6 WordPress Plugins That Take Native Comments to the Next Level

Last week, I shared the lessons I learned and the drawbacks to moderating comments in WordPress. In this post, I highlight six plugins that solve a problem I encountered or enhance comments for both readers and site administrators. All of the plugins are free of charge and available from the WordPress plugin directory.

Problem Solvers

Crowd Control

Crowd Control Plugin BannerI discovered that not all comments need to be moderated. Crowd Control, by Postmatic, gives readers the ability to report comments they feel don’t adhere to a site’s commenting policy.

When enabled, a new option is displayed on the General – Discussion settings page. You can configure how many reports a comment needs before it’s sent to the moderation queue and whether administrators should be notified when it happens.

Crowd Control Settings
Crowd Control Settings

If an administrator approves a comment that’s in moderation due to hitting the threshold, it won’t end up back in the moderation queue. This gives administrators the last word on whether a comment is acceptable or not.

Crowd Control in Action
Crowd Control in Action

If you think a comment needs an administrator’s attention or does not adhere to the WP Tavern commenting policy, hover over the comment and click the report button. A new column is added to edit-comments.php that displays how many reports a comment has. It’s important to note that detailed information of who reported the comment is not saved to the database.

Reported Comments Column
Reported Comments Column

The system is open for abuse but I trust that the Tavern readership will use it responsibly.

Show Parent Comment

Comments that are pending moderation in the WordPress backend that are in response to another comment are hard to moderate. Show Parent Comment, developed by Stephen Cronin, adds a Show More dropdown to the edit-comments.php screen that allows administrators to see the text of the comment that a person is responding too.

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I’ve used this plugin for more than two weeks and I enjoy the user interface. It looks and acts as if it’s a natural part of WordPress. Chris Christoff created a ticket in Trac with the suggestion that a user interface element like the one in Cronin’s plugin be added to core. If you have feedback on the best way to accomplish this, please add it to the ticket.

Enhancements to Native Comments

Epoch

Epoch Plugin BannerEpoch is a plugin developed by Postmatic and a few other contributors that enhances WordPress’ comment system. Unlike services such as Disqus or Livefyre that replace the comment system, Epoch adds features to WordPress’ native comments. This allows you to keep comments within your database at all times without relying on a third-party.

Epoch applies a series of visual enhancements to the comment form. Replies from the post author are a different color from regular responses and the date and time the comment is written is displayed at the top. Epoch also uses Ajax to send and receive comments which eliminates the need to refresh the page.

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Epoch has a front end moderation capability that allows site administrators to approve, trash, or spam comments. Unlike the native comment form, Epoch doesn’t load the comments unless the browser reaches a certain point on a post or is accessed via a direct link.

In most instances, the comment form loads quickly but on certain mobile devices, the lack of speed is noticeable. The team is aware of the performance issues and is attacking the problem with a three stage approach.

Epoch relies on JavaScript to function so if a visitor browsing your site has JavaScript disabled, the comments don’t load. Again, the team is aware of this issue and is creating a fallback to WordPress’ native comment system if the files can’t be retrieved from its CDN or JavaScript is disabled.

Basic Comment Quicktags

Basic Comment Quicktag Plugin BannerIn WordPress 4.3, the allowed HTML tags text displayed near the comment form was removed. The tags were removed because they’re note relevant and confusing to most users. While I agree that the text is not relevant, I think the comment form should have basic text formatting buttons so readers don’t have to remember and manually type HTML tags.

Basic Comment Quicktags in Action
Basic Comment Quicktags in Action

Once Basic Comment Quicktags is installed, navigate to Settings – Discussion and check the box to enable them for comments. When enabled, the comment text area will have Bold, Italic, Link and Quote buttons. The best part of this plugin is that it exposes a built-in core feature using the Quicktags API added to WordPress 3.3. Text formatting buttons in the comment area is a courtesy I’d like more site owners to give to readers.

Simple Comment Editing

Simple Comment Editing Plugin BannerSimple Comment Editing, developed by Ronald Huereca, adds the ability for readers to edit their comments in a limited time frame. By default, readers have five minutes to edit their comment once it’s submitted. Although no configuration is necessary, you can alter the time and behavior of the plugin by using actions and filters. I’ve changed the time limit to 15 minutes on the Tavern to make sure readers have plenty of time to make edits.

Simple Comment Editing Countdown Timer
Simple Comment Editing Countdown Timer

With Simple Comment Editing installed, the amount of contact form submissions and requests to edit a comment have gone down considerably.

Postmatic

Postmatic Plugin BannerPostmatic is a plugin that ties into a service and has a number of features. Readers can subscribe to posts or to comments and receive updates via email. Postmatic has a beautiful email template that shows the most recent reply, the commenter’s Gravatar, and a recap of the post and conversation.

Postmatic Comment Email Template
Postmatic Comment Email Template

Readers can respond to comments via email without having to visit the comment form. Site administrators can reply, trash, or submit comments to Akismet via email. It’s important to note that Postmatic is not a third-party commenting service. Instead, it uses the native comment system in WordPress allowing you to keep and own your data at all times.

While I moderate comments from the WordPress mobile app or the WordPress backend, Postmatic is a great fallback. I also think the email template looks great and offers a better user experience than the comment notification emails provided by WordPress. Postmatic does a lot more than what I describe above but for the purpose of this article, I focused on the comment portion of the service.

Postmatic is a new addition to the Tavern that I encourage you to try. After trying it out, please tell me about your experience. I especially wany to know if it’s easier to keep track of and take part in conversations.

Notifications That a Comment in Moderation is Approved

One of the problems I’ve yet to solve is being addressed by a number of WordPress contributors in ticket 33717. If all goes well, it’s possible this feature will be added to WordPress 4.4. Once added, readers whose comments end up in the moderation queue will automatically be notified by WordPress when it’s approved.

It’s Not Perfect but It’s an Improvement

Even with all the features these plugins provide, I don’t think the comment system in WordPress or the form on WP Tavern is perfect. I’m not sure if perfection of either can be achieved. However, I think both are improvements over the previous iterations. If there’s a plugin you use to improve WordPress’ native comments or its moderation system, let me know about it in the comments.

Would you like to write for WP Tavern? We are always accepting guest posts from the community and are looking for new contributors. Get in touch with us and let's discuss your ideas.

28 Comments


  1. People behind Epoch/Postmatic are doing a fantastic job.
    I really like the way Postmatic works, it’s smart. E.g. if I am not reading the emails they self unsubscribe me after 5 or 6 of them, instead sending a flood of follow-up comments.

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    1. +1 to this – the Flood control is awesome, and puts the “power” squarely in the reader’s hands as to how many emails they get. Something all too many other subscription solutions forget.

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  2. We couldn’t be prouder to have our code powering the conversation here on Tavern! I hope our approach is well received.

    All of our commenting tech is rapidly evolving, especially Epoch and Postmatic. If anyone has a wish list for commenting in WordPress this would be a good place to have at it.

    There is a lot of opportunity for making commenting fun again and 4.4 is going to get us that much closer. It’ll be a good year for engagement and conversation.

    And lastly – as Jeff pointed out, all of our stuff is GPL and increasingly a group effort. Epoch has an especially ambitious group of contributors but we can always use more help.

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  3. Nice post Jeff I think i will give it a try to some of them, btw out of the topic, what happened to Sarah? I haven´t seen post from her, anyway cheers

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  4. Testing comment editing feature, because as far as I remember, this feature was active at Tavern, but in recent months I didn’t see it in action.

    This time it worked!

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  5. I’ve used WP-Markdown with Epoch on a couple of sites. It’s a beautiful combination.

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    1. Thanks! We made sure both WP-Markdown as well as Simple Comment Editing look awesome with Epoch. I’ve been won over by Simple Comment Editing because it is lighter weight… but both are pretty nice.

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  6. Great run-down, and it shows just how much the Postmatic team are happy to either work with other plugins, or fork their own to meet a need.

    Now just need to see what their social add-on looks like…. :)

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      1. Oh, slower the better for me, I never use it. I just know some folks that do. :)

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  7. I always missed a good plugin for comments rating. Finally, I found Rating Manager by Elementous. I like how it improves the comment rating form along with other plugins listed above.

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  8. This is a great curated (as opposed to catchall) list of comment improvement plugins, thanks for putting it together in one place Jeff. Sad that our front end moderation and native comment caching plugin Thoughtful Comments didn’t make the list this time but thanks for your past coverage.

    Like Jason, we work very hard to make sure our plugins are good team players so TC will work with most of the above (we haven’t tested all of them yet so I don’t want to say all).

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    1. Unlike all of the plugins mentioned in this post, Thoughtful Comments is the only one that has the ability to ban people. I like this feature although I’d like something not so strict. Something more inbetween like a timeout feature where I can set a default limit to put people in timeout and when they leave a comment, the plugin tells them that because of a previous comment’s content, they’ve been put in time out.

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      1. Is there any point in me trying to change your mind on your idea that, somehow, you improve the dialogue, if you stifle the thoughts and ideas poorly expressed, not thought through, or just plain wrong-headed?

        What needs to change is people’s reactions to them ~ mine included, sometimes ~ and you don’t get that improvement by banning their tolerance training material.

        It seems like all those who advocate moderation {sic} and censorship have at least one thing in common.
        They think, if they stop people writing what they don’t like to read, they will improve the conversation.

        But the truth is, all that does is chase away contributors, because people don’t spend their time contributing if they think you’re going to hit the delete key on them.

        Its so negative Jeff. Your focus has to be on how do we get better contributions from more authors, not how do we stop people writing stuff we don’t like.

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  9. Thanks for this post. I am unable to decide between Epoch and Postmatic, since those are the ones that I feel I should go with first out. Or is it ok to have both and they do not clash?

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      1. Yup thank you, I see that. I just got all of them configured, but for the parent comment one. I am not really seeing the value in that given the number of comments .

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  10. Very good article! I plan to use at least 90% of these plugins to replace disqus and fb comments on a couple sites.

    As I scrolled through the comments here, I did find a problem in that the “report” function does not have a confirmation popup and just touching it out of curiosity to see if there were reporting options, I actually sent a report through. Wonder how difficult a confirmation modal would be for this?

    Other than that, they all look like solid value adds to the uber basic WP native comments system.

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    1. Thanks, Matt. Jason from Postmatic here.

      Crowd Control does have a little confirmation checkmark icon that should show via ajax. If you aren’t hovering over the comment any longer you might not see it. We’ll be working on tighter integration between Epoch and Crowd Control in the coming weeks for a much improved interface.

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    2. To be honest, one does better to pick and choose the functionality one really needs rather than trying to overfill one’s plate. The more of these plugins you add, the more cluttered and complex the commenting interface will become. One doesn’t need full Disqus functionality for a lively comments section. Different functionality will be important to each community though, so all of them have their place.

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      1. I second this. I like the modular approach where specific features or functionality is simplified into one plugin instead of cramming everything into one plugin. However, I can easily see a Jetpack equivalent plugin for comments where features are modules. For example, Comment Rating is a module, Front end moderation is a module, Comment Editing is a module. Now that could be a great commenting plugin that allows people to only use what they need.

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    3. I agree that there should be a more upfront model that tells the user the comment has been reported. Although I won’t share the threshold amount on the Tavern, it’s high enough to account for people clicking the button out of curiosity.

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  11. Nice rundown, Jeff. I used to be a fan of Disqus et al. because of the “set it and forget it” capabilities. But externalizing all discussions to a 3rd party, in hindsight, isn’t the right way to go.

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    1. The same reason why I moved to the native commenting system back. This page has been really helpful in that direction.

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    2. Nope, it’s not. Although I have not used this plugin, I hear it’s a good alternative to Disqus and uses the native comment system wpDiscuz I mean, it has 99 five star reviews and an average rating of 4.9. It must be pretty good :)

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  12. You should add Engaging Convo, a great revolution for wordpress comments plugins. It brings to life inline threads and reactions, similar to Medium!

    I am the developer so full disclosure here, but try to check it out, it really is a game changer!

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