Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Disqus partners with Google backed Viglink to take on Skimlinks

I like Disqus and use it on most, but not all, of my blogs. It’s live on this blog. Disqus provides a good comment system, that’s easy to moderate, has a reputation system built in and is responsive to site design and browser.

A few months back Disqus rolled out their first step towards monetisation option (beyond charging for the premium service) by including links to other sites . As expected it is now possible to buy “promoted discovery” suggestions in that area. I think it’s a good idea although the recommendations have been pretty poorly matched to date. I expect Disqus to get better quickly.




The surprise extra news is that the comment engine has teamed up with Google VC backed Viglink to turn links in your blog posts and comments to affiliate links. This is done with JavaScript and they say it does not mess with your current affiliate links.

That may be true in theory but Viglink’s big competitor is Skimlinks. Skimlinks has, I think, previously offered better technology and is more established in Europe. I now have blogs running code in which both the Disqus-Viglink alliance will have JavaScript that competes with my Skimlinks JavaScript for that affiliate enriching moment.

I’ll need to test the Disqus offering. They’ll be taking their cut so I might ask why I don’t sign up with Viglink directly – I have an account. The answer to that may be in extra challenge both Viglink and Skimlinks have in applying their auto-affiliate magic to links in comments. A few years back I noticed that Skimlinks was not successfully adding affiliate tracking to URLs left in comments in one of my IntenseDebate (a Disqus competitor) comment section.

In the meantime I’ll have to turn the Disqus offering off to ensure it’s not clashing with my current set up. Disqus, perhaps because it makes them money and perhaps because users are lazy buggers who’ll not likely opt-in, have enabled this affiliate grab by default.

Disqus have created this page that describes the offering and helps their customers opt-out.

Another challenge in making affiliate links turn on by default across thousands of blogs is the thorny issue of legal disclosure. Thouands of blogs are now making money off what was once “no relationship /editorial only” links and many may not realise.

I don’t think this is (yet) an SEO issue and a Google issue although it could become so. If enough bloggers abuse Disqus to get these VigLink enhanced clicks then there’s a chance, a slim one, that the Disqus code becomes a negative quality signal. There’s no sign of that happening yet, it remains an outside shot and I’d have no problem is Disqus started applying some editorial gatekeeping to their free service.

Disqus even try and address the issue of legal disclosure. They’ve updated their “What’s This?” disclosure to reflect the presence of affiliate links. I’m not a legal expert but I wonder whether a small section in the comment system that happens to mention possible monetary incentive is enough for all sectors. Arguably, this disclosure is more than either Skimlinks or Viglink provide by default.

Disqus have other monetisation strategies to look at (and I wonder if they’re already doing this) such as selling the data they harvest on the data markets to DSPs and Ad Exchanges (in a similar way that AddThis and ShareThis do).

Disqus provide a good service and for the most part it’s free. It’s not wrong of them to look at ways of making money. It is a somewhat strange thing to wake up and find already active across your blogs though.

Thoughts turn to Disqus’ competitors and Skimlinks. Will they unite and what extra value could they bring? Will we see some M&A and could content recommendation engines like Outbrain or LinkWithin get involved?

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