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Thoughts on IntenseDebate So Far

Published by Chris Coyier

I've been using IntenseDebate on CSS-Tricks for a little over a week now and a lot of thoughts on it have been stirring around in my head so I thought I'd try to organize them and share.

What is IntenseDebate?

IntenseDebate is a service to enhance the traditional comment system on blogs. I'll get into more specifics about what those enhancements are later. The important idea is that it isn't a replacement comment system, it just works with your existing comment system to add new features. It should be noted that IntenseDebate isn't the only kid on the block. The main competition is the very similar DISQUS.

Why did I choose to start using it?

IntenseDebate was purchased by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. That means a lot to me. Now that they are behind this, I think it will really gain steam and become a widely used system. I am also excited about many of the features, which again, I'll get into in a minute.

What are the technologies involved?

I'm using WordPress, so installing it was mearly installing their WordPress Plugin, which was a snap. They are also currently supporting Blogger, TypePad, and Tumblr. No matter what you use, IntenseDebate needs JavaScript to work. That being said, with JavaScript disabled on your site, it will simply revert to the regular comment system. But never fear, the new 2.0 version of their plugin keeps your database and your IntenseDebate account in sync. This means JavaScript or no, everyone sees the same comments***.

*** - I'm finding this to be mostly true. I have a few posts where I can see some serious discrepancies in number of comments between my database and what is on IntenseDebate. To check, load page normally, then load without JavaScript and compare.

How hard is it to install?

Not hard at all. Like I said, just like installing any other plugin. You then set up an account on IntenseDebate and do your initial sync. I had a little trouble getting that first sync to go through in full for my entire archive of comments, but it's all good now. The whole process is really quite easy, if you are interested in checking it out, I encourage you to just go for it and install it. Very little risk.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
I want to make sure everyone understands that just because I'm using IntenseDebate, doesn't mean you need an account to comment. It's totally optional. If you aren't interested, that's cool, you can comment just as you did before the exact same way.

Features I Like

It's really just a few key features that make IntenseDebate so appealing for me.

Threaded Discussions

I wasn't sure I cared for threaded comments at first and now I feel like it would be really hard to go back. I love it. It makes discussions so much more readable and useful. This feature alone provides significant value for everyone.

Maintaining Your Identity

If you choose to open account on IntenseDebate, your identity as a commenter follows you from to blog to blog. This means you don't have to enter all that information (name, email, URL) on every comment you make. I used to allow people to register on CSS-Tricks just for this reason, but that was local only to this blog. This is much better.

Typically the best chance you get to explain who you are on a comment is to link your name back to your URL. With IntenseDebate, your profile comes along for the ride.

From your IntenseDebate dashboard, you can follow conversations you are a part of, which is also quite nice.

Email functionality

You get email notifications of new comments as usual, but you get some extra functionality. To delete a comment, you can literally just reply to the email with the text "delete". Even cooler, you can reply directly to the comment by just replying to the email.

Voting

Trolls aren't a big problem here on CSS-Tricks, but occasionally a meanie slips through. I enjoy giving the whole community the power to thumbs up or thumbs down comments to reward excellent insightful comments and punish rude behavior.

Things I Don't Like

For all that positive stuff, there are some serious concerns that need to be taken into consideration. I'm sure many of these things are being worked on by the team, but that doesn't help us right now...

No HTML parsing of comments

This is the biggest problem for me right now. Remember how I used to have that WMD editor bar above the comment textarea? That made it easier for people to post code snippets and mark them with proper <code> tags, amongst other things. Now those code tags look like this in the comments:

Bummer. Not only can you see the code tag, but it doesn't restyle the code with a nice code-looking monospace font like it used to.

Limited ability to control style

You can, of course, exert CSS control, but the folks at IntenseDebate are recommending against it at this point. That is because the markup may change and bork your CSS changes. I think they realize people really need this now though, so they do have a CSS style guide available. Personally I've done a little bit, but not too much.

What you can't do, and I wager your probably will never be able to do, is get your hands on the actual markup. I sat down and really wrestled with it to see if I could force me old comment layout (which I really liked) onto IntenseDebate. I found it too cumbersome and gave up (for now). I'm hoping their upcoming changes to markup will be a little more semantic and easier to deal with.

One more little thing... People's avatars/gravatars are coming across really fuzzy and artifcated. I guess it's a bug they are working on.

Other things of note

WordPress 2.7 will have threaded comments anyway

Word on the street is that WordPress 2.7 is going to have a threaded commenting system built in. If that feature is the only reason you are interested, you may want to just wait for that.

What do you think?

So those are my thoughts... but I'm mostly interested in what you all think. Do you like it? Hate it? Don't care? I'm leaning toward liking it, but I'd love to see all these negatives get turned around. I think if it gets a bit better, I'll roll it out on Script & Style and my personal homepage.

Comments

  1. james
    Permalink to comment#

    I tried ID and did not like it much. I much prefer http://disqus.com/

  2. Permalink to comment#

    I, too, was interested in IntenseDebate after it was acquired by Automattic. However, I am not incredibly fond with it. The idea is great no doubt, but the execution of the said idea could be improved. I will use it once more customization features are introduced and the fuzzy avatar bug gets fixed. For right now though, WordPress's comment system works fine (2.7's is even better). I won't complain that CSS-Tricks is using ID, though.

    Sidenote: like how you screencapped our threaded discussion. :)

  3. Permalink to comment#

    I wasn't sure about threaded comments either, but after lurking in them for a week I think I'm hooked.

  4. I'm loving it! Another great way to connect people, see where they've been, who they talk to, and then make more connections. There are some bugs, I noticed the fuzzy gravatars as well.. but.. I don't think it's a major downfall, overall I like it!

  5. cspiegl
    Permalink to comment#

    For me as a startup blogger (not even really online) I think this is way to much to think about, I just want some conversation and not that crazy mass of possibility.

    For me I'm not going to install it cause I think the WP2.7 commenting system already will be great (what do you need more? Maybe the rating thing but what else?).

    The system is great, but for me the WP2.7 one is just enough.

  6. I think perhaps the biggest "what else" is that IntenseDebate users visiting your blog for the first time might be pleasantly surprised that you are using it as they won't have to log in or provide all their personal details before commenting. They can just go for the comment box and jump into the conversation right away.

  7. Permalink to comment#

    I think it is about your own interests in it. It sounds like its really useful to people to promote themselves, it's going to be allot easier to communicate with your readers. Good thing to compare it with WP2.7 when it's out.

  8. Permalink to comment#

    mmm, not sure If I want all my comments tracked, it's kind of creepy.

  9. Permalink to comment#

    I already got an acount, but havnt gotten around to putting ID on my blog or blogs. Soon.

  10. After this review I think I'll install it on my blog and see how it fairs for a week or two. My readers are not technical people so if they can figure it out and like it then I'll give it the A+ mark. We shall see!

    Thanks for the write up Chris, I'd been waiting to hear some opinions before jumping in.

  11. Permalink to comment#

    First, I've been following CSS Tricks for ages, and it's fantastic.

    Until I read this post I never really understood the whole threaded comments thing. Now I can see the benefits. Anything that elicits debate/discussion on one's blog can't be bad. However, I think I'll wait until WP 2.7. It's only days away, no?

  12. Permalink to comment#

    IntenseDebate is a great thing. I've been thinking of moving over from Disqus, but there's also quite a few of commenters on Disqus that I've already been following. Along with blogs that have been using it.

    So what about BackType? Not quite the same as Disqus and IntenseDebate, but still a consideration for social commenting.

  13. Permalink to comment#

    very interesting, liking it so far, especially for a high traffic site.

  14. I wonder how CoComment is reacting to tools such as these. Anyways, I'm going to wait it out for a bit more. Seems its still an up-for-grabs market share. Let's see how it plays out between the two: Disqus and IntenseDebate.

    Thanks for the write-up.

  15. Permalink to comment#

    Jon from IntenseDebate here.

    Just wanted to hop in and let you all know that we've since fixed the "fuzzy" avatars (as you probably noticed).

    We're also aware that our customization options are a bit limited right now. This is something we hope to do more with in the future. Thanks for the feedback everyone.

  16. Permalink to comment#

    I love IntenseDatabase,
    And thanks alot for posting this article, I've forget about the IntenseDB, but now I'm instaling on my blog.

  17. Permalink to comment#

    That is of course a great point for usability, since the user doesn't need to think about it. But then again, when users come to a page that doesn't use IntenseDebate, what then? They'll just have to type it in like the rest of us who haven't signed up.

    Personally I both like the threaded comments and the ability to give points, like the system which has been used for ages at Slashdot (slashdot.org). But the drawbacks as I see it is:
    1) The sync. You do need to register and then you'll comments will get filtered through that, right? I get the feeling it could be seen as a way of marketing it later on with premium features and such.
    2) The freedom to style it yourself is missing. I'd rather see a smaller plugin for WP that does both comment-points and threading on your server. And to design it yourself would be much better since you'd have control.
    3) The loss of not being able to use HTML-tags in the post. This, however, is only used by like 10% (or less?) of web users today. I like to add an url and whatnot in a comment of it's appropriate.

    Thank you for testing the no-JavaScript version as well, since most people tend to ignore it ("Who doesn't use JS these days?" They probably think.). Nice article, but I'll wait till WP 2.7 comes out with threaded comments that I can control myself.

  18. Looks cool, but the styling problem might be the biggest issue for me, as my blog is pretty heavily styled…

  19. Permalink to comment#

    Intense Debate looks great, but I have a couple of gripes… 1) The thumbs up button is on the left, which is opposite of the way it is on digg.com… I just accidentally hit thumbs down on a comment because of that. 2) They don't have a version of the .js file hosted on HTTPS… that means I can't use it on a secure site I'm designing at work because in IE users will get a "This site has both secure and non-secure items" alert each time they change pages, which is extremely annoying and can cause users to think the site isn't secure.

  20. Permalink to comment#

    Oh and there is no sign-up directly on the comments section… I had to go to the Intense Debate site manually to sign up.

  21. Permalink to comment#

    On a secure site, would you even consider using external js-files that you can not change at all? Sounds insecure if you ask me.

  22. agsone
    Permalink to comment#

    Intense Debate is blocked by my corporate internet filter (SmartFilter I believe) so I no longer see the comments from there (of course I was only looking at lunchtime!). I doubt that I am the only one – in fact Boing Boing has it that there are entire countries behind SmartFilter.

  23. Just testing the comments section on this page

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