October 27, 2008

A Brief Review of IntenseDebate

Like most bloggers using the Blogger platform, it did not take me long to realize that the default Blogger commenting system was inadequate. I initially went with Haloscan to handle comments on this blog. While it was an improvement over the Blogger commenting system, it had many drawbacks that eventually became so frustrating that I knew I had to find an alternative. I settled on IntenseDebate and have been very happy with the switch. This is not to say that I have not encountered some problems with IntenseDebate, but on balance, I am convinced that the switch was a good move.

I'll get the problems out of the way first. Here are the issues I have encountered with IntenseDebate that need to be fixed before I could recommend the service without hesitation:
  • IntenseDebate is supposed to be able to import comments stored in the default Blogger commenting system. I have tried this multiple times on both Atheist Revolution and Mississippi Atheists and have been unable to get it to work. After a considerable delay, I receive an error about how the server is taking too long to respond. This is a big problem that must be resolved before those using Blogger comments jump to IntenseDebate.
  • One of the few things I liked better about Haloscan was that it made it very easy to view comments across all posts in the order in which they appeared. When I wanted to examine new comments across all posts, I could do so easily from one page. IntenseDebate seems limited to displaying only the 5 most recent comments. To see more, you have to go thread-by-thread. They need to have a page from which one can view all comments across all threads.
  • After hearing about how it was coming for months, IntenseDebate has still not added trackback. This is a real puzzle, and I expect many Haloscan users will be reluctant to give this up. I know I was.
  • A strength of IntenseDebate is that it allows for banning trolls based on IP or e-mail addresses. Unfortunately, they have also made this system fairly counterintuitive to use. It was only by accident that I stumbled on the solution. If you have a troll giving you trouble, use the "report" button next to the comment on your blog. This will send you an e-mail that contains the offender's IP address.
Although they do need to fix these issues, there are many positives about IntenseDebate as well. Here are some of my favorites:
  • The primary benefit of IntenseDebate over either Blogger comments or Haloscan is threaded comments. This was my initial attraction and what I consider to best reason to use IntenseDebate. It is so much easier for me to interact with commenters using this system, and it should facilitate discussions among commenters.
  • I like the inclusion of the "report" button because it lets any reader notify me when they come across a troll. While I have been far more involved in interacting with my readers since moving to IntenseDebate, readers are likely to encounter a troll before I do. With this handy button, they can alert me of abusive comments, etc.
  • Although I am still confused about how the comment voting and reputation systems work, I do like the idea of readers being able to vote up comments they find useful. I've been using this as well, regularly voting up comments that add to the discussion.
I do recommend IntenseDebate, especially to those who are still using Blogger's default commenting system. Still, I think it is important to realize that there are some issues that still need to be worked out. The service is good but not yet perfect.

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