The unveiling of Disqus 2012 this past June represented a major
milestone for the five-year-old commenting platform. With a 100%
new codebase and totally revamped design, Disqus 2012 is a complete
re-imagining of how we think online communities engage - and
establishes a scalable, extensible foundation for those communities
(and Disqus) to grow and develop.
Here at Disqus, we are extremely focused on delivering excellent user experiences. While readers and commenters most readily come to mind when thinking about users of Disqus, we never forget that publishers are also one of our most vital user groups. Based on a lot of great feedback we’ve received from our publisher partners - both free users and VIP customers - we identified a single, universal concern: time.
Whether you’re an individual blogger or a global news enterprise like CNN, all publishers want to spend less time moderating comments and fighting trolls (there are significant operational cost implications as well for a major media publisher). They would much rather be spending this time connecting with their audience, engaging with the conversations happening in their comment threads, and building a community - after all, these are some of the key motivations for adopting Disqus in the first place. Moreover, they want their audience to spend more time with their content - whether it is diving deeper into a heated discussion or simply spending more time on a publisher’s site overall and generating more impressions.
About the Disqus Footprint
At recent count, Disqus reaches an audience of 800
million unique viewers per month across 1.57 million websites.
This massive scale affords Disqus the ability to generate accurate
interest graphs and powerful network effects - which, in turn, enable
key features of the Disqus network through the application of these
Disqus 2012 introduced significant changes on many levels, and one of the most fundamental improvements was a clear and focused design decision to leverage the depth and richness of our vast footprint. We conducted the following study to test the many design decisions for Disqus 2012 that we hoped would result in better user experience and performance for visitors, commenters, publisher partners, and soon, content promoters. At the end of July 2012, we compiled a list of all the properties that were currently using Disqus 2012. This set includes a variety of sites (e.g. large publishers, small bloggers, beta testers) across many topical “verticals” (e.g. music, news, entertainment, tech).
Where to Find the Time
Disqus 2012 was designed to leverage network effects in order to enable
the self-policing of online communities. It is common to hear
about technical scalability when discussing SaaS products, but we
understand that scalability extends beyond our system
Some major publishers employ or outsource entire teams of moderators to
review posted comments and police their communities - this is not a
scalable approach. Instead, we designed Disqus 2012 to mimic
real-life and gave participants more levers to influence the social
dynamic of their communities.
I. Voting and Flagging
By upvoting, downvoting, flagging,
social-sharing, replying - and many other actions - every user is
producing signals. Disqus captures these signals, puts them
through our advanced algorithms, and determines (in combination with a
number of other inputs) which are the best quality comments and
commenters to surface to the top of a discussion thread. One of
the chief aims of Disqus 2012 was to promote the usage of
voting and flagging due to their critical role in allowing us to
identify the best quality comments.
Scope: Since Disqus 2012 was officially released in early/mid June of 2012, we wanted to cover a sufficiently wide period of time so that the before-and-after effects of Disqus 2012 would be more readily apparent. We chose two two-week periods (May 13, 2012 to May 26, 2012 and July 15, 2012 to July 28, 2012) for this part of our study.
- Upvoting increased 15.57%.
Upvoting activity increased significantly compared to “like” activity
(the analogy for upvoting in the previous version of Disqus). This
increase is attributed to the improved design of the UI and the more
intuitive notion of upvoting and downvoting.
- Flagging decreased 79.56%.
This metric may seem a bit puzzling on its own, but is extremely
significant when coupled with the fact that downvoting activity has
grown to the same order of magnitude as upvoting. In other words,
users previously flagged low-quality comments - flagging is meant to be
a method for users to direct truly inappropriate or abusive comments to
moderators for review. With Disqus 2012, users are downvoting
low-quality comments instead, sending key signals across the network
and minimizing the moderation-load by flagging only those comments that
truly need to be flagged.
- About 1 in every 4 votes is a
When we first announced the voting concept for Disqus 2012, we heard
concerns that downvoting was another means for abuse and that trolls
would “spam-downvote” the quality comments and compromise
discussions. Firstly, a single account can only downvote once per
comment - so this limits the influence of any individual user.
However, our analysis shows overall that downvotes are not being used
for abuse and that the vast majority of votes are positive. This
implies that users in aggregate are using downvoting judiciously and
II. Moderation Activity
One of the key purposes in algorithmically determining the quality
of conversations is to reduce moderation needs and enable true
manageability - as a community grows, it should be able to police
itself given the right tools. The idea here is to free up that time
that would have been spent moderating, so that publishers and authors
can spend more time focusing on the things that matter most: developing
quality content and experiences for their audience.
Scope: These are two key metrics that we regularly monitor to determine the impact of Disqus 2012 on moderator activity. For this analysis, we compare between the official launch of Disqus 2012 and the most recent data available at the time of this report’s writing (August 2012).
- Moderator Actions decreased
25.22%. We observed that the weekly average of moderator actions
for sites using Disqus 2012 has decreased dramatically. This is huge,
and equips moderators with more time to participate in conversation, or
focus on other areas of their site’s social presence.
- Moderator Comments increased
7.05%. One of the things we like to see is moderators and
authors who are active in their communities. With Disqus cleaning up
the spam and lessening the workload that comes with moderating a
community, we are observing higher levels of engagement by site
“officials” as they more frequently wade into conversations, address
questions head-on from their readers, and keep the discussion alive.
III. User Engagement
The previous version of Disqus redefined user engagement in the
world of comments; Disqus 2012 is designed to extend this engagement
beyond the comment thread on a single page. Disqus 2012 includes
a number of features in support of this mission, including: 1) the
Community tab which shows the trending, most popular discussions
currently underway on a site; 2) the My Disqus tab which shows
personalized notifications (e.g. when someone responds to one of your
comments); 3) real-time alerts which show new comments and responses
that are rolling in, and much more.
Scope: For this analysis, we looked at the month of July 2012 - the first full calendar month since the official launch of Disqus 2012. We compare metrics between sites on Disqus 2012 and the rest of the Disqus network (sites not on Disqus 2012).
- Average Visit Duration is 11.54%
Compared to those not experiencing Disqus 2012, the
users on Disqus 2012 sites spend much more time on-site. By bringing
the very best quality comments to the top of the heap, users can
continue on past the article into the thought-provoking or challenging
views of fellow readers engaging in meaningful discourse. This
increase in time spent/visit between the previous version of Disqus and
Disqus 2012 are over and above the increases we see on average when sites switch from another commenting solution to Disqus.
- Average Pages per Visit is 27.95% higher. Not only are users spending more time on a publisher site, but they are also consuming more content. The previous version of Disqus already demonstrated a 13% increase in pages/visit compared to white-label, non-networked commenting solutions. The new Disqus 2012 increases this effect substantially further and would have an even more pronounced impact for publishers switching from one of these other solutions. Whether drawn in by the level of discussion happening within a given article or referred over through the Community tab of Disqus 2012, users are finding more interesting content and staying on-site for it.
Disqus 2012 has only been live for a few months, but is already showing
remarkable results. Our research shows that Disqus 2012 is performing
as designed and is delivering increased value to publishers by turning
the time they once spent on moderation into time invested into their
communities. Moreover, users are enjoying the new experience offered by
Disqus 2012 as shown by the increased time spent engaging with content
and others in the discussion. It is also important to note that
this research focused on a very specific aspect of Disqus 2012; there
is much more in the new version of Disqus, including: the Discovery
module which recommends organic and promoted content, improved social
sharing mechanisms for thread and comment sharing, as well as an
upcoming revamp of the My Disqus tab for an improved user experience.