He Said, He Said: The Disqus-LiveFyre Feud on Display in -- What Else? -- the Comments

By Sarah Lacy , written on August 23, 2012

From The News Desk

There's some ugly stuff going on in the world of comment management software. I just can't for the life of me figure out who is really the victim and who is the one throwing the mud.

A feud that's been going on in the background between Disqus, LiveFyre, and their investors spilled out publicly in the comments on Fred Wilson's blog today. Wilson was linking to an interview he did with MIT's alumni magazine. He added at the end, "I hope you like it. But please come back here to comment. They use LiveFyre which I don't approve of."

This was not a surprise to me or -- I'm guessing -- any other blog that uses LiveFyre. Wilson has told me repeatedly he won't comment on PandoDaily unless I switch commenting systems. In the comments, Jason Pontin, the Editor-in-Chief of the MIT Technology Review, asked him why he was so averse to LiveFyre. He gave his usual explanation. But in a new twist, LiveFyre's founder and CEO Jordan Kretchmer came to his own defense.

See below:

Wilson doesn't respond, rather he reiterates the stance below, in another awkward thread:

The whole back-and-forth was brought to my attention by LiveFyre's investor John Frankel, with whom I already had a long conversation about the topic. He also Tweeted about it. I've asked Kretchmer directly, asking if there was any truth to what Wilson says and his response has been similar to the above. I've also asked Wilson for specific examples but never gotten more than the above.

Anyone's mom want to get in on this fight too? 

Kudos to Wilson for saying publicly what he says privately. I hate when VCs go around whispering in reporters' ears but don't say things on the record. And kudos for the consistency and for defending his investment. It's rare that you see startups publicly talk shit about one another to this degree and even rarer that investors get in on it.

Wilson can be prickly and grumpy, but I don't believe this is just because he's an investor in Disqus. He is a broken record on this one, and I've never heard him be this vociferous about one of his companies being wronged. It's clear Wilson believes there was dirty dealing.

But I can't get anyone to give me an actual concrete example.

Then there's my personal experience. As a customer I've been pitched by both companies twice -- at TechCrunch and when we were starting PandoDaily. In the first case, Disqus won. In the latter case, LiveFyre did. These meetings were years apart and in neither meeting did I ever hear Kretchmer talk shit about Disqus.

In fact, when he lost TechCrunch's comment system -- a far bigger deal than little PandoDaily -- he was gracious and understanding about it. LiveFyre was new and wasn't ready for a site that big. I remember him just saying it was a shame for them that they weren't further along. TechCrunch wound up uninstalling Disqus, which played into my decision to go with LiveFyre.

But really, the decision was left to Paul Carr, who vetted both for me. Those were the crazy early days and I was swamped blogging five times a day and recruiting talent. Paul said it was clear that LiveFyre had features Disqus didn't at the time. (Although I understand the new version of Disqus is a big improvement, we were pitched on the old version.)

If that isn't true, it isn't because anyone misrepresented anything. It was because of how the two pitched. Paul was simply comparing what the two teams showed him. He says that LiveFyre hardly mentioned Disqus in its pitch, and when it did, it said the obligatory, "They've got some great stuff..." line used by competitors who are trying to act unthreatened by one another.

If LiveFyre is playing dirty, it's great at hiding it from customers. And if true, it seems to me that Wilson has more than avenged his company in continually tarring LiveFyre's tactics from a huge and influential megaphone.

At the end of the day, I wish the pettiness would end and both would work more on the problem. I'm still not thrilled with any of the comment management systems I've used. LiveFyre has a lot of great features, and our comments are better than they were before. But I find it annoying and clumsy to keep logging back in every few days to comment on my own site, and users complain about it as well.

Ultimately, there's still too much of a trade-off: You can erect barriers to avoid anonymous trolls, but it creates friction that prevents people from commenting at all. There's a lot more we want to do with comments and our developers have begged me to let them build a custom system that better fits our needs.

I've given up on getting to the bottom of who did what here. Let's just end the nasty feud and make comments better.