I’m a renting kind of guy. I rent my apartment, I rent movies and I rent the comments on my podcast. I rent things that I don’t want to be burdoned with storing or maintaining. Sovereignty is old fashioned. There are many great services out there that solve all sorts of problems so you don’t have to. There’s freshbooks for invoicing, Basecamp for project management, Shopify for commerce, Twitter for… uh… tweeting, and Disqus for comments.
A common concern about using a third party solution is “What if they go out of business or turn evil?” Lots of people will see high profile sites like Mashable or Engadget using Disqus and get the warm fuzzy feeling of endorsement. I was convinced well before those sites started using Disqus. All it took for me was for this company to not make an attempt to hold my content hostage. They make it super easy to take your ball and go home if you’re not happy with they way they are doing business. This is very important to me. While I don’t want to “own” my comments today, I can imagine a scenario in the future where I might change my mind. That chance alone could be enough to disuade me from using a service.
This is pretty good food for thought if you’re making a service that derives value from the content being created within. It may be rather tempting, conventional wisdom even, to wall off user’s content. There are many savy users that may never try your service to begin with if your terms are too onerous.
It’s not about you
Typically when people talk about deciding to use a service the focus is on “build versus buy”. I’d like to talk about some less mentioned reasons to let someone else do a bit of the heavy lifting for you. I do a podcast, the podcast’s site is powered by Drupal, but the comments are powered by Disqus. I could just as easily check a box and use the default comment solution that ships with Drupal. I use Disqus because I am focused on improving the experience of my listenters. I love that this company is obsessed with making it easy for end users to leave comments. Developing a better comment system isn’t how I want to spend my time, but I’m glad it’s how they choose to spend theirs.
I want to make it easy for listeners to leave comments. By the very nature of podcasts, it’s hard enough to get comments. People tend to listen to them on devices while they’re commuting, exercising or otherwise not at a computer ready to type. On the off chance someone does come back to the site (maybe to check out the shownotes) and they feel compelled to leave a comment, what are they greeted by? If this is the first time they’ve wanted to leave a comment, a registration form. They’ve never been here before, they aren’t sure if they’ll ever be back. Is it really fair to expect them to fill out a list of fields… wait for a confirmation email… bounce over to their email client… follow that link back… enter a captcha key (that is only marginally more legible to humans than it is to robots)… all so they can type “nice post!” I’m exhausted just thinking about all those steps.
Disqus is a distributed comment platform. If a listener has already posted to another site that uses Disqus, they already have an account and are ready to leave a comment on my site. If they don’t have a disqus account, they can sign in with twitter or facebook credentials. If they happen to not have either of those (I believe half of everyone with internet access has a facebook account), they can post a comment simply by using an email address. How could it get easier for users?
Nail it to the perch
There are two last take aways I’d like to underscore. First, if you’re working on an app, focus on your core competancies, main differentiators, and primary goals. For all of the complexity that falls outside of those things, consider using someone else’s solution instead of building your own. If someone else has built a business on something that you consider a tertiary goal, they are most likely way more passionate about it and equally likely to be doing a better job than you have time or budget to implement. Secondly, don’t be so certain that steps are necessary just because they are often assumed. The easiest way for you to make a process simpler for your users is to eliminate as many steps as you can. This removes work for you and your users.