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.

FriendFeed Comments WordPress plugin1.4 release

I’ve been a bit inspired over the last week to do some fairly major updates to the FriendFeed plugin.  Thanks to some helpful suggestions and feedback from a number of people, I’ve added a bunch of new features and fixed some dodgy code that was in the previous versions.

The biggest change is that you can now comment & ‘like’ a post directly from the post itself without having to go to FriendFeed.  This is done using a bit of AJAX (via Prototype). The user puts in their comment, their username & their FriendFeed API key.  The API key is never visible to the site owner, it’s passed directly through to FriendFeed and then discarded.

image

This form is turned on by default, but can be disabled in the admin section if you don’t like it. Also, because of this change, the plugin will now display on every post, whether there are comments or likes on it or not.

The other changes are:

  • You can now edit the ‘headline’ text that displays. ie the "On FriendFeed, this post was liked by x people and commented on y times".  You can now put whatever you want there, and it will replace the tokens {comments} & {likes} with the number of comments & likes.
  • A default stylesheet is now included, to get you started on styling the plugin’s content.  It also can be disabled in the admin page, and you can see what the stylesheet looks like here.
  • The plugin can now be set to have the FriendFeed comments & likes be visible by default.  Currently the default is to hide them and only show them when the user clicks the ‘show’ link.
  • Also, based on the points I made in my post about self-cleaning WordPress plugins, the admin page now has a ‘delete plugin’ button.  This is will remove all trace of the plugin from the WordPress database, so you can then deactivate the plugin knowing it hasn’t left anything behind.  Needless to say, only use this if you want to completely remove the plugin, not just disable it temporarily.
  • Numerous bug fixes & tidy-ups.  I’ve replaced my bespoke javascript to hide/show the comments with Prototype too.

So, if it hasn’t already turned up in the Automatic Updates list, grab the new version from here.  As always please let me know what you think & how it can be better.

Writing self-cleaning WordPress plugins

Don’t you just hate it.  You install a program on your computer to try it out, then when you go to un-install it, it leaves files scattered all over your system.  Whether it’s in the application folder that it can’t delete, or in the Application Data folder or system32, it’s not easy to find a program that cleans up after itself properly.  I’ve got more of a chance of getting my kids to tidy up the lounge room after they’ve got all the Lego out.

This issue isn’t just limited to Windows applications though.  I’ve noticed the same problem with a lot of WordPress plugins.  It may just be leaving a couple of config options in the wp_options table, or it may be as much as leaving multiple custom db tables behind or even files in the WordPress install folder.  I’m of the opinion that once you remove a plugin, it should be gone without a trace.

Now, for plugin developers, WordPress provides a simple way to do this.  The register_deactivation_hook() method lets you register a function to be called when your plugin is deactivated.  In there you can put any cleanup code to remove options, tables files, etc.

But…

This is not without it’s problems.  Often plugins require you to enter some complex config information or they may build up a history that you may not want to lose (eg. a spam filter that learns from what you mark as spam).  Sometimes you need to disable plugins temporarily, in fact the WordPress update instructions say that you should deactivate all your plugins prior to upgrading.

Also, the automatic plugin updates system introduced into WordPress deactivates plugins before it installs the updated version.  So if you put the cleanup tasks into the deactivation hook method, all the user’s settings would be gone after updating.  This really isn’t a good option.

What would be better is if the WordPress plugin admin page had 2 buttons for each plugin: deactivate & uninstall.  Deactivate would do what it does now – turn off the plugin, but leave it in place.   Uninstall would completely remove the plugin, including deleting the plugin file & firing a separate uninstallation hook callback.  Developers could then put all their cleanup code in there, with no fear that users were going to lose settings during an upgrade.

What to do for now

I think for the time being it would be best if developers included a ‘remove all data’ button on their plugin’s options page (if it has one).  This button would remove all trace of the plugin (other than deleting the plugin itself) so that the user can then deactivate it.  This button should probably be restricted to admin users and have some form of confirmation on it. I’ve added a button to do this in the latest release of the FriendFeed Comments Plugin.

There’s already a post about this ideas section of WordPress.org, and a discussion about it on Weblog Tools Collection.  I’m hoping that this gets noticed, because it would be great if developers had a simple way of tidying up after themselves.

If this is something that matters to you, please go vote up this idea on WordPress.org.

FriendFeed Comments WordPress plugin 1.1 release

FriendFeedI bit the bullet & updated the FriendFeed Comments plugin to version 1.0.  I then noticed a couple of other things I needed to do, so I immediately updated it to 1.1.  So lets just say we skipped 1.0 Ok?

No real functionality changes, just a bit of housekeeping and admin tweaks.  The plugin will now warn you if you haven’t entered a FriendFeed nickname in after activating the plugin.  Also, after saving your nickname on the options page, it puts up a reminder to put the <?php wp_ffcomments(); ?> tag in your single post template.

So get it running & let me know what you think!

A few updates for the FriendFeed plugin

Thank you to everyone who’s installed the FriendFeed plugin.  The feedback has been very helpful. I got svn access for the WordPress Plugin hosting, so the plugin now exists on the WordPress plugins site.  The upshot of this is that it will now be included in the WordPress automatic updates, so if your version of WordPress supports that, you should start seeing updates for it on your plugin pages. 

Speaking of updates, I’ve just checked in an update that shows the likes as well as the comments.  So you will now get a list of the people who ‘liked’ your post as well as the comments. I’ve also tweaked the HTML it generates a bit, so if you’d setup some CSS rules around the plugin, you might want to check they all still work after updating.

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I’ve got some default styling rules that you can apply to get started, otherwise the plugin is just going to give you two vertical lists, which probably isn’t what you want

#togglefriendfeedcommentslink { color: #333; font-size: 10px; font-weight: bold; }
#friendfeedicon { float: left; border: none; padding: 0 4px 0 0; }
#friendfeedlikeslist ul, #friendfeedlikeslist ul li { display: inline; }
#friendfeeddiscussions { margin: 10px 0 0 0; clear: both; }

Can I recommend the Cross-theme Stylesheets plugin to make this simpler.  You can create a stylesheet just for this plugin that can be edited inside the WordPress admin section, independent of the theme’s styles.

Update: Just got my first TechCrunch link!

WordPress 2.3.1 adds Windows Live Writer tagging support

New WordPress release, minor revision number update.  There’s a bunch of bug fixes, security patches and speed improvements, but the best new bit is that now your blog will turn Windows Live Writer keywords into tags for the post.  Once again showing why I love using WordPress, the developers aren’t just inward looking.  They’re seeing what’s else is out there that people use, and adding features to work with them too.  None of this "not invented here" complex.

Note: This is not the ‘Insert Tags…’ link on the WLW sidebar, that will still insert the Technorati (or whatever) links inside the div with the GUID id attribute (why does it do that?).

To get the WordPress tags working, view the properties bar (hit F2 inside WLW or click the little up arrows next to the ‘set publish date’ box. Then put the tags you want into the keywords field, comma separated.  When you publish the post, the keywords will be turned into tags on post.

Great simple new feature that makes it just that little bit easier to post.  I no longer have to go into the WP post edit page to update the tags for a new post, in fact, I rarely go to the edit page at all now.

As an aside, does anyone know how to change WLW so that it’s the keywords field that shows up by default at the bottom of the new post window instead of the set categories drop-down?

Windows Live Writer WordPress Plugin

After the release of the 2nd beta of Windows Live Writer, one of the other changes I noticed was that the blog side panel was now customised for WordPress.  It had a little WordPress icon & it knew where the admin page was located.  This, I discovered, was due to the fact that WLW now has an API for customising this panel with a manifest file. The WordPress.com blogs already have one done for them, with custom buttons to their comments & stats, but I figured, why not the rest of us WordPress users too. 

So I have a very beta plugin that will generate a wlwmanifest file for your blog.  It utilises a lot of the imagery from the WordPress.com one, so I hope they don’t mind.  You can download the plugin here. Here’s the page for it on WordPress.org.

This is very much a case of me working out an idea.  If you have any suggestions for what this can do, please leave a comment.  I’ve got a couple of ideas, but we’ll see how it goes.  It’s all together possible that this may be in the pipeline for the WordPress core, and that would be great.

[inspired by Tim Heuer's subtext version]