Recently, one of my favorite independent bloggers, Alyssa Rosenberg, got a regular spot at The Atlantic. I saw that she wasn't getting many comments on her first few posts and I know that comment volume is one way bloggers measure success. So I decided to comment. I didn't have anything deep or provocative to say; I just wanted to encourage her.
When I tried to comment, I got a dialog box from Disqus. It said, "Before we post this, who are you?"
I only know about Disqus because I edited a story about people being nasty to each other in comments. Disqus was one of the solutions presented to make online comments more civil. It keeps track of your online identity across different sites. You can bring your reputation as a civil, responsible person from one place to another. I thought, "OK, here I go, stepping into a civilized website that is responsibly trying to raise the level of online discussion."
Then Disqus asked me to log in using an account that I had already established with another reputable site.
My first choice was Facebook. It would be easy to put my comments on my Facebook wall, the graphic promised, and my friends and info from Facebook would be imported to Disqus. I wasn't so psyched about all of my Facebook information getting dumped into Disqus, so I hit cancel.
My next choice was Twitter. I don't use Twitter much, but a good percentage of my Twitter followers are people I know professionally. I didn't want this comment to be professional. I hit cancel.
Then I clicked the button that would use my Yahoo identity in Disqus. I have not checked my Yahoo mail account in years. If Alyssa Rosenberg wanted to respond to me, I would never know because the email notification would be lost in the black hole that is my Yahoo email. I hit cancel.
The last option Disqus offered was OpenId. I didn't even click on that button. The OpenId account I have is personal, totally personal and I don't want it associated with anything else.
So those were my choices to bring my reputation with me via Disqus: privacy-impaired Facebook, professional Twitter, dead zone Yahoo or deeply personal OpenId. Suddenly, Disqus didn't seem so much like the perfect civilized solution to rampaging blog comments. Eventually, I used the Twitter ID because that seemed like the most benign choice for my benign comment.
The thing is, I like The Atlantic site and its bloggers. My total favorite blogger of all time, Ta-Nehisi Coates, is on The Atlantic, and part of what makes his blog so great is that he has built up this thoughtful and dynamic cadre of commentors. They are using Disqus and it seems to be doing OK for them. I can't say how much of the civil, interesting nature of the comments are due to the way Ta-Nehisi Coates actively engages with his commentors and how much should be credited to Disqus.
My colleague Eyder Peralta says that NPR.org is working with a similar company, Janrain, which doesn't syndicate your comments.
But if any site asks me if I want to simultaneously post to Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, GoogleDocs, Yahoo and everywhere else I already have accounts, I might have to stop commenting.