What Is The Future Of Comments In WordPress?

I’ve had a special place in my heart for comments in WordPress ever since I started using the platform. I hold comments in high regard because they often provide more insight into the topic being discussed. Comments are a validation someone’s reading my content and I look forward to reading every one of them.

WordPress comments haven’t changed much in the past few years. Brian Krogsgard over at Postat.us has published a list of ideas he has to improve the way comments function in WordPress. His ideas are solid and I agree with them, especially the idea to remove what one of his clients considered to be computer code from the bottom of the comment form.

So Called Computer Code
So Called Computer Code

This code should be removed as suggested by Brian but I’d extend the idea to replace the text with WYSIWYG buttons people are familiar with to style text. They’re called Quicktags and WordPress supports them out of the box via the Quicktags API. Quicktags provide the same type of buttons you’d see when writing a post in the Text editor of WordPress. Bonus points to theme authors who style the tags to match the rest of the theme.

Comments Of The Third Party Kind

The first thing I do after I read an article is read the comments if they’re available. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly rare to see popular sites powered by WordPress using the native comment system. Most of the comment forms I see look like this.

Comments by disqus
Comments by disqus

Personally, I don’t like seeing two columns of related content underneath the current conversation. I find it confusing to figure out where a conversation ends. The bottom line is more and more sites are turning to third party comment systems because of the features they have out of the box.

Automattic Tried With IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate Comment Form
IntenseDebate Comment Form

Acquired in September of 2008 by Automattic, IntenseDebate was one of many commenting services launched that year including Disqus, SezWho, and JS-Kit. IntenseDebate had some cool features for comments at the time such as threaded comments and reply by email. Fast forward six years later and IntenseDebate is now on hiatus. This was confirmed by Matt Mullenweg when we interviewed him on episode 130 of WordPress Weekly.

When I asked him about the status of IntenseDebate, he replied “IntenseDebate is currently on hold. It’s not actively being worked on inside Automattic. But there has been a lot of work on the Jetpack comment features such as subscriptions and interactions with social networks.

He also mentioned WordPress hasn’t done a lot of things to improve areas that are user facing such as comments. The last major improvement to comments was the addition of threaded comments in WordPress 2.7 ‘Coltrane’. He explained, “It’s very difficult to iterate comments as it’s hard to get those changes to be compatible with every WordPress theme in the world.” He mentioned the possible use of API’s and ended his answer with “the most interesting things happening with comments are services and Automattic’s work with Jetpack Comments.

Jetpack Powered Comments

I think it’s quite telling that WordPress.com doesn’t use IntenseDebate. Instead, it uses a custom comment system that supports using credentials from four major social media services. WordPress.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. If you use Jetpack, you can use the same comment system by activating the Jetpack Comments module.

Jetpack Comment Form
Jetpack Comment Form

The biggest problem I have with Jetpack Comments is it’s not easily extendable using various comment plugins. Or, not many plugins are compatible with Jetpack Comments. At least with IntenseDebate, there is a library of plugins to add features on top of what the service already offers. Since Jetpack Comments is tied to a plugin, it’s not platform agnostic like IntenseDebate.

The Future Of Comments In WordPress Is Unclear

Between Jetpack comments and IntenseDebate, it’s unclear what the future holds for the native comment system in WordPress. There have been multiple discussions around the topic of removing comments from core and putting them into a plugin but the idea hasn’t gained traction.

My hope is that native WordPress comments will continue to improve to the point where using a third party is counter-productive. I want to see WordPress make it as easy as possible to contribute to conversations on the web. When Matt Mullenweg published the announcement of acquiring IntenseDebate on his blog in 2008, he said the following:

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.

I hope he still feels that way about comments and will strive to improve that area of WordPress sooner, rather than later.

Further Reading

I encourage everyone to read this blog post from July 2, 2013 where Erlend Sogge Heggen wrote a post on how Automattic is losing the debate. It’s a detailed article that talks about IntenseDebate, Automattic, and commenting in WordPress in general. Also worth reading is the discussion that followed in the comments.


45 responses to “What Is The Future Of Comments In WordPress?”

  1. A huge advantage in using hosted comments, is that it allows you to serve all your pages statically, and offload the dynamic comment stuff to an external service. This can massively reduce the costs involved in running a popular site. I assume this is why you will find a lot of sites use these comment services.

    • Exactly! Hosted comments translates into a site that can serve 100 requests/sec into one that can do 1000s requests/sec. Especially with something like Nginx which does this with a very low memory footprint.

  2. Hi Jeff
    I use native comments, which are usually styled to fit in with the blog so they look good.

    I comment less and less and use social media more and more.

    On a post from an old public speaking blog I almost achieved 300 comments http://easypublicspeaking.co.uk/online-video-technique-and-equipment/
    now I don’t even try I look to how many likes and tweets my posts … and pages, receive.

    The Tavern is one of the few sites that I comment on because your posts are short, to the point and useful.

    The future of comments… who knows?

  3. Comments are an essential part of communication on the web in my opinion, even if it requires work to maintain that communication channel. I think that’s where most people just give up on comments. They don’t want to take the time to moderate or review comments. But I think there’s a great opportunity here for technology to provide useful tools that can make moderating comments easier and (possibly) fun.

    Here’s a possible approach – Moderation points:
    After a commentator earns a certain amount of mod points, their comments no longer need moderation (until they lose points below a certain threshold). Perhaps after a commentator earns enough points they can even gain the capability of bestowing or removing mod points on other commentators. Let your best commentators help manage your commenting community. However you’ll likely want at least a periodic (weekly) review of who bestowed or removed points from whom just to confirm this capability isn’t being abused or causing issues to your commenting community.

    I view comments a bit like gardening – if done right, it’s awesome and you get some tasty treats (great comments) from it. If you don’t take the time to weed and feed though, you’ll end up with weeds. And if you refuse to allow commenting, you’re just pouring cement over the yard.

    • Interesting idea but WordPress sort of already has this built-in. The commenting settings area gives me an option to automatically allow comments from those that have been previously approved. In that sense, you would have the necessary points to continue posting without being moderated.

      The caveat is that I’ve also configured the settings so a comment with a certain amount of links is flagged even if they normally have their comments approved without moderation.

      Love your gardening analogy. Call me the comment gardener!

  4. As blogging goes, so go comments. Comments are part-and-parcel of blogging. Social media represent an entirely different means of interaction/engagement, and cannot replace blog comments entirely.

    Blog comments turn a monologue into a dialogue – an article into a discussion. I like where bbPress is going in that regard. I think it will be great one day to replace blog comments with per-post discussion forums.

    • I have heard about this being an option in the future – but how would you wrangle thousands of per-post forums? I don’t fully understand the advantages of setting this up.

      • I don’t know how it would work but if I had a say in the matter, I’d want to specify which bbPress forum will house the blog posts. Each post becomes a topic within that forum. Then the comments become replies. Meanwhile, the rest of the forum continues to act on its own. If it worked that way, I don’t see how it would be thousands of per-post forums.

        One forum, new blog posts would be new threads and comments would be replies to the thread.

  5. I’m with you on the importance of comments. Depending on the website, and who authored the post, sometimes you can get better and more accurate information from the comments. My local newspaper was a good example, but that’s another subject..

    The native WP system has some serious drawbacks..

    Just in the US there are 300,000,000 people, what percentage have a WordPress.com account?

    How many people want their comments on political or other potentially controversial sites linked to their FB page. That leaves the door wide open for to garner a ton of personal information, including information about their children..

    As popular as Twitter is, there are still a lot of people who don’t like it..

    Disqus, the example you used is a painless registration for users, user profiles display no personal information. .. Because a lot of people seldom log out, if they visit a site that uses Disqus.. they’re automatically able to comment without having to do anything

    From the website owners perspective, there are a huge number of people who have Disqus accounts, for those that don’t they system allows 3rd party validation, virtually zero spam gets through and it does some automated moderation and you still have the ability see and to block the IPs of trolls.

    With each comment notification, the site owner gets an email address belonging to the commenter.

    Intense debate offered many of the same features, it’s a shame they quit developing it.

  6. To take a contrary stance, I think WordPress (and WordPress themes) should natively allow comments to be turned off gracefully. It doesn’t have to be announced “Comments are closed” or have an empty comment count. As WordPress has grown beyond just a blogging platform, so has the place for comments also evolved.

    I disabled comments on my site because it shaved time off of the response time, particularly going from external comment providers, and stopped the onslaught of comment spam. It also cleaned up articles and made sure people read the article to find an answer instead of taking the easier route of just going straight to the bottom and asking their question. After running with comments disabled for 9 months and preferring it that way, I deleted all comments.

    • Well, that’s a different topic in a way but I too agree that when comments are disabled or closed, the theme should reflect that by not showing anything having to do with comments instead of sites having to perform magic to get comments to fully disappear on the frontend of the site.

      I realize comments are not for everyone, but how do you interact with your audience? Do they know to go through your contact form to ask you a question?

  7. Jeff, you wrote a nice post at right time. It’s today that I deactivated “disqus” commenting system on my blog because it annoys bloggers. I decided to use jetpack and tweeted that now my commenting system is powered by WP’s jetpack. Later on today, I ran my blog on a Chinese browser and found that jetpack commenting system doesn’t work in China. I immediately gave a try on Chrome/Firefox (without VPN) and found same. The main reason is that WP.com is blocked in China. And, disqus works very well. Now I’m using theme’s default comment box. Personally I like and recommend jetpack/WP’s commenting system. It is nice enough, clean, clear and easy to use with or without logging in but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use it anyway. :( It really seems that the future of comments in WordPress is unclear.


    • Jetpacks commenting module is nice but is an iframe, not extendable with other plugins, and relies on a third party without a graceful fallback as I recently found out. Other than that, it works well.

  8. The New York Times has dozens of WordPress blogs, with millions of visitors. It should go without saying, that the fundamental comment-concept breaks down & fails, in the face of interactivity & feedback on this scale. It’s silly to debate the role & future of comments, without keep in view & acknowledging that comments can only be expected to work nicely in certain roles, on certain levels.

    It is very important to WordPress and Automattic, that commercial media-business have adopted their product. But these businesses are not about interactivity, or collaboration. They are still “broadcast” enterprises, based on the display of advertising-copy to passive viewers. Their business-model has carried over from the dead trees days, with minimal tweaking.

    Socrates tends to be defined by his opposition to writing, but he became controversial because he espoused discussion & debate. Socrates wanted Comments. Other orators thought they were a nuisance, and cultivated passive audience-behavior. The Socrates comment & debate model was stimulating & exciting, to the audience. Especially the young, the small-time and otherwise insignificant. Empowering the masses – by encouraging their involvment – is what got Socrates the hemlock.

    NYT has no interest in Socrates’ approach, but WP does. The dichotomy is not new … and it’s not bad, that it exists.

    WordPress’ identity & base are defined & served, by the presence of a simple comment-facility that enables the young, the inexperienced and the unpolished to get a start online. Hopefully, it is not necessary for WP to divest itself of this audience, as it cultivates new & more-profitable market sectors.

  9. Thanks for the post Jeff! I too wish they hadn’t abandoned Intense Debate. I’ve tried WP Native Comments, Disqus, Facebook Comments, Google+ Comments, and out of all of them Intense Debate was my favorite.

  10. One of the features that I’m really looking forward to in bbPress 2.6 is the option to replace wordpress comments with bbPress forum threads:

    This is the main point made by Sogge’s post in July 2013 which you link to.

    Of course, we’ve had David Dean’s excellent bbPress Topics for Posts plugin for a while but it would be nice to have this integrated into core following wordpress’ development model of features as plugins.

    • I’m excited for that feature as well. I hope that it somehow gets more sites to install bbPress and not just have the commenting system powered by it, but also get sites to have a forum to allow their guests to discuss various subjects. It seems like forums are on the decline thanks in large part to social media sites.

  11. I use the default commenting system in WordPress for a very specific reason: anonymity. I probably won’t be able to enter this comment because of the jetpack plugin being used here, it constantly messes up my credentials.

    I don’t want users to feel they need to sensor themselves because their comments are tied to an identity. Comment spam can be handled through strong captcha planning an spam filtering.

    I’ve thought about using bbPress for comments, but saw the same identity issues. Also, Disqus and it’s ilk are the worst commenting systems ever from a privacy standpoint. Now am I not only required to have an identity on a site, but that identity transcends multiple sites – way to make tracking a user’s activity even easier for the NSA and other government organizations.

    Just a few knee-jerk reactions from me. :-)

    • Well, looks like your comment was submitted just fine :)

      Valid points on the privacy issues of Gravatar and third party services but I suppose it’s one of those trade off situations. Anonymity versus convenience.

  12. Riffing on the future of comments… something I’d like to see more of is inline commenting, similar to what can be found on Medium.com and Quartz. It keeps discussion close to the source material.

  13. I absolutely love Disqus, I think it’s the best commenting system on the web. The two columns of related content underneath the comments can be turned off.

  14. Thanks for extending the conversation, Jeff.

    I really love comments, myself. I always read the comments on my favorite blogs.

    I think native WordPress comments can be great, but they’ve got some catching up to do. I like the Jetpack style the most, but Disqus would probably be my favorite implementation if they didn’t force you to register accounts. I also don’t love how Disqus reorders comments. It throws off the flow in my opinion.

    Anyway, it looks like some of my recs might end up being real tickets and potentially change core, so I’m really happy about that. Thanks again for linking it here and giving your own input.

    • There’s an option to allow guests to comment on Disqus so users don’t have to register an account if they don’t want to. You can also change the default comment sorting on your blog. By default it’s set to “Best”, but you can change it to “Oldest” for a more traditional flow.

      View post on imgur.com

      View post on imgur.com

      PS. I love Post Status! It and WP Tavern are my “go to” WordPress news blogs.

    • I think Featured Comments would be nice but anything involving community based interaction would require a voting system. Would love to see a lot of improvements that give routine visitors to the site more of a reason to participate and feel part of the community.

  15. Has anyone checked out or tried moot.com? They seem to have WP integration via a plugin, including single sign on capability. I like the fact you can use them as a forum and/or commenting system together and the look and feel is attractive. I just haven’t seen any WP sites using it yet to see how it works in the real world but I’m intrigued.

    • It is moot.it not .com. Looks really interesting. I like the design, but haven’t tried it myself. It is still in beta. Maybe there will be a WP plugin in the future?

      • Not sure if you missed it in my post above, they do have a WP plugin that works with it, including Single Sign On.

  16. I’d like to see the native WordPress comment system improved as well. It is just a spam magnet without help from plugins at the moment.

  17. Haven’t found any good comment system that I really like (never liked Disqus and such), so I am still using the native WP comment system. Hope it does get improvements in the future.

    • In that situation, I’m not sure whether you should keep trucking on or just disable them altogether. It depends on the site’s content and the audience you’re attracting.

  18. Moot is very close to what I imagined bbPress could evolve into. The upcoming native support for replacing comments in bbPress 2.6 is nice, but too little too late in my case. I want to try Moot out on my new personal blog soon.

    The native comment system could definitely benefit from some improvements as well, but I don’t see its usefulness extending much further than as a very basic “compatibility baseline” format for other comment systems to be compatible with, so that you can always have your data back even if you resort to a third party service. If WordPress/Automattic don’t intend to innovate in this space, the least they can do is pave the way for the ones who will.

    For both work and my hobby project, I plan to be using Discourse. A full blown forum is definitely not for the average blogger (something that took me a while to concede) but it seems right for my purposes.

    Thanks for bringing this discussion back on the agenda Jeff. I can easily get behind Brian’s suggestions and I’m thrilled to hear some of them might be making their way into core sooner rather than later.

    • Would like to know how your experience has been like using Discourse. A full blown forum is different than comments on a blog, that’s for sure. The two have different audiences, different uses but somehow, some way they can be combined for the best of both worlds. That’s what I’m hoping bbPress 2.6 will provide.

  19. So how much does a commenting feature, or lack thereof, actually relate to a more successful (high-ranking, high readership) WordPress site’s success? What percentage of readers actually leave a comment on average?

    This is an interesting post on a feature–the commenting feature–of blogs & WordPress which I see as eventually completely going away:

    (1) Google continues to hone the targeted impact of their last two algos, and they are increasingly trumpeting their stated emphasis on rel=author and content-focused ranking;
    (2) really successful, high-readership bloggers do not generally have a commenting feature activated anyway (e.g., Steven Sinofsky’s WordPress-hosted ‘LearnbyShipping’ blog comes to mind), because they either do not have time, or do not ‘need’ one… etc, etc.
    (3) In fact, any really successful, professionally-max’ed (no time) blogger typically is interactive for only the first day or first-few blog comments anyway…who has the time?

    For any kind of targeted growth, the mere logistics and time-consumption required to fully and consistently engage the small segment of active commenters does not lend itself to a smart or sustainable business model…

    @Ted’s NY Times/Socrates illustration is an interesting, philosophical allusion–but, the key take away for me is that meaningful commenting is an active engagement by beginners, and people with a lot of time (or procrastinators like myself currently at this moment!) on lower-mid to small readership blogs and websites

    From my more or less WP-n00b perspective, commenting in general (anywhere) appears to be 80-85% mindless-blowing-kisses-to-one-another by the same 6-12 peeps (friends/mom/neighbors/etc) who appear to be professional acquaintances and/or a few well-intentioned followers of the authors.

    I don’t mean any disrespect, but commenting seems to be a somewhat mindless affair on most of the blogs I see…with little or no addition to blog-content (which may or may not be of much substance to begin with) by the commenters.

    The traditional-TV-and radio-media-related and the dead-tree business-modeled-blogs (good analogy by @Ted above, again) are the WORST–with ridiculously sophomoric, petty, personally-offensive, and combative comment-crud overcoming a clogged cesspool…

    There are exceptions, and this particular post and its meaningful comment-threads are a good example of some intelligent discourse, but that’s increasingly rare it seems.

    Personally, as our remodeled site gets ramped up and rolling, we’re considering having no comment feature at all. It seems like that would clarify the basis and motivation of our writing–because we like to write and share–at least it seems more pure, right. Ha!

    So, I guess I’d ask the more experienced and the SEO-prone professionals these questions:

    (1) If hits and readership drive the rankings–what percentage of Google juice for a highly-ranked (i.e., Alexa-rank) site is attributable to the degree of comments and commenting?

    (2) Is there some kind of metric that WordPress.com can use to compare the relationship of ranking sites with their degree of (or lack of) active commenting? That would be cool to see.

    I’m guessing that Mr Mullenweg and his band of merry, wonderful, worldwide WordPress-weenies (affectionately stated with a smile–really) everywhere may be on to something: it just may be that the comment aspect of the WordPress website/blog arena less and less of a relevant feature to the whole picture overall. Otherwise, why would it be neglected?

    Interesting indeed… Thanks for the insightful and thought-provoking post. Cheers

  20. Good points. Although I can’t answer and of your SEO related questions since I don’t know the answers, I can say that I’ve done my best to try and cultivate active commenters to this site. Over the years, the comments on WPTavern have been filled with equally or more interesting information than I would present in a post.

    It takes a lot of work and effort to establish that community if it forms at all. It is a huge time investment, moderating, reading, and hoping to find that time to reply to people so they don’t think they’re in an empty room.

    I hope commenting doesn’t become that thing we refer to when we say “back in the old days”.

  21. I like the implementation and idea, but I find I don’t read as many comments when they’re all separated on the sides next to paragraphs, plus it interrupts my reading. It’s more natural to read the comments at the end after I’ve soaked the whole story in.

    You could say comments on the side like Medium/QZ is akin to someone constantly interrupting you as you’re reading/telling a story… ; )


  22. The main reason I dislike Jetpack Comments it that the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” feature doesn’t allow for the choice of to be notified of replies to ONLY your comment. I hate that if you check the box you get flooded with notifications for every single comment left after yours which is a shame as I really like to know when my comment is replied to.. I like Disqus but dislike that there’s no url field for guest commenters & no tie in to Gravatars if the commenter is a guest or if they haven’t set an avatar or selected to use their gravatar in their profile for registered users. I really like & use Intense Debate as it ties in to gravatar & allows guest commenters to leave their url so I can check out their sites.. Does it really matter that much if ID is no longer under development?

  23. I’m late to the party, Jeff, as always. My opinion probably doesn’t matter, but I don’t have any issues with the native commenting system. I use single plugin to stop 99.9% of the comment spam – WP Conditional Captcha, which only activates when a comment is flagged as spam by Akismet. Because I use Nginx instead of Apache, I drop all connections from known spam ranges (vs. deny) when they try to comment, without affecting other access.

    Well, I actually do have one issue. Very few people comment. I attribute that to Google’s animal updates – only spammers use keywords as author names anymore. People commented all the time on an old blog, when keywords weren’t an issue. Non-keyword posters did too, just not as often.


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