t use a database to store the posts, no commenting functionality was provided. It had to be outsourced, and Disqus was the popular choice.

Now I’m feeling like Disqus really isn’t the solution here. It’s out of place. During the last week I’ve seen a barrage of spam posts on this blog and I had to go through the familiar motions of having to clean it all up–something I remember from the days of using WordPress. I use Akismet in conjunction with Disqus’ own anti-spam measures to try to stop spam coming through, but it turns out this just isn’t enough. Spam should not be an issue for something like Disqus, yet here on this blog I’ve had about 10 identical comments posted by the same person/bot.

The bigger issue for me though is the direction Disqus is heading. Toto is one of the few blog engines that comes without comments support. As such, I need a comment engine like Disqus to provide this functionality–otherwise I have nothing. The problem is that Disqus doesn’t want to capture me as a user–they want to capture all the people on WordPress and similar platforms that already have a commenting engine. They need to convince them that their way is somehow better and more powerful. They want Disqus to replace whatever you’ve currently got.

This leads to Disqus trying very hard to attach all sorts of bangs and whistles in order to push their product ahead. They feel the core functionality of leaving and reading comments just doesn’t cut it–you’ve got to have user profiles, like buttons, threads, subscriptions and so on. Without all that extra stuff Disqus won’t add any value on top of what WordPress or other blog engines already provide with their built in comments.

This direction leads to feature bloat. Instead of providing a simple and elegant commenting solution, Disqus are providing a behemoth–and one that’s growing every day. It’s a shame, because the premise of Disqus is good, and people like me actually need a service like this for its core functionality.

I hope they change direction and focus on what really matters here–and that’s the comments. Focus on performance (which is already great), focus on spam protection, focus on ease of installation (again, this is already great), focus on readability. Disqus is easy to install and runs fast, but it still lets spam through and is suffering from feature bloat.

Keep all those features if you like, but at least provide me with an alternative, a Disqus Lite if you will, that has only the bare bones I need. It feels like I’m constantly fighting with Disqus to try and make it simpler. Your users shouldn’t have to do that.

As a final note I’ll add that it’s true: I am getting what I paid for. Disqus is free, and I’m thankful to the Disqus team for providing me with this service (and providing free support as well). It’s just painful for me to see it going downhill like this because the premise is good and the product can be great if the developers spent more time focusing on simplicity and usability rather than feature set.

Anyone else feel the same way or do you love all the features that Disqus offers?

June 2010