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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."

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