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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. I used to have ads on the site, so I obviously 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.  Oh, and iPads, or something.  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.