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Conversation piece

Commenting options for your static website

published:  October 13, 2020
 

Photo: Miguel A. Amutio; Unsplash

Modern static websites have many advantages over many old-school dynamic ones—especially those based on WordPress—as noted here recently. However, one area where they fall short is the ease, or lack thereof, of providing commenting capabilities.

Now, perhaps you don’t care whether your readers have a chance to respond to your site’s content. Or, perhaps, you just leave them an email address or your Twitter handle and let that handle it. If so, you can stop reading right now. After all, you’ve already determined that this isn’t a problem for you.

On the other hand, if you do want to provide such functionality but are uncertain how to proceed with a static site, I have some thoughts that might help you. All the services I’m mentioning are hosted, as I’m assuming you’re running the site in a “serverless” environment (as I recommend)—such as on Netlify, Vercel, or Render—or otherwise are simply unable to install commenting software on a server you can control.

Note: Yes, there also are webmentions, as I explained earlier this year, but they aren’t the easiest things to set up and maintain, even if you’re rather tech-savvy. This post is mainly for normal (i.e., non-nerdy) folks who want more conventional commenting on their static websites.

Don’t even consider Disqus

The first thing is: don’t use Disqus. Yes, it’s hosted so you don’t have to worry about installation issues, works well, looks kinda nice, is supported out of the box by the Hugo static site generator (SSG) (indeed, it’s very easy to add to just about any SSG), and is widely used; but it has some significant disadvantages:

So, if Disqus is a bad idea, how should you then implement comments on your site?

Good alternatives

Here are some hosted services I’ve tried, and one more about which I’ve read good things. Here they all are, in alphabetical order.

Commento

Screen capture of Commento web page

This is the one of the group I haven’t yet tried, because its hosted version doesn’t allow testing with localhost or even a local IP address, and I didn’t want to try it “live” without doing local testing.

Advantages

  • Doesn’t require signups, so comments can be anonymous; anyone who wishes to log in can do so via Google, Twitter, GitHub, or GitLab.
  • Doesn’t track visitors, show them ads, or sell their data.
  • Light; adds under 50 KB of code and other files. (Since I couldn’t test this locally, I checked the load on another site that uses Commento.)
  • Easily customized interface.

Disadvantages

  • According to its legal info, it uses cookies and keeps the user data “to authenticate you on future visits” (no expiration date given), so your privacy policy will need to take that into account.

Pricing

  • Model: One plan per domain.
  • Cost: Thirty-day free trial; then $10/domain/month or $99/domain/year for up to 50,000 daily pageviews (if you need more than that, you shouldn’t be wasting your time reading my pitiful little site when you should be making money hand-over-fist from your site).

FastComments

Screen capture of FastComments web page

Advantages

  • Comments can be anonymous (if you allow that); anyone who wishes to log in can do so by providing his or her email address.
  • Each plan allows unlimited numbers of sites.
  • Doesn’t show ads to visitors; doesn’t sell their data.
  • Light; adds about 23K of code and files.
  • Fairly easily customized interface.
  • Actively developed.
  • Good support.

Disadvantages

  • For a commenter who does log in, the parent company puts cookies on the person’s browser and, of course, collects the person’s user name and email address, requiring you to address this in your privacy policy.
  • As I said, the interface is fairly easily customized, so you may want to take the “fairly” as a case of damning-with-faint-praise; but a look through the FastComments blog indicates this product is improving quickly—it’s only about a year old—so I wouldn’t judge it too harshly on that score.

Pricing

  • Model: Unlimited websites.
  • Cost: Thirty-day free trial; then $4.99/month for up to a million “page loads” per month.

Hyvor Talk

Screen capture of FastComments web page

Advantages

  • Comments can be anonymous (if you allow that); otherwise, each commenter will have to create a Hyvor account.
  • Each plan allows unlimited numbers of sites.
  • Doesn’t track visitors, show them ads, or sell their data.
  • Easily customized interface.
  • Actively developed.
  • Good support.

Disadvantages

  • For those who log in via Hyvor accounts, it uses cookies and keeps user data for thirty days, so your privacy policy will need to take that into account.
  • Fairly code-heavy; based on my own testing, which actually had some stuff deactivated, it adds roughly 250 KB of code and files.
  • Only the $35/month Business plan lets you white-list the commenting so that the Hyvor Talk branding doesn’t appear.

Pricing

  • Model: Unlimited websites.
  • Cost: Fourteen-day free trial; then $5/month Premium Plan for up to 100,000 monthly pageviews among all your domains.

Talkyard

Screen capture of Talkyard web page

Advantages

  • Comments can be anonymous (if you allow that); anyone who wishes to log in can do so either by creating a Talkyard account or via Google, Facebook, Twitter, or GitHub.
  • Actively developed.
  • Excellent support.
  • Fairly easily customized interface.

Disadvantages

Pricing

  • Model: Unlimited websites.
  • Cost: One-month free trial; then 1.9€/month for 25,000 monthly pageviews, or 19€/month for 50,000 monthly pageviews. (To convert euros to dollars, check a tool like the XE Currency Converter.)

Utterances

Screen capture of FastComments web page

Advantages

  • Uses the GitHub API to provide commenting as issues on your GitHub-based site repository.
  • Completely free.
  • Zero tracking or ads.
  • Light; adds about 30K of code and files.
  • Completely open-source.
  • Actively developed.
  • Provides all the commenting functionality of the GitHub issues UI, such as Markdown and previews.

Disadvantages

  • Obviously, works only if your site repository is on GitHub (and is public).
  • Each commenter must have a GitHub account.
  • Non-customizable interface; it’s the same as the normal commenting UI in a GitHub repo’s issues.
  • Gets blocked anywhere GitHub is blocked.

Pricing

  • Model: N/A.
  • Cost: None.

Can we talk?

I don’t want this to sound like one of those useless commercial-site review articles that ends with “Well, we’re not going to make a choice, so it’s all up to you”-kind of waffling. So, here’s where I land on this.

At this writing, my commenting platform choice is FastComments, for which I’m still on the free trial. If I choose not to stick with it once it comes time to pay or go, I’d probably just revert to the free Utterances1—especially since I’m guessing that, given the content of my articles, my typical reader either already has a GitHub account or wouldn’t have a problem with getting one.

For your purposes, I’d rank the non-free offerings as follows:

  1. FastComments—Of these four, it’s the best combination of light code, decent pricing, active development, respect for commenters’ privacy, and (reasonable) customizability. Since it’s also the newest of the four, that’s pretty impressive!
  2. Commento—Since I couldn’t test it without going truly live with it (and chose not to do so), I go by what I’ve read about this. It comes out ahead of Hyvor Talk only because the latter is still so code-heavy. Otherwise, it gives you the least bang for the buck of these four.
  3. Hyvor Talk—If you don’t care so much about code load (although you probably should), this should be your second option from this group. I’d watch this one for what I hope will be future refinements that further trim it down, perhaps by letting you use a significantly lighter and more bare-bones version thereof.
  4. Talkyard—The code load just buries this otherwise great and highly affordable choice. As with Hyvor Talk, I hope there will eventually be a “Light” version that’s a much smaller download and is for only commenting, rather than carrying the additional weight that supports its many other features.

  1. Part of the reason why I’d do so is because, at this writing, I’m already paying for Fathom Analytics (affiliate link) and, as noted in “Forward PaaS,” am hosting the site with the $5/month combo of Cloudflare Workers and KV storage. Thus, I do have some incentive to keep down the monthly costs for running this non-monetized site. ↩︎

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