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Disqus bait and switch, now with ads (jacquesmattheij.com)
410 points by stakent 1742 days ago | hide | past | web | 231 comments | favorite

I have to disagree even as someone relying on Disqus in a few different ways.

First off, they did provide notice. I received an email about this at all the addresses I have an account under. Maybe the the author didn't and that sucks but this seems like an edge case and he is one of the exceptions, not the rule.

Second, you can turn this feature off which brings me to my next point. Even if they do decide to change this can you really blame them? The thing is we're all using the service for free and on top of it they're willing to share revenue with users. I mean we can't just expect every free service to never monetize. Could they have done it differently? Sure but lets not give in to the temptation to be armchair CEOs here and proclaim that we know that a different model would have worked better for everyone. I give Disqus the benefit of the doubt that they did their homework and decided that this is the best way for them to monetize and still do right by their users.

I use Disqus on my personal blog and I use it as part of an app I'm quite passionate about. In my app (link is in my profile) I use Disqus in much the same way Tumblr does where you enter your short name and your public pages can have comments. As someone using them in these two different ways I empathize with the author especially when it comes to my app as I don't want the ads associated with anything I'm personally doing but at the same time I'm not blaming Disqus either. I use them, in both cases, as an alternative to rolling my own. Their platform is far richer than anything I could do so even if they didn't allow opting out its still a win for me.

In the end this outrage is unnecessary. Disqus made no secret of this, reached out to us, provided a way to opt out, and even offered to share revenue! On top of that they're still a totally free service that's offering us value. The author himself says his blog will no longer have comments because of this. Why? I'm sure he can create a commenting system himself but obviously Disqus is delivering value in a way that's pretty tough to replace.

Come on guys, its one thing to not like these ads but to not use Disqus in protest really isn't hurting Disqus as much as it is the person who stops using them in most cases. They definitely acted in good faith on this one and we need to stop acting like every free service on the web owes us the service we want, how we want it, when we want it. This isn't a charity we're talking about here, its a web startup. I follow jaquesm's blog and I agree with most of his thoughts but I can't get behind this one.

> they did provide notice

I can confirm they contact me as well. On 12/11/12, they sent me an email titled "Growing with Disqus". However,

1) Gmail auto-labeled it as "Promotions", so I didn't read it. Not disqus' fault, just saying.

2) The text is shady; never does it mention specifically that ads will be placed on your site, but dances around the issue before finally saying "if you'd rather not try this feature, you can always turn it off". I likely would not have understood that they were putting ads on my site even if I had given the email a quick read. The subject line sure doesn't help.

I don't mean that I'm outraged or surprised. Just confirming that I received the same email and examining it a bit.

The message being labeled with "Promotions" is as the result of a filter you created, right?

Even if a spam filter would eat it: not receiving negative feedback is not the same as consent. So you can't just fire off an email and consider your duty done. If you want to use an email that way there should be some kind of confirmation link in there.

It's the new smart labels feature. It's automatic.

I'm pretty sure smart labels is opt-in, so it's more fair to say that it's the result of a filtering feature the user turned on but does not explicitly control and cannot accurately predict.

It's usually very reliable, so it's easy to forget that it can mislabel an important message as a generic promotion.

The subject line seems a little too much like a generic promotion...

Smart labels is an option in 'Labs', disabled by default.

You don't create a specific "Promotions" label though. My answer to brown9-2's question is still correct.

How would you feel if twitter decided to include (for your benefit, of course) a bunch of advertising next to their button after sending you an email about it and defaulting to 'on'. Would that be ok for you or would you feel that that was not what you signed up for when you decided to embed their button tag?

I signed up for a 'comment tag', not for an 'advertising tag'. There is a world of a difference between those two, it changes my blog from a non-commercial one into a commercial one and that is - to me at least - a major shift. On top of that they make it look as if I endorse these links.

To see that happen without my explicit consent is something that is enough to turn me off from that particular service provider because I can apparently not trust them with the responsibility of not altering our relationship in a material way relative to the terms of service of the moment when I signed up for their service.

Thats the tradeoff you have to deal with if you want to use a free service.

There are many other ways for a free service to make changes like this. Grandfathering existing users, to name one example which probably would have made jacques a lot happier.

True, but I think the bigger point is: why do you believe you have any right to demand anything? The service is free, you should be expected that the service you are not paying a dime for may do things you don't quite like once in a while.

I think the bigger issue here is the entitlement that seems to come with every service online now days. People seem to think they are entitled to demand whatever they like and how they like it for things they aren't even paying someone for. I think the best example of this was all of the whining about Craigslist suing Padmapper because it was ripping off Craigslist content and trying to piggyback off of the work CL has put into building their brand and infrastructure.

I demand nothing. I just exercise my right to terminate this relationship from my end and I exercise my right to write on my own blog whatever I want.

My point is that there seems to be an entitlement to be outraged over free services you don't pay for now days, and that people seem to think they need to write blog posts to publicly shame companies when they alter services they are offering to the public for exactly zero dollars.

You seem to be suggesting that free services are free from criticism, which is just silly.

He is entitled to be outraged, stop it.

Right. To take it to a somewhat ridiculous extreme, what about something like this?

"I just found out that this company was infecting all their users with bubonic plague."

"Stop complaining. It was free!"

That comparison is ridiculous. It's a free service, either click two buttons to revert it to the previous state without ads, or delete your account. Move on with your life and stop the entitled whining.

This is what Turing_Machine is doing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum

Offering something free doesn't make one immune to criticism and criticizing isn't entitled whining. This is fair criticism.

jaquesm's opinion was given to you for free, what are you complaining about? If you don't like it, don't read it...

You stop complaining. You didn't pay for the comparison or the "entitled whining".

>True, but I think the bigger point is: why do you believe you have any right to demand anything? The service is free, you should be expected that the service you are not paying a dime for may do things you don't quite like once in a while.

I think it is more of a feeling of breaking a "gentlemen's agreement". When a free service provides a service for X amount of time (expectation building), and you provide them with lots of data and additional users (network effect), and then suddenly they change the rules, it is upsetting. Being a victim of bait-and-switch is not a pleasant feeling.

If the CEO of a free service I was using came onto my property and started smashing my windows, I'd certainly feel I have the right to demand he stop (even if his actions were endorsed by the service).

By all means, they have the right to shut down their service, or change their policies, etc. But I think their underhanded way of implying the service-user endorses something which they don't is ethically wrong whether there is an existing business relationship or not.

In summary, I feel there is a set of things I absolutely have the right to demand of free services. There is a different set of things which I would prefer they not do, but are completely within their rights (shutting down the service, charging for it, changing the way their comment model works, anything like that).

For the record, I think the CL haters are a bunch of whiners, too. I draw a line between users demanding a site change to accommodate their whims and users expecting a site to not change.

Stasis is good. Let some other site be the one to "innovate".

Like I said, I can totally empathize. No, it's not cool to do that without any notice or consent. You didn't get the notice so as far as you're concerned there was none. I get that, it's totally understandable.

That said, I don't think your example of Twitter is a good one. They're too different for that to work. But I don't think getting into that would be very productive for anyone so rather than doing that I'll just say this: while I get where you're coming from I think you're expectations are just north of being totally reasonable. The core if it makes total sense but it starts to unravel when you consider your expectation that you want to " trust them with the responsibility of not altering our relationship in a material way relative to the terms of service of the moment when I signed up for their service". That right there, the way I read it, means either "I expect your company to provide the exact same service and follow the exact same policies that I signed up with forever" or "you can only change your service and/or policies when it benefits me". That's unreasonable. No company on earth keeps its policies and services the same forever. They change every now and then. It upsets people and sometimes a change is negative for us but we adjust and move on.

I get why you're leaving but still don't think Disqus is in the wrong. They obviously need to change their service to continue to provide the service. For some, like you, that's not acceptable but its still not that big of a deal. One thing I think you're forgetting is that there's a huge gap here between what you experienced and what the reality is.

What you experienced what a major change in service without your consent or knowledge of it at all. That's certainly a reason to be upset.

But the reality of the situation is that your case is an exception. Disqus did provide warning and a way to opt out. Now, had you not missed the announcement about this would you still feel the same way today?

To be clear, I'm not telling you you're wrong to feel this way. What I'm saying is that it's wrong to characterize Disqus' actions as being sneaky or in breach of trust because they did provide a warning and a way to opt out - you, unfortunately, just happened to not get the memo. That sucks.

Ok, here are my bits and pieces so far:

(1) I don't expect them to deliver a certain service 'forever', they can shut down if they want to, I understand that

(2) they can change their policies but they can't (or at least, should not, it is painfully obvious that they can) make it opt-out if it is a major change (and to me, adding stealthy advertising is a major change)

(3) they can't use my name to make it seem as if I am on board with something when in fact I am totally not on board with that

(4) I'm fine with them acting in this way, but then they have to accept that I'll call them out on it

(5) web services (especially embeds) should default to grandfathering in older users

(6) This change does not appear to me to be in line with accepted practice and legal requirements for advertising, as such they are making me part of something I do not wish to be a part of, stealth advertising is something I am very much against.

(7) Had I received the announcement and had I seen that it was 'opt-out' I would have killed my disqus account immediately. Opt-out is the wrong way to make changes like these. To have no positive confirmation for a change like this is not acceptable to me.

(8) I feel they are sneaky because of the way the ad blends in, because apparently when I'm on my home machine those ads are not there (or at least, they were not until yesterday) and I feel that such changes should never be forced.

(1) I don't expect them to deliver a certain service 'forever', they can shut down if they want to, I understand that

Um, I was really expecting to read: "...they can start charging me if they want to." And then your Twitter comparison too makes me think you really expect a free service, but one that cost money to operate, not to attempt to have an actual business model at some point in the future. Why would they just shut down before trying to make money?

How did you make money with the web cam thing?

There is no 'free' in that sentence.

I think we're in agreement more than it seems.

Number 3 is especially important I think. It's especially sneaky to make it look like you're endorsing something you aren't or, worse, never even heard of.

As for number 6 I'm no lawyer nor do I even have enough casual knowledge of this sort of thing to know anything about it so I'll take your word for it and if that really is the case then I'd wonder why they're not in any trouble over it yet.

Where we differ here is on what we believe we're entitled to and when I use the word 'entitled' I'm not saying it in the usual "oh too many people think they're entitled to XYZ with free services these days" sense. Maybe "expectations" would be a better word but that's not it either. Yes, I do believe too many people feel too entitled these days especially with free services like this but that belief isn't absolute and I do believe there are some things we as users of any service free or not are entitled to, almost like a web user's bill of rights. Those things, in my mind are:

1. Notice of changes to service and policies

If a policy is going to change or a feature is going to be added, removed, or modified we should get some sort of notice via email, blog post or preferably both.

2. The right of free users to keep their active accounts for as long as the service stays in business

If I have a free Google account I expect that so long as I'm using it reasonably often Google won't decide one day to just get rid of all free accounts.

3. The right to continue using the core offering regardless of feature additions, subtractions, or modifications for any other account type.

So as an Instagram user I should be able to take, post, like, and comment on photos as that is the very core of the product. If one day Instagram has paid accounts I'm not entitled to any of the upgraded features but I should never lose the ability to use the service in its most basic ways because I'm using it free.

Those are the three "rights" I think we should have and even then they're still more like requests because we're still at the mercy of the provider until we pay. But generally, a free service provider who acts in good faith would follow those 3 rules. Now I think wanting the ads to be opt-in is more of a nice-to-have than something we should absolutely expect. I don't think its reasonable because users probably won't take notice at all as it requires effort. But by having it be opt-out, those who care will take the effort. It's really a win-win. Those who care don't have to deal with it while those who don't care get to share the revenue.

Your line was crossed and you left and no one can't respect that. I have different limits and think mine are a little more reasonable considering it's a free service.

I actually just registered the domain 'userbillofrights.org' because of your comment. Even though I don't agree with you here I think there's still a lot I do agree with and I want to invite you to help me write a user's bill of rights and maybe put it out there and get some free service providers to "endorse" it and maybe even try to compile a list of services that adhere to the user's bill of rights so people can see who they're dealing with before signing up. It's probably a dumb idea but I think it'd be fun. We can start with Disqus.

If they had announced "we're going to add links to your comments to make it seem you're endorsing advertising of our choosing" that would not have made it okay.

It's not something you can just announce and then do. There is no possible way it is okay to make "we're going to use your voice" as an opt-out feature. Without his consent it is just wrong. They could have sent him letters or even left him voicemail messages, but anything short of getting explicit approval makes the appearance of his endorsement a misrepresentation, or more simply, a lie.

you can stop using their service if you dont like it.

I dont understand this sense of entitlement regarding free services.

And it is not like disqus did not warn its users , they did. Dont like it ? use something else.

> To see that happen without my explicit consent is something that is enough to turn me off from that particular service provider because I can apparently not trust them with the responsibility of not altering our relationship in a material way relative to the terms of service of the moment when I signed up for their service.

then stop using that service , what's the big deal ? did you pay for it ? no. So there is no binding contract between them and you.

> you can stop using their service if you dont like it.

I just did.

> I dont understand this sense of entitlement regarding free services.

This free service just made it look as if I endorse a bunch of companies and decided to change my site from non-commercial to commercial. That's my prerogative.

> And it is not like disqus did not warn its users , they did. Dont like it ? use something else.

They may have warned, I definitely did not receive it, they changed the terms of service post the part where I signed up and defaulted me to behaviour under the new terms of service. That is 'bait-and-switch'.

> then stop using that service , what's the big deal ? did you pay for it ? no. So there is no binding contract between them and you.

Actually, their terms of service bind me and them, sure they can change the terms but those are not the terms that I agreed to when I signed up and I don't go around checking the terms of service every 3 days to see if someone is up to something sneaky.

Whether I paid for it or not is not material.

Currently in their TOS under 'Advertisements':

You agree that Disqus may include advertisements and/or content provided by Disqus and/or a third party (collectively “Ads”) as part of the implementation of the Service.

Now I don't know if this language was there before the change you are speaking of, but if it wasn't I'm sure included in their TOS was that you agree to them being able to amend their TOS at any time to include something like this.

Let's just say that I find an opt-out change of a comment engine to an advertising tag that states that I recommend certain products and services using stealthy advertising a non negotiable move, no matter what your terms of service say.

Perhaps you should have thought of this before using a completely free "SaaS" offering?

Perhaps you'll think of this next time.

You're entitled to this view, but if you are an entrepreneur running a free service, I'd caution you from believing it.

I run a free service with 50 Million daily end users and if I made such a drastic change, users would (rightfully) be upset.

You seem to be focused on what Disqus has the right to do, while jacquesm is talking about user expectations and the consequences of violating them.

I'm inclined to agree with him that displaying ads on the user's site without explicit opt-in is a major faux pas with the potential to destroy a company's reputation permanently.

I don't think what Disqus did was in good taste, but I do think that it's foolish to expect otherwise from a free SaaS provider.

Hi Jacques, completely support. I see a handle of people trying to destabilize you and you defend your position so well that I didn't find anything to add, except that I fully support your point, and I am sure many more do.

This should be called disqusgate and I'd really expect to hear Fred Wilson on it, if not done yet.

>I just did.

Good on you. The only way these companies will figure out that this sort of model sucks is if they lose users/money.

Well in this case it would seem that they lost a user and cut their burn rate at the same time. I'm not sure Disqus would see this as a net loss.

>did you pay for it ? no. So there is no binding contract between them and you //

I disagree with this. There is a moral obligation on both parties regardless of the presence of a consideration (payment of money) in the contract.

There is a binding contract, albeit most likely not legally enforceable and of uncertain terms. To consider an extreme, what if disqus has said they were going to include porn links in their plugin area. Some might well consider covert advertising as more insidious than inappropriate porn.

If we're in a bar and you need to use the WC, I offer to watch your stuff but instead I just walk off as soon as you leave the room. Well, "no binding contract" but I've still acted immorally and anti-socially.

Offering someone something free-gratis doesn't give you carte blanche to screw them over as soon as their figurative back is turned.

tl;dr I offer you a free beer, ha-ha I pissed in it, "what's the big deal ? did you pay for it ?"

A good point.

In fact, I'd almost prefer a comment service start serving up porn on my blog. At least it should, presumably, be fairly clear that it's spam, and not something I've actually endorsed. This "recommendations" feature is essentially Disqus abusing the fact that they can generate content on my site to do one better than the comment spammers they protect us from, and make it look like I'm endorsing their random links. Spammers' wet dream, really (the fact that they're links to well-known publications and not virus-laden sites notwithstanding).

"you can stop using their service if you dont like it."

That's exactly what they said they were doing: Did you actually read the post?

They discovered a shady, poorly communicated "feature" had been enabled, so they dropped the service.

As ryguytilidie says below, it is bizarre that behaviours like this are defended, and it needs to become less acceptable of a business life-cycle strategy. I'll point a bit of the finger at the host himself, PG, as he has oft stated that you don't need to concern yourself with revenue, but rather eyeballs. That is inevitably a bait and switch -- get them in on a clean, simple commenting system, sneak ads in (with hilariously misleading emails that they know no one will actually read) later on.

"The thing is we're all using the service for free and on top of it they're willing to share revenue with users. I mean we can't just expect every free service to never monetize. "

This is one of the problems with some, and mostly the ad based, modern startups, and it seems like most are taking the lead from Facebook here, but the problem is basically that companies create a product that provides value, as Disqus does. As they build it, they know if they do something like put in ads, you wont use it, so they don't put in ads. However, after they have a bunch of users, they realize they need to make money, and therefore change the product to provide less value and put ads in. I feel like a lot of what I see lately seems to imply that we "owe" these companies something(people seem to do the same thing with adblock). I feel no allegiance here, Disqus made a product that people would like, people started using it, and then they took some value away in a fairly shady way. Frankly I wish stuff like this was called out more often. The last thing it needs is defending.

That's not totally true. They don't just decide to start putting ads up because one day they woke up and thought "holy shit, we have a billion users! how are we going to support this? Quick! Pull out the ads!". It's more like they intend to monetize in the future no matter what but the only thing stopping them is adoption. They need users to adopt the service first before its even monetizeable. I'm sure if ads or whatever model was profitable from day 1 they'd be using it. It's not a matter of purposely deceiving users, it's a matter of at what point do the different models actually yield revenue. Once they get to that point you start seeing the monetization happen. It can be from day 1 or 5 years down the road but all startups need to make money.

Also, they didn't do anything shady here. If you're following you'll know that they both provided ample notice and offered to share the revenue and you can even opt out. I mean, what do we expect here? Are they supposed to have it be opt-in because that's how we like it and we can't be bothered to log in and tick the box to turn it off? We're not paying for anything here and on top of it we're going to tell them how to run the company like we own stock? This is a business, not an open source project or a charity.

If you intend to monetize, perhaps it might be best not to do it in a way that alienates or upsets your user base. That's the take away we should be looking at. Not that Ads are bad, not that monetization is bad, but:

If you want a service to grow and to be profitable you need to be aware of how your shift from growing the user base to monetizing the user base doesn't lose the user base.

That's ridiculous. Ads produce positive revenue from day 1. The cost of putting them in is negligible. We can't know why they waited until now, but "insufficient number of users" was not why they took 5 years to do it.

I don't feel it's unfair to call it a bait and switch. Even if they didn't intend for it to be a bait and switch, it's still a bait and switch.

Right, that's what "bait and switch" means.

Ads is one thing, Links titled "Recommended content" something completely different. As the OP writes, the way Disqus presents its Ads make them seem like regular content endorsed by the site's editor. And THIS is the total no-go area Disqus just ventured into, without even taking the minimum precursions by defaulting to opt-in. Bye bye Disqus.

You're ignoring the part where this is an utterly unethical way of advertising regardless of how it came about.

Them offering to share revenue makes it stink even worse. Even if it's 100% opt-in, they're basically trying to bribe their users into misleading their visitors.

Terms like "benefit of the doubt" and "good faith" don't apply to companies that do business like that.

I think the main problem is this pervasive habit (not talking only about disqus here) of making controversial modifications (because hey, they must know that a significant part of their users won't like it) and making them the default. I don't think that the OP would have minded so much if the feature was turned off by default. It's like social networks changing their privacy options, and making everything public by default.. but with the option to revert to normal when/if you realize what changed.

As for the second point, the fact that the ad links are similar to all others: that really IS sneaky, however you look at it.

It might be a win for you because it's "free", but it's not a win for others.

Disqus is sneaky. I don't like sneaky people and more importantly I don't like sneaky companies.

Alerting every single one of their users of an upcoming change before it occurs is sneaky?

> First off, they did provide notice.

I have two blogs using Disqus and, as the admin, I did not receive notifications for either one, so, they did not provide notice to everybody.

I also cannot remember getting any email from disqus in the last months. Maybe because my blog is in hiatus (like any good blog ;)).

>They definitely acted in good faith on this one //

So when they changed the service from comment hosting to adding covert advertising they sent an email with a title along the lines "disqus are adding adverts to our comment service" and made it clear the adverts would be masked as regular content? (Can someone post the email?)

Presumably, as they acted in good faith, they also noted to users which jurisdictions this would cause legal problems in? (masking paid adverts as regular content).

Also, there must be a cheque waiting for the OP now - you wouldn't put advertising in place without paying after all - would be interesting to know how much that is for and what the split is?

Surely in good faith you wouldn't modify your service [excellent as it was] so drastically without requiring an opt in?


...hm, now the www-link does the same so it's something else

It's a shame that comments like this one repudiating several of the details in the original article can't be viewed at the location of the originating post.

Instead, everyone who reads the article in the future will have an one-sided impression of the situation (unless the author edits the post based on the points brought up in this thread) due to the lack of comments.

I'll add a link to the HN discussion.

edit: ok link added at the bottom of the article. I hope that helps, I figured out belatedly that this may have been your way of making a joke but it is a useful addition so thank you for the hint.

They've been doing this for months, and it's done revenue-sharing style, so if you're getting a lot of comments, you stand a chance of making a couple of bucks through the ads. (If you go to your admin page and click Analytics, you'll see the discovery tab which tells you how much you've made.)

I've gotten multiple emails on it, so it certainly wasn't a bait and switch. A piece from November on the matter:


The new Promoted Discovery for Disqus was a major release for publishers like you who are seeking ways to drive business around content, community and conversation. We’re very excited about the results so far. There’s strong engagement in discovered content and excellent flow of new high quality traffic for websites using Disqus. This tells us it’s winning for both publishers and their readers.

We’re only getting started. As we grow, we'll continue to evaluate new opportunities for you to grow and make money with us. We think you’ll like them because, like Promoted Discovery, they will be complementary to the user experience. If you’d rather not try out these features, you can always turn them off in your settings.

The next feature we’re piloting lets you get credit for the traffic you drive to ecommerce sites like Amazon or eBay. If you already do some form of affiliate linking, we do nothing to those existing links. Soon, you may begin to see the impact of these in your reporting dashboard (we’ll be rolling this out slowly over time). Of course, all of this happens seamlessly behind the scenes — the experience for your readers doesn’t change at all. You can learn more by reading this page.

At Disqus, our core philosophy is to remain native to the core user experience and provide the best community experience possible. As always, I welcome your questions and feedback.

I have not received an email, there is no opt-out switch, and honestly I have not seen this on the comment section of my blog until it showed up just now. Elsewhere in this thread there are people that say they don't have it right now so it appears to switch on/off according to some hidden criterion.

Highly annoying.

"At Disqus, our core philosophy is to remain native to the core user experience and provide the best community experience possible."

I hate language like that.

And I'm 100% sure that I have never seen these ads before.

It should have defaulted to 'off'. You can break trust exactly once.

Just out of curiosity, but what exactly did you think the arrangement between you and Disqus was? Their service obviously saves bloggers a lot of hassle, and it can't be free to maintain?

I don't mean to say that this justifies this perceived wrong, but it certainly justifies, from their standpoint, to think: "If you're going to use our service, for free, you should at least read our emails (and not filter them to the Spam folder)". Also on their side: they've allowed the ability to opt out.

So you can still drop the service on the grounds of principle, and technically, this is a "bait and switch"...but it's a pretty mild one.

> Just out of curiosity, but what exactly did you think the arrangement between you and Disqus was?

Obviously he thought, and was correct about thinking, that it didn't include ads.

All the ex-post-facto justifications for the change boil down to something like "But didn't you realize that as an entity in a capitalistic society, the opposing party in your deal is always going to be seeking more revenue?" which is always true of every deal, can be used to justify any change whatsoever, and thus is a rather thin justification.

Whatever it was that I thought I signed up for, I explicitly did not sign up for an advertising tag, especially not a stealthy one, and on top of that not one that looks like an active endorsement on my part.

You agreed to their terms and conditions upon sign up. It says:

"We may, without prior notice, change the Service;"

And my terms of service read 'and if you change your terms of service in a way that I don't like I will disable your plug-in and I'll bitch about it'.

That doesn't make any sense. You agreed to their terms of service and now you're complaining because it doesn't match your ideals. Disqus is a great service provided for free, what did you expect?

I did not expect to see myself recommending products and services that I would not ever think of recommending to others and I would not expect to see my site change from non-commercial to commercial and I did not expect to see ads masquerading as regular content.

Terms of service are a fig leaf, how you act is what matters and these actions are not acceptable, especially not for an opt-out that wasn't there when I signed up.

In what way are they not acceptable? They are totally acceptable to me. They provide a great service for free and now they want to monetize it with ads, shocking! I think it's extremely generous and quite remarkable of them to offer both a cut and an option to opt-out. They should be rewarded for that, not blamed. I think the sense of entitlement you have knowing that disqus offered you a great and free service for years and now a way to opt-out or even make money is really disgraceful.

If I offer to paint your house for free, and I do a good job of it but also steal your TV, you actually are entitled to be upset and even call the cops. You can't say, "Hey, I was working for free, and now I want to monetize it with his TV. He's acting so entitled, like I need to ask if it's OK first."

(Obviously I'm not saying they stole anyone's TV, but more extreme examples demonstrate the flaws in an idea better than more subtle ones. The principle of "It's free, so I can do whatever I want and you're being an entitled brat if you object" is simply fallacious.)

Long story short: Working for free does not give you free reign to violate people's trust. Something that isn't OK doesn't suddenly become OK just because you were working for free. If you acted under-handedly, don't be surprised when they call you under-handed on their blog. Being free doesn't immunize you from accusations of under-handedness. It does limit their recourse, but they still have every right to be unhappy.

That's a poor analogy and even you have pointed it out. So using it only creates an unnecessary and invalid connection between stealing and what disqus did.

To be fair, "I can do whatever I want" was actually the condition GP pointed out. As other users have pointed out, this was not a surprise to most of them as they were notified about it.

> they still have every right to be unhappy

Yes They do. But they don't have the right to call the other party malicious.

> That's a poor analogy and even you have pointed it out.

No, I pointed out why it's a perfectly fine analogy ("more extreme examples demonstrate the flaws in an idea better than more subtle ones").

When drawing an analogy, the things need only be similar in the areas being compared. In fact, the more dissimilar they are in other respects, the better, because the whole point of an analogy is to show how similar features behave in different contexts.

For example, if you put forward the proposition, "OJ Simpson is violent because he is black," I might respond by pointing to other well-known black men such as Martin Luther King, who was clearly not violent and is pretty well known as a good person. This does not mean I'm equating OJ Simpson and Martin Luther King in any respect other than their race — in fact, the differences between the men are at the heart of the comparison. They are similar in the aspect being compared (race), but otherwise unlike each other in nearly every way possible.

If any dissimilarity invalidated an analogy in the way you seem to believe, analogy would be altogether impossible because things could only ever be compared to themselves.

> So using it only creates an unnecessary and invalid connection between stealing and what disqus did.

No, it doesn't! I posted a fairly long parenthetical specifically explaining this. Please take the time to read and think about what you've read before replying in the future. It is very annoying to have to explain this over and over.

Again, the difference between the two actions is at the heart of the analogy. Obviously you'll agree that the painter who steals the TV is in the wrong. Nobody thinks it's OK to steal your customer's stuff. The point is that the same justification — he offered a free service, so he is entitled to monetize it in ways that affect you without telling you and you have no right to complain — would appear to apply to the painter's actions. Thus, it is a weak justification. That was my point.

> Yes They do. But they don't have the right to call the other party malicious.

ctrl-F malic -> 0 results

Uh, cool?

I don't think anybody is calling Disqus malicious. Malice is intent to injure someone, and there's no evidence that Disqus was actively seeking to hurt people. I think the accusation here is that the way Disqus has behaved is inconsiderate and sneaky.

> more extreme examples demonstrate the flaws

You are calling out for slippery slope, if X is acceptable than 1000X must also be. And since 1000X is not, therefore X shouldn't be.

> analogy would be altogether impossible because things could only ever be compared to themselves.

To be honest, I rarely trust analogies as logical statements. They are good for introduction to a concept but they have an inherent bias towards the view of the constructor which may not be visible to the other side in an debate.

The argument you put forward was that 'I do it for free so I can do anything' is fallacious. Yes, it is. Firstly the argument here is 'You agree that I do this for free, the definition of 'this' may change with time and it is entirely my right to do so' is the actual condition.

> It is very annoying to have to explain this over and over

I am sorry I annoyed you, that was not my intent. I did read it but may be I can't read as well as I hoped I did.

> ctrl-F malic -> 0 results. Uh, cool?

While I am at least a little offended by the snark I would assume that it was my mistake that I annoyed you a lot. English is not really my first language so probably my choice of word 'malicious' was out of place, but you are taking things too literally. Disqus has behaved is inconsiderate and sneaky - I am trying to point out that they notified their users and were not trying to hide anything about this.

Honestly, I see no point continuing to annoy you. So I will shut up.

You do realize that such ads are called 'stealth' ads and are quite possibly not legal in plenty of places?

What is acceptable for you and what isn't is your affair, just like it is my affair what I find acceptable.

I don't think you're helping the discussion with your continued personal attacks ('entitlement', 'disgraceful') so I'll leave it at that.

They are not stealth ads as they warned their users a long time ago. I learned about that a few months ago already. You can't blame them for your inability to read your email correctly. Second, you had pretty strong words against disqus calling their decision "bullshit" and encouraging some sort of boycott. All because a free service decided to start making money in order to survive by proposing optional ads with a cut for you to make money on their free service. Sorry, but the sense of entitlement is really too strong here to let go. Had to point it out.

Stealth on the part of misrepresenting their origin as endorsed by the site owner, not stealth as in hidden from the site owner (an understandable mistake, given that both are at issue here).

I am not a disqus user, therefore I have no idea 'recommended content' is their term for paid adverts. I sometimes read jacquesm's site, therefore I could reasonably mistake something[1] with that title to be recommended by him. He dislikes that this should happen without his explicit opting-in to such a system.

He's allowed to be pissed. Is principle so rare to you that you're mistaking it for entitlement?

[1] if disqus wasn't blocked by Ghostery, anyway

I have to say, if it advertises by pretending I endorse its arbitrary links, then it is not a great service.

Blockbuster, Zappos, and AOL have all been burned by having language in their ToSes to that effect. It's a bad idea if you want any legal cover from your TOS. IANAL, but this guy is and he says


The OP was very clear, just in case some missed the point: OP does not like ad's and is unhappy with bait and switch. This is clear bait and switch, no denying that. As for the companies business and how they need to make money - that is another subject for another thread.

Side-effects need to be explicit. When he registered did the ToS say this would be the behavior? There is no logic in your argument.

I hadn't seen the TOS back whenever he registered, but I would be quite surprised if the TOS didn't give the service the right to choose the content it would deliver to those who use its service. In fact, if it didn't, they should fire whoever is running their legal department.

Perhaps you're confused to the purpose of a TOS. It is not a business plan where the company outlines their feature roadmap.

While I don't know what happened with your sites, I just activated the "new" Disqus on my two sites. There are four settings you can choose for this:

(1) Comments only (2) Comments and links only on your site (3) Comments, links on your site and 'recommended' links (4) Same as (3) but links may be above comment box

The default setting appears to be (2); I tried this under two different Disqus accounts with three web sites, and that was the setting "Discovery" came up with each time. This doesn't strike me as particularly outrageous -- the links they are inserting are only links to your own articles, not advertising (and not revenue-generating, of course).

It's a free service and they're at the point where monetization is becoming a necessity. I can appreciate that, and it's not a particularly evil way of doing it, if you ask me.

I don't know about you, but I can live with a couple of non-obtrusive links that go other places—especially since, like a lot of people, I got emails about it ahead of time. If you can't, you can turn it off.

You act as if the ads are putting ugly pictures of fat people are flooding your site or ads for e-Cigarettes or other skeevy things. I've been seeing them for months — their ads, far as I can tell, are of higher quality than the ones you see on Facebook and Google search. (I see links for Exxon, Comedy Central and Citi on a recent comment thread on my site. Certainly not bottom-shelf names.)

The reason why you probably didn't notice them is because they're so unobtrusive that they were designed so you wouldn't notice them. Now whatever philosophical issues that raises, I think, from what I've seen in my own experience, Disqus handled this the right way.

EDIT: I don't get the downvotes. My point is totally valid here.

> It's a free service and they're at the point where monetization is becoming a necessity.

Monetization is not an optional thing that you tack on afterwards, unless you are willing to re-negotiate your relationships. If you do that on an auto-opt-in basis you are breaching the trust with your users.

> I don't know about you, but I can live with a couple of non-obtrusive links that go other places—especially since, like a lot of people, I got emails about it ahead of time. If you can't, you can turn it off.

Sure and if it had not been 'opt-in' and if I had actually received their messages I would have exported my comments and called it a day. But defaulting it to 'on' is not opt-in, that's forcing me in with the option to opt-out afterwards. And I absolutely do not want advertising on my website unless I know exactly who benefits from it and what the arrangement is. I ran a google tag for a while to help someone out, other than that my blog has always been ad free. Now I find I'm endorsing products and services that I would never endorse in a lifetime.

> You act as if the ads are putting ugly pictures of fat people are flooding your site or ads for e-Cigarettes or other skeevy things.

No, I'm acting this way because (1) there are ads at all and (2) especially exxon is very high on my shit-list for bad companies. Just about between Monsanto and McDonalds. Whether a company is bottom shelf or not has nothing to do with whether or not I want their advertising on my site. What's the point of having a comment moderation system to keep out unwanted links to advertisers if they sneak in the back door anyway?

> The reason why you probably didn't notice them is because they're so unobtrusive that they were designed so you wouldn't notice them.

Apparently that's only one part of the story, I don't know what the conditions are that make them switch on and off.

> Now whatever philosophical issues that raises, I think, from what I've seen in my own experience, Disqus handled this the right way.

Strong disagree, they could have simply left the feature to be switched off for existing accounts and switch it to default to 'on' for new accounts.

Accounts should be left in the state of the terms-of-service at the time of sign-up, any changes to a users setting that materially alter the relationship between service and user should be avoided at all cost because they breach trust.

No one begrudges a company trying to monetize, but there's an expectation that there will be some communication beforehand.

I'm sure if they sent multiple emails and if OP discovered the matter through official communications and not by looking at the page, then he may have been OK with it but more importantly wouldn't feel like a bait-and-switch was pulled.

I wouldn't have downvoted except for this nice piece of well-poisoning:

> You act as if the ads are putting ugly pictures of fat people are flooding your site

Not to mention the fact that his argument had nothing to do with what was being advertised.

I think you are taking it far too hard. If you don't like it, turn it off or switch. Ads showing up in your comments page is hardly the end of the world. Lighten up.

now you are just being arrogant... they have opt-out ads... so you can opt out now... and it's an awesome free plugin... cut 'em some slack

"You can break trust exactly once."

That's nonsense.

Whether you warned users of this change or not, to me, that isn't the problem. The issue is that they are stealth ads.

As jacques mentioned, and the screenshot shows, the ads look like they are personal recommendations by jacques, and this is what is quite sneaky/crappy about this whole change.

If you went the route of using other language like sponsored ads, I think you were in the right, it's your service and you can change it, but this is indeed quite sneaky. It's like me going on tv and saying Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan recommend my app. It's a lie.

Hi Jacques, I’m Daniel from Disqus. Hopefully I can clear some stuff up.

As others in this thread have pointed out, we haven’t really been shy about what we’re doing here. You can see a progress update of how things are going on blog.disqus.com (it’s the second post down as I write this).

We’ve put a lot of effort into being communicative around what we’re doing with discovery and advertising (we call it Promoted Discovery). I don’t think “bait and switch” is accurate in describing how we approached this. It was about a year ago that we started talking publicly about the idea of a revenue-share ad product within Disqus.

As our ideas matured, we started sharing those details with our userbase. This was about 6 months ago. As with many of the things we do, Promoted Discovery was rolled out gradually so that we could learn and get better. Along the way, we blogged, sent out emails, and surveyed users. We’ve done half a year of messaging and we’re still not done with the full roll-out. It sucks that our messaging didn’t reach you, but you should know that you can configure how everything works, or opt out completely, on disqus.com/admin/settings. When new users sign up, they also are introduced to what Promoted Discovery is and have the choice to configure it.

As always, we’re learning through feedback. Especially with the product. Are we finished with the advertising product? Not yet — the product has plenty of room to grow and get a lot better. But it’s performing well for many publishers and they’re happy with the revenue that’s coming in. We care about that because our core discussion product is going to get even better because of it.

As a Disqus user, I did receive notification of this and did disable the new "Promoted Discovery" feature. I don't take issue with anything you have just said, except for the part where you call it "Promoted Discovery" instead of advertising.

Let's be real and call it what it is. I think that in this case, the "Promoted Discovery" term is confusing enough to where some users would think that the "Recommended" content really was selected by the content author. Jacques is irate at this, and rightly so. He did not pick the content, and it would appear to some users that he is endorsing things that he isn't.

That's all fun and games until something offensive or politically incorrect gets "Recommended"...

Or something Jacques disagrees with. It needn't be generally offensive or politically incorrect.

Tell me when I enabled that setting, and explain why you make it seem as if I recommend certain products and services.

On another note do you realize that you make it seem as if I endorse stealth advertising?

Please quit the marketing speak, it makes me itchy.

And I have opted out, as the blog post details.

What marketing speak? This is how I talk and I'm an awful marketer.

You are ignoring two items and concentrating on the least relevant third.

The marking speak is where you say:

"When new users sign up, they also are introduced to what Promoted Discovery is and have the choice to configure it."

Let me re-write that for you:

"When new users sign up, we explain to them that we have a revenue sharing advertising program with links that look like content."

Bad faith won't help here. Let's call a cat a cat and advertisement advertisement.

I think the most concerning part of this is hiding it from site owners when they're logged in. This feels like an admission that what you're doing is wrong, and that it needs to be hidden from the people who can turn it off. How did you come to that particular decision?

>>>I think the most concerning part of this is hiding it from site owners when they're logged in.

I use the free WordPress.com. They don't show me the ads they place on my site if I'm logged in.

OT: I find that interesting. I wonder if that actually leads to fewer converversions to paid blogs? I know of a few (political) blogs that I am surprised use the free tier on such services, because the ads seems so out of place -- but maybe the (non-technical, in this case) bloggers don't reflect much over the ads, because they simply don't see them?

Hi Daniel, why was it not opt-in? You describe it as a "revenue sharing" program, but did not ask your customers if they wanted to be part of it. You assumed their silence meant that they did.

Because that's how most options that are likely to make money are rolled out these days. Disqus are not the only one using these tactics.

I can't find the link the anti-patterns video/site, I'm sure someone will know the one I am talking about. But it's things like pre-selecting paid for delivery options, adding travel insurance to flight cost etc etc to drive up costs but then make it not obvious how to remove those items... kind of reminds me of those tactics.

Most of the things rolled out in Facebook I found out through HN or other friends posting. It's not always obvious (though in this case it looks like everyone else got he email except the OP)

This is a different kind of sleezy. Adding travel insurance to a flight happens before the user has agreed to the deal. In this case Disqus has hundreds of thousands of people signed up for a commenting system and then changed the product fundamentally without asking them if they want this new product. That's exactly why it is (correctly) described as a bait-and-switch.

> I can't find the link the anti-patterns video/site, I'm sure someone will know the one I am talking about.

This one? http://darkpatterns.org/library/bait_and_switch/

Yeah, pretty much. One I saw was a webcast but discussing the same thing. It's pretty well publicized now.. at least in the HN community :) Thanks.

I am a disqus user and I have no recollection of seeing this email or feature. I am not saying it wasn't sent to me, but if it was, the title surely didn't explain what was really happening because I would be concerned.

I wouldn't be overly surprised if the title was not clear, or the text was not obvious. It like the ToS changes from your credit card company, you need to be a lawyer to decipher it!

I'm only a casual Disqus user, I've maybe commented using it a handful of times, so don't know what the email contained or said. I'm just going by what I've read on here.


> advertising (we call it Promoted Discovery)

Oh, come on, you guys are better than this.

Have you seen Twitter's "Sponsored Tweets", Facebook's "Sponsored Stories", Amazon's "Inspired by your browsing history". Ditching the word "advertising" is nothing new and we all use sites like these every day.

"Sponsored" implies an advertising relationship, even if it avoids the dread word - sponsors pay you. "Inspired by your browsing history" is accurate, and is Amazon advertising Amazon - you're on a shopping site, seeing more links to shopping shouldn't surprise you. "Promoted Discovery" is a new and unrecognized flavor of newspeak; it's not just avoiding the word "advertising," it's hard to even recognize as advertising.

I agree that the term "promoted discovery" isn't established and hides the true nature of the feature. I can the logic for choosing it, thought it's not very solid:

- "promotional material" = advertising material (that promotes a product)

- "discovery" = discovery through recommendations from the page owner

- hence, "promot-" + "discovery" communicates "advertising through recommendations"

However, "promoted" isn't quite the same thing as "promotional". What's actually happening is that promotional material is being presented as "recommendations from the page owner". The "discovery" itself isn't "promoted" (what does that even mean?). Most importantly, "promoted" doesn't contain the implication of advertising/sponsoring that "promotional" does.

It would have been more accurate to call this Sponsored Discovery or, to be even more real, Sponsored Recommendations. "Sponsored", however, is a bit of a dirty word too, and they probably made the call to euphemize around it, resulting in the confusing term Promoted Discovery.

"Recommended content" is very different from "Sponsored Stories". Also sponsored means to pay for advertising.

"Inspired by your browsing history" are not ads. It is exactly what it says.

It's _Sponsored_ Tweets and _Sponsored_ Stories. It's not the same word, but "sponsored" means that it's advertising. Even "Promoted Stories" would be fine, still means the same thing. "Reommended content" is something totally different.

The Amazon example doesn't apply at all, as its internal linking to products. External advertising is clearly labeled as such on Amazon, too.

Disqus shows their advertising on a site of a different person. This changes a lot and makes this especially nasty.

Do you mean the name? We refer to it as advertising pretty openly. That's what it is.

It's a euphemism, and it feels strange to have euphemisms for your standard business practices.

Note that the screenshot in Jacques' post shows that he's done a search for "advertising" on his page. None of the text matched. Labeling ads as "Recommended Content" seems quite dishonest.

Edit / Aside: I do generally hold Disqus in high esteem, and I sincerely appreciate your willingness to dive into this discussion. I believe Disqus has faltered, but I don't mean to lay that critique at your personal doorstep.

Got it. If the question is about how clear it is to users, then yes that's important and something that we've adjusted along the way. We're going to continue making changes as we learn from feedback.

Let's break this down.

Got it.

You've learned a lesson, but what lesson did you learn?

If the question is about how clear it is to users, then yes that's important and something that we've adjusted along the way.

You've indicated that how clear it is to users is important, but you haven't indicated whether your preference is that it be clear or unclear to users.

Your actions right now suggest that you think it is important to not be clear. If you want to be clear, you should start using the widely understood and honest word "advertising" instead of a euphemism of your own making.

We're going to continue making changes as we learn from feedback.

Again you don't suggest directionality to your changes.

Will they be changes that we like? For example will you, as responsible marketers should, make this opt-in instead of opt-out? It is fine to make people choose between opting in or paying a modest fee or losing their comment feature. It is fine to have the "you need to make a decision" show up in bold for the admin (and for admin only) when they are on the page. But opt-out with emails that are likely to go to spam informing people of this in opaque language is not fine.

I believe the issue is you say "Recommended Content" rather than "Ads by Disqus" which, obviously, infers that the site is recommending something they are not.

Saying "Ads by Disqus" will probably annihilate your clickthrough, but you have to make a choice between cashing in, or keeping your partners happy.

All I can say to Disqus is a big "fuck you" and I will never be back. At least try to sell me something. Right now, it's either whore out my blog to your advertisers or pay $999 for VIP service. The first rule of making a product is to actually sell something. I'd pay $10 or $20 a month to keep the whoring off my blog but there's no option for that.

Good day sir.

You forget to address (or clear up) the part where you make it seem as if the author of the blog endorses/recommends your advertising links. Because doing that without explicit consent is wrong. Nor does an announcement "unless you stop us, we're going to use your voice to endorse our advertisers' links" make it right.

The latter is almost funny to consider, except for the bit where it actually happened.

(btw I did upvote you because I think it's important to not sink Disqus' reply)

Is it safe to assume that if I'm a paying customer I don't have to worry about ads / promoted discovery showing up on my site, or is it on (opt-out) by default?

"We’ve put a lot of effort into being communicative around what we’re doing with discovery and advertising (we call it Promoted Discovery)."

This sentence is a microcosm of exactly what's going on. This is not a sentence a normal person would write, nor would a normal person read it and understand.

The excerpts from the "notice" sent out, found above, tell the rest of the story.

When people use weaselly phrasing like "being communicative around what we're doing" and emails with innocuous and deadly boring subject lines like "Growing with Disqus" with surprise-now-you're-advertising-for-us bombs inside, what conclusion can we draw?

Looks like deliberate obfuscation to me.

And as Douglas Adams wrote, "If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands."

"If you aren't paying for the product/service then you are the product/service being sold."

EDIT: Wow. Why the downvotes?

Do people still not understand this saying? I understand it hurts if/when you get burned but it shouldn't come as a surprise when free services change to something less desirable to monetize their business models. I wouldn't be surprised if they soon offer paid "premium" accounts that don't show ads.

"I think the ‘you are not the user, you are the product’ meme should die. It does a dis-service to the complexity of the situation and it masks some much more serious issues with online monetization models, and online privacy in general."


Meta: I went googling for this article, know I'd read it, but not where. I found the coincidence of the author quite amusing.

I never expected to see that make the jump from 'end user of a service' (say twitter, facebook, google) to 'end user of a plug-in' or SAAS product.

Silly me, I guess I should have seen it coming.

You don't think Disqus is offering a service? Do you know what the last S in SaaS stands for? This comment makes no sense.

Of course you are right, and that is exactly why I was wrong not to see it coming. How often does one have to admit being wrong about something? Apparently it is wrong to trust any service that embeds itself on your webpage over the longer term, lesson learned. 3rd party javascript is now on my list of 'things to avoid', now I have to wonder whether I want those social media bits & pieces on there and what could be the impact of leaving them there.

I'd be very surprised if a twitter button suddenly turned into an advertisement but apparently that would be business as usual.

@jacquesm, in the case of a twitter button, or FB like button, those can usually be removed without significant impact to the overall user experience. A Disqus commenting engine is not as easily removed/replaced, especially given the potential loss of previously generated content. I guess it comes down whether the third party service is a core feature of your site/product.

I didn't post it to taunt you, I posted it as a response to the GP. I think that your point about the meme still stands fine, regardless of having to throw out some services that misuse your trust.

That said, I think you're overreacting. Fair enough that you feel screwed by Discus, but making the leap that you can never have any third party javascript because they might screw you in the future is a bit much, I think. At some point you'll have to trust someone.

I think it's a wholly useful meme. And I think the intention is not for it to educate those of us who understand the complexities of this business; rather, those who don't understand how companies can squeeze non-monetary value from users in exchange for a "free" service.

My feeling is that the HN community tends to try and focus on unique and specific details.

This quote has become a cliche and doesn't add that much to the conversation.

Like many cliches it is proving itself as being true again and again.

So one reason that it (maybe) doesn't add much is that everyone knows it is tue, but doesn't want to think about it.

You can be the product whether you pay or not, and you can not pay and still not be the product (e.g. Wikipedia).

It's a thought-terminating cliché.

Logically, if the converse is false, then the original statement is false, correct?

"If you are the customer, then you are not the product."

This is false (many contradictory examples show that you can be both customer and product), and so the original quote itself is false.

Here's a Venn diagram:


Note that "If you're not the customer, you're the product" is true, but "If you are the customer, you're not the product" is false.

Your reasoning would hold if the categories were mutually exclusive, but, as you noted, they aren't.

No, you're thinking of contrapositive. Converses are not equivalent. In this case, contrapositive would be "if you're not the product, then you are paying for it."

I suspect people are downvoting you because they understand the saying perfectly, it's just so overused these days that it's to the point of cliche. I don't think anyone doesn't know this, the more interesting conversation is when we talk about what that means to us and what we do about it.

A quick google search seems to indicate that disqus is already offering premium accounts. http://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/466261-prici...

I don't know if these are ads free though.

Apart from the other aswers, you may be happy to be the product on an iteration and not on another, and you are free to get angry when people claim they live to make you happy and later you discover that there is a postscript (unless we need to suck).

Why would you ever believe a company that says it exists to make you happy? Companies exist to make money, that is literally true. There is no other purpose. It just so happens that making people happy is often a reasonable way to make money, but if making people happy doesn't maximize profits, then eventually something else must be done.

Oh, no, I would never believe that but then again they are as free to lie and/or make changes in their service as I am to leave them when I please and get angry at their shamefacedness.

OK, that seems reasonable. Viva la market! :-)

You expect something other than downvotes for posting a cliche everyone has seen a hundred times and adds no additional insight?

Does this quote have an origin?

That quote is often wrong.

For example, there are "freemium" business models where the users are segmented by usage level, or by need of additional features. In those models, the "free" users aren't being sold, they're just potential customers and advocates.

Further, this sort of breach of trust isn't limited to free services. There are paid services that start selling advertisements as well.

You can still be the product if you're on the free end of a freemium model. LinkedIn is an example.

You can also not be the product as a free user (like on Weebly). The above quote implies that as a free user, you are always the product, and that's just not true.

Honest question, how is a free user not sold by Weebly?

It appears they have a for pay designer platform. It also appears they are funded... are they done raising rounds and/or not considering going public? The reason I ask, is because every free user is being sold then. Their usage/stat of adoption is being sold to investors and others in order to increase their value/price. I imagine someday, Weebly will find a way to place ads/marketing material in front of those free users (even if its just in periodic emails to those users).

EDIT: I could be wrong about them eventually placing ads in front of the users... but I imagine it and expect it to happen someday. If not, cheers!

I started Weebly. I plan to never place ads in front of free users.

As a company we are profitable and have been for over 4 years. We do plan on going public some day. But I find it a bit of a stretch to say that as a free user we are "selling you" as adoption statistics. As a free user, you are getting a lot of value, you pay nothing in return and you have no negative side-effects either (advertising, data gathering, etc)

The reality for us is that free users tend to be really happy with the service we are providing them for free. And they tend tell their friends about us. And some of their friends eventually pay us money for our Pro service (~$3-7/month).

Does that mean you are being sold? Absolutely not. You don't have to tell a friend. As a matter of fact, you don't have to do anything nice for us at all, and we'll still provide something of value to you for free.

But if you are pleasantly surprised at how easy it was, and you end up telling a friend on your own, that's great! And it justifies the cost of the free users of our service from a business point of view.

I completely agree with Jacques that they should have been up front with him about the change, shortformblog suggests that they were with them, so perhaps the blog provider wasn't passing along the email? What ever, its annoying I'm sure to wake up and find you've gone commercial!

As a web site that gets quite a bit of traffic (blekko.com) It is interesting to see both sides of this conversation. As the 'ops' guy I'm always getting cold called/emailed from salespeople for services that will "drive traffic to your web site" and the business model is all very similar. Apparently it works well for these 'service providers.'

To illustrate, lets make up a company, we'll call it "megatraffic" or MT for short. They call me up and they say, "Chuck we can drive millions of page views your way, which you can monetize with this ad-provider network. We'll share revenue 50/50, how cool is that?"

Their other guy calls me up and says "Hey Chuck, we make your site visible to millions, for just a small price per click, we'll put a link to your site on the {hundreds/thousands/millions} of sites in our network."

So MT here sells both ends of the pie, they "become" a sort of ad network by charging folks who contribute links to the customer site. And then they also get 50% of the revenue when someone follows that link and then clicks on an ad at the landing page. That's a pretty sweet deal for them, kind of a lame deal for the patsy who is paying and paying. It is like affiliate marketing where you don't realize right away that you are an affiliate.

Then we read about (and I block from our search engine) on a daily basis organized groups of miscreants who then write code to click through these networks to shake loose the pennies and nickels and quarters that the revenue generates. Given Google's publicly reported ad revenue its easy to see how clever people can create multi-million dollar revenue streams with just a bit of programming, maybe a botnet or two, and a complicit traffic aggregator.

All that money just laying there. First you pick up a few pennies, then a couple of bucks, next thing you know you're working to squeeze every click you can off the page like HuffPo.

The preferred way in which I think plug-in services should work is that they leave older accounts in the state they were when they signed up under some set of terms-of-service and from the moment of changing the TOS can default new sign-ups to have the newer settings enabled.

I agree that would be a great way to structure the updates from the perspective of the blog service provider.

On first looks I'd say this is probably in violation of advertising regulations.

In both Europe and the US there is a requirement for any advertisements to be clearly marked as advertisements and separated from other content.

For the US see FTC 16 CFR Part 255 (Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising):


For the UK the ASA CAP rules:


I have an aversion to hosting 3rd-party functionality on my sites for this very reason.

They do not work for you, they do not answer to you, and their motives are usually quite different than yours.

Thus, don't be surprised when they act to satisfy those motives in ways that you may not entirely agree with.

Same here. I'd never include any third party JavaScript application that messes with my website.

Not even Google Analytics? It seems like everybody is using that stuff.

Incidentally, I agree with you.

Not even Google Analytics. I self-host Piwik for that reason.

To me it depends. Something like Disquis where they were giving it away for free I agree. However if it is a for-pay service where you are exchanging money for service, they have some incentive to do right by you, so that your money does not go elsewhere.

Good point, but keep in mind that if they're a business, then the ultimate goal is to make money. It's kind of like the formula prescribed in Fight Club which refers to whether or not a car manufacturer will issue a recall: the decision will most often be based on which result will net greatest economic yield. If the profits from doing X are more than the expected losses (say, due to customer attrition), then that's a good "business decision".

That's the risk with any SaaS/PaaS/etc, not just ones going onto your site. Anytime you pay someone a monthly fee to offer you a service, there is a risk they will change things and force you to reconsider using that service, which will then lead to having to change whatever you doing to warrant said service.

Guess it boils down to trust and if you don't, buy something you keep locally and control.

Whether it's comments, posts, email, OS, government etc... what you don't control, you don't own. Period.

I enjoy reading comments (despite their negative vibe lately) since there are still some nuggets of gold amid the asinine BS. The deluge of rubbish is really from unmoderated places (news blogs are particularly notorious), but if an admin keeps on top of these, comments are a beautiful thing. Another blog losing comments is a damn shame. It's just one more nail in the coffin for interraction away from the shadow of walled gardens.

I think this was already mentioned elsewhere on HN, but Stallman was right.

So this has been going on earlier than December, at least as early as October, according to this Disqus blog post (which says they started it in August):


So how sure is the OP that he didn't just miss the emails/announcements about it? That said, yes, those links are kind of annoying (especially when unstyled) and can clash with the content.

As much as I want to switch my blog to Octopress, at least I can have a commenting system through Wordpress.

Based on your link above it appears that you can turn off the "discovery box" in the Disqus settings and have "just comments" if you wish.

Right, until they change things again and you get a new 'feature' for your benefit which you auto opt-in to.

That's the kind of behavior that turned me off from having a facebook account. That you need to review their terms of service all the time to see what they are up to now.

Thank you for reminding me to check if I could finally delete my account - I can and I did. It was impossible to delete accounts due to an "issue" in their system for the last 3 or 4 months and was only fixed within the couple few weeks. I only realized it because I found posts that I'd made anonymously years prior were showing up when I Googled my name. I was horrified. These posts were just one-off comments that served no benefit to being associated with my primary account, but the idea that this was happening to people hoping to stay anonymous in more serious situations was still eye-opening.

I assume that comments left without being logged into a Disqus account (but while passively logged into a Gmail account) were automatically associated with your email and indexed by Google under your real name without any verification on your end. Disqus thinks that this is some sort of beneficial feature rather than a potential breach of privacy, and has you go through and remove these posts after-the-fact. There was no way to disassociate the comments from my account than to delete them, so while I didn't actually want to remove the comments from the contexts they were in, I had no choice.

Today it tells you that there are "guest comments" that are associated with your email address, and asks if you'd like to merge them, but doesn't show you what they are nor is there an option to delete them before merging. I don't want to merge comments into my account that I can't even see first, and I'd much rather delete my account entirely than risk having them continue to be associated with my namesake.

These things, in addition to these suggested ads which are disguised as posts also written or endorsed by the author and in my experience totally unrelated if not straight-up offensive (saw a recommended link on a serious blog promoting an article on some famous floozy's nip slip) have completely put me off to using Disqus and commenting on sites that utilize it. Whether or not they are deliberately trying to be shady or if their UX just sucks, it isn't worth it to me.

The real problem is the tech world's lack of an ability/strategy to come up with a sustainable revenue generating business model before hooking (crack-like) millions of users to their service.

Users get used to these free world-class services and when the companies inevitably have to come up with a way to stop flushing investor money down the toilet, users bristle at this.

The bigger problem is this, in a world of free services, how is a service with a sustainable business model supposed to compete? As a user I'd rather use them, but they simply can't exist in this kind of artificially created economic ecosystem (steel dumping comes to mind).

I'd say "buyer beware" but we're not exactly the buyer here are we?

I never got an email as well. Also looking at settings they have also started modifying your links to add affiliate ids. http://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/851667-affil...

Both these were turned on by default. Terrible move. I understand that they have to monetize but turning these on by default is not cool.

I don't know why you keep calling this stealthy or a bait and switch, I've received emails on this. Also at one point, Disqus was showing me that I was not using the latest "theme/style" and that I should upgrade. And in doing so, it would enable features such as recommended and related content.

Everything I did last year fulfills the requirements of 'opt-in'. I could have left the old style and never received the new features.

Based on my experience with this exact feature, I think the OP mis-read/didn't read the information provided by Disqus.

They are stealthy because of how they are not labelled as ads.

I didn't notice this happening on my blog either until a friend notified me. When I looked at my blog post, the ad space was just filled with my own blog posts, so I thought it was cool, since users will be referred to other articles I wrote. However, for everyone else, those slots were ads and links to blog posts outside my blog. I disabled the feature right away. I have my own ways of making money without Disqus helping out incognito, thank you very much.

My problem is not that they have this feature, and I don't really care whether they sent out an email or not. My problem is that it was opt-out, not opt-in, from the start, and they tried to deceive bloggers further by making sure we don't see the ads when we look at our own pages. I chose disqus over facebook comments b/c I can see facebook pulling something like this, but it's definitely disappointing to see from disqus.

> My problem is that it was opt-out, not opt-in, from the start, and they tried to deceive bloggers further by making sure we don't see the ads when we look at our own pages.

If true that is a lot nastier than it seemed so far.

And that is of course not true, probably just a coincidence.

I think Disqus is a great service, and I suspect that this business model will work fine for them, but it's obviously not ideal for everyone.

The economics of hosting comments are interesting -- there is real engineering effort in doing it well; there is product value to some degree of aggregation (spam & bot detection, etc.); the operating expenses are real especially at a Disqus-style scale, but it's not clear that many people would pay even a small subscription fee.

Makes me wonder about the viability of either a federated (not fully p2p, but "local" aggregators), either with or without actual coordination between members of the federation on spammers, e.g.. I'd probably swallow the cost of hosting comments for a few thousand "neighborly" sites, if it meant i had a good commenting system with no commercial interruptions, and be happy to subsidize "good people".

They are obviously not a charity company and its totally understandable the need to make revenue. However, when i sign up for a service and i am asked to link to an external JavaScript file, i expect that file to do as advertised, i can understand the functionality changing a bit without me being notified but not when they do such drastic changes, in that case they should either go with an 'opt-in' option or disable there commenting system until i approve that i am okay with this new functionality. For all those that say 'you can stop using them if you don't like what they do', of course you can but there 'malicious' code still rendered on my webpages right? As an example, what if tomorrow they added 'functionality' to there widget and they started forcing pop ups, would that be okay? There is a certain level of trust needed towards a company that wants me to link some external code on my website that they can change at any given time, actions like that destroy said trust.

Here is the thing, if they done it the proper way i am sure most people wouldn't opt-in, if you are running a website that makes a revenue from ads, you probably already have all the ads your webpage can 'support', if you are running a website as a hobby you probably aren't interested to make any sort of revenue so you would rather not have the ads. Its way more profitable for them to just force there way in, specially if they see that there users don't care.

Disqus is in the unenviable position of having a freemium product that everyone wants but nobody is willing to pay for. Their freemium model provides commenting services with the expectation that value-added features or the need for an SLA would compel site owners to upgrade to paid plans in order to use those features. Problem is, customers that are large and important enough to require an SLA are also large and important enough to be able to afford a custom solution.

This leaves them with the options of transitioning the business model to something that people are willing to pay for, or finding ways to extract value from their free customers.

I know of one other commenting widget provider who got into this exact same morass, but they have opted to leverage the communities that their customers have created to engage in "influencer marketing", where the site owner cooperates with the commenting widget provider to have an above-board "sponsored conversation" with a third party company.

Since it's unlikely that Disqus will be able to successfully integrate advertisements into commenting feeds in a way that doesn't damage their relationships with site owners, an approach like this shifts the value-extraction machinery away from a site's commenters, who Disqus technically has no claim on, and provides an avenue for mutual profit with the site owners, who have an existing relationship with Disqus.

@jacquesm I felt the same way and got mad at disqus when I saw they did that without my consent. I turned off the "feature" and started looking for alternatives.

Vanilla Forums looked like it provides a neat option to serve the same purpose (embedded comments hosted elsewhere)


I didn't end up setting it up and have just had the disqus nonsense turned off.

I came here to say the same thing. It seems to have the same functionality except your users have to signup either on your site or through some oauth I believe.

Interesting. I was wondering what is going on with the flagging of this article, it is much lower in the ranking than you'd expect looking at the age and the accrued points. It took me a while to find that disqus is a YC company, so that's why there are so many flags.

116 comments and not one mention of the substrings "ethic" or "moral".

Yes, Disqus is free. Yes, their ToS permit this. But their actions are ethically dubious. I wish we, as a community focused on building startups, held ourselves and our peers to a higher moral standard.

This is why I never even thought about using disqus. No comments anymore in the blog, and old comments lost? Not good...

The old comments aren’t completely lost. If jacquesm wanted to, he could export the comments to XML (http://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/472149-comme...) and then write a custom script to re-import them into a new commenting system of his choice. But unless he does that, then yes, the old comments are basically lost.

I think this should be highlighted: disqus is, at least, until now, quite upfront about telling you that the data is yours and you can take it away, if you don't want to use them anymore.

It's not a bait and switch - that's hyperbole at its finest. It's just something you don't like that you weren't notified about but still optional.

Somehow Ghostery saw this coming a long time ago... it seems like anything running across multiple sites turns to advertising for revenue eventually!

Does anyone have a link to a site that's currently showing these adverts? I can't find any with ad's showing

Not sure if this is the same thing the OP is talking about, but there is a 'Recommended Content' section with a bunch of ad-type links at the bottom of each post's comments on http://avc.com

That's it.

I can re-enable the plug-in and make a snapshot, let me do that.

edit: done, snapshot added to the post, you probably will have to do a shift-f5 to see the update.

This happened last year to one of the sites I manage which uses Disqus. I did not receive notice either, it just happened. And after I turned it off, it got turned on again in December.

Like Jacques I found this incredibly annoying. But unlike Jacques, I decided that the annoyance was outweighed by the convenience that Disqus gives me. We went with Disqus because it was a good UI and easy to implement--that has not changed. I just have placeholder now to check that setting every month or so.

This might have negative consequences for people running personal websites:

"Bloggers -- You Might Have Already Had Libel Insurance, but you might have lost it by having ads or a tipjar.":


Lots of homeowner's and renter's insurance policies cover libel lawsuits, but many of them would exclude a website that makes or attempts to make even a trivial amount of money, such as by Disqus' ads or affiliate links.

If those are ads, per FTC rules they need to be marked as ads. "Recommended Content" does not = ads, if anything it equals a false endorsement, which is mislabeling, something worse than an omission by some respects.

Some one decided "Whats this?" is all they needed. That might be more passable if it was hosted on a site which they own, but its not, its being syndicated to countless other publishers, and in effect hijacking those publisher's own credibility.

Just checked my site and no ads so I'm not sure. Perhaps they are a/b testing this?

I'm pretty sure I did not have ads until today either, it stands out quite clearly. Maybe it only happens on 'high traffic' days or some other criterion but this definitely blind sided me.

Perhaps it's based on the content of the page and whether they have ads that tie into the content?

I wouldn't know, I've redirected all the disqus hostnames to

This has saved me the bandwidth otherwise wasted on ppl's idiotic quips and now, ads.

A great idea. Can you paste your list here? I'd like to add it to my hosts file.

sure, disqus.com www.disqus.com mediadcn.disqus.com parsley.com

I also use a slightly modified hosts file from here:


it does a pretty good job of cutting out the crap but I had to add things to get rid of any facebook links, disqus links, etc...


I can't say I'm impressed here.

In the process of being all self righteous and morally outraged, you have killed the comments contributed by your audience.

It strikes me as odd that I kept coming back to your blog, mainly to see whether my comment #775739854 of ~January 23rd was still pending moderation. That post represented considerable effort and it included remarkable data points highly relevant to your post subject.

I noticed I wasn't really the first person to actively bump his comments in order to get noticed. Also, this was the second time I posted said comment at that very article. Somehow, the first one got mysteriously missing, after having been pending for moderation. So all of this leaves me wondering whether you were just not ready to maintain your blog, including comments.

Here is the gist of the comment (I can't reproduce the version anymore, since you ... destroyed it):

> http://jacquesmattheij.com/when-haskell-is-not-faster-than-c...


Hmm. I might be missing something.

But I too read that article you linked, and decided to whip up something in C++. Here's what I wrote, largely unoptimized: https://gist.github.com/4590998#file-cpp-version-cpp

To my surprise, it was ~40x faster than your C version... (tested with the original test input replicated 2500 times). Here's the timings (makefile included in the gist I linked)

sehe@desktop:/tmp/4590998$ time ./cpp-version < input | md5sum 33ad35318cfcdc0b675f33633b26445b - real 0m2.187s

sehe@desktop:/tmp/4590998$ time ./c-version < input | md5sum 33ad35318cfcdc0b675f33633b26445b - real 1m30.358s

(the md5sum is just there to verify that the results are identical)


O hey, just found the heap profiling runs.

As you can see, the C++ version uses much less memory (also the C version by the OP uses 73MB - whoa; The OCaml#3 might report 12MB, but the C++ version clocks in at just 12KB. I'm guessing he C++ version would use the same order of magnitude as the OCaml#3 on comparable input sets, though)

    Command:            ./c-version
    Massif arguments:   (none)
    ms_print arguments: massif.out.18434
         |#                                                           :           
         |#                                                           :           
         |#:::::::::::::                                              :           
         |#: :::::::::::::@::::@::::::@::                             :           
         |#: :::::::::::::@::::@::::::@:::@::::@:::@::::              :           
         |#: :::::::::::::@::::@::::::@:::@::: @:::@::::::::::@::::   :           
         |#: :::::::::::::@::::@::::::@:::@::: @:::@::::::::::@::::::@::::::      
         |#: :::::::::::::@::::@::::::@:::@::: @:::@::::::::::@::::::@::::::@:::: 
       0 +----------------------------------------------------------------------->Gi
         0                                                                   16.24
    Command:            ./cpp-version
    Massif arguments:   (none)
    ms_print arguments: massif.out.18391
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
         |#                                                                      :
       0 +----------------------------------------------------------------------->Gi
         0                                                                   11.17

Ah well. It looks like I'm just invisible to you then. Sorry for bothering.

Good luck with the blog

I don't understand why people scream bloody murder when businesses attempt to make money off of something they give away for free.

Of course they have to run ads.

And while it's bit of a grey area to display ads as "recommended content"...Disqus hardly invented this practice. And based on the design and colour scheme, it's fairly obvious that the "recommended content" links are part of the Disqus widget (and generated, provided by Disqus).

On second thought, I can imagine the average user is not savvy enough to make see this distinction. But I honestly don't care. If you hate ads so much, open up your wallet and pay the "true" cost of your free lunch.

Shortcut. Shortcut. Shortcut. Shortcut. Shortcut. If you use cloud services to shortcut your infrastructure, you are not in control. Use another provider for your billing system, you are not in control. Same here. You are not in control so you have no reason to complain when they try to make money. If you want to do it right, just use some software that keeps the comments and all infrastructure on your site. Simple. Or better yet, write your own. It is not that hard at all.

If you're not the customer you're the product. There's no longer any excuse to think otherwise.

I don't know why the author is annoyed at this, it's not as if he's paying for the service.

Because a change was made since I first signed up for this and that change was defaulted to 'on'.

If new features in any product/service aren't defaulted to 'on', no one will ever use any of them. Normal people don't change settings. As long as you're notified of the change (which Disqus did through email and blog posts) and it's not a privacy concern, I think 99% of companies will and should do exactly what they did in this situation.

I learned about this before and this made me explicitly modify settings for blogs I have. I turned it on for two small projects and I would be happy to share results in a month if anyone wants to see (unless thats against TOS)

Honestly, this is not an issue for me at least. I've got several disqus' and disqus does a tremendous job in handling comments. It's a lot better than paying $999 for VIP disqus for sites that don't even make a dime.

Out of curiosity, anyone have a good alternative? I'd like to investigate alternative comment boxes for static content (even if I have to host them elsewhere myself, eg. open source solutions).

I agree--->Bye Bye Disqus

Anyone suggest replacement SaaS comment solutions?

don't you know you can just opt-out..

I use disqus on my blog for comments. I just checked and I'm not getting what he's getting, and I do have one post that gets ~40 views per day. Weird.

Nothing is free.

If it's free you, or the attention you provide / facilitate is the product.

Formerly free service now tries to monetize. More news at 11

You can turn the "feature" off... It's in settings.

You can turn it off...

Regardless, it should be opt-in rather than a backstab to the user's trust. Actions speak louder than words, and this behaviour says plentiful of this company's management.

Just turn off the feature and stop whining.

I am curious if all the "free-then-ads" defenders in this thread are (a) purveyors of "free-then-ads" businesses defending their business. (b) young or jaded people who really have grown accustomed to this tactic

Option (a) is Annoying, unpleasant, and bordering on astroturfing, but understandable

Option (b) is sad.

Happened at a time when I was considering Disqus as my main comment system on my new (being built) blog. The main visual appeal of my weblog is going to be(at least that is what I want it to be) minimal and also engaging - as in discussion.

Looks like I need to search for alternatives now. Maybe sth similar but installed on my servers that I can control, or some other paid option where the main business is handling their customers' reader comments and not advertisement. There might be some with clean and easy interface where a commenter does not have to go through much hassle.

Having said that, Disqus being a free and non-charitable organization one should have seen this coming.

I flagged this article because I think Disqus is providing a great service free of charge. They give you the possibility to turn the ads off and if you turn them on, you actually get a cut! Sounds like a good deal to me.

The negativity and sense of entitlement in this post is very strong and frankly unbearable to me, I hope it won't ruin the Disqus guys day. Making it opt-in would have been a ridiculously bad financial decision as they would have lost revenue from millions of sites already. I hope this change will help the company be profitable and improve their product.

Way to be unbiased.

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