IntenseDebate’s blog commenting technology

One of the technical initiatives at work has finally come to fruition! We are now hooking our sites up to a commenting system. (Aka third-party, or JavaScript, commenting.) The roll-out happens this week.

KOMO news is the first site to receive it. Go there now, and you’ll find “Comment()” links after each story summary. Go to a story, and you can comment on it.

An interesting aspect of this is our adding commenting to news stories, and not to just blogs or opinion pieces. Some smaller sites have story commenting, such as the Pierce County Herald, and hyper-local sites such as Pegasus News almost always have it. But most second- or third-tier papers, such as the LA Times, don’t. (The Chicago Tribune web edition is an example of one that does.)

Commenting systems provide an easy way for readers to debate a story, and give feedback to the sites’ reporters and editors. It’s one thing to e-mail your comments to, say, Ken Schram — but connecting with him via a commenting system raises reader interaction to a whole new level.

How third-party commenting systems work

Simple: JavaScript. Or, using the correct but ugly name, ECMAScript.

A bit of JavaScript on each page identifies the site. Another bit of JavaScript displays the comments, and comment controls, for story XYZ. Place the second bit of JavaScript where you want the comments to show up, and you’re done.

These systems’ documentation refer to “blog” comments, but they don’t care if your site is actually a blog. Essentially, you’re managing collections of related comments. Each blog post, or story, or page section (whatever level of granularity you wish) has an associated collection. You need to uniquely identify each collection, and call back to the commenting system’s server with the right JavaScript values to display a collection where you want it.

Why use a third-party commenting system?

Blogging software has built-in comments, of course. As do most (?all?) general-purpose CMS.

But those comments are land-locked. They’re isolated. There’s no connection between them and the greater web.

Using a commenting system that spans multiple sites offers a raft of advantages.

For users: A user racks up points from comment voting, and their karma rating follows them across sites. Their profile spans sites, and (if the user allows it) you can see where else they’ve commented, their recent comments, and be notified when they author a new comment.

For publishers: They increase reader interaction, visit length, and return visits. And they provide new revenue vehicles, and enhance existing ones. A simple example: Ad contexts can includes a user’s prior comments. So, if a user comments a lot about ski resorts, you might want to display skiing ads. With the proper magic, a site could even display ads based on what the user is entering into the comment text box right now. All of this requires the requisite user opt-in controls, of course.

The service we chose

Our selection process winnowed the field down to HaloScan, coComment, JS-Kit, DISQUS, and IntenseDebate. We evaluated them in three areas:

  • Technical (does the technology do what we want, how easy is the integration, etc.)
  • Support (SLA terms, the level of community activity, our support options, etc.)
  • Business (licensing terms, their responsiveness, how easy will it be to partner with them, etc.)

The five were winnowed down to two, and we ultimately chose IntenseDebate.

It’s proven easy to incorporate it into our sites, even for commercial-news-grade issues. For example, an aspect of news sites not found on blogs is publishing a story to multiple sections, like a story about a local business being published to both the “local news” and “business” sections. So you can’t simply associate a story’s comments with the page URL, and IntenseDebate “out of the chute” had the requisite hooks to deal with this.

And as for service…the IntenseDebate folks rock. They respond quickly to bugs, and respond reasonably to feature requests. When they have an issue with our feedback, we work it out by e-mail or have a quick conference call. All partners should be this easy to work with!

My only, minor, gripe is with their support forum‘s configuration. Instead of a normal standard bulletin board or forum, like phpBB, they use Get Satisfaction. When you post a new question, you need to indicate among other things your current emotion. Like, I’m “concerned” or “happy” or “worried” or “horny” or “satisfied.”  I’m not thrilled with the hipness factor, but IntenseDebate is very responsive on it, and it works. (Since I am old enough to have once held core memory, I am probably not in their target demographic. For the record, I also order “small,” “medium,” and “large” at coffee shops. I refuse to use the words “grande” or “venti”. Get real.)

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