Hands-on: 3 comment platforms make blog management easier

Disqus, IntenseDebate, and Livefyre can help site owners keep control of the conversation

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IntenseDebate is offered by Automattic, the creators of WordPress, which acquired the service in 2008. That implies WordPress users are bound to get the most from it, and IntenseDebate does indeed sport a very strong degree of integration with WordPress. It doesn't skimp on working with other blogs, either -- Blogger, TypePad, Tumblr, and generic blogs via a JavaScript include -- but anyone using WordPress will reap the biggest and most direct benefits.

IntenseDebate's moderation panel can be used with, rather than to replace, the native WordPress comment moderation system.

IntenseDebate clients include the Microsoft Partner Network, Portland, Ore., news outlet KATU.com, and startup acceleratorTechStars.

A high level of integration between WordPress and IntenseDebate is clear from the beginning. As with Disqus, installation is a simple three-step process: You supply your website's URL, pick the publishing platform in use, and then install platform-appropriate plugins.

When I entered my WordPress site's URL, IntenseDebate checked the site and discovered that WordPress was in use; it then performed the rest of the configuration automatically. The only thing it didn't do was install the IntenseDebate plugin, but that was only one additional step on my part. Note that IntenseDebate works with only the open-source WordPress CMS software found at WordPress.org. IntenseDebate does not (yet) work on blogs hosted on the free WordPress.com service.

Once IntenseDebate's WordPress plugin has been installed and activated (using your IntenseDebate account), it automates the process of importing comments in much the same way Disqus does. You don't have to hang around for the import process to finish; you're notified by email when it's done, and your blog is still usable in the interim (although some of the comments may briefly vanish as they're migrated). That said, I had to restart the import when it got stuck without warning at one point, but after that it finished the whole process in a matter of minutes.

The last stage of the setup process lets you choose how comments are managed and presented in four ways: You can use the IntenseDebate comment template or WordPress's own styling for comments; you can have IntenseDebate manage how links in comments are shown or let WordPress's own code handle that; you can have native WordPress comments shown when site visitors use mobile devices or let IntenseDebate take over there, too; and you can use IntenseDebate's comment moderation panel or WordPress's.

The default is to use IntenseDebate for all these functions except for mobile versions of sites, most likely because a site may have its own custom mobile-device format tweaks that you wouldn't want to override. You can also tweak the display of IntenseDebate comments by editing a CSS stylesheet.

IntenseDebate allows the usual trinity of user-authentication systems -- Facebook, Twitter and OpenID -- as well as IntenseDebate or WordPress.com logins, email-only identification, and anonymous posting. You can automatically approve comments from people who post with IntenseDebate or WordPress.com accounts, but you can't automatically approve comments from people using other authentication systems.

Other options allow commenters to display images linked within the context of their posts, comment threading to be enabled or disabled (I leave it on), or to allow the text area to expand as you type, which in my experience encourages longer posts. RSS feeds are created automatically for individual posts' comments or all posts on IntenseDebate-managed sites.

WordPress's own comment-moderation page isn't replaced entirely by IntenseDebate, just augmented by it. You can, if you want, perform comment moderation directly on the IntenseDebate site instead. Its management interface is a little slicker than the one WordPress itself provides, but I like that you can stick with WordPress's original if you're more comfortable there.

One major selling point for IntenseDebate is a reputation-scoring system. Thumbs-up and thumbs-down votes can be awarded to individual comments. A reputation score is derived from that over time, and you can allow people with a certain minimum reputation score to have their comments automatically approved. (There's no maximum score -- the higher, the better.) However, some might find Disqus's reputation scoring, which provides only three basic tiers of reputation (high, medium, and low), easier to deal with than IntenseDebate's open-ended numbering system.

IntenseDebate can use the Akismet spam-filter system (used by WordPress by default as well) instead of its own internal spam-filter mechanism -- or they can be used together. And, as with Disqus, you can add multiple moderators if you want other people to help pick up the slack.

IntenseDebate can be removed cleanly from a blog with relatively few steps. For WordPress, all I had to do was turn off the plugin, because all comments were also synced in the background to WordPress's own database (although they can be exported separately if need be). Disqus works the same way, so both products are on even footing there.

IntenseDebate at a Glance

Price: Free.

Pros: Useful reputation-scoring function.

Cons: Several small technical limitations, no paid-tier service.

A few of the limitations in IntenseDebate are irksome. One that bit me a number of times is how public-facing names for commenters cannot be longer than 20 characters. If you import comments that sport longer user names, the names are truncated without warning. Also, IntenseDebate does not have any other level of service beyond the basic, free iteration. This is both good and bad: Good because it means the entire feature set is available to any user, but bad because there's no way to purchase increased reliability or support. What you see is all you get.

Bottom line: IntenseDebate's close integration with WordPress is well-implemented; but it doesn't have any higher service tiers and also has some technical limitations.

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