I Own My Data, Dammit

Micah had a very encouraging article last night about two commenting social networks, Disqus and Intense Debate. It was all about listening to your customer base and making trajectory adjustments as needed to ensure you’re meeting real needs, instead of just assuming your business model has everything mapped out for you and you know exactly how to execute on your vision.

The discussion over Disqus and Intense Debate has been an interesting one. Particularly perceptive readers may have noticed me playing around with both of these services a few weeks ago in the wee hours of the morning. If you didn’t notice, never fear… it was only for a minute before switching back to my default WordPress comments.

So here’s the thing. I met Intense Debate, and perhaps Disqus, at Blog World Expo. At the same time, I met SezWho, a competitor. Each of these services offer a “social network” around commenting. But what set them apart was in who owned the data.

I use the word “own” loosely here. What I mean is, “Where is the comment data being hosted?”

There’s legitimate reasons for this. One example of why it is important for me to own the data is in the case of a legal issue or subpoena. Very relevant concern. At b5, there were several times where the Police called us asking for data about some random person on some random blog who was a person of interest in some random crime. In all cases, we could not give up data without a subpoena. When provided, we cooperated. When we were not served, we didn’t relinquish data.

This is pretty common and the bigger a property (or in b5’s case, group of properties) get, the bigger the target that is on your back.

In the case of Intense Debate and Disqus, none of this data is controlled by me. It’s controlled by them for a variety of reasons. SezWho did not host the comments which was a big selling point for them.

In the case of blogs, there are many things that can be done via mashup that doesn’t place any kind of liability on the site owner or blogger. However, in the context of comments, that is actually content.

In order for me to use Disqus or Intense Debate here – both of which I’m interested in using as it adds some nifty functionality to the blog – I need to host the content and control the styling. Without that, it’s a no-go.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

11 thoughts on “I Own My Data, Dammit

  1. Stick to your guns on this one, there’s no need to give someone content that belongs to you or your community.

    Though you ARE using Seesmic, and that content is owned by them, not you…

  2. That is true but I think the difference is that I don’t provide my own alternative to making video comments so Seesmic is a value add instead of a replacement.

  3. Aaron,

    Both Disqus and Intense Debate have begun to have a real discussion around the ownership of comments.

    I, for one, am pleased that they both realize the importance of content ownership and are working towards creating best practices around that. for example, Intense Debate and Disqus both allow you to export your comment data.

    Its really important that any product that works in conjunction with a publisher like (oh, I dunno, lijit), puts that publisher in a position of comfort, control and true partnership.

  4. Interesting angle. I’ve been advocating for open formats and “anytime I want to, I can bail” features like full data export and URL redirection. The legal angle is an interesting one. Maybe “absolute data control” is a better term, because services that store your data might very well grant you ownership of that data. You’re looking for ownership and absolute control of that data.

  5. …and here comes Erin to ruin the party…but…

    WTF???!!! Are you not the same guy who was screaming (ok, maybe just raising his voice) over how when you put something out there on the web, the content ceases to be yours and you have no control and too damn bad?

    And I said – but with all this new tech there will be ways to control/own your content and you laughed at me.

    YOU LAUGHED AT ME.

    Here is the part where I go:

    NEEENER NEEENER NEEEENER and PPPPPPPFFFFFFFFFFFT.

  6. On Disqus, whether or not you control the content depends entirely on the user. Anonymous content is entirely within your control, but if they register and post while signed in it’s theirs.

    The question of liability then centers on them, rather than you, in my opinion. What does the legal community say about that?

  7. Well, for a site that has no terms of service, and you the privacy policy page results in a 404 error, I think your claim to “owning” anything is garbage. Usually when a website is going to claim others words as their property it is spelled out in TOS before you are allowed to even post. I own my words, and my thoughts, not you or anyone else. I am liable for them, not you or anyone else.

  8. Lynn- before you come in here and start challenging me on something you obviously know little about, you should do some more homework. A 404 page does not make my statement false.

    1) Try Disqus and ID and see who has the comments.
    2) Do your homework on content ownership and liability. Start here then go find more info.

    You, I guarantee, are completely wrong.

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