I don't know about the need/lack of need for hyperlinks, but the ability to italicise would be grand. Bold might be a little distracting if used improperly. Consider however that the ability to use italics could be added to the system without making comments look horrible yet also without requiring tiered commenters.
That said, I am personally of the belief (though I know it is controversial) that Ars Technica’s subscriptor program is the best going. You get Custom RSS feeds, forum formatting superpowers and most importantly the ability to view the site without ads. (Possible only because you paid a subscription fee.) They still maintain a free tier which is ad-funded, but frankly Ars’ Nobel Intent is completely worth the money. (As would be El Reg.)
Personally, I’d throw in a few more subscriber goodies as well. Periodic roundtable chats with the writers/editors, or maybe access to a Reg IRC channel, subscriptor only forum or what have you. Nothing that would substantially detract from the “free” side of the site, but at the same time give the subscriber-base of commenters something of a greater sense of community.
I know the whole idea of subs is hugely against a lot of people’s approach to things, but many other sites have seen the need. It also might be a moral “out” for those folks who love to read El Reg, but insist on using adblockers. (Debate done to death here http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=317 with no real resolution.)
Either way, there’s lots of approaches to enhancing and expanding forums. Why not get the Freeform Dynamics guys to put some research time into it? They are great at surveys, and most especially at analysing them. Could be what they learn from El Reg’s commenter base is of economic value enough to them as others amongst their customers might care for their own Web 2.0ification. Maybe even of enough value to get a freebie?
Just thoughts; and I would be deeply interested to see the thoughts of all the other regulars on this topic.