In September of this year, Automattic - the company that manages the development of the popular WordPress blogging platform - acquired IntenseDebate, a plug-in designed to provide a more feature rich system for blog comments. As a result of the acquisition, IntenseDebate was immediately placed into invite-only status for new installations as they began to rework their software for higher volumes of users.

At the time, it wasn't clear when the new version of the IntenseDebate product would be publicly available. But assumptions were that it would remain under wraps until the release of WordPress 2.7. Now, IntenseDebate has returned from its post-acquisition secrecy with some "hi-octane conversational mojo."

With the new and improved product, bloggers on a variety of platforms now have the option to replace standard commenting systems with IntenseDebate's comment threading, reputation points, tweeting from the comment pane, replies by email, and OpenID logins, among other features.

But WordPress users haven't been left out. They get even more functionality with the beta of the IntenseDebate plug-in, including inline replies from the WordPress dashboard and enhanced user management features.

But does a plug-in compromise control or ownership of comments? With IntenseDebate, it's been exactly the opposite. IntenseDebate has been very careful to avoid the "walled garden" complaints that have been lobbied against other commenting plug-ins which allowed comments into the system but made it difficult - if not impossible - to get those comments out of the system.

In fact, here at ReadWriteWeb, the comment exporting functionality is one of the many reasons we've been impressed with IntenseDebate since its launch a little over a year ago:

"The single most important thing about Intense Debate is its data export options. If you are using the service in [your blog] and you decide you want to stop using IntenseDebate, you can export your comments for import into your native blogging software's comments database."

Given the quick work of the IntenseDebate development team in scaling the plug-in, it will be interesting to see what features will be unveiled over the coming months. But, even as it currently stands, IntenseDebate offers bloggers and their commenters a much richer commenting experience than what comes "out of of the box" with many blogging platforms.

Users interested in testing IntenseDebate for themselves can visit the installation area to give it a whirl.