So we tried Intense Debate . . .

November 22nd, 2009
Business of Blogging, Spam, WordPress Plugins

It was not meant to be. I had high hopes for Intense Debate but the drawbacks outweighed the positives in our case. I was really looking forward to a few of the features that I thought might bring more interactivity to the blog and encourage readers to have meatier discussions. As you notice below, we have turned off Intense Debate and gone back to the original comment form. Below is a list of the some of the features I was really looking forward to and our experiences with them.

I would like to preface this discussion by saying that I screwed up the install by adding this blog onto the wrong account and that added to some of our woes. The account bug that followed (we received some help via the support email) was caused by my fat fingering.

  • Better overall look and feel of the comment section of a blog: I liked the look and feel. The AJAX interface is spiffy and quite versatile.
  • Commenter reputation: I really like this feature and this was one of my top priorities for installing ID. I like it and it worked well. Add this to “last post of commenter” and it is a killer feature to give good commenters some free publicity.
  • Comment voting: Useful for readers who want to join the discussion. Also very useful to determine spamminess of a comment. I found it to add to the community feel and found myself looking for votes on comments in hot posts.
  • Social commenting: I saw a bunch of people use various types of profiles to log in and comment. I think this feature added interesting bits of information about commenters and might have prompted more readers to comment. I cannot say for sure. I had trouble staying logged in because of my fat fingering and caused myself some headaches.
  • Reply to comments by Email: Useful feature. Did any of my readers use it? I have no clue. Did I use it? No.
  • Automatic folding of threads: Does it work? Yes! Does it have the desired effect? No. On Weblog Tools Collection, automatic comment thread folding meant that a lot of relevant comments were overlooked by readers who ended up saying the same things over again and missing much of the conversation. It just did not have the right feel.
  • Comment synchronization with the blog: We were able to roll back to the default commenting system because of this feature and are thankful for that. But the comments on hot/active posts were not quite at par with actual activity on the posts. This lack of real time updates resulted in less comments and conversations.
  • Ability to add polls to comments: Cool feature in concept, barely used in reality. A relevant poll added to a hot post might get a few results but readers don’t use that kind of interactivity unless they want to come back and check the results, which is often not the case. Can be done with a plugin.
  • Better spam filtering and moderation features: ID adds the ability to use their own filters in addition to Akismet. But I found these to be cumbersome and Akismet not as responsive. I can’t quite explain this gripe but I can say that too many comments were ending up in moderation and not enough of the ones that I marked as spam were then treated as spam on subsequent attempts. I don’t think the WordPress feature that allows previous commenters’ comments to be posted without moderation works with IS. Blacklisted words did not appear to work as well as I have come to expect them to work. There is also no way to “remember me” on the ID login page, which is annoying.  Having to add co-authors on as admins of the blog on ID meant they got bugged with all the Spam and also meant that they had to be registered users. These reasons were probably the most annoying to me and my fellow authors and resulted in us backing out.
  • Ability to record video comments: Cool feature but not used at all on this blog. I see some video comments on TechCrunch but our readers just did not care.
  • Better comment curation for multi-author blogs: There is no way to send moderation emails to individual authors (which is a pain for multi-author blogs) and the moderation emails were just unfamiliar and not easy to get used to. Again, not fast enough in moderation and approval of comments.

In addition to the good and the bad above, I also received some disturbing feedback which suggested that some people would not comment on a blog that runs Intense Debate. I have no such qualm and would really like to hear from folks who feel this way. Why this angst?

In conclusion I have to say that I think Intense Debate was a mixed bag for us. If you are not thoroughly used to the WordPress comments system and do not have tens of thousands of comments, it is worth a shot. The ability to roll back is fantastic for buyers’ remorse and I think there is a lot of potential.

UPDATE: And deactivating the plugin was not enough to stop it from acting upon incoming comments. Comments were borked since ID was deactivated yesterday. The plugin files have now been deleted and that seems to allow comments to flow back through. Sorry for the trouble.




  1. Eric Marden (16 comments.) says:

    Intense Debate and Disqus do it backwards… Intead of bringing the features to the blog, the blog should call the features (that they want) on the other server. Progressive Enhancement of the commenting experience instead of trying to replace it is the distinction.

    • GregM (1 comments.) says:

      Eric’s comment echoes my own view exactly, which I’d like to add to: by completely replacing the built-in WordPress commenting system, Intense Debate also makes it impossible to add any new enhancements (e.g., other plugins!) except those conceived, executed and delivered directly by Intense Debate/Automattic.

      In other words, it’s like chopping off one important arm of an otherwise open system and turning it into a closed black box over which blog owners have no control.

      All the best,

      • donnacha | WordSkill (12 comments.) says:

        It might not be as much of a black box as you think – their plugin system is pretty ground-breaking and based upon the familiar structure of WordPress plugins. Anyone is free to create a plugin for ID although, yes, they have to approve it because it will be running on their system, available to all their users. My impression, however, is that they want to encourage the creation of plugins and you wouldn’t have to face any Apple Appstore-style delays or ridiculous rejections.

  2. James Farmer (6 comments.) says:

    Yeh, this does feel nice to have back again … also, not being able to rate comments without having an ID login was a pain.

    Oh, and their subscribe to comments feature doesn’t work either.

    • Michael Koenig (2 comments.) says:

      James, thanks for the feedback about rating comments. I’m Michael with IntenseDebate. Comment voting for Guests is something that we are looking at implementing soon. I’m sorry to hear that you had an issue with the subscribe feature. We haven’t received other reports, but we’re going to check it out. What mail client did this occur with?

  3. James Farmer (6 comments.) says:

    Having said that – it was nice to see comments in moderation… for example, I can’t see my previous one now :/

  4. Robert@PNG (6 comments.) says:

    My 1st exposure to the IntenseDebate commenting system was the other day when I wanted to leave a response to your post on WP winning a CMS award. I must say the interface and features looked pretty “swanky” – unfortunately I was not able to leave a comment. Note that I tried and tried and tried but without any success.

    So… I’m kind of glad that you’ve disabled IntenseDebate for leaving comments.


  5. Extreme John (3 comments.) says:

    Intense Debate is the only one of the third party WordPress plugins that I have not tried, mainly because I didn’t care for Disqus or ECHO.

    Great review and thanks for saving me the time of trying it myself.

  6. Steve Hall (5 comments.) says:

    I also tried Intense Debate, but some reader feedback, coupled with my own observations, convinced me to retire it after only 24 hours. Perhaps I could have worked with the developers, but I don’t think I could have worked around my discomfort with how it affected my site’s overall look and fee.

    Specific negatives are highlighted in the comments here.

  7. deuts (7 comments.) says:

    I had few commentators in my blog. I’ve tried both ID and Disqus. All in all, they’re not worth the trouble.

  8. gestroud (4 comments.) says:

    I gave it a shot on about 11 of the sites that I maintain. The results were definitely less than satisfactory.

    In addition to the problems you mentioned, page load times increased considerably. Some pages took over a minute to load; others never loaded at all.

    Other users seem to be experiencing similar difficulties:

    It was an interesting experiment, but one I’ll never indulge in again. It’s hard to believe it’s a Featured Plugin on the WordPress Plugin Repository.

    These are just my opinions, based on my results with the plugin.

    • Michael Koenig (2 comments.) says:

      Latency is something we take very seriously. I would love to help troubleshoot if you’re interested. Please email me at and I’ll be happy to check it out.

  9. Ryan Erickson (2 comments.) says:

    What about Disqus? I too tried ID on a few of my sites and it never seemed to work quite right. Disqus, however, has been working great.

  10. thehoodnerd (1 comments.) says:

    I’m currently using ID on my blog and while i do like it and some features about it my main gripe is the bugginess. When I reply to comments from the admin screen sometimes they don’t show up for hours and sometimes it takes a while for comments in general to show up.

    I also had issues with importing the comments it took a few weeks before my clean import finally decided to work.

    On my old blog I was using Disqus and it seemed to worked very good I don’t recall having any problems with it but when I went to my new blog I didnt know how to get it to work correctly with my homepage.

    • Ga'len (1 comments.) says:

      I’ve found that most of the issues with ID come form caching. I use WP-cache on my blog and I must admit, there are times that comments will not show up in a timely fashion unless I manually delete the cache that WP-Cache maintains. Once I do that, things work as they should again.

  11. donnacha | WordSkill (12 comments.) says:

    Very interesting and detailed review, you should send an email to the ID guys to let them know that it is here, hopefully they will act upon some of the problems you observed.

  12. DouglasVB (9 comments.) says:

    For me the big reason I will not use ID on my own WordPress site is its tendency to take ALL comments from ALL past posts. This includes private posts, password protected posts, etc. I have emailed a couple of times with ID support and keep coming up with the same response: it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Until ID comes around to respecting post restrictions, I will not use it.

    As for why some people refuse to comment using ID, I haven’t the foggiest idea why they would be nervous. Perhaps it’s the issue of centralizing all comments in one location. Easier to track and such.

  13. Erik Dasque (1 comments.) says:

    I can relate, I had roughly the same experience. Some cool feature but in reality, few used them and I reverted back to the old comment system quickly.

  14. Epic Fail (2 comments.) says:

    I tried using it as well and I didn’t like it one bit. It is a nice idea but I prefer the default comment system.

  15. Carrie (12 comments.) says:

    I can fully understand why ID might not work on a huge multi-author blog such as this one. I personally love it for all the different blog/fan sites I use it on. It can be very fun, but the comment folding is annoying to me at times too because of the extra clicking you have to do to get it to work.

    Also if someone doesn’t know a lick of CSS and the theme they are currently using doesn’t mesh well ID is kind of hard to understand how to customize for someone with low skill in CSS.

  16. Anthony Galli (1 comments.) says:

    Well, I’ve already tried ID in the past too and left it long ago. With a “cool” effect: this synchorization thing didn’t work and I had to copy comment by comment back.

    What made me leave it was, after already being pissed with some other stuff, some comments (even my ones) were not being shown. They had just disapeared! And main developers knew about the problem and simply didn’t know what to do about it.

    When I discovered it, ID seemed great. Threaded comments were funny, and social comments (including voting) seemed to be like a revolution.

    But WordPress also had plugins that implemented threaded comments, and now it has the feature built-in in the core.

    JavaScript features seemed pretty in the beginning, but as with all other “cool JS animations”, they got boring as the time passed. Also, ID is totally against SEO tips!

    With all that, WordPress does pratically everything ID proposed, with many better features. Only social comments were left, but few commenters got addicted to that… I’ve never seen anybody on any site that had a “high karma” account. Also, votes can be bad used, as for exemple somebody that didn’t like the post subject go and negative all comments.

    And for this “hey look at me, I’m the same guy that commented on that other site”, Gravitar already does the job. Because of that, I think ID should had been developed to be some kind of merge between Gravitar and OpenID, they just offer the Web Service for logging in, and ppl that are logged on them can have their name, karma, vote, etc shown, but everything else remains stored on each site separately…

  17. Jared Spurbeck (8 comments.) says:

    I’d comment on a blog in spite of its having IntenseDebate, so long as it let me sign up as a guest.

    I really don’t like having so many profiles locked into so many services I don’t control.

    • Jared Spurbeck (8 comments.) says:

      Plus it’s an added layer of overhead, especially for a first-time user. It’s like having to get a DeviantArt account or something, just to comment on a blog. With the promise that maybe sometime in the near future you’ll see another blog that has it enabled, because they don’t mind turning over control of their comments section to Automattic either.

      I mean control of more of their comments section than just the avatars. And sorry, that’s kind of a sticking point for me.

  18. Tal Galili (13 comments.) says:

    You just convinced me to turn of ID in one of my blogs.



  19. Dana @ Online Knowledge (27 comments.) says:

    I never like the intense debate or other third party comment form. I prefer to use wordpress comment form.

  20. Jeff (27 comments.) says:

    I couldn’t quite bring myself to activate IntenseDebate on my site. I installed the plugin, but didn’t want to send off all my comments and moderation to a third party plugin, even if it’s owned my Automattic.

    Hopefully over time the best, most user friendly features of ID will filter down into the WP core.

  21. Steve Hall (5 comments.) says:

    @ Jeff: Except, double-opt in to subscribe to comments is not user-friendly…so let’s hope that one doesn’t filter down!

  22. Beau Lebens (1 comments.) says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your very honest (and detailed) feedback and opinions on IntenseDebate. We’re sorry you’ve chosen not to continue using us, but we’re glad you gave it a shot regardless. Either way, your feedback is really useful to us, and I’d like to address a few points in particular from your post.

    * Having more flexibility in comment notifications (author roles etc) is something that other folks have asked for, and we’re forming a plan on how to tackle that within our system.
    * Auto-collapse comments were initially introduced to improve navigation through heavily-commented posts, but it sounds like you (as a few others with lots of comments) would prefer threads to be expanded by default. This is another feature we’re looking to adjust/roll out in the near future.
    * As part of Automattic, we are definitely working with our colleagues to further develop our Akismet integration and spam filters.
    * If you saw some delays in comment synchronization, it’s probably due to the number of comments happening and them queuing up for processing. Unfortunately if you turned the plugin off, then they won’t be able to fully sync back into your WP install, because the plugin is no longer there to handle them.

    We’d love to work with you to improve some of these features, so please do email me at (so that we all get it here) if you have any other feedback. We’re all ears on how to improve the experience for you and your commenters, and will be taking this post to heart as far as our future development goes.

    Thanks again,

    • Mark Ghosh (386 comments.) says:

      Thanks for reading through them and the other suggestions here. As I mentioned above, I really wanted to continue but the user experience and the blogging experience was starting to suffer for many of us. I would love to take another shot sometime in the future once you and your team have ironed out a few of my few issues with the ID platform.

  23. Celebrity Seats (1 comments.) says:

    We had nothing but trouble with Intense Debate, and reverted back within 24 hours. Had high hopes for it after Automatic acquired them (namely that some of IDs features would become native to WP), but so far that hasn’t happened. :(

  24. Michael Hampton (14 comments.) says:

    I’m not just running “a” blog; I actually have a privacy policy, and it says I won’t send my users’ personal information to third parties. So I don’t use services like ID, Akismet, OpenID, etc.

    I like a lot of the features that ID offers, but a lot of my users are privacy-sensitive and so it just won’t work for me. It might also be an issue if you’re in a country where you have to follow certain privacy laws.

  25. mark (3 comments.) says:

    I have to say, unfortunately I too had high hopes for them, worked with their support many times to help with bugs, etc… after 6 months, I came to the same conclusion – it was just causing too much work for me. Since then, I am using disqus and honestly, I am happy I made the move. I get more comments, have hardly any bugs, and it is taking a lot of troubleshooting work off of my plate. I do think it runs a bit faster as well…. I still wish them the best of luck and hope that they get things figured out but I had to leave…

  26. Josh @iD Tech Camps (3 comments.) says:

    In agreement. I find it to be disappointing for bloggers and fans alike. Kinda like they are trying to reinvent the wheel?

  27. Pet Society help (1 comments.) says:

    Glad I did a search on ID before I tried to test it out, after reading your post I’m definitely sticking to my default commenting system.


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