Hands-on: 3 comment platforms make blog management easier

Disqus, IntenseDebate and Livefyre can help site owners keep control of the conversation.

1 2 3 Page 3
Page 3 of 3

Livefyre

Livefyre bills itself as "the best real-time conversation platform on the Web." The wording is actually significant: real-time conversation is something that has the air of social networks about it (Twitter comes most immediately to mind). Sure enough, one of Livefyre's most useful functions is the way it serves to loop in people on social networks and allow the conversation to be taken to them.

Major Livefyre clients include The New York Times, MTV, the Tribeca Film Festival and MIT's Technology Review.

Livefyre

The moderation panel on Livefyre's site has the ability to narrow the scope of displayed comments by multiple criteria, selectable via checkboxes.

Click to view larger image.

The setup process starts with creating an account or certifying yourself via an existing social-media account. Allowed account types, which are also used to certify commenters, include Livefyre, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and OpenID.

Once that's done, you indicate your blog software, although right now the number of natively-supported blog platforms consists solely of WordPress and Tumblr. Blogger, Joomla and Drupal support are coming soon, but for now, everyone without direct platform support has to use the same block-of-JavaScript approach that Disqus and IntenseDebate also use to provide their services to as-yet-unsupported systems.

WordPress users have only to install the Livefyre plugin to get things rolling. The comment import process requires no babysitting, although it didn't alert me by email after finishing. Not a huge issue, but judging from the number of posts in their support forum about comment import operations that develop problems, it would be nice to have some positive way of knowing the import's done without checking manually.

The comment form Livefyre installs on your blog sports some ingenious features inspired directly by the way posting works on social networks. For example, users who type an @ in the comment panel and then begin to type a name will see a list of people autosuggested from the friends lists available on the various social networks connected to their account. This way, people known to the commenter across a panoply of social networks can be pinged to join the discussion, even if they're not actually involved.

The comments panel also sports a "listener" count -- a report of the number of people who are currently reading the site -- which is a quick at-a-glance way to see how much attention a given post is receiving. The style of the message area can also be customized with CSS.

Comments can be cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter, if those services are registered with the poster's account. The site admin can also automatically have all comment traffic echoed back to specific pages or accounts on either of those services, as a way to further expand the conversation.

Livefyre users can be notified by email when something happens in a conversation they're in -- a reply, a "like" action, and so on. If users don't relish the idea of being bombarded with these notifications, Livefyre lets them either compile those responses into hourly email digests or suppress them entirely.

The moderation panel on Livefyre's site has one very powerful function I didn't see anywhere else: the ability to narrow the scope of displayed comments by multiple criteria, selectable via checkboxes. For example, you can view active comments that are flagged as off-topic and contain a given search term. This is a great way to drill down and identify tricky abuse cases -- for instance, users who look legitimate but who are in fact spambots in disguise because they keep posting the same irrelevant material.

I also appreciated the ability to change the nesting level for comments -- the maximum number is four, but some site designs don't deal well with anything deeper than two due to narrow columnar formatting.

Livefyre's free service tier supports up to 2 million monthly views and has most of the features needed for even a generous-sized blog. To get pricing for the professional version (which includes premium support and guaranteed uptime), you need to submit a quote request which includes the average amount of traffic to your site per month. Quoted prices vary depending on traffic, since Livefyre claims each client will have different data migration, support, authentication and customization needs.

Bottom line

For actively including other social media platforms and extending the conversation into them, Livefyre is the best of the three services reviewed here.

Conclusions

All of these services share a few key features. They're easy to set up, especially on WordPress; they do a reasonably good job of making your comments portable in case you want to switch services; and they fall back to your native blog's comments if their services are unavailable.

IntenseDebate's two biggest features -- tight integration with WordPress and reputation-scoring -- don't set it apart as definitively as they ought to, since the other products here do at least as well in either of those categories. Also, some of the limitations (like the 20-character name limit) seem arbitrary. IntenseDebate has only one level of service -- free -- but that at least makes it predictable.

Livefyre works best if one of your priorities is to tie in other social networks and their audiences, allowing conversations to extend beyond your own site but still remain manageable. The commercial version of Livefyre is far more customizable and better supported, but the basic edition should be fine for the majority of users.

But if you're looking for a solid discussion-management tool, Disqus is the easiest default choice: it's the most widely-used, directly supports the broadest range of blog platforms, and isn't missing anything crucial. (Disqus's steep monthly pricing for any of its other tiers beyond the basic service is for those who want to make advanced use of its APIs or get guaranteed performance.) It's hard to go wrong with it no matter what you're doing.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over 15 years for a variety of publications.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 3 Page 3
Page 3 of 3
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon