A free software commenting system with social network integration

For many years, Disqus has been the gold standard commenting system for web sites, thanks to its ease of use and integration with many social networks. Its temptations have been especially hard to resist for web sites using static content generators, a growing trend with many appealing advantages. But it's a solution with several problems, both for the owner of a site and its visitors.

As a site owner, you should own and be in control of all comments written on your web site. But with hosted third-party solutions, they are stored on a server outside your control, and you have no idea about what is done with this data. And with Disqus, we know for sure that they are using the data for all sorts of shady marketing schemes. This poses problems both for your ability to control your web site and for the privacy of your users. Disqus is also bloated enough to severely impact the performance and load time of your site. And it loads an absurd amount of third party javascripts, most of which will track all users of your site, even if they never even write a comment. The situation seems to have degraded even more recently, since they "started hijacking links in people's comments and channelling them through an ad network called viglink.com".

It would therefore be much preferable with a free software solution that you can host on your own server together with the web site itself. The major shortcoming of free software alternatives today is that they have no integration with social networks. User comments are anonymous, or at best it's possible for the user to manually enter her name and E-mail address. The possibility to authenticate with a social networking service is not only faster for the user, it also makes comments much more connected with users' other online activities, and makes the discussion look more alive by showing names and photos of the users.

Isso logo

For that reason, I grabbed Isso, a popular free software commenting system, and extended it with authentication using Facebook, Google, and OpenID Connect, as showcased on this site. Users can authenticate with a few mouse clicks (provided that their passwords are stored in the browser), and their comments come alive with a name, photo, and link to their social network page. Source code and brief documentation for my fork is available at Github, and there are binary builds on the Python Package Index (pip install isso-social).

Purists may balk at supporting social network services that track their users and sell the information to the highest bidder. I share this dislike for the major social networks of today, and would much prefer distributed social networks such as Diaspora or Mastodon. But to be realistic, most web sites cannot expect their users to use such services today. The fight against the established social networks is a long term one, and I believe that the best strategy is to give users a free choice of authentication methods, so that people can gradually migrate to more open platforms. Unlike Disqus, my fork of Isso only loads the Facebook and Google SDKs when a user clicks the corresponding login icons, so other users will not be tracked. OpenID Connect, an open authentication standard, is provided for the more politically conscious users who may either run their own OpenID Provider server, or use a third-party OpenID provider that they trust. And users who value their privacy and don't have an OpenID solution ready can simply choose not to authenticate.

Feel free to try it out by posting a comment below. Moderation is disabled for now, and there is no need to say anything overly meaningful.

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