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June 15, 2008

Why Disqus Is Winning the Web Comment Battles, and What's Next

Tonight, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Daniel Ha, the CEO and co-founder of Disqus. One of the advantages of being in the Silicon Valley is that in many cases, I can actually engage with and meet the people who are moving the industry forward, and while I don't consider myself a big-league hob-nobber, the occasional social visit can be rewarding. I won't jeopardize future meetings by giving away the company store, but I definitely came away from the evening feeling even more committed to Disqus and the company's strategy than I was before.

As you already know, I first added Disqus to my blog with Daniel's help, after finding I was unable to integrate the service into my Blogger template. He went above and beyond the call of duty to get me up and running, doing such an excellent job that the effort was noted by Mashable.

This customers-first attitude shown on the Web was evident off-line as well. Daniel more than once apologized for the brief downtime Disqus suffered last Friday, saying that he had awakened to a swarm of e-mails from frustrated users, not to mention my post, and said that we were right to call them on it, as Disqus comments are now such an integral part of our blogs. He assured me the team knew the issues behind it and was working diligently to make sure another similar outage would never occur. Disqus' popular sidebar widget was to blame, putting a great deal of strain on the service, which has since been lessened.

Also, during the meal, Daniel asked me a question that he says he loves asking users, "How can we make Disqus work even better for you?"

Had I been properly prepared, I could have brought an index card along with responses at the ready. Duncan Riley, for instance, wants trackbacks and FriendFeed integration. I asked for better statistics and analytics, and had questions on how older posts were displayed on my Disqus dashboard. But the truth is that I'm already quite happy with Disqus, and have grown to expect to see it on other blogs, making myself less likely to comment on other sites that don't offer the centralized comments feature.

On a personal note, I was struck by how young Daniel was. At the old age of 31, I'm now reaching the point where just about every Major League Baseball player I like is younger than me. But the CEO of a company I think could have a big impact on the future of the Web being 22, and a UC Davis computer science graduate just this year? That's not fair, and I'm not used to it. Coincidentally, my youngest sister also graduated from Davis on Saturday, sharing Daniel's class year.

Daniel started Disqus in 2007 with friend Jason Yan while in Davis, and this month, doubled the team, adding two new coders, Andrew Badr and Devin Naquin. (See: The New Guy and Hello, world!)

Andrew's already busy letting people know about upcoming features, promising the addition of trackbacks "sometime in the next week.", on the Oracle AppsLab blog. He also answers many people's fears as to the portability of the data, saying, "Better options for import and export are in the works, and will be part of our next major release."

As I wrote at the end of May, Daniel has helped lead Disqus to the forefront of blog comment services in a short time, partly due to his aggressively pursuing relationships with partners. While some companies have targeted Disqus with competitive pot-shots, Daniel said that having others in the field helps to reassure him that it's a good market to pursue. If nobody else was interested in the space, he would undoubtedly be wondering just why.

Disqus is well-known to be funded by Fred Wilson with Union Square Ventures and Paul Graham with Y Combinator, among others, and while some VCs may try to demand immediate revenues or even profits from even the smallest of ventures, Disqus is not yet under such pressure. They've definitely had talks about how to monetize and start bringing in money, but if you thought they were about to start with advertising, you'd be wrong. Disqus will not always be a zero-revenue company, but Daniel says advertising's not in the plans.

For a service that's already got what I believe to the best solution with threaded conversations, a strong GUI and centralized activity, Disqus is continuing to work hard to maintain their lead. Andrew's comments point to near-term release of importing, exporting and trackbacks, and Daniel seems to have an extremely level perspective on what could be a challenging environment for anyone, let alone a 22 year-old entrepreneur. I believe we need a lot more people like Daniel focused on delivering a great customer experience with real benefits, who are less focused on the day to day fights between competitors than they are on getting the service perfected.