Disqus, which makes a popular website plug-in for hosting comments at the end of articles you read on the internet, relaunched its homepage today as a full-fledged social network. Log in to your Disqus account, and you'll find a news feed with stories from the people, blogs, and websites you follow on the network. You'll also see the latest comments on your own site, if you have one, and recommendations for other commenters to follow. And for the first time, Disqus is creating standalone forums that are separate from article pages.
The service's new news feed shows you recent comments on your own blog, if you have one, and recommendations for other commenters to follow. Like most social networks, it notifies you when someone replies to you, up-votes your comments, or invites you to a discussion.
New standalone forums give Disqus a Reddit-like feel
But the most interesting thing here is in its standalone forums, which represent the first time Disqus has hosted discussions away from its core widget. The first two forums are for fashion and movies; you can join any of the discussions there or create your own. It feels a bit like Reddit if it was made by people obsessed with comments — which are given equal weight as the original posts, visually:
Until now, Disqus has been little more than boring, back-end infrastructure. Most of us don't know which commenting platform we're using until it asks us to log in, at which point we have to remember if our Disqus password is the same one we use for Livefyre, or Facebook, or whatever. Disqus is one of the older players in the game; it claims to run on 3 million websites, receiving 2 billion impressions a month. The company makes money selling ads, mostly for other articles: the commenting box features promoted stories from other websites.
Building a site that can stand by itself
And that's all ... fine? But it's not successful at the scale of Reddit, which has once again become a darling of the startup world after being spun out of Conde Nast and raising an additional $50 million. Reddit's forums have proven irresistible to 160 million monthly readers and attract the kind of daily users irresistible to advertisers. Disqus' social network represents an effort to use its existing base of article commenters to create something durable that stands apart from other people's blogs. (Which is, after all, a shrinking market.)
At least, that's what I think — Disqus is being rather cagey about the whole thing. This is all Steve Roy, the company's vice president of marketing, would tell me: "We think there's a big opportunity to make communities and forums more accessible to the average person," he said in an email. "Channels are our opportunity to take what we've learned about discussions on the web and make joining, finding, and starting them a primary experience." In time, we should expect the new, feed-oriented version of Disqus to surface as a mobile app.
On one hand, I don't love internet comments — many writers do not! — but I'm also a daily browser of Reddit. The latter understood long ago that topical forums can attract far more users than individual blogs. Disqus now seems to be coming around, however belatedly, to that line of thinking.
What do you think of the new Disqus? Let us know in the comments!