This new commenting system

As you have seen, the new “Disqus” commenting system being implemented on all Patheos blogs that I said was coming has gone into effect.  I’m still figuring it out myself.  One thing I learned:  “Disqus” is pronounced “discuss.”  (Get it? I know, I know. . . )  Here are a few features that might have benefits for our discussions on this particular blog:

(1)  Sometimes people complain about some of the comments and commenters.  My philosophy is basically that of John Milton in Areopagitica, favoring free exchanges and minimal (but some) policing.  Disqus allows you, “the community,” to have a say.  You can click the up arrow if you think a comment is a particularly good one, and you can click the down arrow if you think it is a bad one.  This action both rates the comment and literally moves it up or down in the listing.  (One with lots of downs will be banished to the very bottom of the comment list where it might never be seen.)  Also, there is a provision for “flagging” potentially offensive comments, which sends it into moderation for me to consider.  (Disqus notifies me via e-mail when this happens.  It makes active moderation on my part–a task I have tended to neglect–much, much easier.  So far two comments have been flagged already.  One I considered innocent.  The other was a hostile rant I was glad to get rid of.)

(2)  Ah, but if comments get listed in order of how good people think they are, that ruins the on-going, give-and-take unfolding of a good discussion.  I agree.  But Disqus gives you the reader the power to determine in what order the comments are displayed on your computer.    At the beginning of the comments display to the left is a drop-down menu that gives you the choices of “newest,” “oldest,” or “best.”  If you want to trace the conversation as it develops, click “oldest” and you can follow the exchanges in chronological order.  If you want the latest additions to a discussion you’ve read earlier, choose “newest” and you won’t have to scroll down to the end.  If you are pressed for time and just want what readers consider the best comments, choose that, though the others will also show up afterwards.

(3)  One complaint has been that under our old system, comments would go on so long that people would launch off into digressions and rabbit trails.  Sometimes those could be interesting in themselves, though irrelevant to the original post.  Disqus has nested comments.  When people reply to a particular comment, those replies are indented under the comment that provoked the response.  That has the virtue of both allowing sub-conversations, while also allowing readers who aren’t interested in those to scroll past them to pursue the main thread.

(4)  Disqus will also alert us to similar conversations over similar going on over the web, which you also might want to contribute to.  You can also follow the contributions of favorite commenters when they contribute to other forums.

(5)  Disqus also allows for integration with social media, so that what you have to say can also go out over your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts and the like.

(6)  To take advantage of these features, you need to register for a Disqus account, though you may already be registered without knowing it, if you’ve ever signed up for a blog that has gone Disqus.  I think long-time commenters on this blog have been grandfathered in and may not have to register, though I’ve gotten at least one complaint from a regular that he was having trouble.  (But did he change his online handle?  That would throw it off.)  I believe it is possible to comment as a “guest” without having to register, though you can’t use all of the features, including the up-or-down rating arrows.   I sympathize with the privacy issues, though if you use Google and Facebook it’s much the same.

There are other technical features that make this a good idea for Patheos–”client side serving” to speed up the loads, much-improved Spam control, and more that I don’t fully understand–and lots of other blogs are adopting it.  (With users numbering some 700 million people.)

I’ve already seen that a number of you are complaining about it.  (See!  The improved moderation features lets me see what you are saying easier!)  Some problems, such as not showing the correct number of comments on the post, will, I am told, be fixed.

There are doubtless other features and things you can do with this system that I haven’t picked up on yet.  If you’ve discovered any, let us know.  In a comment.  And if it’s especially good for the rest of us to know, all you commenters, readers, and lurkers, please vote it “up.”

UPDATE:  Sorry that just about everyone commenting hates it with such conviction!  I especially was struck with the point I made long ago that a good discussion requires attending to the previous points that were made–as opposed to just pontificating–and that good discussions unfold and actually go somewhere, something that non-chronological listings obliterate.  If we set our views at the beginning of the comments section as “oldest” (in the dropdown menu to the left) and don’t use nesting (except, perhaps, for non-substantive expressions like “I agree”), won’t that restore the kind of discussion we have become used to?  (You can still vote comments up or down, which will only matter to drop-ins, and you can still flag trolls and the like, but those interested in an ongoing discussion can still have that.)  If any of you have any other suggestions for how to make this work–it’s out of my hands, unfortunately–please make them.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.