Posts from Disqus

Feature Friday: Disqus Ranks

AVC community regular RichardF suggested a while back that I do Feature Fridays. I'm not sure I can do it consistently week after week, but I'm doing it this week because we have a new feature to disqus.

Disqus has launched "ranks" here at AVC. It is not available across the entire Disqus Blog Network yet. They are giving it a spin here at AVC to get some feedback.

If you look at many of the comments, you'll see a little black "badge" next to the commenters' names. That badge means they are a community regular and that Disqus has been able to give them a community rank. I am fairly certain (but not positive) that these ranks are community specific, meaning they only apply to your activity here at AVC.

There has already been some discussion of the algorithm used to calculate these ranks. Fernando saw the ranks in yesterday's comment thread and did some number crunching. Disqus CEO Daniel Ha replied with some information on what data is used in the ranks algorithm:

We're using a few different signals for ranks right now, including visiting frequency, post, replies, likes, reciprocation of those things, being the first to comment in a thread… etc. 

We're playing with the balancing to see what feels right, but I figured the AVC community wouldn't mind playing around with some unpolished features! We're listening to any feedback you guys may have.

So the Disqus team is watching and listening to what we think. Disqus away!


The "Fred Wilson School Of Blogging"

Tom Anderson, the Tom we were all friends with on MySpace, wrote a guest post on TechCrunch suggesting that there is a "Fred Wilson School Of Blogging." I'm not sure about a "school" but I do have some points of view and Tom mentions some of them.

Here's how I do it:

1) Have a long form blog on a domain that you own and that is permanent. Like Anil Dash says in the comments to Tom's post, this is about compiling a set of work that is substantial. Anil says:

Based on the past dozen years that I've been writing it, I expect that my blog will in some ways be one of the most significant things I create in my life.

I'm 100% with Anil on this. People ask me when I am going to write a book and I laugh at that suggestion. AVC is more than a book will ever be. It is live, it is deep (in terms of total posts), it keeps going, evolving, and ends when I end.

2) Have a short form blog an a different domain that you own and is permanent. Mine is at and hosted on Tumblr. This is where I put the things that fill out the story but don't belong on a long form blog.

3) Participate actively in the social distribution platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Build profiles, followers, and credibility in these communities. I use Twitter for broadcast to a wide group, I use Facebook for friends and family, and I'm still trying to figure out how to use Google+. These distribution platforms are great for getting your work out there but I don't personally want to use them as the place where my work is hosted.

4) Build community on your domains. In the case of my longform blog, Disqus is the tool I chose and after that decision, our firm invested in the company. I've seen and used all the various community tools out there and I believe Disqus is the best at building community on long form blogs. In terms of community on short form blogging, I think Tumblr has done the best job and that is why it is growing like a weed right now.

5) Engage everywhere. That means on Hacker News, other blog communities/comments, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. This takes a lot of time. Too much time. But I get so much value back from doing it that I make the time.

The most important part is to engage. The second most important part is own your online presence. Marco Arment has a great post on this point. He says:

If you care about your online presence, you must own it.

So if there is a "Fred Wilson School Of Blogging" this is it. It works for me and it can work for you if you are willing to invest the time and energy.


Disqussing Disqus

Yesterday our portfolio company Disqus announced a bunch of numbers including the fact that they had raised $10mm to fund their rapid growth. The AVC community is powered by Disqus and we are big fans of the company here. So I'm pretty sure many of you already saw the news and are happy for the Company. For those that did not see the news, click on that link above. For those who would rather get a brief summary, here's what they announced:

– Disqus is four years old this week

– Disqus communities are viewed each month by almost 500mm users worldwide.

– Over 750,000 blog communities have adopted Disqus

– 35mm commenters actively participate in these communities

– The company grew 5x across all its core metrics in the past year

– 75% of blogs that use a third party comment system use Disqus

– All of this was achieved by just 16 people, but they hope to increase that number in the coming months

If you are interested in working for a rapidly growing category leader, here is their jobs page.

In other news, Disqus released some new features, one of which I discovered in the comments to yesterday's post. If you mention other people in a Disqus comment by typing @ then his or her Disqus name, mentioned people will be notified via email or Twitter. I saw a number of people using this yesterday. Let's do this as much as we can around here. It will make the disqussions even more lively.


The AVC Network

Disqus (a portfolio company of USV) has rolled out a really sweet analytics service as part of its "add ons" that were released a few weeks ago. You get the analytics as part of every add on package, including the $19/month Plus service.

There are four main parts of the analytics service; snapshot, activity, people, and network. It's the network tab that has me the most interested. I'm always curious where the most active AVC community members hang out when they are not on AVC. Since Disqus is first and foremost a commenting system, "hanging out" means commenting for the purposes of this post.

Here's the answer:

Disqus network

I'd like to see more than the top six. Ideally I'd like to see the top 25 or more. But this is a good start. Happily I call each of these bloggers a friend, and one of them is my wife. If we had a dinner party with this group, it would be a blast. I'd sit Dave Winer next to Mark Suster and Howard Lindzon just to make things interesting.

This suggests a whole new set of features for Disqus. If they know the communities with the greatest overlap with this community, they can and should build network tools so that readers of this blog are aware of what is going on across the network. If there's a great post/conversation going on at Suster's blog, we should know about that here at AVC and have a quick link to get there from here.

Fortunately the team at Disqus knows that. I'm not announcing any features here. But I am pointing out that communities like AVC don't exist in a vacuum and there is a network of communities out there and Disqus is powering most if not all of them. And so there's a lot Disqus can do to make the network come to life in powerful ways. I'm looking forward to watching them do just that.


Women In Tech and Women Entrepreneurs Discussion

There was a piece in the WSJ on Friday about the dearth of women in tech and women entrepreneurs. We've been talking about this issue here on AVC and I was quoted in the WSJ piece:

“From successes come role models and from the role models come change,” said Union Square Ventures’ Mr. Wilson, who recently called for more diversity in the start-up world.

In the article, Rachel Sklar took a bit of a swipe at TechCrunch and Mike Arrington did not like that one bit.

He just posted a long rant on the issue on the TechCrunch blog. And guess what? He is using Disqus to host the comments to that post.

I would love to see this community join that conversation. I find the comment threads at TechCrunch to be a very different experience to what we have here at AVC. Maybe we can inflitrate and influence those discussions a bit. Maybe we can start with this issue.

I just did my part. I love commenting via Disqus. And I am so excited to see it on TechCrunch.


Comment Spam and False Positives

Every successful social media system I have ever been involved with has to tackle the problem of spam. It is one of signs that you are successful. When the spammers start targeting you, it is a sign you have arrived.

Over the years Disqus has had to fight comment spam and they've done a pretty good job of it. Their spam filters catch most of the comment spam. Occasionally one gets through and I manually delete it, most often via email with a reply with just the word "delete" in it (without the quotes).

In the past month, I've noticed a significant uptick in the amount of comment spam being targeted at the AVC comment threads. More is coming in and more is getting through. I asked the Disqus team about this a few weeks ago and they told me they are seeing a significant uptick in spam across all of their communities and they are dedicating additional development resources to fighting it.

One of the costs of tightening up the spam filters is you get false positives. And thanks to Harry Demott, I noticed this morning that a bunch of legit comments by AVC regulars had been marked as spam. I just went in and manually approved those comments and notified Disqus of this issue. I suspect they tightened something up in the past week a bit too much.

If you have been having trouble getting a comment to post in the past few days, this is likely the source of the issue. If it continues to happen, please let me know via email. I will make sure to visit the spam page in my Disqus moderation panel regularly for the next few days to make sure this isn't continuing to happen. And I am confident that Disqus will get this fixed in short order.


Some Thoughts On Comments

Tereza asked me to comment on the NY Times piece that ran this weekend on news sites' decision to move away from anonymous commenters. I think anonymous commenting leads to a lot of bad behavior and it should be discouraged. But I think anonymous commenting should be allowed and I allow it here. There are enough examples out there of why someone would want to comment anonymously that I think it has a place in the online conversation.

In the world of user generated content, you are always going to get posts that you don't want. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques that can be used to downgrade or even largely hide that behavior from the vast majority of users without taking it down. I think anonymous comments should be subjected to some of those techniques.

For blogs and online publications that get a lot of comments, and this blog is on the cusp of that place, I think we need a way to highlight top comments for each post. Disqus does allow the comment reader to "sort by" most popular or "best rated" but that requires user action. I think Disqus should offer blogs with a lot of comments the ability to run a window above the comment thread with the half dozen or dozen best comments that would be automatically calculated with the possibility of override by the blog author. Some blogs are already doing this like Business Insider, Gawker, and Huffington Post.

We need to introduce game mechanics into commenting systems and I think Disqus can and will be at the forefront of this effort. Game mechanics will reward the kind of behavior the community wants and will punish the kind of behavior the community does not want. The anonymous commenter who has valuable information but can't publish in their own name will be rewarded. The anonymous commenter who leaves a hostile name calling piece of crap will be punished. And the comment thread and community will be better off for it.

The other benefit of this approach is the community can police the comment thread. I do a fair amount of that today helped out by our community bouncer Kid Mercury. Turning that job over to the community in its entirety is the obvious next step.

The comment threads on this blog are now well over 100 comments on most days and get up to 300 or more comments on the most popular posts. I continue to read every comment because it is important to me to see them all. I also want to make sure they aren't spam or hate filled crap. But you may notice that I've cut back on the number of replies. It used to be that out of a 100 comment thread, my replies might be 30 or more. Now its probably 10 or less. I make up for some of that by liking comments a lot more.

But this community is following a pattern that all online communities follow. In the beginning, I was a huge part of the threads. Now I've cut back and let the community do more of the talking. And I think that's a good thing. Hopefully Disqus will give us more features like the ones I talked about earlier in this post to take the community powered moderation and rating and presentation to the next level. I'm looking forward to it.

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Code As Craft

Software engineers are the guts of every company we are invested in. Their work is often behind the scenes and all that most of us see is the end product, and often just the front end of the end product.

I've noticed a trend in our portfolio and elsewhere to change that. A good example is Etsy's new engineering blog, Code As Craft. I love the name. Code is craft, and a very important craft at that. Chad Dickerson, Etsy's VP Engineering, writes in the first post on the Code As Craft blog:

At Etsy, our mission is to enable
people to make a living making things.  The engineers who make Etsy
make our living making something we love: software.  We think of our
code as craft — hence the name of the blog.  Here we’ll write about our
craft and our collective experience building and running Etsy, the
world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace.

Well said Chad.

Here are a couple other examples in our portfolio:

I am sure that there are a bunch of other great examples of this going on. If you know of any, please leave a link in the comments. I'm pleased that the work of the software engineers is starting to see the light of day. 

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A Day Without Disqus

Regular commenters know that yesterday's post's comment thread was not on Disqus. I tried something new (posting from typepad's mobile web app via the android browser) and in the process accidentally turned typepad comments on which turned disqus comments off. I figured it out too late and there was already a discussion going on so I left the whole post on typepad comments.

As one commenter said:

Wow, I didn't realize how much I'd miss Disqus commenting until it was
gone. Perhaps that's an unplanned benefit from this little glitch?

I said the same thing to Daniel Ha, founder/CEO of Disqus, via email yesterday and he replied back:

What are 3-4 things that you miss?

I'd like anyone who is interested help me answer Daniel. I'll post my 3-4 things here and please leave your thoughts in the comments. I'll make sure Daniel reads them, although that won't be tough.

Things I missed:

1) Threaded discussions. If you look at yesterday's comment thread, you'll see that I was replying (via email actually) to the comments but they are not shown as replies. I found it impossible to follow and stopped replying as a result.

2) Email reply. Typepad has email reply, at least for me, the author, but I don't think it works for the person leaving the comment when someone replies to them. And the reply is not shown as a reply in the thread. And it doesn't pick up my avatar when it shows the reply. Without those features, email reply really isn't useful to me.

3) No avatars. I've got so used to seeing people's avatars next to their comments. It really allows the community to thrive. The comment thread feels so empty without them.

4) Easy login. If you are a frequent commenter and are "logged in" as I almost always am, Disqus recognizes you and invites you to leave a comment. If you aren't logged in, you can log in right in the comment thread. Those two features mean that a lot more people comment.

Here's some data to show the difference between Disqus and Tyepepad's comment system. I average about 100 comments per post. I got 25 yesterday (though it says 49, I think some of the comments may be missing). Either way I got way less than normal. And yesterday was one of the biggest days ever on AVC with 19k visits and 22k page views, four times my normal traffic. Four times the traffic, a quarter to half the comments? That's the Disqus difference in action.

Ok, now it's time for everyone else to chime in (via Disqus thankfully).