Commenting – AVC, Disqus, privacy, and WordPress

Screenshot 2018-12-25 at 05.55.11This is what greeted me when I tried to comment on Fred Wilson’s post today.

Fred Wilson wrote about signing up to Pocket, and requested suggestions for becoming a power user. Naturally, I wanted to comment with a plug for my Chrome extension for Pocket. I also wanted to offer my 2c on why I found Instapaper better than Pocket 1.

I didn’t.

Why not Disqus it

To comment on Fred’s post I had to agree to these terms from Disqus.

As a commenter, it wasn’t worth it. In the post GDPR-FB-CA world, there are two choices for everyone – share all your data with everyone, or very little with the rare few. I fall in the latter camp2. There was no way I was giving Disqus permission to start tracking me, again 3.

Moreover, I saw two immediate issues here for a publisher. First, my readers have to share data with, and agree to be tracked by yet another company just to post a comment on my post. This is not just a privacy leak, but the Disqus login is yet another conversion hurdle. Fred has a lot of pulling power, but will a regular publisher want another hurdle?

Screenshot 2018-12-25 at 06.02.37
No comments section

Second, the whole comments section completely disappears when any sort of tracking prevention is switched on. It’s not just that I can’t write a comment. It appears there are no comments, nor a way to write one. Given the wide adoption of tracking prevention extensions in desktop browsers and iPhones, this is another big drop in conversions for a regular publisher.


Fred’s firm, AVC, appears to be an investor in Disqus. That may partly be why he is willing to enforce this third-party privacy invasion on his commenters. He also has a strong group of regular commentors, so may not care about new/irregular readers not discovering the comments section. But will a regular publisher want to take a chance on them?

The alternative – go native

The alternative, in my case, at least is to go native. Fred, and I, use WordPress. WordPress comes with its in-build commenting system with a pretty good spam-prevention algorithm. Just use that, and don’t add another third-party data leak source to your website.

Another benefit of native WordPress comments system is that it allows comments with just an email address – no logging in required, nor accepting additional tracking terms.

Finally, because WordPress comments are served as part of the core page, the ad/tracking blocking extensions don’t just erase them. Even the most privacy focused readers can read the comments, without having to disable privacy protections.

No extra hurdles for readers to jump through. No external integrations (and page speed impact) for publishers. Better accessibility and privacy for all.

Screenshot 2018-12-25 at 07.02.03
The comment I had started writing that prompted this post

  1. A read-it-later app is my focused reading zone. That is where I go to read articles with distractions from suggestions, memes, social sharing, ads, and tracking. In search for growth and monetisation, Pocket added most of them – social sharing, recommendations, and suggested posts in the main list.
    Instapaper is clean. Almost primitive. It has no forced social features, no recommendations tab, no sponsored posts (yet). It lets me just read what I want to read.
    Instapaper doesn’t try to tell me what else to read. It doesn’t tell me what my friends are reading, or liked. It doesn’t ask me to follow people.
    It’s focused on just helping me read without distractions.
    And it has highlighting and notes. Win. 
  2. One of the first steps I took on committing to the privacy camp was to remove Google Analytics from all my extensions. I don’t want to be tracked, and I don’t want to track my users.
    I lose a small amount of metrics on which features are being used, and some bug tracking. But I get to remove a fair bit of code, and the distraction of checking my analytics dashboards every often to see (mostly) non-critical data. 
  3. I have always had a fear of sharing data with startups. Most funded startups have a much higher probability of failing than succeeding. And when the startups eventually turn into a zombie, one of the few assets they are left with is user data. This makes it worthwhile for another firm to acquire them for pennies on the pound to get access to that data. More the data, more the pennies that the startup’s investors can recoup.
    This was why even a cat food ordering website would ask permission to access notifications, location, external storage, dental records, grandmother’s full name, future granddaughter’s date of birth, a swab sample, and access to all digital and analog devices.
    This fear of data-auctions by zombie startups is why I haven’t signed up to any of the mobile-friendly ‘challenger’ banks. I don’t know which ones will survive, and which ones will be swallowed along with their trove of customer data. 

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