Dear Automattic: You Are Losing The Debate

The following post was written by Erlend Sogge Heggen of jmonkeyengine.org. 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:

http://9to5mac.com/ – Vanilla
http://penny-arcade.com/report/ – Vanilla
http://www.howtogeek.com/ – Discourse
http://boingboing.net/ – 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

IntenseDebate.com lists 6 sites using their service. 2 of them have since moved on to Disqus (breitbart.com) and Facebook Comments (techstars.com) 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 discuss.wordpress.com, 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 wordpress.com, 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 discuss.wordpress.com.

The benefits are plentiful:

  • Keep using the WordPress.com 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 bbPress.org as a kick-ass open source forum package and hosted service. That’s where the next generation of comments is at.

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