I've been hearing a lot about IntenseDebate recently, in various blog posts and news sites (they were acquired by Automattic, the company behind WordPress, back in September). IntenseDebate is basically a set of tools that allows for enhanced commenting on your blog or website. Two features that caught my attention were Comment Threading and Reply-by-email.
Comment Threading was of particular interest to me because I find that being able to respond directly to a specific comment keeps the comments organized and relevant. Normally the way you respond directly to a comment without threading support is to prefix your reply with the persons name (e.g., "@raamdev That's a great idea!"), but constantly searching the list of comments for the comment being replied to gets tiresome.
I don't really have enough comment traffic on this blog to deal with the aforementioned problem on a regular basis, but I decided to install the IntenseDebate WordPress plugin to see how easily I could integrate it. I was impressed with how smoothly the process went. All my old comments (1,300+) were synced to IntenseDebate and there was nothing I needed to change on my theme templates -- the entire commenting system was replaced with IntenseDebate's commenting system, with threading support, a comment reputation point system, and all those other fancy features.
In the end, however, I decided to deactivate the plugin. I didn't like that my comments were being loaded from an outside source, which both increased the average load time for each page and added yet another dependency on an external service. (In contrast, my Twitter sidebar uses Twitter Tools, which actually syncs tweets to the same database as WordPress and loads them from there. Dependency problems solved! To be fair though, the IntenseDebate plugin maintains a copy of all the comments in the WordPress database, just in case you decide to stop using it.) Customizing the look and feel of the comments also meant modifying CSS through my IntenseDebate account and right from the start I felt the need to customize and make the comment system less "busy" and self-advertising. There were no themes to choose from either. Ugh.
While doing all this thinking about the disadvantages of outsourcing my comments, I came across a post on Robert Nystorm's blog where he decides to literally outsource all of his comments. Instead of having any form of commenting system, he simply provides a link to reddit, Digg, and StumbleUpon where he encourages people post their comments on his post. His rationale behind this is that people already use these other sites for commenting and those commenting systems are specifically tuned to handle comments. If you can't beat'em, join'em.
But that's extreme. Although I can sympathize with some of Robert's frustration, I think a commenting system, even if only a simple one, is important. While some people may be familiar with reddit, Digg, and StumbleUpon, not everyone will use those sites regularly or, for that matter, want to go through the trouble of creating an account just to post a comment.
Back in September, I wrote about how excited I was to hear that Comment Threading was coming in WordPress 2.7. I hope the features and functionality of IntenseDebate are somehow integrated into WordPress down the road, instead of indefinitely relying on an external service to provide the same functionality.