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Six comments apps for personal blogs

The new ‘ad-free’ comment hosting services that are challenging Disqus

Although I’ve been warned about the dangers of negative and malicious feedback, I’d still like to give readers’ comments a try on my blog.

My first step has been to get up-to-date with what’s available. For as long as I remember, Disqus has been the leading alternative for bloggers to WordPress’s and other CMS’s native comments system. (In 2011, it had 75% share of this third-party market.)

But in the last year, since I started working on this blog, a handful of developers have released SaaS apps that compete directly with Disqus — all featuring an ‘advertising-free’ business model. I’ve listed below my favourites from those I’ve come across so far.

My list is roughly in the order I found them. I’ve not tested these apps — I’ve only looked at their demo versions — so my conclusions are limited, and subjective.

Nevertheless, I hope this list might be be a useful starting point for others, who are on the same quest as me.

1  Disqus

” Trusted by millions of publishers “

Disqus is a commercial hosted service, connected to an iframe that’s embedded in post pages, containing a readers’ comment form and a list of approved comments. It has comprehensive moderation tools, and code snippets to display comment counts on blog listing pages, too.

Disqus is a big (50 million comments per month), advertising- and subscription-driven operation. But there’s also a generous free option for non-profit and personal users, and this can be advertising-free, too (this option is slightly hidden-away in the small print in the FAQ’s of their pricing page).

Disqus’s familiar comment form

Disqus is used by many large commercial websites, and several independent bloggers I admire. It’s also been a recommended option for many CMS/blogging platforms that don’t have their own native commenting (such as Ghost).

I’ve tried Disqus on a previous blogging experiment a couple of years ago, and although it did everything I wanted (for free), I wasn’t comfortable with it.

I thought their readers’ interface was messy, almost as though it was designed specifically to contrast with whatever site design it was embedded in. I was surprised that a reader’s entire comments history, across every Disqus’ customer website, could be accessed by anyone at the touch of a link. And I read about widespread criticism of their security practices, impact on internet speed, and dependence on ad-tracking revenue.

Since then, Disqus have made significant changes to address many of these issues. And, despite the trade-offs that remain, their super-solid and capable service is still a good option for many websites, large and small alike.

2  Commento

” Embed comments without giving up your privacy “

The first alternative I found was Commento, by an independent developer whose startup was originally sponsored by Mozilla. It matches many of Disqus’ core features, except it’s completely advertising-free, with a less fussy design, and a clear focus on privacy.

Commento’s cleaner UI — it still won’t match yours

In fact seemed like everything I was looking for. Except, like the other hosted/iframe embedded services I found, its styling and options can’t easily be customised to match my site’s (minimalist) design. And, at $99 annual subscription, it’s a bit pricey for my fledgling website, and its negligible traffic. (Yet, there are support and sustainability advantages in Commento’s pricing strategy.)

3  Talkyard

” Let their comments make your blog more interesting “

Talkyard is another excellent indie alternative, also with high privacy and open-source ideals. It’s actually designed as a discussion forum app, but it can also be used for blog post comments, when it looks very similar to Commento.

Talkyard’s comments list and pop-up entry panel

However, Talkyard’s pop-up entry and preview panel adds extra functionality, and keeps the comments display clean. It’s a lot cheaper too — it starts at just €1.90 per month. Well worth investigating.

4  Remarkbox

Remarkbox is the third indie hosted comments service I found. To my eyes, its design is less finished than the others, but there’s a live preview for Markdown, and its punchily-written website struck a few chords with me:

” Free comment systems have a business model that prioritizes ad revenue (and hijacking your traffic and readers), over page speed… We optimize for speed and take a minimalist approach by default, so that your comments stay lean and feel like part of your site, not something bolted on “

Remarkbox’s layout is the most basic, except it adds a live preview dropdown

In keeping with Remarkbox’s minimalist approach, is its funky new pricing model: Pay what you can. So Remarkbox definitely feels the most in-tune with indie blogging, so far.

5  FastComments

” It’s the fastest live comment service around “

This is turning out to be a very repetitive list! Because at first look, FastComments seems very similar to the others.

Fastcomments’s layout is busy, but super-clear and functional

But, it does look very well-finished, with more comprehensive moderation controls, and very detailed documentation. It’s $4.99 monthly subscription for individuals. And it’s probably the best alternative to Disqus for higher traffic blogs.

6  Hyvor talk

” A privacy-focused, fully-featured commenting platform “

The last app I found is Hyvor talk, recently-launched by two 19-year old students in Sri Lanka. To me it looks just as full-featured, and thoughtfully designed, as the others listed here. Their blog has genuinely useful info for bloggers, and some interesting stories to tell. Subscriptions start at $5 per month. Well worth a try!

Summary  A comparison of key features

Despite its over-simplifications (and my likely errors and omissions), this table nevertheless reveals surprising similarities between the app developers and their ambitions — but big differences in how each app manages its comments moderation.

Conclusions  The importance of comments moderation, and my next step

This post was always intended as a ‘starting point’, and I’ve only taken a superficial look at these apps. But if I was seriously planning to use one of them, I’d want to look much more closely at the practicalities of moderating comments, especially on higher traffic sites.

FastComments’ excellent documentation highlights some of these complexities — the trade-offs between ‘sign-on’ options, moderation tools, and reader engagement — and it’s well worth a read. Disqus, unsurprisingly, has the most comprehensive range of moderation tools, and I think this industry leader might still be the safest bet if your priority is managing higher volume, or troublesome, comments traffic.

But, for first-time bloggers like me, these are not immediate problems. The conclusion I reached half-way through writing this post, is that my initial needs are much simpler:

I don’t want ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’, or threaded conversations, and I hope to manage with just simple moderation tools

I might change my mind, if and when my blog gains some traction — or I might abandon the idea of comments entirely.

But, for now, I’ve decided to install a self-hosted commenting solution — a plugin for my Kirby CMS website — and I’ll write more about this in my next post.