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Remarkbox is the Disqus Alternative


#1

Hello,

My name is Russell Ballestrini and I’ve been lurking in this forum for a while and receiving email updates.

I bootstrapped my first SaaS offering 5 years ago. Since then I have attempted to reproduce my original success but none of my ideas have captured any traction.

My latest project, Remarkbox (remarkbox.com) is a hosted comments as a service offering. My hypothesis is that bloggers and static site owners would be willing to pay a monthly fee for an easier to use, alternative to Disqus.

Although I’m familiar with lean startups and bootstrapping, I decided to build a fully functional prototype. I basically scratched an itch that I was having when I moved my personal blog from Wordpress to Pelican a static-site-generator. I’m using Remarkbox on all my static sites now so I’m dog-fooding my product.

I’ve decided to slow down on development of Remarkbox to work on marketing. I’ve basically come up with a number of people I would like to have in my Beta list before working on any more functionality. If I can’t get enough people I’m going to stop and switch to another idea. I’ll definitely keep Remarkbox online and continue to offer the Free version, I’m relying on it after all, but no new development.

My long term goal is to eventually leave my day job and work on my own companies so if I’m going to do that, I’m going to need to become profitable. This means I need to find problems people are willing to pay to have solved. I’m still on the fence if Remarkbox solves a painful enough problem.

Please let me know what you think about Remarkbox, any suggestions or perspectives will really help. Launching things as a solo founder is an isolating experience but seeing email updates from this forum helps!

Thank you

Russell Ballestrini


#2

(I’ve edited your post so that your site is linked.)

There’s certainly demand for such a product, as evidenced by the popularity of Disqus. The big challenge for you will be convincing people to pay when there is a popular free alternative.

I use Disqus and I find it adds more than I’d like to my total page load time. I don’t like that it encourages people to click away from my site to check their Disqus notifications.

Do you know other people who use Disqus? If not, find some! Then you could ask them what they like and what they don’t like about it.


#3

Thank you for fixing the link!

Thank you for the feedback, from it I learned that:

  • Offering a fast service to lower page load time could be a point of value I could try to leverage, I might be able to even benchmark this for the sales copy.

  • Differentiate from Disqus by helping the site owners retain and prevent visitors from bouncing, especially bouncing to the Remarkbox service itself. This is another personal goal of mine, Remarkbox should feel like part of the site. Dashboards are only for moderators. Nothing in the interface will prompt a visitor to leave your site.

I know a handful of people who use Disqus but I think I need to refine my customer interview skills. I have have a gist of what they like and don’t like about Disqus. My prototype was built from this information and personal preferences.


#4

I just has taken the same route after tried WordPress, then The Perch and finally decided I want more control and less worries about hackers get into the scripts.

The topic of no comments was one of the strongest downsides of this decision, but I decided that security is more important to me.

So I will certainly check your offering out when my site is up and running.

However, the pricing. I’m expecting to get may be a hundred or so comments in 5 years. This is my experience for my another very niche site that I run for the last few years - I get about half of questions via email, and another half in WordPress comments. In 5 years I’d pay you $300 - that’s $3 per comment. Mmm…

Note: I’m not saying that your prices are high. But to get to compete against Disqus you’d have to start with smaller domains first - larger would just go with the familiar option, Disqus - and that means you need to have your pricing aligned with what the usage on those domains could be.

Tested it a bit.

  1. I’ve got two verify emails, one with a link to the top of the forum, and the second one with a link to the particular discussion.
  2. Nonetheless, when I clicked on discussion link in the email, I’m still shown as “unverified”.
  3. It became verified when I clicked on Verify link under the post. This is a very non-obvious step.
  4. OK, now I’m known as 0yHOwSxF. I’m still on the fence if I like this name.

P.S. Posting date “2s, 868063ms ago” is soooo… well, just cut it as “2s” :smiley:

P.P.S. BTW the founder face on About page supposed to create trust. But a salafi beard may actually work against that purpose. Just saying. :wink: (Scratch it; I got used to it after a second look)


#5

Is it only in free version, or they do the same for large customers (somehow I doubt they are).

It makes sense to serve ads in free version (something has to pay for the servers and traffic). But in commercial version I’d like to see no links except those that I approve of.


#6

Disqus does this for all sites. They punt the user to their interface / dashboard whenever they get the chance. One sleazy thing they do is show a fake notification icon count of 1 all the time to people who are not logged in.

When I get some time, I intend to create a blog for Remarkbox and talk all about it.


#7

I may be wrong, but IMHO that should be your H1 on the page - something like “Remarkbox is not leading your visitors away!”. Because it is truly annoying, and I’d even call it back-stabbing.

That could even win you a large account once in a while (again, providing that Disqus really does that crap indiscriminately).

However, that raises another question: a comment system must take a lot of CPU/RAM/boxes. When are you going to run out of money? I.e. how many free users you can afford?


#8

Screw blog; that should be on the landing page. No need to mention Disqus, just say what you do right.


#9

Why the same email gets different ID on different forums?

I expected:

  • Once I login once, I do not need to enter my email again on any Remarkbox sites - until the cookie expires
  • The generated ID is the same for the same email

#10

It should be working how you expect, so that sounds like you uncovered a defect. Did you use a different browser?


#11

No, same FF. I first went to the home page, then opened the westworld2 in another tab, made a test comment there, verified it (became 0yHOwSxF), then closed that tab and made a comment on the main page - that one became KCLEx6aV.

Not sure it is a bug, but certainly an unexpected behaviour.


Building my first SaaS, a Disqus alternative - Part 1
#12

Oh yeah, actually westworld2.com is a dedicated install of Remarkbox codebase. Its running in “stand alone” mode. That makes sense in that case.


#13

$14/mo Moderator access for unlimited verified domains.

Don’t do that. Don’t do that. You’ll regret.

Large consumers will probably need enterprisey features - company accounts with admin that can grant rights, integration to their systems, stats, SLA(!), 24/7 support, API. You won’t cover it for extra $9/mo. It worth hundreds.

Just say that enterprise version is in plans (contacts us with requirements).

The second tier can be a multi-site layer, for people like me who runs a few small-traffic sites (i.e. one admin only, no 2nd admin or a team).

Agencies who manage multiple disjoint sites could be third tier - multiple admins, but each admin can admin each site in a group.

And general I’d suggest to create tiers based on projected usage. However, do not charge by usage – that would be micro-calculations (“each post costs $0.0012”) and is very confusing.


#14

If you go to my personal blog for example, you will be ‘0yHOwSxF’ again.


#15

Mmm… you have a stand-along version? Don’t abandon it, some larger consumers may want to have it on premise under their full control. And make it your competitive advantage - Disqus doesn’t have it, does it?


#16

No I don’t think Disqus has a stand alone version. They have been putting all their efforts into turning their offering into some sort of social network platform.


#17

Hi @Russell_Ballestrini, thanks for sharing!

This is off-topic, but your introduction caught my attention when you referred to a previous SaaS success. Is there a place (comment thread, blog post, etc.) where I can find out more about the story of LinkPeek? Thanks!


#18

Hey Kohanz, I never wrote a blog post retrospective but I have blogged about LinkPeek (https://linkpeek.com) over the years on my personal blog.

You can see me transition from an idea to a company with real issues.


#19

Hey Russell - I love this idea. I have wanted to use Disqus on some sites of mine, but I hate their load time and their ads, so I simply won’t.

I went to the bottom of your landing page and tried the “Remarkbox Demo - try it out!” area. It failed - got a “502 Bad Gateway - nginx” error. I put in fake data so perhaps that killed it? Maybe validate inputs better? Reproduce by entering “gdfgdfgdfgdfg” for both message and email.


#20

Hey @shanelabs - thank you for reporting that.

yes, I think the invalid email is causing the exception. I have added this error to my backlog and will hopefully fix it tonight.