Automattic Acquires IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate, a centralised commenting service similar to the Disqus service used on this site, has been acquired by WordPress parent company Automattic.

From the announcement on the IntenseDebate site:

So what does this mean for you, our valued users? A couple of things:
1.) We will be temporarily going back into private beta. This won’t affect our current users, but new installs will require an invite code. This is just to give us a little time to ramp up the hardware and get our ducks in a row as we join the Automattic team.

2.) You’ll be seeing IntenseDebate a lot more often. We’re really excited about the distribution possibilities this opens up, so expect to see our comment system and use your IntenseDebate profile on a lot more blogs.

3.) You can look forward to tighter integration with some of the other Automattic joints including Akismet and Gravatar.

But don’t worry!
You will still be able to use IntenseDebate on Typepad, Tumblr, Blogger, Movable Type, and other platforms with more to come! We will continue to improve our comment system and your commenters’ experience. IntenseDebate will continue to enhance and encourage conversation on your blog and build your reader community.

This isn’t a surprising acquisition.  There have been rumours about Automattic buying a commenting service for a while now, with some suggesting that Disqus was also a possible target.  Matt Mullenweg said on his post about the purchase that they’re going to keep the service platform agnostic (for now at least) but they’ll also roll a lot of the features into the hosted and self-hosted versions of WordPress.

Seeing as they already own Akismet, which processes a large chunk of the blogosphere’s comments, ID will give them access to even more of the comments posted on the web. On the upside this will mean that they will be able to improve Akismet even more by processing the additional data, but it also means the one company has an extraordinary amount of information on what is posted on the internet.  The potential for this to be a privacy risk or for them to sell this to marketers is a little bit disturbing, but so far Automattic haven’t given us a reason to be concerned.

However, similar to Google, they are getting by on a lot of community good will. And also similar to Google, they’re now in a position to really abuse that good will if they saw fit.  Lets hope that doesn’t happen

Update: Here’s the response to the announcement from Disqus

Today, Automattic (the team behind the WordPress platform) announced their acquisition of IntenseDebate, a competing and similarly-focused comment service. From all of us at Disqus: congrats to the ID team on joining the Automattic family. We’re fans of WordPress here (this blog uses it), so I think it’s good that they’re beginning to pay more attention to the comments.

So what does this mean for us? The Disqus comment system is still the largest third-party comment system on WordPress, yet those blogs represent under 5% of all websites using Disqus. We pride ourselves on being an independent cross-platform service. Disqus will continue to innovate and provide the best discussion experience on blogs. Our company’s entire focus is on increasing the number and quality of your comments and that will never change.

As a true third-party system, Disqus can be open and extensible to other services and platforms, as well as offer unique functionality not limited by a single platform. I’m looking forward to the future of discussion and I hope you’ll experience it with Disqus.

New beta for the FriendFeed Comments plugin

For anyone who’s game, and especially for anyone who’s been having problems with the FriendFeed Comments plugin, I’ve just checked in a new beta release that you can download.  It’s not available through the WordPress auto-updater yet because it’s not been tested sufficiently.  So if you’d like to help out you can grab it here: http://downloads.wordpress.org/plugin/friendfeed-comments.1.6.0beta.zip

There aren’t any major visible changes.  There’s a couple of tidy up changes eg. I removed some inline styles that I should have moved into the default stylesheet, but the major changes are behind the scenes.  Some people were having issues with the plugin not retrieving the information correctly and it seemed to be an issue for people with a large number of posts & comments.  So this new version now stores the data in a custom table on your WordPress database.  This should make things much more efficient and hopefully less error-prone.

If you do install the new update you must deactivate & re-activate the plugin, then go to the settings page & click ‘Save Changes’ before it will work.  If you don’t the table won’t be created and it won’t work.

If you can help out with the beta testing it would be much appreciated.

Showing trackbacks with Disqus

http://media.disqus.com/images/global/disqus-logo.pngCurrently one of the limitations of using the otherwise great comments service Disqus is that it doesn’t allow you to display trackbacks/pingbacks.  Apparently this will be fixed in a future release of the Disqus WordPress plugin, but for now it’s not working.

The trackbacks you receive are still stored locally in your database, despite them not being displayed, so you can access them. However there isn’t a built-in way to access just the list of trackbacks. Trackbacks are stored as comments in the wp_comments table and are identified by a comment_type of either ‘trackback‘ or ‘pingback‘. (For our purposes here, there’s no real difference between the two. For more info on what the actual difference is, see this page) So, if you wanted to you could write up a bit of PHP that pulled all the trackbacks out of the database & displayed them on your blog, but for a lot of people this is a bit much.

If you look on this page (the FriendFeed Comments Plugin page), you can see a list of the trackbacks that page has received. It’s a very simple list, I’m not displaying the text snippet that usually comes with trackbacks, but that’s just personal preference. If you’d like to be able to display your trackbacks without having to worry about writing code yourself I’ve got a really simple plugin that lets you do this here. The plugin adds 2 functions, get_approved_trackbacks & trackbacks_templateget_approved_trackbacks takes the post id as an argument and returns a list of the trackbacks that have been approved (moderated) for that post. trackbacks_template is essentially an additional template tag to be used in the same way as comments_template() is used on the single.php template file.

So for example, if you wanted to display the trackbacks before the comments, download & install the plugin. Then open up the single.php template file for your site & find the line <?php comments_template(); ?>. Stick <?php trackbacks_template(); ?> on the line above it. This will display the trackbacks as an unordered list inside a div with the id "trackbackslist" with a h3 heading "Trackbacks" above the list. However if you’d like to style it differently, it will also look for a template file called trackbacks.php in your template folder. If it finds that it will use that to render the trackbacks.  This is what I’m doing here so as to not display the trackback text.  By default the plugin will display that too.

Obviously this is an advanced option, and only for those familiar with HTML & PHP.  For those people, the plugin provides a variable called $trackbacks which is an array of comment objects. The code that I’ve used to display the trackbacks by default is contained in a file called ‘trackbacks.php’ in the plugin folder, which you can copy into your template folder to use as a starting point for styling your own list.

Hopefully Disqus will sort out what it’s going to do with trackbacks, according to Daniel from Disqus it’s coming soon.  I’m pretty happy with their service, they’ve been really responsive to any support requests and they’ve had pretty solid uptime.  The lack of trackbacks isn’t really a big deal to me, but I do like to show who’s discussing my posts. As usual please leave comments / bug reports on the plugin’s page.

Keeping the conversation civil

Jayne: Little Kaylee here just wishes you was a gynaecologist.
Mal: Jayne, you will keep a civil tongue in that mouth, or I will sew it shut. Is there an understanding between us?
Jayne: You don’t pay me to talk pretty. Just because Kaylee gets lubed up over some big-city dandy doesn’t mean…
Mal: Walk away from this table. Right now.

Simon: What do you pay him for?
Mal: What?
Simon: I was just wondering what his job is – on the ship.
Mal: Public relations.

Firefly – Serenity

The ‘social web‘ has brought many things to us, but possibly the most pervasive thing it’s brought is the ability to (and the general assumption that you should) comment on just about any piece of information published. Blogs offer this as a matter of course, but many news organisations are introducing the ability to comment on their articles.

By and large this is a good thing, people want to have their say. Also, for companies, engaging with your customers can be a sure-fire way of getting repeat business.  The wide-ranging discussions on the web, as they flow from site to site (see TechMeme) can be a great way to get a lot of different perspectives on a topic.

However, there can be a downside to allowing comments on your site & I’m not just talking about the usual gripes of spam & trolls.

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