Stories about Software


Reputation Suicide, and Why I’m Quitting Disqus

I’m going to be switching comment engines soon.  Right now, I use disqus, but I received the email below from them recently.  The email served as the last straw for me with disqus.

This, in and of itself, might not seem overly objectionable.  Sure, it insults the intelligence of anyone reading, but that’s hardly unique.  So let me take you on a brief journey to demonstrate why I find them signing their emails “Disqus Publisher Success” to be a big, fat, middle finger of irony.

Disqus: Comments in Exchange for Disqusting Ads

Years ago, I grew tired of fighting the good fight against comment spam.  I installed a handful of WordPress plugins that aimed to curtail the spam, but as my popularity with readers grew, so too did my popularity with people peddling mail order brides.  I can recall the endless annoyance I felt at waking up to see that someone had sneaked past the spam filters to pepper my comment section at 3:46 AM.

And then I found Disqus.  I recall hesitating at first because it replaced the standard comment section instead of just working with it.  But, at wits end, I signed on anyway.  And I felt happy because it pretty much solved my spam problem.  It also added some cool features around promoting my blog in other places, and authenticating commenters.  Awesome!

I also saw that I could make a bit of money with ads if I so chose.  At the time, I had no interest in monetizing my blog and I didn’t care for the ads, so I passed.  As you can see if you look to the right, I have no qualms about ads.  I’d just want them relevant to my readers and tasteful.

So imagine my surprise a few years later, when I learned that disqus had, at some point unknown to me, turned them back on as part of some update.  My readers at the time found themselves treated to things like this.


Borderline softcore porn, a woman peeling off her face, and vaguely nauseating vegetables.  Disqus forced ads on my site without my knowledge (I usually run ad blocker), and it forced disgusting ads at that.

Disqusting, Round 2

That incident definitely made me leery of the tool.  But I attributed it simply to some sort of mistake and moved on with my life.  Still, I checked periodically to see if this problem had cropped up again.

Eventually, it did.  And, as with the first time, they did something that treated my readership to more disgusting ads.

If you check out the tweet and read through the conversation, you’ll see what mortified me.  They were showing people cringeworthy photos of diseased eyeballs.  Actually, let me correct that.  Because of their deceitful practices, daedtech and I were showing people photos of diseased eyeballs.

I received private communication and apologies, but I felt leerier than ever.  But this had generated such outrage in their readership that I thought perhaps this time they had learned their lesson.  And, in a sense, I believe they actually have.

Then Came the Email

The second round of gross ads hit last fall.  The email at the beginning post came a couple of weeks ago.  Now that you’ve had a chance to read it and my story, you can perhaps understood how this read to me.

Dear Moron,

We’ve tried to trick you into advertising for soft core porn on your blog twice now, without success.  But, don’t worry — the third time’s a charm!

We made a promise that our product would always be freely available.  And, assuming you’re as stupid as we think you are, you’ll consider us forcing you to choose between leaking eyeball ads and $10 per month to be a fulfillment of that promise.  So the awesome news we want to share with you is that we’re now going to charge you for something that used to be free!

We’d like to hear back from you, but only if you want to give us money or show our porn.

F#%& You,

The Disqus Customer Success Team

Their smarmy double talk reminded me of this sign that I saw recently in a hotel room.

Right.  My convenience.  It’s now easier than ever for me to help you reduce the hotel’s electric bill.

Marketing Fail

As I spend more time in business for myself, with a mix of products and services, I learn about marketing.  Make no mistake.  I would certainly not call myself an expert, nor anything close.  But I’m learning.  And I’ve learned enough to recognize a pile of fail.

Had disqus, at the time I installed it, said, “installing this product, you can have it free with ads or you can pay,” I might have paid (or lived with the ads).  After years of using it, my blog monetized and giving me money to spend, had they come to me and explained their position, I would have paid.  I would definitely have paid without their previously trickery.  I’d still have paid if they’d just come hat in hand, with a letter like this.

Dear User,

It has been our pleasure to offer you our services over the years, and we thank you for your business.  We’ve tried to make a go of this freemium model, but we just can’t do it.  In fact, things have gotten so dire that we had to lay people off.

So, while we hate to do it, we need to end our unpaid, ad-free service.  You can either convert to a paid plan, or we’ll introduce ads to your site.

But they did neither of those things.  They followed two sneaky, scam moves with an email that insulted the intelligence of their entire user base.

Now, maybe they’ve done calculations that I haven’t.  Perhaps a lot of their user base really doesn’t mind this sort of thing.  Or maybe they have a Comcast/DMV kind of quasi-monopoly going on blog commenting systems, and they simply don’t need to try.  But there’s no way that’s the best they can do to represent their brand.

You might find yourself amazed how well honesty can work with the people whose business you want.

Going Forward

I have a lot of stuff going on during the early part of this year.  So I’m postponing a switch for as long as I can.  I have identified wpDiscuz as a replacement and tested it a bit, and I’ll plan to switch when they roll out the gross or try to bill me for disqus.

Of you, as a readership, I’d ask a few relatively low-effort favors.  First, if you see gross ads appear, please let me know so that I can switch.  Second, once I switch to the new comment system, please let me know if anything looks weird, if spam gets through, or if you see anything I should know about.  And third, I ask for your patience with any snafus.

In exchange, I’d offer a suggestion.  No matter what your role in your enterprise, think about how you do business and how you offer value.  And realize that, if you need to rely on tricks and insulting doublespeak to get paid, you’re in a perilous situation.  Pull back and ask what you can do that would make people want to pay you.

  • Hacker News sent me here and I have now read the entire article very carefully, word-for-word. Thank you for putting into words things that I often feel but am not as able to express as well as you have. I would like to take this opportunity to promote some topic or idea alien to this venue, but it is too early in the morning for me to initialize my customary procedures for spamming a Comments forum. Best of luck to you in figuring out how to have a well-working Comments area. Bye for now. — Arthur T. Murray/Mentifex

  • DennyZhang

    Thanks for the information, Erik.

    • Happy if it helps. wpDiscuz looks pretty good so far. Stay tuned to see how it goes!

  • dave falkner

    Good on you for posting this critique of their business model. $10/mo sounds reasonable, but there’s no way I’d pay it either after having experiencing what you’ve described here.

    I wonder if there’s a good business model to be had in providing this exact same service, but with non-gross/offensive ads, and about which you are forthright with your customers up front?

    • I have no idea. It seems like it can’t be all that lucrative, though, or Disqus wouldn’t be floundering the way it is.

    • > $10/mo sounds reasonable

      Perhaps I’m making a bad comparison, but it seems crazy to pay ~$10 to Netflix, then another $10 to Discus in the same month. The value can’t be the same, can it? Discus provide much less, I think. It is a niche, I’ll admit that… But I’m not sure. I think something like $4 would be plenty for what it is.

      I’ll admit though, I don’t know what it costs to run Discus and I know it would be a pain to build my own Discus for my site. I don’t think it should be free, and it’s an excellent product – I just have trouble with $10 at this point. I don’t really really need discussion on my site, so I’d be alright with removing it.

      Having said all that, maybe I’m just not their target.

  • I had high hopes that at least the ads would be relevant and not spam. But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen…

    • I tweeted at them a couple of weeks ago to ask about the ads and if we had any control over what they’re like. They never responded.

  • Disqus, without our knowledge about half a year ago, started to show disgusting scam ads on our very popular site. Without telling us anything. It took us months to notice, since we all have ad blockers. We now signed up for a ten dollar monthly payment but as soon as we rolled out our own system we’ll get rid of them. They’re untrustworthy. Some years ago they lost most of the comments on our site!

    • Your experience with the ads sounds eerily parallel to mine, even down to the timing of 6 months ago. Fortunately for me, they’ve never actually lost any of my comments (to my knowledge). Not planning to roll my own, but I’m definitely with you that it’ll be a relief to go to something that doesn’t spring surprises on you.

  • Mario Paganini

    Hi @daedtech:disqus, Disqus here.

    Thank you for your feedback. We are actively taking insights from loyal publishers like yourself into account as we move forward. For personal, non-commercial sites like yours, we plan to offer the ads-free subscription version free of charge. We value your loyalty as a partner and want to continue to provide value for you and all of our publishers.

    Disqus is an advertising supported business and we are committed to improving the quality and variety of ads and give publishers more options including Display and Video ads. However, we know that advertising is not a good fit for all publishers, which is why we are offering subscription versions.

    • Hi Mario. Thanks for the update, and for coming here to post it. Do publishers have any kind of control over the nature of the ads? In other words, can you specify that you only want tasteful ones or something like that?

      • Mario Paganini

        Hello again Erik, we have publisher facing controls including various ad types and positions. Additionally we offer the ability for publishers to block any ads that they do not want on their sites. We are working on discovering more options for publisher controls, so this feedback is definitely helpful.

        In most cases our CS team can work with publishers to provide extra controls and configure the the nature of ads on their sites.

        I appreciate the feedback and will keep you update as we release new features and controls. In the meantime (and for as long as you want), please enjoy using Disqus, ad-free, free of charge.

  • Rodney Smith
    • Some interesting info in there. Saw a post that linked to this post here, actually, and listed a lot of great alternatives, pros and cons. It seems like disqus has managed to thoroughly confuse its entire user base with this change rollout.

  • The.one.and.only

    lol u still use disqus

    • I am/was waiting until they start putting ads on before switching.

  • The.one.and.only

    disqus is best