Posts from Disqus

Feature Friday: Commenter Breakdown

Today we are going to talk about a new feature right here on AVC. It's been running for a day or so, so some of you may have already noticed it. Right next to the comments link, there is a new link that says "disqus commenter breakdown". It looks like this:

Commenter breakdown

If you click on that you will get an alternative view of the comment thread – broken down by the most active commenters. You can scroll down, find the commenters you enjoy most, click on them, and read what they have to say.

Like many of the hacks featured on this blog, this was built by Kevin Marshall. He built it on top of the Disqus API.

I like applications that offer an API to developers to build alternative views for end users. And I think Disqus does this better than anyone else in the comment space.

Given how long and busy some of the comment threads are here on AVC, I can imagine a number of alternative views that one could construct that would be useful. If anyone else wants to hack on the Disqus API and create something useful, I am happy to give them similar real estate.


Guest Post From Shana Carp: Communities Make Business Sense

Sometime over the summer, there was a discussion of analytics in the AVC comments and Shana said something like "I would love to do a serious data analysis on AVC's analytics." So I reached out to Shana and told her that I would give her access to my Google Analytics and Disqus Analytics accounts and she could go crazy on the numbers. But I told her that she had to produce a post out of all of that work. She agreed and this guest post is the result of those efforts.


One of the things I find really hard to wrap my head around about is that for all intents and purposes it runs like any other media site.  To me, this is my bar where I hang out, but in reality, this site functions much like many other media sites such as the Atlantic, or Refinery29.  There is content, there are analytics, and there are ways of pushing out content, there are some ads and tools to push them out, there are some tools to make the community more social, but not much else.  If had a business model (which it doesn’t, the advertising money goes to charity), it would be one similar to many content sites out there: Increase Users; Increase pageviews; Sell ads.  What makes this site unusual is that there is a large community of users, primarily driven by technology built by the team at Disqus.

It also leads to some interesting questions about this site in comparison to other media sites.  Most content sites are still trying to figure out the role of comments.  Do they ignore them?  Do they not have them?  Do they feature some content? Do they write about the comments?  Do they reward commenting behavior?  Does having a community make a difference to the business model of content sites?

On this site, it does.  Not only does it make a difference, comments here are highly correlated with unique pageviews of repeat users, uniques in general (not just for repeat users), time on site by repeat users, and time on site by everyone.

One half of unique pageviews over the past 9 months have been generated by repeat users.   


I wanted to see if unique pageviews of returning users was correlated with the number of comments. I used a correlation coefficient (Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient) which is a measure of correlation variables that behave monotonically, or in other words, the variables move up and down together. The correlation coefficient for unique pageviews generated by repeat visitors is 0.7973 to comments. This is a high correlation coefficient and suggests the two are linked.


To give a comparison point to explain this correlation coefficient, SEOMOZ reports for Good SEO Experiments a correlation coefficient(a linear measure of correlation) of 0.3 is considered quite good, even though 0.3 usually implies fairly low correlation.  Having a community on your site is therefore way more likely to be a factor that would generate significant traffic than SEO efforts, if we compare statistical significance.

I also looked at the rate of change for the percent of returning users versus the percent of new users. They line up quite nicely. They have a correlation coefficient of .9387.  However, the rate of change for new users as well as repeat users is quite small.  Granted, this is a niche audience, so I’m not totally surprised.  Still, it is nice to know that total user activity is very much driven by regular user activity.


However, average time on site for all users to comments is less correlative (though still significantly so), with a correlation coefficient of 0.6733.   Similarly, there is correlation coefficient of 0.6848 for average time on site for returning users versus comments.  I suspect the reason is that some people like emailing back replies, some people like to go the site to write replies, and some people like using Engagio to write replies.  Unfortunately there is no way to directly measure which people on this site are using email, Engagio, or the site itself to reply to comments.

The  correlation of all unique visitors is also highly correlative to comments.  (correlation coefficient =0.8413). 


This data leads me to believe that people are in fact coming to the site not just for the posts, but for the community surrounding the posts.  People are more curious about the chatter and the interactions that come out of the posts than the post itself.  Building out community means over time you will build out a growing site.

If you are a web publisher/media company and you are looking at this post, having a strong commenting platform (like Disqus) is going to be essential to your long-term success as a media outlet.  Communities can be bigger drivers of traffic than Search Engine Optimization.  Having a strong moderation/community management team in place is more essential than having SEO staff in the long term, since there is a higher correlation to factors that matter to growth and ad sales (pageviews, uniques, time one site) to having community.  The reason is that people are not just on your media sites to read: They are there to interact with other readers about what they have read.  Teaching your writers and your community to stick to your site to discuss articles in depth ends up causing long-term growth.

(some notes:)

1)My friend Daniel Choi, a PHD Candidate in Molecular Biology/Computational Biology at Princeton, helped me understand rho based correlations. Thank you Daniel.  

2)For the sake of discussion, Disqus and Google Analytics are two different reporting tools.  GA also samples when you are looking at daily data for 9 months for a site of this size.  Please therefore take this post with a grain of statistical salt.

3) William Mougayar was kind of enough to give me some data about Fred to see if Fred’s presence in the comments matters.  It didn’t make it into the post for a variety of reasons.  Thank you William, anyway.

4) Thank you Fred for cleaning up some of the language about correlations during the editing process

5)IRL I’m a web analyst who is job hunting for my next gig while handling some side projects.  If you like this post, feel free to get in touch)


Mobile & Conversations

One of the great things about the web is the ability for people located all around the world to be having a public conversation in real time in a single place. We see that in action here at AVC with the Disqus comment system. But it also exists on Twitter, Quora, Stack Overflow, Reddit, Hacker News, and a host of other places on the web. This kind of open public discourse is quite important and leads to greater understanding and ideally a progressive society that moves forward as new ideas and new ways of thinking propagate.

As the web is increasingly moving to mobile, there are opportunities and challenges. The opportunity is simple. Folks don’t need to be in front of a computer to be able to participate in a real-time discussion. The challenges are harder. Who here has tried to comment on AVC from a mobile phone or tablet? It’s not as easy. And what would a mobile app look like for commenting?

Those who solve these challenges will be the leaders in real-time discussions in the coming years. Because taking our conversations with us in our pockets will be critical.

I say all of this because of an experience I had yesterday. I had to take my son to take a test yesterday afternoon. As I left our home, I saw a tweet from Dave McClure responding to my post yesterday:

I responded to his tweet and then took my son to his test. A half hour later, after I dropped off my son, I checked Twitter and there was a lively discussion brewing. I responded to a few tweets and started driving home.

Every twenty blocks or so I would pull over, check twitter, reply to a few more tweets, and then start driving again. By the time I got home a half hour later, there was a full blown Twitter discussion.

Mark Ury did us all a favor and Storified the discussion for posterity. Mark Suster also contributed a curated version of the discussion on his blog.

What’s the takeaway from this story, other than investors get pretty emotional about things like convertible notes, priced equity, discounts, and signaling?

Mine is that I could have never participated in that discussion in real time had it not been for the Twitter client on my Android phone. But it was simple, in some ways simpler than doing it on the web, in Twitter’s mobile client.

So it’s high time for all those companies out there that are in the business of hosting and facilitating live real-time public conversations to do what Twitter has done and make your products work well in mobile. If you don’t, others will.


Social Sources

Google Analytics has a relatively new feature that allows you to look at your "social sources" of traffic. According to Google, about 27% of the vists to AVC in the past month came from social sources. For those who are curious about the rest of the traffic, 30% is direct, 15% is search (much of which is really direct traffic), and of the rest, about half is from social sources.

Here are the top social networks that drive traffic to AVC:

Social sources

Twitter and Hacker News have been the mainstays of the social traffic to AVC for a long time. Last year, StumbleUpon was driving a ton of traffic to AVC, but that waned early this year and it is much less of a factor today.

Facebook, Techmeme, and Disqus are the other big social drivers of traffic. 

And the traffic that Disqus drives is markedly different than all of the other social sources. These folks hang around longer, read more pages, and engage more.

If you have a blog or some other form of online media and have a Google Analytics tag on your pages, I suggest you take a look at your social sources. I think you'll find it interesting.


Top Ten Sources

I took at look at Google Analytics this morning and was a bit surprised to see the makeup of the top ten sources of traffic to AVC in the past month.

Avc sources may 2012

If we compare this to May 2010, when AVC got almost exactly the same amount of visitors, you can see that the makeup of traffic has changed a fair bit.

Avc sources may 2010

Search, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Facebook, and Disqus have all risen a fair bit as sources. Direct, Feedburner, Hacker News, and various specific sites have waned as sources of traffic.

Mobile visits have also doubled in the past two years from 11% to 22%. Frankly I thought they would be even higher by now.

What this tells me is platforms are ascendent as drivers of audience, particularly platforms like Twitter that are optimized for mobile.

It is also nice to see Disqus cracking the top ten. And the characteristics of the Disqus traffic is very different from the traffic that comes from the other top ten sources. The Disqus audience stays longer and is way more engaged. That makes sense. I hope to see Disqus rise in the top ten as they do more to drive traffic around their network.

It makes me think that Disqus could use a mobile reading app that shows Disqus users the interesting conversations happening in their network in real time. I would certainly be a big user of that.

But no matter how you slice it, we are in the era of mobile platforms. That is pretty clear to me this morning.


Disqus 2012 and The State of Online Commenting

So we've been running Disqus 2012 on and off here for the past month and in the middle of last week, I turned it on permanently. Many of you have left feedback in the comments and I've passed it onto the Disqus team.

But today I'd like to focus the comment discussion on Disqus 2012 so that we can collect even more meaningful feedback. Tell us what you like, what you don't like, and what you'd like to see that is not there.

And after you've done that, please take a minute and fill out Engagio's "State Of Social Conversations" survey. I just did it and it took me less than a couple minutes to complete. William plans to release the results at Blog World in NYC in early June. Since the community here is one of the most active, engaged, thoughtful and respectful of any on the web, I think we should make our opinions heard on this topic.


Disqus 2012 and Disqus Labs

Our portfolio company Disqus has been building its next generation commenting system which they are calling Disqus 2012. They are getting ready to release it into beta and they are looking for bloggers who want to be beta testers for it.

Daniel wrote this on the Disqus blog yesterday:

Disqus 2012 is a fresh take on the Disqus system — both a bit of rearchitecting and a bit of reimagining. We think we can build a version of Disqus that fully resonates with our original purpose: build delightful discussion experiences for the participants.

If you are a blogger and would like to be a beta tester of Disqus 2012, then you should sign up to be a beta tester at Disqus Labs. You'll be asked to take a very short survey in order to join. I just did it. It took me less than three minutes.

Also, at Disqus labs, you'll see a cool real-time comments map that you can filter by domain and a forums like web app that was built on the Disqus API.

I have seen Disqus 2012 in action and it will be running here on AVC as soon as Daniel will let me have it. I am confident it will lead to a lot more engagement and activity. Which is saying something since we aren't lacking for any of that right now!


Engagio Followup

Back in early December 2011, I wrote a blog post about Engagio, a new web service launched by our very own William Mougayar. For those who didn't read that post, Engagio is a service that aggregates your comment activity across many of the major social platforms and gives you a gmail style dashboard to see them and reply to them.

A lot has happened in the past 45 days since that post and I wanted to bring everyone up to speed on this project.

First, and most importantly, Engagio is now open to everyone. Every few days, I'd send an email to William saying "you have to open it up". And he'd reply, "we can't scale it yet". Now they think they can scale it, so it's open to everyone. If you didn't or couldn't check it out back then, you can now.

There are a bunch of new features, large and small. Most of them are pretty useful. A good example of that is social profiles. Here's Fake Grimlock's social profile, for example.

There is even a "fred wilson feature." At Disqus, the "fred wilson feature" was the ability to get an email for every comment and the ability to reply to the email and post it to the comment thread. At Engagio, the "fred wilson feature" is the ability to "mute a site." I get so many comments on AVC that my Engagio inbox is filled with them and I see nothing else. When I mute AVC, I see all my other commenting activity on the web, at Twitter, at Foursquare, at other blogs. This single feature has made Engagio way more useful to me. To "mute a site", you go to the Sites page via the left nav section, and click on the icon next to the site name.

Finally a disclosure. Engagio did a small seed round to given them runway to execute the "build the user base" stage of the business. My wife and I made a small angel investment in this round. I've been encouraging William to do this project since he first mentioned it to me in the fall. It seemed only right to encourage with both words and capital.

Please let William and me know what you think of the progress Engagio has made since it launched 45 days ago in the comments.


Pseudonyms Drive Community

This will not be surprising to the AVC community but will certainly be a shock to the "real names" crowd. Disqus has shared some research they have done on three kinds of commenters; real names, pseudonyms, and anonymous commenters. Click on this link and check it out.

But if you are not going to do that, I will summarize the data:

– Pseudonyms lead to higher quality comments


– Pseudonyms are more engaged and active

Comments per user

Of course, nobody in the AVC community will be surprised. Kid Mercury, Fake Grimlock, JLM, LE, Panterosa, Prokofy, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. We have tons of pseudonyms in action here and they enrich and enliven the community.

Props to Disqus for putting out this data. There are so many misinformed and uninformed people working in social media, even at some of the top platform companies. Hopefully this will cause everyone to think a bit more before forcing the real names paradigm down our throats.


Community Moderation

I'm sure the AVC community has noticed a bit more comment spam slipping in. That's for a number of reasons. As the number of comments rises across multiple threads every day, it takes me longer to get through them all. One of the many reasons I read every comment is that I am also the moderator and I delete and report all comment spam, as well as very infrequently I'll delete an entirely inappropriate comment. It is also true that as the Disqus network has increased in size and reach, it has become a bigger target for comment spammers. Even if you filter out 99.9% of all comment spam, if enough comes at you, that 0.1% starts to amount to a real number.

I've made a small change in the AVC Disqus moderation settings. If enough people flag a comment (by clicking on the little red flag that comes up when you hover below a comment), that comment will no longer appear in the thread. I will still see the comment when I moderate the thread and I can reinstate it or delete and report it as spam. This puts the power of moderation into the hands of the community which is something I should have done a long time ago. I'm not going to say how many flags will do this. I don't want anyone gaming the system.

I do not want the community flagging comments you don't agree with. This is a community open to all voices, even when they express ideas that aren't popular. In particular, comments that hate on me personally should not be moderated. I can take the heat. I want the heat. I'd like to remain the only person who can moderate "entirely inappropriate comments." So if that kind of comment gets flagged off the thread, I will put it back.

Finally, I also do have the ablity to make certain community members moderators with the same powers I have. There are a few, not very many, who I would bestow this right onto. Shana and William come to mind in particular. If you would like to have mod powers and you think you've earned them, let me know in this thread and I will respond to the request in this thread. I will also report on this blog who I've given these powers to. I reserve the right to revoke them at any time.

I've leveraged the power of this community for so many things over the years, it is ironic that it has taken me so long to leverage the power of the community to keep the bar clean.