As someone who spends far too much time commenting on others’ writing and discussing business online, I think I have a fairly good feel for user experience when it comes to online commenting systems. Disqus and Facebook commenting seem to be the major 3rd-party players in the commenting world right now, and they deliver very different products.
Barriers To Entry
It seems to me that the most successful discussions I’ve seen over the years have been on the Disqus platform. Facebook comments seem to be picking up steam and replacing Disqus on quite a few sites. I’d imagine this is because the proprietors believe that everyone is on Facebook, while Disqus requires a separate account registration.
There’s some logic in that, but a few flaws in the assumption as well. The first is that Disqus does allow anonymous/guest commenting when the administrator enables that setting, so everyone can comment on any given article if desired. There’s no exclusion of unregistered commenters.
The other flaw is the assumption that Facebook ubiquity is superior. Many Facebook users don’t want their work discussions carrying over to their personal Facebook profile. Even though the default in Facebook commenting is to not post to your profile, many users will be resistant to the idea of linking those comments to their account, whether or not their perception is misinformed. Further, many will likely tone down their comments because they somehow believe they are more closely tied to their personal profile (toning down comments might be good or bad, depending on your goal). Again, the users’ impressions might be wrong, but we all have concerns about Facebook’s ability to change our privacy settings at their whim.
The UX on both of these platforms is…not quite velvet yet. They both have some nice features, but they’re not particularly intuitive once you get past your initial comments. Facebook’s system seems to be implemented differently on different sites. Replying to other users can be clunky, and the ability to name other commenters with an @FacebookName isn’t consistently supported in my experience.
Disqus’s reply comments feel much more organized. Still, the ability to follow a discussion is quirky. To see what others are commenting after leaving the site, a user needs to “favorite” the discussion by clicking the little star. Further comments will then come directly to the user’s email. Without favoriting it, the user only receives direct replies to his or her comments.
That’s a decent, if not intuitive feature, but it also triggers a daily email digest with all comments from the previous day. Most users want immediate updates, or a daily digest, but not both. As a regular user, I don’t see a quick way to choose one or the other.
On the Facebook side, I’m not even aware of a feature that allows you to follow all comments on a thread. Users receive notifications when others reply to their specific comments, but that’s all (this may be in the custom implementation of the platform). A user has to come back to the page regularly to see if any new discussions have arisen. If the Facebook user checks the box to also post the comment to his/her personal profile, then they’ll receive more notifications on the Facebook platform, but most don’t.
This is particularly problematic for the authors of pieces who want to respond quickly to those commenting on their articles. Disqus’s “favorite” feature, while clunky, at least allows the author to sit back and wait for comments. Reloading the web page every hour to check for comments is like AOL dial-up. This has to improve.
Stickiness–will they keep talking?
The whole point of a commenting system is to encourage discussion. You might get more users in with a lower barrier to commenting, and you might get them to comment quickly with the right visual calls-to-action or simplified UI to remove any extra steps. At the end of the day, though, the total number of comments you receive, especially those that interact with one another, will be the measure of the success of your system. The quality of those comments is somewhat important, but discussions create traffic, and sooner or later the wiser minds will join in.
My experience, thus far, is that Facebook commenting has a long way to go. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it take over the market place within a few years because of Zuck’s ability to buy or build anything he wants, but for now it’s not drawing me back in to discussions. If Facebook leans further into the commenting platform and draws more of its core users into those discussions (most likely by lessening our privacy choices in our comments), they may very well draw discussions from broader audiences since their user base is so much larger.
In the meantime, the articles I’ve written on the Disqus platform have had more fully-developed discussions than those on Facebook commenting. If Disqus could add a few more options for notification customization right on the commenting interface (not requiring the user to go into a “Settings” screen), they might be able to hold on to their position as the premier commenting system online.