This post is intended to be a whirlwind of the three main competing comment communities; Intense Debate, Disqus and the newly rebranded ECHO.

I know from experience people, still, always want to talk SEO when we start to talk comments so let’s tackle that head on…

In the beginning comments on blogs were seen as a win-win scenario.

The blog owner could see that someone cared enough about the post to comment. The blog owner got some free copy. Someone else was writing for their blog; albeit just a little paragraph or so. It was still content and content was still king. The kindly person leaving the comment got something too. In the old days they got a link back to a site of their choice.

This apparently mutually beneficial setup was so strong that many bloggers, especially blog commentators, were very happy. Many people didn’t want to change. They didn’t want to loose the comments or the links they could get from comments. They didn’t want some odd JavaScript powered widget on their site in control of their content.

And yet it made sense to change the model.

The first problem was a lack of community.

All three of the comment communities I’ll quickly show case here had community at their heart. Sure they offered improvements on the basic commenting functionality offered by some popular blog platforms,  especially Google’s Blogger but that wasn’t the main thrust of the idea.

With ECHO, Disqus and Intense Debate comments are collected across many blogs. Once you’ve signed up to one Disqus powered blog, for example, you use the very same account to comment on others. Your comments belong to you.

For example, you can arrive at a blog for the first time, leave a comment and not only have all your avatars and profile set up but also show that the Disqus community consider you a good commentator. You’ve a high number of Disqus points earned by being part of the community elsewhere.

This works for a certain type of commentator. They might not get the link, not if the blog is using the JavaScript version of the comment community, but they get the profile boost. They get the kudos. They’re encouraged to post a thoughtful comment rather than a “me too” comment.

For the blogger, for the social media savvy blogger, this equates to a better type of commentator. These are the community builders bloggers really should be wishing for. These are the people who are more likely to blog about you and raise your own profile and generate some trusted, quality links for you.

The second problem was the fragmentation of comments.

Social media has allowed people to pass links around. People save links on delicious, on Friendfeed, Facebook and Twitter. The result of this is that people comment about those links and the web pages associated with them on Facebook, Twitter, et al…  people don’t necessary comment on the original blog any more.

ECHO, Intense Debate, Disqus and a few others have a solution for this. These platforms watch Twitter and other social sites for comments about the blog posts they’re powering the comments for. When someone tweets a response about a blog post then that response is detected and shown below the original blog post.

In effect, these comment communities act as comment search engines and gather back the fragmented responses and associate them back with the original.

Here’s an example; the comments and ‘reactions’ to my latest waffle over at my own blog.  You’ll be able to see that the short discussion it triggered occurred on Twitter and yet it is documented on my blog.

So, without further ado; my whirlwind tour of:

Intense Debate

Intense Debate has improved greatly in the last few months. They’ve gone from frustrating me to pleasing me. All along they had one big advantage. Intense Debate is owned by Automattic. That’s the same company that controls WordPress. Needless to say the WordPress integration of Intense Debate is jolly good.

In particular, Intense Debate is the easiest of the comment communities I know of when it comes to dealing with trackbacks. In my experience there’s less risk of trackbacks getting missed by Intense Debate and triggering the ‘old’ WordPress alert system. This means less risk of  having to bypass your own default comment response GUI in order to (normally) reject the trackback.

Intense Debate also has its own small community of plugins. By tapping, once again, in the community Intense Debate are likely to continue to make improvements.

Against Intense Debate has been their original awkward integration with Automattic. It was not uncommon to come across challenges in migrating all your original comments from the blog into the Intense Debate system.

Intense Debate isn’t as good as tracking the real-time social media responses as ECHO. Intense Debate isn’t a strong a community as Disqus. It is, however, a relatively safe pair of hands these days.

Disqus

I use Disqus on most of my blogs because it’s easy to get set up. It becomes a self-fulfilling circle; as I use Disqus on most of my blogs most of my comment history is on Disqus and I don’t want to fragment that over more platforms than necessary.

Disqus earned my attention by being so very quick out of the gates. Disqus lead the way when it came to Facebook Connect and Twitter account integration. People can easily use their Facebook or Twitter accounts to leave a comment directly on your blog. The easier it is for your readers to comment then the more comments you’ll get.

It’s not just easy to install – it’s easy to see working. These days, if you’re using the right options, you can see tweets about your blog post appearing on the blog post as you watch.

In particular, Disqus now splits out comments and profile. You have a very strong Disqus identity and its all yours to control. If you want to go back and delete a comment you can.  Many blogs don’t simply list Disqus comments in chronological order by apply a smarter filter system so the most meaningful comments appear first and by being a respected Disqus user you’ve a greater chance of jumping to the top.

My main grumble with Disqus as been with spam. They have their own spam filtering tech but I’ve found it is easily bypassed by spammers. I fear I’ve had to block dozens of Indian IP addresses in a last ditch attempt to ban persistent (and brain dead) spammers from blogs.  I’ve checked my email in the morning to find that a single blog has been successfully carpet bombed by a single spammer.

If you’re using Disqus with WordPress then it’s essential you integrate with Akismet.

ECHO

ECHO is the new name for JS Kit. JS Kit was an early player in the comment community and ECHO was their prestige product. ECHO’s been so successful that the company tends to be known as ECHO these days.

What ECHO did first was grab the fragmented comments left by people discussing blog posts on Twitter. It was ECHO that first showed off the integration of real-time comments elsewhere back on the parent blog.

ECHO is particularly useful when you’ve a static page that you just want to quickly zap into something that you could call “web 2.0”. It’s an easy way to turn a landing page into a conversation enhanced page.

ECHO may well be the best at quickly pulling fragmented comments back to the original posting but they’re also, in my opinion, the weakest community.

Oh; and the SEO?

Let’s put aside the fact that many of these comment communities are becoming more search engine friendly by improving their APIs and falling back to 1990 style noscript backup areas.

Let’s instead focus on the SEO advantages of having a better and more interactive blog.

For example, the more people comment on your blog then the more likely it is that you’ll have people talking about your blog. Where there is talk there are links. I’ve seen blogs link to comments.

In fact, this becomes a circle. If a reader has paused to browse though a bunch of ECHO powered comments on your most recent blog post and they see a new one appear then there’s a chance they’ll want to respond to that. That keeps the discussion going.

You also benefit from the fact that people want to improve their own comment profile. I’m much more likely to comment on your Disqus powered blog because I know my Disqus profile could pick up another “like” vote.

The fact that these comment communities integrate so well with the likes of Twitter and Facebook mean that they’re good at putting comments left on your blog into Twitter and Facebook.  A few years ago an “internet celebrity” might have left a comment on your blog and you’d have to run around to tell everyone you’d scored the comment. Today, with one of these options you’ve a chance that the “internet celebrity’s” comment is also automatically tweeted into their Twitter stream or on their Facebook status stream. You don’t need to run around and do anything – all the celeb’s followers will be able to see you’ve scored the comment.

I’m a big fan of the comment communities. They help my social media efforts and do so in a perfectly natural way. The stronger my community becomes the better the blog does in the search engines.

We’ll see more comment community action in 2010, It’s an area to watch.