Lessons learned moving commenting to Discourse


Leaving comments on this blog requires a certain amount of commitment. You have to jump to another site to log in.

Compare this to the "least amount of friction possible".

A lot of work.

When I made the move to Discourse I thought of this state-of-affairs as a temporary situation. I would add the "traditional" comment box at the bottom and make it super easy to add comments, I would transparently create accounts and all that jazz.

A couple of months in, I am not so sure.

When I think about comments on my blog these are my priorities.

  1. Give users room to type in interesting and insightful comments.
  2. Provide great support for followup (reply by email, email notifications)
  3. Rich markdown editor with edit and preview support.
  4. Comment format must be markdown, anything else and I am risking complex conversion later on.
  5. Zero spam
  6. Comments / emails / content is unconditionally hosted on my server and under my control. Not hosted by some third party under their rules with their advertising injected and my readers tracked.
  7. Trivial for me to moderate.

You may notice that, "Make it super easy for anybody on the Internet to contribute a random unfiltered opinion" is surprisingly missing from this list.

What does Discourse score in my 7 point dream list? A solid 7 out of 7. The extra friction completely eradicated spam and enables me to have rich conversations with my readers. I have their emails, I can communicate with them.

About Spam

I eliminated the vast majority of spam on this blog a while back. I blogged about it 2 years ago. Critics claimed that this approach was doomed to fail if it ever got popular.

Discourse is popular. Yet I get zero spam. By zero I mean that in the last 55 days I got no spam on this blog, nor did I have to delete any spam from this blog.

http://discuss.samsaffron.com the site that takes comments for this blog is excluded from Google using a robots.txt rule, coupled with the built in immune system Discourse already has, this leaves spamming software very confused. Not only do they need to run a full PhantomJS like engine, they also need to register accounts and know about the tie discuss.samsaffron.com has to this blog.

Too much work, so no Rolex for me. This sucks cause I really want a v8gra branded Rolex watch.

Do I care about all the missing comments I am not getting?

My priority has shifted strongly, I would prefer to engage in interesting conversations as opposed to collecting a massive collage of "great job +1" comments. My previous blog post is a great example. I have room to expand points, add code samples and so on. I have the confidence that my replies will be read by the people who asked for the extra info.

I often hear people say "just disable comments on your blog" as a general solution for low quality and spam. I feel I have found a different way here, and I love it.

I am not sure I will bring back the trivial "add comment" text box.

Comments

David Carson 9 months ago
David Carson

The fact that the process of "jumping to another site to log in" involves me simply saying "yeah use my Google account" completely outweighs any friction in the process. It might take a few clicks and a few popups rather than just banging the keyboard and hitting send, but the fact that you piggyback off existing authentication more than makes up for all that.

p.s. the side-by-side Markdown editor and preview pane is beautifully usable. Absolutely love it.

Mike Munroe 9 months ago
Mike Munroe

Sam, any links to some good documentation on integrating Discourse based comments with a jekyll based site?

Sam Saffron 9 months ago
Sam Saffron

@mikepmunroe yes, there has been a bunch of very interesting work by trident, see:

Jaroslaw Filiochowski 5 months ago
Jaroslaw Filiochowski

Writing from a tablet, with fluctuating wifi. Took me over 2 minutes just to go to the commenting site, log in with google, create account, and start commenting. About 10 minutes overall. I already feel strongly discouraged from commenting at all.

So I see how this will reduce spam, at least until the spambots adapt, but at the same time how many valid comments will be lost? I think I'll stick to Disqus for now, while I figure out how Discourse could be used in a similar way.

Sam Saffron 5 months ago
Sam Saffron

Only way to figure this out is measure it, I am curious to at some point/


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