I’ve created a few posts recently about using Discourse as a comment platform and improving its existing functionality for embedding comments:
- Using Discourse to power comments in an event system or blog? - #29 by simon
- Control which comments are embedded? - #17 by simon
- Topic embedding needs some love
Bases on the lack of response to those posts, my suspicion is that there isn’t much interest from the Discourse team or community in pursuing the use of Discourse as a comment platform. That’s fine from my point of view, but I’d like to make an attempt to clearly state my case.
At some point in the 2010s, news organizations pivoted from hosting their own comment systems to relying on social media for discussions about their articles: The Trend Of Killing News Comment Sections Because You 'Just Really Value Conversation' Stupidly Continues | Techdirt. It turns out that comment sections do provide value for news organizations though: Killing Website Comment Sections Wasn't The Brilliant Move Many Newsroom Leaders Assumed | Techdirt.
Recent changes to Facebook and X/Twitter are highlighting other problems with relying on social media for news article discussions:
Facebook is making an effort to get out of the news business: Facebook looks ready to divorce the news industry, and I doubt couples counseling will help | Nieman Journalism Lab. As a response to a recent Canadian law “News links and content posted by news publishers and broadcasters in Canada will no longer be viewable [on Facebook] by people in Canada.”
The issue with X/Twitter will be obvious to anyone who’s on that platform. The recent change in ownership has entirely changed the tone of the site - any main stream media posts are flooded with “lol” type comments. I suspect the posts generate some engagement, but the responses must be disheartening for the journalists who write the articles.
It seems obvious to me that Discourse could offer a potential solution for this issue.
The closest competitor I can see in this space is Coral (an open source project funded by Vox Media.) Coral’s philosophy is outlined here: Five Myths of Community Design - Coral by Vox Media. I’m seeing very little that Coral is doing that couldn’t be accomplished with a few improvements made to Discourse’s embedded comment functionality. On the back end, in terms of moderating and structuring conversations around articles, I think Discourse could easily improve on what Coral is offering.
I’m not sure that promoting the use of Discourse as a comment system would generate a huge amount of revenue for the Discourse team, or for some other group that wanted to take it on. I do think that it could help to improve online journalism and democracy though.
For full disclosure, in my free time I’m currently working on a WordPress plugin for improving comments that builds on some of the ideas I mentioned here: Active moderation mode - a slow mode alternative. Even if I can pull that off, it won’t have the same kind of impact as a Discourse commenting system could have - it might get used by blogs, but it’s unlikely to be used by MSM news sites.