IntenseDebate and WordPress.com
Automattic bought IntenseDebate some years ago, but as far as I can tell, hasn’t done much with that comment hosting system, yet. From the standpoint of somebody who posts comments, I’d argue that it’s the best of the major systems, but you haven’t really integrated it with the other Automattic products, yet.
Perhaps it might be used to boost engagement on WordPress.com, using a variant on an idea I saw put to use on Buzzfeed.
Here’s the idea: keep the native WordPress.com comment hosting, but below the comments posted through WordPress.com, have a second comment form which can be used for posting comments through IntenseDebate. Make it something that users can opt out of – if they don’t want to see that second comment box, they can choose to hide it.
Why might you want to do this?
1. By making IntenseDebate a commenting option, you’d be using a system you already (and put down some good money for) to tie the blogs on WordPress.com together. One person comments on a blog post using IntenseDebate, other people see that comment on that person’s profile and they find their way to a blog they might not have otherwise known about.
The users see more traffic, your ads see more views, and the users starting finding each other more often, helping to build community and commitment to the platform. WordPress becomes part of their online identity, not just a site they use, but a site they come together on.
2. If people are traveling from blog to blog via IntenseDebate, traffic there is going to rise, making the job of monetizing IntenseDebate easier. Going to my profile, right now, I can see that there are no ads, suggesting that you’re not much money off the site now, but you could, without modifying the basic look and feel or bothering to do a massive redesign.
Have the ads appear between comments, every once in a while. Twitter (which seems to have a far less mellow user base than Automattic) has been doing this for a few years without encountering much, if any drama, in response. It’s been accepted with a shrug by the users, and if you take a look at the advertising (the “promoted tweets”) it doesn’t look so bad.
Your investors probably have (or will) started nagging you about having a product that isn’t producing income. This might get (or keep) them off of your backs about that.
3. You could do as Typepad does and have notices of a user’s posts to his WordPress.com blogs appear on the IntenseDebate profile associated with his account on Automattic and WordPress.com. Though I would suggest making that an opt-in option, rather than a feature that users can’t opt out of.
As a user, I can tell you that we love having freedom of choice. Forcing users to announce their posts on IntenseDebate might build resentment. Letting them choose to do so, on the other hand, will build good will, because most of us would like to get a little more traffic. We’d just like granularity and freedom of choice.
4. Online cyberstalking and harassment (often Hate based) are a problem throughout much of the Internet. Sooner or later, they’ll find their way here. I’m sure you guys will try to keep things peaceful, but the Nazi thing is like a tidal wave. Take this from somebody who has had to deal with it – you’ve never seen anything like this. It’s overwhelming in a bad way.
When one of these hate mobs latches onto somebody, it has the tenacity of a rabid pit bull. At such a moment, all one can really do to lose the mob is go underground for a while. On Twitter, where this is an old problem, the usual solution is to “protect one’s tweets” – make them semi-private, viewable only by one’s followers.
By keeping the native WordPress commenting system in place as an option, one gives the user a less drastic way of probably achieving the same goal (getting away from the mob). Instead of posting through IntenseDebate, where one can easily be followed, the user could post using the native comment hosting system. Comments posted that way wouldn’t be appearing on any profiles (unless there is some feature I don’t know about), so somebody being harassed could just use the native wordpress.com commenting system and post without being easily being followed from site to site.
Readers could still see the user’s comments, so the user gets fuller engagement during his (or her) time of difficulty. This takes away from the people who are trying to harass or bully the user the thought that they have silenced the person they targeted for their hate. I find that hatemongers tend to handle frustration poorly, so vanishing off of their radar screen for maybe a few weeks can be enough to get rid of them.
Keeping native wordpress.com comment hosting as an option keeps open the possibility of doing so for the user, while the reducing the need for your small and very busy staff to get involved in time consuming (and hard to parse) personal dramas.
5. An ongoing problem with IntenseDebate (and other comment hosting systems) is that having set up an account, a user can experience a lot of frustration looking for blogs on which to post a comment, using his account. This is not because there is an inherent lack of interest in comment hosting among the great masses in the online market, but rather, because of a collective prisoner’s dilemma situation.
Let’s say that as bloggers, we love the idea of comment hosting, because we’d like to see new people find their way to us, and we’d like to avoid some of the trolling one gets when people can comment without logging in. But if traffic on the comment hosting system is low, whatever the reason, this can make bloggers hesitant to install IntenseDebate (or some other system), because there doesn’t seem to be any benefit. This reluctance then leads to a shortage of blogs using the system, which deters users from trying to post comments through it.
This, then, isn’t a matter of inherent market demand, but rather, that of a vicious cycle, one that can be broken. Make the installment of IntenseDebate on WordPress.com blogs an opt-out instead of an opt-in, and suddenly you will have tens of millions of places for IntenseDebate users to post their comments, drawing commenters to IntenseDebate, upping traffic on that site, and encouraging bloggers elsewhere to install IntenseDebate as well, thus increasing the return on your investment. much to the delight of your investors and your users, alike.
6. Get IntenseDebate more active, and it’s an easy sell among those posting comments. It has a number of virtues. or should I say, an absence of notorious vices?
a. Disqus has the ongoing “detected as spam” problem. According to a mod on their official forum, this is because bad actors can easily game the system by false flagging comments. This seems borne out by the experience of those of us who’ve set our Disqus profiles to “private” and then noticed, after a while, how quickly the rate at which our comments have vanished from view dropped.
Until that problem goes away, in order to have a comment stick and be seen, often one has to post and repost, repeatedly, because some anonymous people live for the lulz. Winning a test of wills with a troll is a time consuming proposition. Setting one’s profile to private, on the other hand, costs one a lot of readers, because one’s comments are hard to find.
IntenseDebate has some false spam detection problems, but nothing on that level. Nothing that maddening.
b. Typepad is a somewhat OK system, but unless one is grandfathered in, one needs a paid account to comment. This reduces engagement, and leaves the Blogger who has Typepad Connect installed with an uncomfortable thought. What happens to a user’s comments, if he lets his paid Typepad account expire?
IntenseDebate is just simply free. For a blogger, this is a confidence boost.
Also, paragraph breaks fail to appear in comments, when they are seen on a Typepad profile, which can make longer responses difficult to read. IntenseDebate has no such formatting problem.
7. Stacking comment hosting systems is not an unprecedented thing. Buzzfeed did this for years, putting the Facebook comments on its articles above the comments posted through the native Buzzfeed comment hosting system. So, this is not a matter of inventing anything new.
The major problem that arose at Buzzfeed was one that would not arise here. Comments posted through Buzzfeed appeared on the user’s profile, so trolls were able to follow people around and that got to be a headache. But, as far as I can tell, WordPress.com comments don’t work that way.
8. If you merged the WordPress.com and IntenseDebate comments on a user’s IntenseDebate profile, you’d get complaints from users who would feel that you had changed the rules on them. Some users would opt out of using IntenseDebate; nothing wrong with that. If these people posted to WordPress, with that reduced expectation that “the whole world” would be seeing their comments, and then suddenly, non-consensually moved their comments to a more traffic heavy page, they might feel that they were dealt with in bad faith.
Obviously, one doesn’t want to lose the trust of our visitors, without whom our blogs would go unread, leaving Automattic with a reduced profit margin.
9. If you can’t monetize IntenseDebate, at some point you’ll be forced to shut it down. Not any time soon, I hope, but sooner or later, investors are going to made a fuss about fiduciary duties. Automattic is required by law to try to turn a profit.
But if you’re ever forced to shut down IntenseDebate, a lot of pre-existing user content will end up being deleted and that makes for serious ill will. The Bay Area is full of people who can tell you stories about that. Who needs screaming, drama and headaches down the road, when one can be turning a profit, instead?
I think you will agree that ill will matters, because ill will is a bad thing in general, and because if people don’t feel valued, they’ll stop contributing their content. An angry user can easily turn into a silent user.
Conclusion: This would be a win for your users, your investors, your weary staff and management, and for people who want to post comments. I know this might seem like a radical idea, but I hope you’ll give it some consideration.
Hi @centristblogs, thanks very much for the carefully considered arguments here. It’s really nice hearing from users who are this passionate about our work.
Automattic is lucky in that we aren’t beholden to public investors, but we do aim to make the web a better place. Having a clearer path for engagement across multiple sites could certainly help with that.
I can’t promise whether or when these ideas would be implemented, since our developers have full plates with other projects right now. But I will get your comments to the people who can take them into consideration for future work. Thank you!
“thanks very much for the carefully considered arguments here.”
You’re quite welcome.
“Automattic is lucky in that we aren’t beholden to public investors,”
As a user, I’m happy to hear that.
“I can’t promise whether or when these ideas would be implemented, since our developers have full plates with other projects right now.”
Sorry to be so slow in responding. Something came up.
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