From systems that appear to work and break your WordPress installation to systems that appear to be uber fast and then crash for no reason, to systems that promise you the land and gold and end up being mediocre at best… even systems that just won´t work no matter what you do, but that the developers will defend like they’re the future.
Let’s be honest
Comment systems for WordPress, on the vast majority, just plain suck. This is the harsh reality I realized, and the true alternatives to native WordPress comments come with big cons you´ll have to accept.
To make matters even worse, if you search about comment systems online, the vast majority of articles are simply outdated or give plain wrong advices, leaving only a handful of them that get it right but are not easily found.
For this article I tested more than 15 commenting systems. But before talking about the real alternatives to WordPress native comments, let’s talk about those that simply refused to run on my blogs.
Those that never reached the list are: Epoch, that refused to run even on a clean empty blog, CommentLuv that seems to be not working at all, LiveFyre, that is now defunct due to being acquired by Adobe and rendered obsolete, Replyable, that throws an empty comment block, and IntenseDebate, that simply crashed our blogs with an elegant internal server error 500 because it doesn’t like nginx, apparently.
And then we have some comment systems that I decided to exclude, such as Google+ and Facebook comments because frankly, adding comments that permanently bind your website to a social network is not a preference of mine and it is not something I´d recommend at all; you can alienate your readers very easily by forcing them to use said social network and a lot of people will simply go the other way around.
Lots of testing
This past 2 weeks have been intense, testing all the remaining comment systems to find everything about them, to search for their shortcomings in a quest for the perfect match, for the perfect comment system.
My work has been pretty tedious but incredible shocking for what I am about to tell you: there is simply no good comment system to replace WordPress, period.
There are just a very few aceptable alternatives, that’s all.
I’m yet to find a very good comment system, such thing does not exist yet. But what am I looking for anyway, a perfect comment system that speaks to me as Cortana and is able to capture video, share audio and run through my VR helmet??, not at all. My requests are fairly simple.
A good comment system should have:
- Good spam filtering.
- Realtime comments that appear when people is posting.
- Light on resources.
- Be able to have good moderation.
- Write the comments back to WordPress database.
- Be free or at least cheaper than a Netflix subscription.
And with this, my search began. Of all the comment systems that I tested, there were some that actually worked out of the box, without tweaking. Those that made it to my list are: Disqus, HyperComments, WordPress Jetpack and wpDiscuz.
I’m going to show you the backend of these plugins, the actual display on the frontend, to explain their functionality and finally, to show you how they perform on an simply blog with few articles on it.
Without further ado, let’s start the deathmatch !
Native WordPress Comments
The low of the low, the basic of the basic. WordPress comments are the sole reason why you’re wanting to replace the comments. They lack functionality, they are extremely easy to read but have several other problems. They are fast and they are going to be used as the performance metric for the other systems.
Running native WordPress comments on our recently created blog will give you the following performance metric on Pingdom Tools:
An impressive feat not only due to the good server we have the blog on, but to the extremely light nature of WordPress comments.
Remember those numbers, because I am going to use them as reference.
Disqus comments passed the first test with flying colors. The integration on a blog is extremely easy, the official plugin just works and you even have a Disqus Conditional Load plugin (not official) that would let you load the comments only when needed, lightening things up a bit.
Disqus is a heavy comment system, it’s not easy on resources but it’s proven technology, the system works and it’s super easy to implement.
Disqus is also a realtime comment system which means any new comment will make a blue bar appear that says “new comments” even as you’re typing. It does not make comments appear out of nowhere as Livefyre did, but at least it’s something.
Disqus also looks good and it melts very easily with any website. It is also a very popular system, so there are vast amounts of users already active on the platform, but it is also not entirely free. Disqus will show comments and work as a comment system free of advertising as long as your website don’t sell advertising or doesn’t have a high amount of traffic. This was something that Disqus was severely criticized for. By implementing a paid feature and forced advertising to those high volume websites, tons of people removed them from their websites. But, as you will see in my article, there is some truth to why Disqus decided to charge. The platform is getting hit by an enormous amount of users and the platform can’t survive by being forever free.
These are the prices:
For any normal blog, even high volume blogs, a $10 dollar subscription is not something that will break the bank, and for sites that are under 250.000 total daily pageviews, well, these sites won’t have problems paying a $99 subscription. Besides, you’ll get shadow banning, audience analytics and automated pre-moderation, among other things that will further improve your traffic and interaction.
Disqus will also use mail to send conversations and conversations top moments, which is a good feature that works on all plans, even on Basic. But Disqus has a problem, and this is performance. With a comment system this big and the high volume of users it handles, the lack of speed is evident.
Disqus will take a while to render properly even if you have a perfectly optimized server, and this also shows on the Pingdom Tools score:
From native comments to Disqus the amount of requests more than doubled! Even when this does not directly affect load time, it does increase the load on the browser, and this is evident by comments loading after the website is done rendering, which can be infuriating for some.
Disqus is not perfect and the slow rendering of the comments is the single most important problem. Even if you can accept that, you also need to accept the fact that, if you want your blog to succeed, sooner or later you’re gonna end up paying for a Disqus subscription if it starts showing advertising because, frankly, it turns the comments into something ugly when that happens.
HyperComments is a refreshing alternative to realtime comment systems and it is incredible light on resources. The company behind HyperComments is not widely known and the comments are not widely used, but they are so freaking good that it makes me wanna cry.
The interface is very solid, and I’m talking about a real realtime comment system this time. HyperComments will show new comments that appear out of nowhere, exactly as Livefyre did, and the frontend interface is tremendously attractive. I’m talking about the same level of Disqus, and slightly cleaner.
Solid and very stylish. This makes for one of the best comments systems I reviewed so far, if not for its shortcomings that are a real bummer in the long run.
HyperComments is hardly free. The free solution would only setup a single blog. You can’t have moderation reports or customize its design just like Disqus does unless you pay, and also you won’t have WordPress Database sync unless you pay a lot more money.
This are the current prices for HyperComments:
The free plan runs as a gift, but as soon as you hit more than 100k loads a month you’re gonna need a $24 yearly subscription which, in my opinion, it’s fair and quite doable. The problem is, HyperComments got greedy and if you want to store the comments on your own database you have to go as much as the highest plan, which is the only plan that lets you store the comments on your database but that also costs $44 a month. Plus they mix yearly with monthly payments in the same page, making the whole pricing model a terrible mess. The storage into your own database should be something that the first paid plan should include as Disqus already include this on the free plan.
But even if you’re willing to pay for it, how does it run?
As you can see, the comments do add more latency to your load time, but they do not increase the amount of requests as much as Disqus does. The speed of the comment system is good, and the perceived speed is also very good.
HyperComments´ biggest shortcoming is the low user base and the high cost of the service which, quite frankly, makes this system usable only if you have a single blog and really don’t care if comments are lost when you decide to switch systems. Too bad, because with a different pricing model and if they allowed you to store your comments in your own database, this could be a serious contender for Disqus.
WordPress Jetpack Comments
Jetpack comments is a nice addition to WordPress, and it comes from the same guys that made WordPress a reality. The comments have an improved aesthetics, allow you to login through social networks exactly as in Disqus and HyperComments, and will have several new additions to WordPress.
Jetpack will allow you to moderate and change the reply box looks more than Disqus or HyperComments allow. In turn, it displays a nice comment bar but will serve the usual WordPress comments in return, which is miles behind what Disqus or HyperComments offer. Jetpack is not realtime unless you start adding Ajax plugins to the mix, but the main problem with this is that the comment system needs to be customized a lot to get to the level Disqus is right now, and this is not something the vast majority of people is prepared to do.
Besides, it’s slow, it does add time to the total render, it does add server load (your server load) and extra requests.
The perceived speed is similar to HyperComments, but your server will end up taking more cpu time than without it because it needs to also load WordPress JetPack which is known to be a resource hog.
WordPress Jetpack comments has two important flaws: presentation and performance. It is not a single comment system but a set of tools included in Jetpack, which forces you to load tons of added stuff to WordPress you may not want at all. Taking into consideration that it’s not a realtime comment system, that leaves Jetpack only to those that love the native WordPress comments and want something a little better with the same style.
WpDiscuz has to be one of the comment systems with the worse name in existence. Its name implies that it’s similar to Disqus but it’s not and, at the same time, its “z” makes it look cheap. But its name is not its singular fatal flaw, as you will come to see later. This is a good comment system for several reasons.
WpDiscuz has everything, from realtime comments to Ajax loading, moderation and modern structure just like Disqus, and it has something no other system has: It does not depend on an external service, it is rendered 100% inside your WordPress, using your own server.
WpDiscuz has a nice backend configuration and for the basic stuff it works, but it’s buggy. There are some things that simply stop working after a while with no signs as to why. The realtime comment system works sporadically and stops working for no reason. I had to refresh the page to see new comments when this happens. At the beginning it was super fun watching comments appear just like HyperComments and Livefyre but the plugin is not perfect and it tends to stop working from time to time. This could be a serious issue but it’s not the worse, the single most important flaw of WpDiscuz is the frontend presentation.
Yes, it’s horrible, it’s just plain horrible. For this to look good, or at least clean as HyperComments or Disqus, you have to do some serious tweaking to the style of the plugin. WpDiscuz works if you’re prepared to work hard for it. Don’t pretend to install this plugin into your site and let it go. Plus WpDiscuz is also looking to get paid for this and added lots of functionality as paid addons ,and this is something that seems a little over-the-top sometimes. The backend is filled with advertising for the extra modules you can buy. I wouldn’t mind paying for those if the basic system was stable, but the truth is WpDiscuz is not stable enough to be hosted on high volume blogs.
Hopefully, WpDiscuz came up very strong on the load time with one of the best load times of them all and very few added requests. WpDiscuz is somewhat slower than native WordPress comments, and it has the perceived slowness sometimes that it’s not visible on numbers. It is slower than native comments, that’s for sure, but it’s not something to be concerned about. In fact, WpDiscuz main problem is its lack of stability and bad presentation, which will need tweaking.
There is not a real winner here. The closest spot for the best comment system is clearly for WpDiscuz because it’s native and it frees you from the claws of another subscription. But having a comment system that somewhat breaks easily because it’s not stable enough is not something you want long term. Plus WpDiscuz presentation leaves a lot of headroom for improvement and, since you have to be a designer/developer to be able to improve it’s aesthetics, it is not something that I will recommend for the vast majority of people.
HyperComments is almost a lost opportunity, it has so far the best presentation of them all, it loads fine, it is actually the only realtime comment system that just works, but it is handicapped by the developers themselves who got greedy and included the WordPress database sync only on the highest plan, making it unusable for the vast majority. How on earth would a company implement such a weird pricing/features model with such a good product is beyond me.
WordPress Jetpack comments suffers from the same fate as WpDiscuz by not having a proper presentation, so it’s out of the question for those that want a good replacement for WordPress native comments; plus they are slow because you are forced to load the whole Jetpack to get them.
This leave us with the only real contender, Disqus.
Disqus is the slowest of them all, and the most heavy on resource loading, but will not affect your server directly. It handles all the comments on Disqus but will silently write all the data to your database, making it useful even if you decide not to use it in the future. The free plan offers a lot, and the plugin just works and is, mostly, bug free. Disqus is not realtime like HyperComments, but it will show a banner when new comments arrive, it has the same features (and more) than the rest, and it is the best balanced overall.
I would love to see some real competition to Disqus because, as it is now, it seems like a necessary evil: it’s slow, it will force you to pay sooner or later, but, it’s the most balanced overall, and having a huge user base also helps.
Disqus is the only system I can recommend because it’s proven technology that just works, it doesn’t need style tweaking and the free tier is very generous. I would only wish other companies would be more rational in their offerings because, as it is, WordPress does not have a very good comment system, only very few acceptable alternatives and that is so sad!
We haven’t seen the best for WordPress comments, not even close.