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.

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.


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.