If you haven’t heard by now, Automattic has acquired the third party commenting system, IntenseDebate. IntenseDebate is based out of Boulder, Colorado and is one of a few third party commenting services/systems in the so called "enhanced comment space". IntenseDebate offers features such as replying to comments via email, threaded comments, importing/exporting of comments, etc. While having a conversation with a friend of mine regarding the acquisition, he asked the question, "Why didn’t Automattic just create something in house?". It is worth mentioning that WordPress 2.7 will have threaded comment functionality as part of the core which as far as I can tell, was created in-house. However, threaded comments are just part of the equation.
I think there are a few reasons why they opted to acquire rather than create. The first being that acquisition is faster than creating something from scratch on your own. The second, commenting on WordPress.com or WordPress.org powered blogs out of the box, sucks. Both the front end and the back end of WordPress as it relates to commenting has been in need of a serious overhaul for quite some time now. In fact, I remember Lorelle Van Fossen at WordCamp Dallas telling Matt Mullenweg along with the rest of the crowd that administering comments in WordPress sucks. You should of seen the reaction on the attendees faces. Matt also admitted on his blog post that comments really haven’t changed much within the span of ten years and that it was time to kick it up a notch.
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. Comments really haven’t changed in a decade, and it’s time to spice things up a little.
The third reason for the acquisition is the relatively small size of the company in terms of personnel. IntenseDebate is made up of only five individuals. On top of that, they are using PHP and MySQL as their platform which is the same platform WordPress is built upon. This makes it easier than ever to integrate the service into what is already being offered by Automattic.
I’m not sure if the WordPress.org project will have a fully integrated IntenseDebate commenting system but I can certainly see something like this on the WordPress.com side of things. Also, I find it interesting that at the flip of a switch, IntenseDebate pulls into the lead in terms of market share out of the various offerings provided by third party commenting systems. Disqus claims that over 25,000 websites have signed up to use their service. Meanwhile, WordPress.com has over four million blogs registered to the site meaning, IntenseDebate will automatically (pardon the pun) have four million blogs to work with on top of their independent users. While I have seen a number of tech bloggers jump on board the Disqus bandwagon, it will be interesting to see if they will switch to IntenseDebate, knowing that the service is now owned by the folks who develop WordPress. I have never felt comfortable using a third party to replace my comments but knowing that IntenseDebate is owned by Automattic relieves those types of worries.
Last but not least, think about this. Automattic plans on leaving IntenseDebate as a separate entity alongside services such as Akismet, Gravatar, BBpress, etc. When Gravatar was purchased by Automattic, some feared that the service would only be available to WordPress. That has turned out not to be the case and the same can be said for IntenseDebate. With this acquisition, Automattic is finding themselves opening up to not only WordPress powered sites, but owning companies/services that are independent platforms. Talk about versatility! Only time will tell on how IntenseDebate is really integrated into the WordPress.org project and WordPress.com but I know one thing, I am certainly happy to see attention being placed on comments as they are truly the one aspect of blogging that forms interaction between the author and reader.