Disqus data shows pseudonymous commenters are best

Posted on: January 9, 2012

Disqus Pseudonyms

I’ve argued previously in defence of online anonymity – getting into the pseudonymity debate in the comments. My view since then has not changed, I still believe this is a battle we must not lose. So I’m very excited by some figures just published by Disqus. The platform, which enables people to comment across multiple websites via the same identity, has just released data showing that pseudonymous participation is actually the healthiest type.

According to the data, 61 percent of all Disqus comments are made via pseudonyms, versus 35 percent anonymous and 4 percent using real names (i.e. Facebook). People with pseudonyms also comment 6.5 times more than those who comment anonymously and 4.7 times more than commenters who use real names… Disqus maintains that not only does allowing pseudonyms produce more comments, but the quality of the comments is also better, as measured by likes and replies.

Erick Schonfeld

Given they are the largest cross-media platform designed for online commenting – used by blogs and participatory sites everywhere and mainstream media from CNN to Fox News, this is surely a shot in the arm for all us keen on protecting the right to operate online under identities of our choosing. (It might even persuade TechCrunch – the site I first saw this research on – to give up its attachment to real name Facebook comments on its own site)

Both images from Disqus – see the full pseudonyms infographic here

33 Responses to "Disqus data shows pseudonymous commenters are best"

“the quality of the comments is also better”

Without a definition of what “better” and “worse” are in this context, that statement is so subjective as to be meaningless.

but the quality of the comments is also better,
as measured by likes and replies.

But ***holes get lots of replies and very often facetious comments get “likes.” I am skeptical of this as a metric of quality.

Note Disqus did not just use likes and comments to indicate a comment was of high quality but also used deletions, spam reports and comment flags as ‘negative signals’. As this assessment goes across multiple unrelated sites with different moderation policies / standards we might well assume that we are talking about ‘high quality’ as judged by both site owners and users – adding up to an ideal mix of assessors

I like being allowed to use a pseudonym on sites. It isn’t that I don’t want my comments associated with me, but rather that I want to keep my personal life, my Facebook life, separate from other online activities. A work and a personal identity if you will. There is nothing preventing someone from knowing both of them or knowing they are the same person, just a slight distinction between technically private and technically public.

Where’s that “like” button when you need it? 😉

Too right! My family dragged me kicking and screaming first to MySpace, then to Facebook. There are people in one family member’s Friends who were actively dangerous for me… Undue ties to my ex-husband…. who abused me… So I feel very uncomfortable with Facebook, because anonymity is not a real option.
Corporate ‘culture’ has really been a terrible thing! I go online to enjoy myself and to inform myself. It’s like the pub down the corner without the drinks or the smoke or the risk of getting mugged on the way home. In any good pub, people often had nicknames, like Skin-The-Goat or whatever. How real you were had to do with what you brought to the table, not your name or your money.
I keep a lot of my Internet life separate from Facebook, because it just upsets the Facebook ones to read stories about Bosnia, the news from there or my life there.
I am am out of the Wonderful World of Work for some time now. I don’t miss all the tongue biting. I don’t want it back.

Katjuša, I like your local pub analogy, and your point that when judged in such a scenario it is on what you bring to the table. Surely that is the highest form of debate – when opinions and input are judged purely on merit.

I often think of Foucault’s writing ‘What is an author’ when I get into this debate.. in terms of what he says about the content one is writing versus the construction of oneself that we engage in when we write under the label of our ‘real names’ as authors. That is, when we are debating and we know our words are forever traceable back to our one, real identity, we may be trying harder to cultivate our reputation, prove ourselves, placate those we want to keep sweet, flatter those who may at some point, some time, repay the favour – than put across an opinion that we truly feel is reasonable and just. Whereas when we operate under separate, delimited ‘identities’ in order to participate purely on the basis of the subject at hand, in the way you describe, we are in many ways liberated from being judged / disliked, for not matching exactly the interests and views of our entire social circle

I am the 4 percent!

says the poster using a pseudonym.

[…] Disqus data shows pseudonymous commenters are best I've argued previously in defence of online anonymity – getting into the pseudonymity debate in the comments. My view since then has not changed, I still believe this is a battle we must not lose… […]

The article text remarks that pseudonymous posts get more likes. Can we see the numbers for that? Particularly on a per-capita or per-post basis?

Hi Jack, The Disqus research used likes and comments as ‘positive signals’ and deletions, spam markings and number of times a comment is flagged as ‘negative signals’. The figures given are % points – but exact sample size does not seem to be given.

Great article and thank you for pushing this concept! I agree with you fully. Many of us have opinions on many stories that may not match the “corporate culture” of our employers. As a result, when our employers pay people to follow up on us and find posts with differing opinions/values, we can be terminated. It is an unfortunate side effect of living in the most greedy and litigious society in the world. But we need to remember this is a Country that SHOULD belong to the people and not corporations, so until that pendulum swings back in favor of the people we need to have the freedom to voice our views without worrying about losing our ability to generate an income and support our families.

In my experience, internet users who go by a persistent, self-chosen handle – whether that handle looks like a “real” name or not – tend to be people who have more invested in the internet. They don’t just see it as a marketing tool, but as a community. Therefore, they are more concerned about the quality of interaction and try not to contribute junk.

It has been remarked many times in recent debates on the subject that you’ll find horrifying comments nowhere faster than Facebook, posted by people proud to show not only their “real name” but also real photographs of their ugly mugs. Despite the self-serving narrative of the Zuckerberg clan, the Facebook mentality seems to have engendered not better behavior online in a lot of cases, but a kind of self-promoting narcissism. Internet belligerence.

Pseudononymous internet users seem to often strike a happy medium. Many pre-date the Facebook phenomenon and are from an era when people were wisely advised to not be careless on the internet, and to value their privacy.

In this ongoing discussion, beware the false prophets – people who go on about being old internet hands who found that their sites or forums were made superior by insisting on real names, photographs, and recreating the limitations of real life. Often, these persons have little real experience with the wilds of the net or the real scope of online culture. The examples they site of the virtues of isomapped RL identity, and the “dangers” of pseudonymity are oft culled from tiny communities or insular monocultures.

I’m just waiting for the day that Disqus doesn’t require Javascript for a simple comment list and submission form. -.- They sure don’t have any trouble injecting their “powered by” line using basic HTML, but when it comes to actually powering anything, suddenly plain text and POST forms are too difficult…

Good job, well done.

I understand why people use pseudonyms, I did myself for years in order to protect and compartmentalize myself. However, I’m working toward self-actualization, so I post under my real name everywhere I go, from sex blogs to parenting blogs.

I am one of the few out there who can be completely open and honest with my beliefs and interests. My parents, partner, and daughter all know what I am about and accept me for who I am. The freedom to be yourself is wonderful!

I am not sure judging the quality of comment by the number of replies and likes is a good way to judge whether a comment is good or bad.
The number of words use, the type of word use, the relevancy of comment to the article, the quality of grammar, the accuracy of the comment is far more relevant when it comes to judging a quality of a comment than the number of likes or replies to that comment.

People liking a comment tend to agree with the statement the commentator is making in that comment and not judging the quality of the content in that comment.

If your comment goes against the majority of the site readers you will not get many likes but may get a lots of insults thrown at you.

Whiles a short inaccurate poorly written and offensive comment may be get more likes because it supported by the majority that read the site and is clearly less quality.

David Knowles, not frighten to use his real name across the web

“a short inaccurate poorly written and offensive comment may be get more likes because it supported by the majority that read the site”

Why comment on such a site.

Because the article may have been interesting.

If you only limit your own interactions with those take your point of view or have your own politeness, then you never learn anything new or any new ways of viewing the world.
Also if they never encounter views different to there own then they will never change there ways or there point of view.

Hi David, I agree with you there is often higher civic value to posting on forums where many disagree with your point of view. Encountering difference and having the opportunity to change minds is important.

I also feel your point on whether comments are judged to be ‘good’ simply because the reader agrees is a valid one.

But the stance from which my post is written, is countering the strong, vociferous argument that real names are needed for productive debate. This data… drawn from user and site moderation interactions – in the context of multiple websites and differing moderation policies (a cumulation of subjective views, of course – but still, a vast aggregation) – reveals that the notion ‘civilised,’ ‘productive’ deliberation requires one, infinitely traceable, ‘true’ identity doesn’t stand up…

More replies to a post doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality. It can also mean that the post was an effective troll, or simply had bad inaccuracies that caused someone to comment on it. More “likes” is more likely to reflect real quality, but it can also reflect popularity of the opinion posted.

First, I’d like to recognize that there are good reasons people may have to not post online under their real name, depending on the kinds of lives they have.

Me, I don’t think I have those kinds of valid reasons. For a long time I did try to minimize my presence online, largely out of low self-esteem and fear of appearing stupid or wrong or silly. When I decided to participate in commentary more online (and started a blog), I had to decide my purpose. I decided that for philosophical and practical reasons (such as, eventually you can get found out anyway), I’m only going to say things online that I would say out loud to people in person or in front of my family. So I am under my real name everywhere.

I like the way Disqus does things. I believe that a user should have to register for an account and if they want to use their real name or pseudonym, it doesn’t really matter. The operative word is by registering you have a little more accountability while increasing comments. There are websites such as Topix that don’t require users to sign up or anything. That site has become simply awful and is now unreadable. I think the way Disqus does things offers the right balance.

Any sort of discussion-oriented site needs to allow pseudonyms. If they don’t, then it’s pretty clear they’re not interested in having quality comments but rather in using the implicit threat of future social condemnation to prevent unpopular ideas (even if correct) from being aired. This leads to either a degradation in quality of comments overall, or an echo chamber effect where only approved views are aired..

I never really thought that people would really want to post comments with their Facebook account. It’s just something that too personal for a lot of people.

[…] "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}@GBA_mediamondo mi fa cadere gli occhi su un’interessante ricerca di Disqus. La maggioranza assoluta dei commenti postati online è scritta sotto pseudonimo. Non solo, i […]

Given that people may be afraid (for any number of legitimate reasons) to post a comment under their legal name, it might dicouage them from ever commenting at all on subjects which matter to them.
I think the drive to remove the option to remain anonymous on the Internet is a Bad Thing.
It’s bad for the reason I mentioned.
Sometimes on Facebook there are people I need to avoid arguments with. I even have to be careful who I friend and unfriend, as it leads to drama, and I want to friend or unfriend them because of the drama they created in the first place.
It forces me into a lot of blanness. It’s not like I go around insulting people or Trolling, I just feel too inhibited to have any real fun.

Thanks Mariam, for sharing this.

It is definitely a balancing act but for us it’s all about helping people to have quality discussions, whether people want to use a pseudonym or not. It seems as though most people currently associate a commenter using their real name as one who produces a higher quality comment. We’re looking to let everyone know, by our data, that’s incorrect. It’s also important to remember that improving discussions isn’t just about a commenter’s display name but the methods by which the website owner is cultivating their community. Facebook Comments require a real name and that’s fine for them because it fits inside their ecosystem. Disqus has a much broader reach across millions of websites with individual personalities of their own. Limiting users in such a way would be a disservice. Our goal is to be forward thinking on ways that will help websites improve discussions moving forward. Giving users the ability to use pseudonyms are one of those ways. Stay tuned for what else we have in store.

Thanks for your response Talton – very interested to see how you continue to develop the platform, and in particular share the aggregate (anonymised) data / findings from it that result. As Disqus has access to a vast world of user generated content and behaviour, sharing this will be invaluable to those of us who have high hopes for online deliberation, innovation and crowdsourcing… given your quite uniquely placed capability to identify macro-scale patterns across the social web

[…] – In Defense of Online Anonymity – Disqus data shows pseudonymous commenters are the best […]

[…] outrageous about the claims for this need for real identities is that past studies have shown that pseudonymous comments are best & Bruce Schneier highlighted how we lose our individuality if we are under an ever-watchful […]

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