Dear Automattic: You Are Losing The Debate

The following post was written by Erlend Sogge Heggen of Erlend spends his copious amounts of spare time managing the jMonkeyEngine project, all the while sticking his nose into whatever open source projects left the door unlocked. He’s a veteran WP amalgamator, webmastering many a site as a hobbyist and occasional freelancer.

Long-term, I think that comments are the most crucial interaction point for blogs, and an area that deserves a lot of investment and innovation. Comments really haven’t changed in a decade, and it’s time to spice things up a little – Matt Mullenweg, in a blog post about IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate Logo

I’m seeing more and more blogs opt for alternative commenting solutions. Good data is hard to come by in this area, but the modern top choice appears to be Disqus, by a pretty large margin. I’ve noticed quite a few Facebook Comments too, and countless more custom solutions.

Disqus is powerful, but much too closed down for my taste and it doesn’t give you more than comments. They just made an existing feature a bit easier to use, at the cost of control & ownership (a trade that a frightening amount of people seem only too happy to make these days). They didn’t take comments further, like Matt envisioned. But others have.

Forum-powered Comments

Power charging your comments with dedicated forum backends. Now there’s an evolution of comments if I ever saw one. When done right, every blog post has the potential to spawn several new conversations, branched out from the same seed. This new trend is gaining a lot of traction, and at the forefront you’ll find Vanilla Forums and Discourse. Here’s the kicker:

They both work great with WordPress. Each of these forum packages offers an official WordPress plugin that lets you seamlessly replace your default comments with a slick, forum-powered comments section. Here are some examples: – Vanilla – Vanilla – Discourse – Discourse

So What Is WordPress’ Answer? It Was Supposed To Be IntenseDebate

We were early in the space with investing in Akismet to solve the spam problem, but now I think the real growth opportunities are in the user interaction and social features across comments. There is a huge opportunity to increase the traffic and engagement of blogs significantly – Matt Mullenweg, still in a blog post about IntenseDebate lists 6 sites using their service. 2 of them have since moved on to Disqus ( and Facebook Comments ( respectively. Again, solid data is hard to come by, but you don’t need to look at numbers to realize that Disqus left IntenseDebate in the dust a long time ago.

Automattic and WordPress as a whole have failed to seize this opportunity. Amazingly enough, there’s still time to make a play in the comments ecosystem. I propose that play to be bbPress.

Imagine, the hosted version of bbPress. But it wouldn’t host forums per-se. It would exclusively host blog comments, and branching discussions thereof. Just like you can find popular new blogs on, here you would discover trending discussions, emerged from blog posts. Using a plugin (JetPack reluctantly comes to mind) even self-hosted blogs (as well as blogs from other services) could opt-in to host their comments on

The benefits are plentiful:

  • Keep using the authentication & userbase built up by JetPack Comments.
  • Encourage expansive social interaction between users, just like Matt envisioned.
  • Discover and be discovered.
  • Many great avenues for paid services, e.g. full blown forums.
  • Significantly faster growth for bbPress, a project much closer to home than IntenseDebate ever was.

tl;dr: Automattic, please put all of your people still working on IntenseDebate and JetPack Comments to work on as a kick-ass open source forum package and hosted service. That’s where the next generation of comments is at.


46 responses to “Dear Automattic: You Are Losing The Debate”

  1. Great post Erlend along with a great topic. I’ve had a thing for blog comments for a long time. As you can see here on the Tavern, I’ve managed to use a couple of different plugins that make the form more like a forum reply box than a blog comment box. In my opinion, the comments in WordPress could be so much better out of the box. They don’t embrace the social interaction as well as they could. As a simple example, when you click on someones name or the reply button, an @ symbol along with their name should automatically be filled into the comment form. It works for emails, Twitter etc, why not comments?

    I’m definitely not going to use a third party to handle my comments either, despite how cool or good they might be. It’s one of those things I can’t do.

    By the way, a few years ago, the big deal was trying to create bridges between WordPress users and a forum, such as vBulletin. What a pain that was. I got burned bad one time by using a modified version of VBulletin that bridged users between the forum and Joomla. But, the project went belly up and I was stuck with a forum/site integration where if I upgraded one or the other, the bridge broke. I never want to go through that again.

    I’ve been preaching the idea of somehow integrating bbPress forums into WordPress comments. Blog post dictate the direction of the conversation but forums enable people to start their own discussion threads. This is a distinct difference. How do we mesh the two? One proposal I have is to have blog posts act as forum threads. These forum threads that I start are featured on the front page, just like a typical blog. The comments are actually thread replies. However, below the last comment could be a list of related forum posts similar to related blog posts. This would take someone right into a different discussion with all the forum stuff that comes with it.

    This is an experiment that the Tavern will be participating in because the social aspect of this site is one of the most important reasons for its existence.

  2. I’ve seen a lot of sites try to go the other way around and turn forums into CMS’s but they’ll never be as powerful as WordPress is. Vbulletin offers a CMS and so does Invision Board and others.

    Also, don’t forget about Simple Press Forums, they have an option to replace the WordPress avatar with the Simple Press one and are fully integrated with WordPress. You click on a user’s name / comment and go straight to the forum area. You can use replace WordPress comments with forum threads.

  3. Even garden-variety comment-facilities can be high-impact Content … if they have been written as content. Google can not only read your English, they can grade your essay! Support for ongoing comments months and even years beyond the original Post, does SEO-magic for a website.

    So first of all, do preserve & promote comments & Commenting, even if it’s only at the homeliest techno-level. If we can sprinkle a bit of fresh Pony-Glitter on them from time to time, that will keep the spirits up. And by all means, keep searching & brainstorming for that comment-Holy Grail that will Take Them To A Whole New Level.

    It’s been, as the man sez, a decade (and now another half…) that we’ve been in self-conscious Grail-mode. Sometimes, we must be satisfied in the valor of our quest … and not get too worked up over the lack of concrete results.

    There are now alternatives to the traditional comment-system. Yeah, ho hum. I have the distinct impression that some solid Media websites appear to be using Disqus as a coy way to deep-six comments – which are just a nuisance in their view.

    But what do I know. Like millions or 10s of millions of others, I wouldn’t step out the door without NoScript. Disqus? What Disqus?

  4. What timing! I just recently started to migrate my main site to use bbPress forums in place of comments. It is a better solution if one is trying to foster a community.

  5. From what I understand, IntenseDebate isn’t even really staffed or updated anymore, I think the whole team has moved on to other projects. I think it was an idea that was good but was never really able to execute or move beyond what it had, hence the massive stagnation.

    While I agree that there is plenty of room for disruption in the commenting space, I’m not sure if the move to a forums-based approach works for all sites. It works for Boing Boing, because Boing Boing has regulars and tends to have deep topic-based discussions. The same is true for Penny Arcade.

    For most sites, however, the bulk of the conversation often happens on other channels — on places like Twitter and Facebook. That’s why Echo, Disqus and LiveFyre (and I must give huge kudos to the LiveFyre salesforce because they’ve managed to really take a huge chunk of the market) focus so much on trying to unify the commenting experience. They all succeed/fail on multiple levels, I have to say that for now, LiveFyre does a decent job at syncing the conversation with Facebook, it’s nearly real-time and the two-way options work fairly well as long as users are authenticated on both ends, but I haven’t had much experience with the other systems in a while on high traffic sites.

    I think the way the Mobile Nations sites (, CrackBerry, Android Central, etc) do their forums alongside the blog content is pretty cool. The same login works for both blog comments and in the forums and they have a way to highlight forum threads on the main page, which is useful.

    I actually think Discourse has the right idea insofar as it brings a comment approach to forums, rather than the other way around — but it still doesn’t necessarily work for all kinds of sites.

    I think for something like WP Tavern, having better integration between the two systems would be really useful. Whether that’s through bbPress or another system, I don’t know.

  6. @Christina Warren

    I think the way the Mobile Nations sites (, CrackBerry, Android Central, etc) do their forums alongside the blog content is pretty cool. The same login works for both blog comments and in the forums and they have a way to highlight forum threads on the main page, which is useful.

    This is something I would love to do with WPTavern. Have the ability to highlight excellent discussions taking place in the forum. Without tight integration between the publishing platform and the forum, it’s a difficult task. But with the redesign of the Tavern which will use bbPress and eventually BuddyPress, I’ll be in a better position to execute. In the early days of the Tavern, it was odd to see both the forum and the Tavern comments exist as two separate entities. Sure, people commented and posted on the forum but each seemed to have their own unique user base.

  7. @Ted Clayton – As someone who is an editor at a fairly large media site, I can say that we haven’t chosen to use LiveFyre (and before that our own custom comment engine, and before that Disqus and before that WordPress comments — and this is just in the 4 years I’ve been there) to deep-six comments, on the contrary, what many of us have noticed is that where conversations take place around content changes.

    This isn’t universal, of course, and some sites do a better job at building real communities than other. I’ve been on plenty of sites where you have regular commenters that develop relationships and idiosyncrasies and micro-communities before your eyes. It’s cool to watch (and be part of).

    What tends to happen, at least with the content where I work, is that you get comments on the post — and sometimes very active and engaged discussions. But what happens more often is that people read the content and then share it on Facebook or Twitter. And then on Facebook, they have mini-conversations on their own pages. Sadly, there’s no way for a publisher to be part of that conversation — or even know it is happening. So publishers publish links to articles and for whatever reason, larger conversations often tend to take place there rather than on the content itself.

    It’s not just Facebook either — I see it on Google+ too — and obviously on Twitter. So it’s not so much like companies are moving away from traditional comment systems to get rid of comments altogether (after all, if you want to do that, just do it), it’s because those systems promise that they can do a better job at aggregating all of the discussion in one place. Whether they actually do or not — I don’t think we’re there yet — but it’s at least better than having no way of disparately collecting the discussion, which is often useful and helpful.

    Ironically one of the aspects the pingback, trackback, et. all hoped to solve was the idea that you could keep up with whoever was linking or talking about your content. Then it got overloaded with spam and content got sucked into systems and social networks that don’t like to adopt open protocols. Sad. /rant

  8. Ahh the pingback/trackback. Those were so useful to me a few years ago because it was the only way to know if another site was engaging in the conversation I started with a post. A shame that they became so abused, people decided to just turn them off outright.

    I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to come across an engaging discussion surrounding a piece of content you wrote but you either find out about it too late or find out you can’t participate in it because of whatever platform they are using.

  9. @Christina Warren

    What tends to happen … is that people read the content and then share it on Facebook or Twitter. And then on Facebook, they have mini-conversations on their own pages. Sadly, there’s no way for a publisher to be part of that conversation — or even know it is happening. So publishers publish links to articles and for whatever reason, larger conversations often tend to take place [elsewhere on social media] rather than on the content itself.

    Yes, social & mobile got the cool these days.

    It’s got “fad” written all over it, though, and it’s driven by the same forces & fantasies that brought us the Dot Com Bubble.

    Scattering content-fragments plays to the link-businesses. There’s a new page – and new ‘placement’ – for every incomplete sentence. Totally awesome.

    It don’t look like it’s got great legs. Like in the Dot Com game, a lot of people who should know better, appear to be in a self-induced trance.

    But for now, it’s a Social/Mobile game, and those who would be leaders can’t take their marbles and go wait it out on the porch.

  10. I’ve written quite a few comments over the years and, for me, the real surprise around the hosted comment systems is how much most of them get wrong, to the extent that I’m pretty sure that the decision-makers do NOT write comments.

    This is important because, for site owners, the holy grail is for something – anything! – that will get users to engage and leave some trace of interaction, even if it is just voting on someone else’s comment. A site visitor’s strong, natural instinct is to do absolutely fucking nothing and, beyond the World War Z-style trollfests such as Engadget, 99% of sites struggle to get any sign of engagement at all.

    As such, what you need is a system designed by lunatics who are willing to spend years relentlessly sweating every detail, who understand that every pixel and every click really, really matter … even though it is “just” comments.

    I was a big fan of IntenseDebate, they made an intriguing attempt at opening themselves up with their own special plugin system for added comment functionality, but, ultimately, and despite Matt’s lofty sentiments, it turned out to be an acquihire (before the term even existed) and the ID team got spread out over Automattic’s more pressing needs.

    I don’t doubt that was a good business decision but I can’t help but think that Automattic, with its size and stature within the blogosphere, blew a real chance to create a truly popular hosted comment system that would have done a great deal to drive the whole phenomenon of commenting. I think there is a very good argument that, in terms of getting the majority of normal people to tentatively engage with ideas and expressing their own thoughts, comments are more important than blogging.

    At a time when we are wading through the highest levels of industrial strength propaganda ever sprayed at human beings, when supposedly free and educated people are funding an ever-growing war state and happily handing away their rights, comments are more than just a nice addendum to blog posts; prompting discussion, encouraging debate, strengthening our cultural willingness to talk things out, that is a vital mission … and, yeah, it does suck that Automattic didn’t get that.

  11. hmm… not sure bbpress is the answer here but comments are very much overdue for disruption. BBpress is too heavy for this.
    The problem with everything now is if you choose one you’re pretty much stuck with it as you can’t migrate comments if you choose to change… yes with disqus and livefyre they sync w/ the wp comment db but that’s probably also what’s holding them back a little?
    FB comments are great if your demo doesn’t mind using FB… but then none of the comments are ever stored…
    idk… I’m more for getting extensive multi-CPT taxonomy relationships and post format UI and CPT default PF w/UI assignments working.

  12. forum as comments is missing the difference between a blog and forum. In a blog you have a dictator who has the authority on the subject of the post and can delete or edit any comment but a forum is a democracy in which anyone can speak on any subject. comments should help and improve the content, to get this with a forum you will need to have heavy moderation of the forum which is against the nature of them.

    Comments are not bad now, what is needed is from the blog owners to take a more active role in moderating worthless comments and promoting a useful ones.

    @Christina Warren – to be blunt, this is just laziness on your (not personally) side. You should ask yourself why people prefer not to comment on your site but on FB etc? Maybe your comment system is just too hard to use for your demographics, maybe people don’t want to get into discussion with the author of the post and maybe they have something to say but it is relevant only to their social circle? What you are basically trying to do is to force people that don’t want to comment to comment. The worst thing when you give up control on your comments in this way is that you lost the ability to moderate comments and since the discussion is taking place out of the context of the post it might get irrelevant to the subject and dilute the value of the comments section to your readers.

    disqus? livefyre? can anyone explain to me why should I register with a third party site just to be able to add content and value to the site I just read? what value to I get in return to my effort?
    using those services is against the web form 101 rule – if you want a reader to fill out a form it should be as short as possible, preferably just one text box.

  13. Wow, thanks for all the insightful comments! That’s exactly why I wanted this article published on the Tavern.

    First off, to anyone not familiar, there already exists a really excellent “bbPress for comments” type of plugin called bbPress Topics for Posts by David Dean. You can choose between a variety of ways to link your blog post to a forum thread. I just wish it was built into the bbPress core to be more all around default, as I’ve noticed quite a few incompatibilities with custom themes.

    @Jeffro re. Third party reluctance:
    I’m strongly opposed to third party reliance as well, but buddy, boy are we in the minority… Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m seeing Disqus poised to be the WordPress of comments, and it’s really uncool because it’s completely proprietary and closed. opened the door to the millions of aspiring bloggers who wanted the smallest technical overhead possible. Something very similar is happening in the comments space, as webmasters are opting for hosted third party solutions over their native comments, because visitors expect more, and rightfully so; their conversations are important, and should be treated as such.

    Per blog, this isn’t at the same scale as the WordPress “15%-of-the-web revolution”, because only a fraction of the blogs out there (the ones that regularly get 5+ comments, i.e. a potential conversation) actually merit an advanced commenting system. Per comment however, word by word, it might very well be on the same scale, if not bigger. And I don’t like the idea of WP’s sister-revolution, discussion, happening in a closed ecosystem. The world needs a freedom fighter in this space, and I want Automattic or some other WordPress/bbPress powerhouse to be my champion. could be a very unique discussion community. It wouldn’t be an “everything goes” like Reddit. These would be very topical, streamlined discussions, since every topic would be either a direct or branched (that’s for another topic) reply to a blog post. Blog posts excel at high quality topic matter, making them ideal multi-conversation pieces.

    @Chuck Reynolds re. bbPress is too heavy:
    If you can’t deal with a slightly heavier load, you’re gonna have to stick with bare-bone native comments anyhow, and miss out on all the goodies like mentions, formatting assistance, previews, flexible authentication and so on. If you want those things, you’re gonna be using a service like Disqus anyhow, or a big bundle of joy! plugins. With some clever content fetching (JSON API maybe?), comments based on bbPress can be just as lightweight as any other equally advanced solution.

    … and by now already I wish I could be dealing with this over multiple branched conversations, because I have so much to say but only a small and confined place to say it in. I’m gonna have to split these comments up a bit.

  14. E-mail from Jeff:

    Speaking of hosted forums for bbPress, did you ever see TalkPress?

    Yeah I’ve heard of TalkPress and it has played a central part in my line of thinking. Back then they clearly didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t know how to close the blog-forum gap (solution: forum-as-comments => topical discussion) and so they ended up building a lackluster service unavailable to the general public, completely different from the WP model they were familiar with.

    Blog post dictate the direction of the conversation but forums enable people to start their own discussion threads. This is a distinct difference. How do we mesh the two?

    Full blown forum hosting for free simply isn’t feasible, hence my idea to restrict the bbPress-based comments service to per-blog discussions only, as opposed to a free-for-all forum like Reddit. You would effectively be limiting the majority of users to all they really need anyhow (many people think they need a forum when all they need is more discussion-friendly comments) while people with an actual need for a professional forum would have to pay for it, just like they do for

    As self-hosted you wouldn’t have these limitations of course. You’d only have to worry about the server costs.

  15. @Christina Warren – re. Where the conversation happens

    I can’t say for sure if the bulk of the conversation happens on other sites, but yes it does happen, and not just on the usual social networks like Facebook and Twitter mind you; places like Slashdot, Ars Technica and Hacker News (I only have the nerdy examples) are prolific discussion-hijackers (but mostly not in a bad way). And why is that? Because topics are transferable, while conversation partners aren’t. Discussions happen where there are enough people to converse with, so if you come by a great topic out in www-middle-of-nowhere, you’ll take it with you some place where there are plenty of people around to help you nurture it.

    This means WordPress/Automattic has two main challenges:
    – Make the blog post location the most attractive location to keep a discussion about the topic at hand. Remove this consideration: “I’d like to comment, but who else is gonna see this, really?”
    – Make the blog post location the central hub for all external conversations. Answer the question “Where else are people talking about this?”

    #1 is lagging behind big time, and it’s the reason why Disqus and others like it are quickly gaining ground.

    #2 is close to finished thanks to Jetpack. The hooks & integrations are there, it’s just not using them in creative ways like Livefyre is doing.

    It’s time for some mockups. I might be a while…

  16. I like the idea of “Discover and be discovered”. I actually tend to keep a mind-frame of wisdom just like that. What we are seeing now is sort of an evolution of where is WordPress going.

    Just this morning I had a really silly idea, what would it be like to try and “clone” the original WordPress installation to a complete minimum. Incorporate all of the aspects in a stripped down version of code. Not sure how I came across such an idea, but I have already seen that there are companies on Kickstarter raising funds for more lightweight version blogs.

    WordPress is, and will be the king lion for many more years to come.

  17. Forums as comments just for the sake of having readers become writers by starting new discussions is just overkill for self host as there will be very few users (if any!) starting new topics on a forum restricted by a blog topics.

    And using external “forum providers” is plain worthless. It’s just as @Christina Warren complains: the discussion will take place somwhere else, where there are many users to discuss with, but it’s not your content anymore. And is worse than social networks micro-discussion, because people from social network will be somehow compelled to see what the starter read in the first place but from a forum the reader will tend to suffice with the forum discussion or search other discussions for a conclusion/solution.

    I think the nested comments along with a comment ordering system putting the most “rich” discussion first is all a blog post needs in term of “fire starting” the comments. Of course there has to be some great content at first! The thing is I didn’t see such a ordering system so far (maybe in a beautiful day with two mornings I’ll write one…)

    What do you think, should a “display comments with the [most replied] at the top of the page” option make sense?

  18. @Christina Warren

    As someone who is an editor at a fairly large media site, I can say that we haven’t chosen to use LiveFyre (and before that our own custom comment engine, and before that Disqus and before that WordPress comments — and this is just in the 4 years I’ve been there) to deep-six comments…

    Yeah … I tried to get a little too clever there for my own good.

    It was meant as more of a reflection on Disqus … that media who don’t really have a good role for comments within their organization & website, yet don’t want to outright ‘stiff’ popular interest in them, in some cases have appeared to me to be ‘shoving’ comments off onto Disqus. Many media operators eschew comments out-of-hand, of course … but the IT Dept techies at many places plug for comments, even though management may not be into it.

    I’ve certainly seen examples where the comment-action cools right off, and becomes either a small lounge-lizard hangout, or the scene of casual drive-by pot-shots, when such News sites go to 3rd party comments. Maybe I picked up on Disqus-cases, because it is the more-prevalent solution.

    But my real error here was scratching the paint on the business-Media vehicle. As Media industry relocate to the Web, they & their activity-pattern appear to be an ally of outcomes that I & I think We, prefer to see. Media-biz, especially in the middle-tiers, favors the kind of Internet-model that preserves values that make the Net exciting to me/us.

    I’m talking here about a business-trend that I imagine to have been at least begun as journalism refugees from the devolution of the Dead Tree Press. Thousands of formerly secure publishing entities, who are not big or prominent enough to be picked up by the Koch Bros and Rupert Murdoch, or by George Soros and Warren Buffet, and are ‘on their own’.

    A lot of “solid” News professionals and journalism journey-folk have had to seriously suck it up, look squarely at their eroded options, and commit to an online model, or get out of the business altogether. This is “it” for these folks, and they have to really lean into it.

    We saw a similar process in recent decades, with Local Television. These entities & their people ended up in a bit of a limbo, and had to go with a creative approach, ‘on their own’. That they were in fact ultimately successful, is underscored by the news that Tribune is now buying up 19 of them for $2.7 billion.

    Those local TV-station businesses were a very significant bulwark, fending off larger trends in the broadcasting industry that were adverse to my cultural preferences. “Solid” Media now trying to do something similar on the Web, promise to likewise serve to slow & counter unattractive trends on the Internet.

  19. @Jeffro -in a way, the whole pingback/trackback evolved into reblogging on tumblr.

    As for the suggestion – I’d prefer to continue to host my own comments rather than have WP host them and the potential to lose them if WP goes under. (Because I’d still always have my blog and could migrate it to whatever takes over for WP)

  20. Whilst comments are, indeed, the life and soul of a blog – and the first line of encouragement for the blogger to continue – using a service to host or manage comments which requires registration is, for me, a no-go.

    I want my readers to be able to comment freely and without feeling that they are being brought into a community they may not wish to join permanently, just the same as I wish to comment across the web. Anything which requires registration is, for me at least, a sign to move on.

    That said, the ability to link to a previous comment with the person’s name – as here – and to edit a comment after Send has been hit is decidedly a move in the right direction. But please, as part of the core and not as a plug-in!

  21. @Eric Mesa and @Viktoria Michaelis – I failed to explain a key benefit here:
    If Automattic takes a professional interest in bbPress, the free bbPress forum software will be improved at a much faster rate. I myself run a fairly large bbPress forum already, and would like to keep hosting it by my own means.

  22. @Alex – Well, something I’ve seen on numerous other sites is the ability to up or downvote a comment. Usually, the comments with the most votes are displayed at the top or, they are displayed with every other comment below it hidden by default. So people reading the comments end up only reading the best ones as voted for by the people.

    There is a distinct difference between forum interactions and blog comments. I witnessed this for myself by having the forum part of WPTavern use vBulletin with no integration with WordPress. Some people on the forum only used the forum and never commented on the blog articles. Some blog commenters only commented on the site and never went through with registering a forum account. I always struggled with how to bridge the gap between the two and have the discussion take place at one place where all participate. That’s the entire idea behind using bbPress as the commenting form.

    As far as commenting goes, what do yo folks think of the commenting form I have on this site? I realize nested/threaded comments would be nice but overall, this is one of the few commenting forms that gives you the ability to edit a comment for a certain period of time after it’s been published. What’s provided in this comment form without the need for an account I think is one of the biggest draws of it’s use.

  23. How many of you remember the WLTC Plugin competition from 2008?

    A comment system plugin won the grand prize called WP Comment Remix. I was a huge fan of that plugin. now you know where I got the idea where the reply link automatically adds a link and the @name to the comment form when replying. A plugin that was ahead of it’s time but oh so cool to use. It was like an entire sub-section of WordPress just focused on commenting.

  24. @Jeffro

    As far as commenting goes, what do yo folks think of the commenting form I have on this site? … this is one of the few commenting forms that gives you the ability to edit a comment for a certain period of time after it’s been published.

    The edit-feature is a very good thing, and I use it quite frequently. The Preview feature is also very good, and I use it religiously.

    If we’re going to encourage and have substantive comments, then most of us will find these particular features very useful.

    A spell-checker would fit very nicely with pre-publish Preview and post-publish Edit. In fact, I copy my comment-text, paste it into an e-mail to spell-check it, then copy it again and paste it back into the comment editor …. then Preview it, then Publish it … and then, not infrequently, (have to) use the post-publish Edit as well.

  25. @Jeffro

    I realize nested/threaded comments would be nice….

    It’s hard to exaggerate the value of nested comments. Whatever the issues or hangups with them, this enhancement should be getting a larger slice of the priority-pie.

    Visitors love nested-replies. I believe that nesting especially makes the newbie or novice more comfortable & confident, and materially helps with recruitment. (WPTavern itself is a notable example of the website with huge exposure and high viewership … which does not translate into commensurate recruitment.)

    Nested or threaded comments are also of great value to the website, and to the Post author. Especially with lots of comments, and where they consist of substantive Content. Nesting provides much-need “structure” to flocks of comments, and it aids in navigation through them.

    Nesting introduces a virtuous-circle of self-reinforcing comment-value enhancements.

  26. So what comment plugins are being used here on WPTavern? They seem to be working pretty well in stirring up conversation and getting people to come back. The only thing missing is probably just some of the social media sharing options like Disqus has.

  27. @Ted Clayton

    [S]omething I’ve seen on numerous other sites is the ability to up or downvote a comment.

    This feature stokes visitation & participation. You can see that some regulars are dropping by quickly, just so they can get in/freshen their Votes.

    There are often kinda-gross downsides, but these problems look like they should be remediable.

    I think it’s bad & wrong, to use voting to pressure certain commentors to STFU. To make people ‘disappear’, because others simply disagree with them.

    Vote-widgets can get downright ugly, to be perfectly honest with ya. But it does not have to be that way; the Admin has settings that can either let voters turn into thugs … or enable the Edward Snowdens to sound-off with impunity.

    ‘Traditionally’, voting has been used to flatter members of the insider-clique, who use it to kick sand in the face of noobs and trap-door those who’s politics are at the opposite pole. Bummer.

    I recommend voting, and several other things like it. It’s not a meaningful enhancement for the website, but it is a lot of fun for participants . I think these things are fairly easy & unproblematic technology – which counts. Just beware that it’s an ill-mannered steed, and needs a firm hand.

  28. Images in Comments!

    This one is like nested/thread comments. A wonderful idea … with messy issues.

    My leading suggestion to clear out a wad of the mess, is to encourage the commenter to upload the image to the site, where it is retained permanently as an Attachment. “Rights” can be affixed to the file. Folks will in many cases grant full rights to the site.

    But even with outsourced images, I say eat the downside and go with it.

  29. Discourse is well worth a good look. Their Forum-as-comments integration into WordPress works by embedding only the 5 “best” posts (several factors involved) from a tied in forum thread.

    Here’s an example post.

    Scroll down and click on “continue the discussion” to see the corresponding forum thread.

    While we’re talking about nested conversations, I gotta say I much prefer Discourse’s style of simply including the little “In reply to…” header, keeping the conversation neat and linear. Click it to see some magic happen ;)

    Here’s a mockup I made. Don’t get too caught up in the UI aspects of it (obviously that trailing element would never scale); the point is how I would have liked to structure it:,tfbhQth

    p.s. Jeffro one thing that’s pretty annoying about your comments form is that it appears to have a basic anti-spam measure that stops me from including links. The problem is that it lets me click “post”, and proceeds to refresh the page with my post all gone. Good thing I’ve made a habit of always copying my posts before posting ^^

  30. Is there a comment plugin for wordpress comments that allows image uploads and video embeds to youtube? And if you add a ratings plugin to comments and a social share plugin on comments, you basically have disqus for your site without using an outside third party.

  31. @Robbie – In my opinion, you’re playing with fire by allowing that kind of stuff. It definitely means keeping an eye on every comment for moderation. Wouldn’t want people to embed stupid videos or insulting images. However, I’m going to test the YouTube embed code in this comment form to see if it works. Check out this tutorial on how to create a plugin that enables the submission of images from the front-end of the site to the WordPress media library

    Another link worth checking out has about 33 plugins dealing with enhancing WordPress comments

  32. @Erlend Sogge Heggen – The anti-spam measure is built into WordPress. Any comment with 2 or more links is automatically sent to the spam queue. However, I realize it would be nice if after you submitted the comment, a message told you that it went into the spam queue and would be approved shortly. I’ll keep a note to add that behaviour to the site when it’s redesigned.

  33. For what it’s worth, Disqus is actually the one company that fulfills my criteria of being “lunatics who are willing to spend years relentlessly sweating every detail, who understand that every pixel and every click really, really matter … even though it is “just” comments“.

    Reading through all the comments above, there seems to be a terrific amount of misunderstanding with regard to how these systems work and, more importantly, how site visitors work – some of the arguments I’ve read here against hosted comments are exactly the reasons why they are ideal for smaller sites with a high proportion of first-time or infrequent visitors.

    I don’t want to get into a drawn out clarification but, in short, if your goal is to give your comments section as much chance as possible to gain the momentum necessary to sustain a community who will keep coming back, use Disqus.

    It boils down to incredibly small yet insightful decisions, such as keeping the number of both Up and Down votes visible, giving you an immediate visual cue to which comments are the most contested, most agreed with or, most fascinating of all, the ones that divide opinion right down the middle.

    Those simple, tiny Up and Down arrows are the most effective onramp to interaction yet invented, the most non-threatening invitation you can extend to your site visitors, and it is all too easy for hardened commenters like us to forget how difficult that first toe-in-the-water was.

    Again, you need to be someone who comments a lot in order to understand why touches like that put a rocket under discussions and, as I said, it is obvious that most decision makers (and especially the decision makers at the big news sites such as Engadget, Techcrunch and Mashable) are not, themselves, regular comment-writers – they understand sales people but not comments, and that is why abominations such as Livefyre still exist.

    • “It boils down to incredibly small yet insightful decisions, such as keeping the number of both Up and Down votes visible”

      Disqus decided showing the number of down votes is bad. Gone now.

  34. When you rely on outside third parties, you are also putting your data in their hands. If they fold, get sold or go under, so goes your comment data. When you build your website, you’re building an asset. Why build somebody else’s?!

  35. When I wanted to jazz up my comments I started with Intensedebate and loved it at first but then technical issues came up and they never responded to my requests for help. For example I had it set to e-mail me when I got a comment but it rarely did – only when a comment got put in the moderation bucket. The other thing was there was some bug where my own comments were moderated even when I was logged in. I got tired of working on the comments.

    Anyhoo I moved to Disqus and some of the comments about 3rd party services doesn’t apply. I specifically picked Disqus for the sync with my db so I keep all my comments and I have it set so guests can comment without registering and I like the multiple way to sign-in if you do go that route to leave a comment.

    Forum based comments aren’t a single a solution just as having comments isn’t for all types of blogs. I’ll check out some of the suggestions but my blogs are too small for a forum – I’m not really looking for a community but I understand some might want that.

  36. When you rely on outside third parties, you are also putting your data in their hands. If they fold, get sold or go under, so goes your comment data.

    @Robbie – Honestly, this is the sort of misinformation that needlessly confuses people, and all it takes is a minute of research to get these basic details right, ideally before you make unequivocal pronouncements.

    Syncing has been a high-lighted, central feature of the WordPress plugins for all of these services (IntenseDebate, Disqus etc), pretty much right from the start.

    This is what I meant when I said that the arguments against these services actually end up being arguments for them, if you introduce actual facts and reality. You suggest that using a hosted comment system is bad because of the risk of data loss; in reality, the risk of data loss is far lower because you are saving each comment in your WordPress database AND on the hosted service.

    If they fold, get sold or go under … you deactivate the plugin and, voilà, all your comments are right there, in your native comment system.

    When you build your website, you’re building an asset. Why build somebody else’s?!

    Disqus provide an optional service in a free market. People use them because they do a really good job of providing a smooth, enjoyable and viral commenting system that users are familiar and comfortable with – the bottom line: they increase participation.

    My house is an asset. When a pipe bursts, I call a plumber. Yes, his business is his asset, not mine, and, by giving him my custom, I am adding to his asset … but he does a good job and it would be a rotten use of my time to try and fix the gushing pipe myself. So would spending days searching out individual plugins in an attempt to replicate what Disqus already provides, maintains and continually improves.

  37. If Disqus is so wonderful, then why isn’t Jeff using them here?

    Donnacha makes it sound like anyone who doesn’t use them is an idiot.

    There are certainly good reasons why many sites steer away from them. Services fail all the time.

    There are privacy concerns as well.

    Do you want all your comments on all sites that you comment on, aggregated under your Disqus profile for all the world to see? Now, the world knows what sites you’re on, whether you have cancer or not, what blogs you read, if you comment on “adult” blogs, what your political views are, etc.

    You open a delicious can of worms and the recent NSA spying scandal is certainly proof of that! It should give anyone pause for concern.

    Yes, you can hire a plumber. But you certainly wouldn’t let him LIVE in your house!

  38. Jesus.

    Well, now that the NSA are involved and my plumber has moved in with me, I think it’s time for me to gracefully bow out of this thread.

  39. The point is PRIVACY is a major concern with Disqus and any of these third-party services. You lose control and leave your commentors vulnerable.

    Here are some articles about it, there are REAL issues here to discuss:

    And some choice snippets:

    “People understand that the Disqus widget is a commenting system, but it’s also a tracking system. It follows a user’s activities across sites that use Disqus, even if the user is logged out,” says Downey. The info collected by Disqus includes IP address, browser version and installed plugins, and exit links — data Disqus refers to as “Non-Personally Identifiable Information.” However, this information can be used to de-anonymize users, when combined with third-party information. And because Disqus reserves the right to share you data with third-parties, such action could be taken. Furthermore, says Downey, “Disqus has come under fire for privacy issues after it published its users’ full commenting histories on user profile pages that were visible to the public.”


    “There is a blithe disregard for the personal privacy of anyone who uses Disqus. In the past if someone wanted all my comments they would have to register on the site, log in, visit my profile, and copy my comments one by one. Their alternative was to use Google to search for my comments. While my comments were open to view, my privacy was protected as it took a substantial investment of time. Why do I care? Because comments, used out of context, can be made to prove anything. If you think that using comments out of context isn’t a problem I encourage you to review what happened to Josh Trevino this week.

    What Disqus does is give any other Disqus user the ability to “Follow” you. This means all of your comments, on every site you visit using Disqus, are aggregated for them. You do not have the ability to block “Followers.” So if someone is stalking you in the comments, every time you post a comment your stalker is notified.

    Disqus refuses to acknowledge that the political blogosphere is populated not only by passionate activists but by a sizable cadre of vicious and stupid gits who think nothing of harassing your employer or SWATting you at home.”

    Scary stuff! And a good reason to keep comments and control in-house. It’s not worth losing the trust of your users just for a few fancy “bells and whistles”.

  40. yeh, data from the third party tools can be exported and integrated back into your wordpress, but I still fail to see reason to use them. Why should I make the effort to integrate them, what is my ROI? engagement can’t be a goal by itself.
    For my personal blog I don’t care about the number of comments, I care about their quality – how interesting or educating they are for me. For an adsense powered site I care only about ad click. IMO the only people that care about engagement are those still stuck at 2000 and its “eye balls” models.

    The fact that techcruch replaced FB comments with livefyre suggests to me that even facebook can’t deliver a meaningful engagement, and if they can’t why should anyone think that disqus or any of the other can?

    And the ROI is important for any change you do in the site. If it is a non profit site then you just do things you have time for, but if you need to pay someone to enhance your comments then you should see a way to earn money out of it, and the end result should not be more difficult to maintain then the current one, and all the things that were discussed here require more time devoted to moderation and spam fighting (or clearing false positives), so how do you justify to yourself this additional commitment?

  41. @Jeffro

    @Robbie – In my opinion, you’re playing with fire by allowing that kind of stuff [“image uploads and video embeds to youtube”]. It definitely means keeping an eye on every comment for moderation. Wouldn’t want people to embed stupid videos or insulting images.

    I mentioned before that abuse of voting & ranking has been quite advanced & sophisticated, at various sites around the Net. What I didn’t go so far as to say/point out, is that this abuse often appeared to serve the interests or goals of the website itself, or the owner. So it tended to become a systematically allowed & tacitly encouraged practice.

    Voting & ranking abuses work marvels, eg, for keeping the climate-deniers and gun-enthusiasts off nice, proper, Liberal-Progressive sites. Voting-manipulations are perfect, for keeping tree-huggers and CO2-hysterics off the Conservative blogs.

    Same general situation goes with images. Sure enough – abuses of pictures & video in comments have not been hard to find. But equally noticeable has been that this is often a subtly-managed ‘house-game’.

    Like the ease of controlling vote-abuse (that it’s so easy to prevent, is a big clue that it’s purposeful), it is easy to put the brakes on image-foolishness. For those who actually want to.

    The tool-of-choice for addressing picture & video nonsense is an adaptation of the Report Comment plugin-widget.

    It so happens that the code behind this control-tool is very similar to the vote/rank widget-tool, and it is likewise very easy for Admin to fine-tune, adapt and monitor (which, yeah, is another part of what has favored the abuse of these tools…). The Report-tool can be readily adapted to target images or videos.

    The real problem that arises with images or flicks, is that they tend to devolve into ‘fun & games’ – they go off-topic. People ‘play-games’ with snarky & humorous pictures. They derail the topic or thread of the Post, and run hog-wild with a ‘silliness-game’.

    This foolishness is easy to nip in the bud, because it’s irritating & obnoxious to those who actually have something to say & contribute, and they will Report it. That is, folks will report it if the website ‘thought’ to include the control-tool … which of course in the case of those seeking to promote a free-for-all, the means by which visitors could bring problems to the attention of Admin were often conspicuous by their absence. Just like with voting.

    It is understood that those who really want & prefer a entirely New & Improved approach to commenting, ultimately are unlikely to be swayed by suggestions for the improvement & enhancement of what they may simply regard as the Old & Funky standard comment-system, which in their view ‘needs‘ to be replaced.

    There is of course business-opportunity, in the “distributed”, off-site comment-system that some are suggesting (which indeed Matt Mullenweg once took a look at (quite some years ago), and made an effort to develop, for awhile). Disqus has had some success with this model, while others flounder. But Matt ultimately passed on the gambit, and it is not clear that current business-examples really have The Future by the short-hairs, either. In fact, Matt is looking a bit sagacious in this saga, by gathering up his chips & moving on, earlier rather than later.

    Remember Gravitars? We make the avatar an off-site asset, and then everyone’s personal-pic goes through/comes from the central, off-site distributing-agency. Very slick, for keeping track of where people are, and what they’re doing. There’s a business-opportunity in it. And very much the same deal, and same business-gambit, with off-site comment systems.

    Except, Gravitars never really caught on to the degree some thought they might.

  42. It would be nice too to be able to upload a local avatar and not rely on gravatar service. WordPress makes you use it by default. It really never took off like disqus has. If you want to keep everything in your own environment, you really need to maintain control over your site users avatars without relying on another third party.

  43. Yes of course, there are nice plugins for WordPress, to allow custom avatars, and to fall-back to Gravitar if they aren’t present … in classic Loop-fashion. I do see websites out there running on WordPress and using personal avatars, alongside Gravitars. Matt is not sticking pins in their voodoo-doll.

    Use ‘wordpress plugin avatar’ in your fav engine, or ‘avatar’ in WP-plugins.

    It was already obvious before the Gravitar company came along, that people use different avatars, in different sites, and even in different contexts on the same site. Etc, etc. Assets & services were selected & tweaked to best-serve particular roles & contexts.

    And obviously, the same applies to Comment Forms & systems. It’s so obvious, folks are glossing right over it. Jeff – right here & now – is proud of the results of the effort he has put into optimizing & customizing the WPTavern comments-system, to best-serve the specific goals & purposes of this site. And quite rightly so.

    The next site you go to, the priorities may be different, and a different Admin may be equally proud of the entirely different kinds of comment-form customizations that she has built for her site … which has an entirely different focus & goal-set, than Jeff works for here on the Tav. And so it goes from site to site, all over the Web. It only makes sense, doesn’t it?

    Why would we want to part with this kind of flexibility & adaptability? Only for the same reasons that we were sweet-talked into parting with a superior avatar experience, for the ho-hum Gravitar version. Because there is a valuable business opportunity in play … if the gambit actually succeeds.

    I want WordPress-Automattic to succeed. I can put up with some moves that don’t do anything for me, if they help solidify the enterprise that Matt heads up. I know that not everything will work; that Matt competes with the biggest & toughest on the planet, and he will sometimes get his butt kicked.

    The Gravitar story, and honestly to all appearances, the off-site comments story, is water under the bridge. Much more compelling dramas now dominate the stage.

    The off-site comment-systems story was just the same-ol’ Gravitar-movie footage, with nothing changed but the sub-titles. And the studio isn’t even accepting scripts for that franchise anymore.

    It’s a cool-game today, people. Social-Mobile is winning, strictly on cool-points.

    Form over function. Style over substance. Look where function got Drupal. WordPress was cool.

    Avatars were cool, before Gravitar turned them into a boring tracking-tool. Places competed, for cool-points, on their avatar-specialization. You can’t collectivize avatars, the way the communist USSR collectivized their farms, and expect the results to be cool.

    Comments can still be cool, and they are in many places. We can win cool-points for our preferred version of the Internet, by putting effort into the solid, simple WordPress comment-foundation.

    We won’t advance on cool-points, giving Comments the Gravitar-treatment.


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