Colorado based Intense Debate, the sophisticated blog comment system with the silly name, launched its public beta this morning. There are some definite kinks in the service still, but there's also quite a lot to take note of. The service offers a powerful combination of ease of use and feature richness; I'm impressed.

Intense Debate lets users set up good profiles that include easy access to their social networking pages around the web, you can friend or follow comments from particular users, there's some basic stats available to both comment leavers and publishers and threaded comments are available. It's got reputation, it's got lots of RSS, it's got quite a few widgets (like "top commenters on this blog") and it integrates with your blog's CSS. It's nice. I'm testing it out over at my personal blog, marshallk.com and there are a list of other blogs using it on the Intense Debate site. One issue I do see is that the commenting platform takes a moment to pull in its host blog's CSS, that's not ideal. I wonder if a copy of my stylesheet could be cached with Intense Debate. Throughout the site it would also be nice if avatars were larger, visual recognition of faces is huge in tools like this.

Important Differentiation

The comment plug-in market is a really crowded one, but there are some things about Intense Debate that warrant an extra close look. (Update: Wednesday morning saw a $1m VC investment in a more lightweight competitor, SezWho. TechCrunch coverage is good.

OpenID support for leaving comments is fantastic, if a bit clumsy in implementation right now. It's really difficult for individual bloggers to install OpenID support in their own blogs right now. If Intense Debate can do it for us, that's great.

Ease of install. One tiny PHP file is all it took me to get Intense Debate running on my Word Press blog. It was remarkably easy.

Email notification is a global setting. Every blog should let you get an email if your comment has been replied to. With this plug-in, you can automate that on any Intense Debate using blog you comment on.

The single most important thing about Intense Debate is its data export options. If you are using the service in Wordpress or Blogger (more platforms to be supported later) and you decide you want to stop using Intense Debate, you can export your comments for import into your native blogging software's comments database.

This is the kind of option that makes all the difference in user adoption - I will let value from my work accumulate in your service if I know I can get it back out again if I so chose. Thank you Intese Debate! I ask every web app I profile about data export and the vast majority just tell me "oh, we're working on that."

You may or may not feel inclined to use a service like this, and we'll see how it holds up against spam over time, but at the very least - I think Intense Debate is a classy operation that deserves some attention for its technology implementation in a crowded market space.