Disqus Discover

A good idea done wrong.

The internet's ubiquitous SaaS commenting widget, Disqus, has a new-ish feature called Discover which they're pushing heavily for their new sign-ups. Discover is meant to increase your traffic and make money from your website's engagement. It's really a value-added service whereby your comments section links to related featured/paid content on other sites, earning revenue for you. A kind of AdSense for the Disqus network.

I love it; this is a great idea. Content producers get wider exposure, site owners earn revenue, readers get linked to relevant related content, and Disqus monetizes.

Screenshot of horrible Disqus content, part 1 Emphasis on great idea, though. The execution is just terrible. Check out the kind of content I'm getting:

As far as I can tell, the service is making no attempt to drive users to related content. And why are these all so seedy? Is there something in my browser history? I checked with a new IP and a clean browser history, nope, same garbage.

Thankfully this feature is optional. And as of today, it's turned off. But in the interests of making this a constructive post ...

What could Disqus do to make this better?

I think a lot of this is fairly obvious, and I'm surprised Disqus considered Discover viable enough to launch in its current state, even as an MVP for a VAS.

Content Matching

Scrape the content of the page, look at HTTP referrers for search keywords. Use this to make sure that Disqus is linking to related content. Granted, this is not a trivial thing to implement, but there are tools nowadays that make it so it's not truly hard anymore. To massively over-simplify: Hadoop and a couple Python libraries, and you're done.

Once you have Content Matching working, a great way give site owners control of the ads showing on their site would be a "Greed Level" slider. A scale of 1-to-10 of how tightly the site owner want their ads/featured content bound to the current page's content. Some users want full-on monetization, and they're okay with linking off to largely unrelated spam posts. Then for someone like me who doesn't really care about monetization, but thinks that relevant related content would be cool, you could set that to 1 and only show on-topic related posts.

Filtering Inappropriate Content

A quick survey of my pages shows a majority of the featured content consists of trashy articles about sex, and nude beaches and such. At the bare minimum they should be providing an option to limit related content to things that could be construed as professional. One of the linked pages was something like the 25 best laptops on the market. Okay, it's still totally off-topic, but at least it's not seedy.

Content Categorization

This is a pretty standard feature for ad networks, to have different topics that the site owner can specifically include or exclude. In lieu of content matching, this would be a good start. This is totally absent from Discover. In fact there are no options whatsoever other than something that seems to only control whether the ad content shows above or below the comments box.


The outcome is that for now I've turned this brilliant feature off. I didn't want to, because I really like the idea, but it's just too poorly executed to leave on.

This post will serve as a reminder to me to try this again later, once Disqus has had some time to improve the feature. But for now, Disqus has missed the boat by launching prematurely. I have to imagine a lot of users have tried this, become disenfranchised, and won't turn it back on.


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