I was glad to see on Matt Mullenweg’s blog that Automattic, the WordPress company, is acquiring IntenseDebate. I’m not actually familiar with the product, but the features it promises address an obvious deficiency in WordPress: the comment system. IntenseDebate adds features including comment threading, reputation points, comment widgets, and Twitter, FriendFeed and email integration.
I’ve been conscious of several comment-related problems on this blog.
I have a few posts that have tons of comments. Most of these are about technical problems which affect a lot of people: they Google the problem to find the post. Once a discussion gets beyond about 50 posts it is hard to find the most useful content quickly. Examples:
Annoying Word 2007 problem: can’t select text (210 comments)
Outlook 2007 is slow, RSS broken (186 comments)
Fixing wi-fi on an Asus Eee PC 901 with Linux (60 comments)
Adobe CS3 won’t install (79 comments, hope CS4 is better!)
At this stage, the blog has become in effect a forum. Of course there is already excellent forum software out there; but it is no good telling people to go away and use a forum instead; maybe it’s OK that blogs and forums are becoming almost the same thing (most forums can also be used as blog feeds).
Sometimes the comments are more interesting than the original post, particularly when someone close to the subject of the post replies. I suspect such comments do not get the readership they deserve, because we are all busy and just scan the headlines. A comment widget might help with this.
An aside about reputation points. These are pretty much essential when there are lots of comments; sites like slashdot depend on them (though in that case you have to be a moderator to score comments). That said, it is an imperfect system. My posts on The Register are now scored by readers (though most seem not to bother); and I’m not sure whether they primarily measure the quality of the article, or the extent to which the reader agrees. As with Wikipedia, these things promote the wisdom of the crowd; overall it is more healthy than not, but the crowd is not always right.