Two months ago, I wrote this blog's most read article: After 5 Days on Disqus, I’m Turning Back to WordPress Comments. The quick, controversial summary is that I installed Disqus and, after concerns of not being able to fully leverage that content for SEO and on my own site, I reverted back to the standard Wordpress comment system. Apparently I wasn't the only blogger struggling with whether this issue - the comment debate was rich and included prominent bloggers, Fred Wilson (a Disqus investor) and even Daniel Ha (Disqus' CEO).
I concluded that post with the following:
I think Disqus is close. And I expect that I’ll give it another test-drive shortly. But it’s going to take some additional benefits as a blogger (I clearly see the benefits as a reader); and as I think about services I’m willing to pay, perhaps that’s the solution for Disqus: offer premium accounts. I’d be willing to buy that.
Well, I've concluded that it's time to "give it another test-drive" and here is why:
1A. I have become a more engaged, excited FriendFeed user.
This is important because, while I still struggle with the SEO fact, it could be argued that a moderate-to-highly trafficked blog will see greater traffic gains through Disqus' FriendFeed integration than through the incremental SEO benefits of the comments. Outside of selfish traffic reasons, following my readers through FriendFeed (via Disqus) is a great, interesting benefit... which leads to:
1B. I've become more interested in discussion and interaction than in absolute pageviews.
Obviously, traffic and discussion are correlated, but I'm hoping that both grow with Disqus (and at the very least, that discussion grows).
2. I believe that Disqus will solve the SEO piece
... And hopefully not in a super-technical, API-only way...!). I also assume that Disqus is actively working to fix this.
3. On the same note, I am not sure that WordPress is actively working on a Disqus-like product
... And at this point, that is likely the only solution that I would give preference to.
4. I really respect the way that Disqus reached out directly to me via the blog and email and offered assistance.
I am always willing to give my support to products and people who I feel connected with - and Disqus has been great
5. Frankly, I am jealous of other sites that have implemented Disqus.
I know many of my readers and commenters have Disqus accounts and I am hoping that they will be more motivated to interact when Disqus is live. I love Fred Wilson's blog and make it a daily read over my morning coffee... but the community he has built and the commenting that exists there is some of the web's richest content.
And with that - Disqus is live... hopefully to stay! I have more work to do on the blog (when not swimming Alcatraz) this weekend, primarily migrating to the newest WordPress version so that I can use the iPhone App.
This week the Widget World Expo took place in New York and Fred Wilson gave a supposedly terrific speech titled "Why Widgets Is The Wrong Word For What We're Doing". I really wish that I had been able to attend the conference - but the schedule didn't allow for it. Fred's deck in embedded below and Silicon Valley Insider gives the following recap:
To Fred, the “problem with widgets” stems back to the original separation between content and the first widgets — ads. Google was smart to put its own contextual ad widgets (AdSense) in the sidebar of its searches, being clear to its users that its content (search results) were pure and separated from their ads (paid results).
However, as widgets started to be used to display other web content -- Fred notes that his first widget was Flickr’s photostream widget, back in 2005 -- they became "relegated to the sidebar and increasingly seen as ad units and increasingly ignored.”
But they shouldn’t be ignored, Fred argued. They should be integrated into the flow and experience of the page. Developers, he said, need to put more focus on widget user experience.
This ties into a question that I get multiple times a day: what makes a great widget? The answer ties directly into Fred's point that "developers need to put more focus on widget user experience".
1. Give Users a Reason to Come Back
A widget will fail if it doesn't give users a reason to engage and a compelling reason to return. When designing a widget, ask the following questions: "What's the value proposition for a user? What's their motivation to embed the widget?" You'll find that the answers are closely aligned: dynamically changing, interesting content prevents staleness and adds value to a webpage in a way that a static banner cannot. There are countless ways to do this: sales rankings, RSS updates, community activities, etc.
2. Make it Customizable
Being "relegated" to the sidebar isn't a bad thing... it's consistent, highly trafficked real estate. But the publisher should (at least) be able to control the widget's size and color / theme. There are no standard widget units (or IAB sizes) and it's important to remember that your widget is a guest on other peoples' websites; consequently, you should make it as simple as possible for the publisher to create, grab and embed. Customizations can go much further: Jib Jab's Starring You widgets are great examples of full personalization.
3. Market Softly and Carefully
I agree with Fred that widgets are "increasingly [being] seen as ad units and increasingly ignored.” I don't associate that, however, with placement locations (his belief) - in fact, we at Widgetbox have data showing that in-widget engagement is less a factor of location and more a factor of widget design. I believe the reason is that a lot of widgets are closer to 'portable advertisements' than branded widgets. The marketing and branding on a widget should be done gently - if it's too aggressive, publishers are turned off and unlikely to dedicate their valuable real estate to (what is essentially) unpaid ad units.
Here is an example of a highly successful widget that follows the above rules (400,000 installs and millions of views each month). The BabyTicker widget tracks the development of a baby inside the widgetized womb:
1. Engagement: users embed the widget to share progress with family and friends; meanwhile, viewers check back regularly to monitor the baby's growth. Proof that users find the BabyTicker compelling and useful: some of their most active embed locations are on start pages like Netvibes, iGoogle, PageFlakes, etc.
2. Customization: you can set the size, the mother's name, the number of babies and the due date. The widget reflects those changes and grows accordingly.
3. Branding: There is prominent, but intrusive, branding beneath the widget for Babystrology.com.
I found the first post particularly thought provoking:
I've posted every day for almost five years. Its a routine and a habit that's hard to break
But today, I've got nothing to say that's blog worthy
I've twittered six or seven times and posted three times on tumblr
I think its time to acknowledge that long form blogging every day may be coming to an end
I certainly agree that blogs are changing and the distributed, social content landscape has made 'short form' discussion easier and more effective. That said, I think everything serves a different purpose: long form blogging is the table at which the conversations occur, introductions are made and meals are enjoyed. Fred might not have considered the above post "blog worthy" - but he still found value in posting it and 29 readers found it engaging enough to comment. Those comments were likely shared via Twitter, FriendFeed and email...
To me, the most important evolution of social content is that we are now empowered to produce and consume in a variety of formats and platforms... and I find that choice and distribution open me to new relationships and new content. Proof enough is that much of my richest dialog is still through email. Email continues to be a great source of recommended reading and intense discussion. If email is closed discussion, blogging is one-to-many discussion and services like Disqus, Twitter and FriendFeed are opening those discussions further.
I'm an avid reader of Fred Wilson's blog and was tempted to test-drive Disqus when Fred first integrated it onto his site. I finally decided to install it on my blog (which is powered by Wordpress) after Fred wrote his post "Three Reasons to Use Disqus". It's worth noting that installing Disqus is amazingly easy.
I installed Disqus on Sunday...
Today is Thursday and I have decided to remove it.
In concept, Disqus is bold and a clear improvement over static comments. I believe fully that threaded, social and portable commenting is the future of discussion and is certainly empowering for readers. I like being able to follow a user's activity across other blogs - for instance, I just accessed all of Gabe Rivera's Disqus comments (here) and arrived on some fascinating blogs (that I wouldn't have found otherwise).
As a blog owner, though, Disqus simply isn't empowering enough.... yet:
- Trackbacks are critical elements of a blog (SEO, navigation, etc). They aren't yet available with Disqus and are must-adds.
- Disqus doesn't provide commenter emails and contact information. Sounds minor, but I have engaged directly with numerous readers and formed deep relationships. Another must-have before I switch back. (update: according to Daniel Ha of Disqus email addresses are accessible; full response in below comments)
- The administration and deep interactions occur on Disqus.com - and consequently off my site. Furthermore, as the admin, there is neither enough transparency nor available configurations.
I think Disqus is close. And I expect that I'll give it another test-drive shortly. But it's going to take some additional benefits as a blogger (I clearly see the benefits as a reader); and as I think about services I'm willing to pay, perhaps that's the solution for Disqus: offer premium accounts. I'd be willing to buy that.
One of the great tech blogs on the web is Fred Wilson's AVC. While it is also one of the web's most popular blogs, apparently Fred is looking to grow readership and is advertising through AdSense. First time I've seen this ad: