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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.