In the old days, bloggers were a decidedly exclusive breed; in fact, at the dawn of blogging, bloggers were not even called bloggers but were instead referred to somewhat awkwardly as ‘webloggers’. Such was the rapid rise of the blogging community, between twenty and thirty weblogs were known to exist at the beginning of 1999 and, by the end of the year, numbers had exploded into the thousands.

Blogging’s very own Cambrian Period was in no small part aided by the introduction of various do-it-yourself tools such as Pitas, Edit This Page and the hugely successful Blogger. Nowadays, blogs are virtually everywhere and technology has improved vastly on early creations, with bloggers using advanced off-the-shelf software packages or made-to-measure applications.

Amid rapidly developing technology, the focus of blogging has shifted somewhat from the views of bloggers to the opinions of readers (except in my case, as I’m sure you’ll all agree!); in this respect, the latest evolutions in blogging technology have incorporated greater emphasis on reader comments. Tools such as DISQUS Comments, IntenseDebate and Echo are leading the way in next generation commenting, setting the scene for another blogging revolution. Perhaps even a bloody one.

DISQUS Comments should not to be confused with DISQUS Profile, which is an administrative tool designed to enable blogmasters (mind the spelling) to track, manage and reply to comments posted on various sites all in one place. DISQUS Comments, by contrast, is a blogging tool that combines next generation community management with advanced moderation facilities. In a nutshell, DISQUS Comments differs from most other commenting tools in that it is able to feed in to conversations that arise on other sites such as Twitter, Digg, YouTube and FriendFeed. Using a feature called Reactions, DISQUS Comments hooks into results from BackType to display external conversations on the user’s own site or blog.

Other notable features of DISQUS Comments include an advanced log-in system that recognises reader identities via Facebook Connect, OpenID or Twitter Sign-in, easy comment sharing and real-time discussions. It is this latter feature, however, that underpins almost all next generation commenting systems. IntenseDebate, for example, is arguably no different to any other blogging tool without its superb real-time commenting facility. Although IntenseDebate comprises various features such as hardcore moderation options, advanced voting systems, in-depth commenter profiles, OpenID (used in a similar way to DISQUS Comments) and simultaneous tweets, real-time discussions provide its next generation edge.

The same can also be said of Echo, which is arguably DISQUS Comments’ chief rival. As with DISQUS Comments and IntenseDebate, Echo features cross-site ‘hyper-distributed’ conversations, advanced login options, strong moderation and other such features. At its backbone, a real-time commenting system works in more or less the same way as on the aforementioned sites. Developed by JS-Kit, Echo is notable for the seamless manner in which it is able to gather comments from Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, etc., and organise them into a real-time stream of conversations that updates automatically – as in without the reader having to manually refresh the page.

On the face of it, real-time next generation commenting is a positive step forward – I think most people would agree that watching discussions unfold in real-time adds substantial layers of interactivity, simplicity and user-friendliness. On certain sites, real-time commenting could also have a positive effect on bandwidth usage; although, in this decidedly multimedia age, it is debatable whether fewer static page views would offer meaningful savings in most cases.

Real-time commenting does, however, threaten established advertising models that are based on page views. Revenue streams that are driven by frequent page views would almost certainly falter where sites implement real-time commenting; however, alternative advertising models do exist, so options are certainly available to blogmasters (again, watch for the typo!). Nevertheless, real-time commenting tools are likely to meet continued resistance by those who are dependent on certain forms of advertising, which could stymie the revolution.

DISQUS Comments, IntenseDebate and Echo are among the leading next generation commenting tools available today – we want to know what you think of them.

Do you use any of these tools on your site? If yes, why? If not, why not? Would you recommend other commenting systems? (P.S. No need to refresh this page to follow the conversation!)