Monopoly: go to jail cardA little more than a year ago, I was frustrated about being stuck in spam jail. It was difficult for me to comment on other blogs, and other bloggers shared the pain with me.

So, how do things look today? I wish I could say that they have improved, but they haven’t. I still have a problem whenever I comment on new sites for the first time. Nothing is more frustrating than when you comment on a new blog and your comment immediately gets tossed into the spam. You then have to fire off an email to the site owner, and pray that they see your email and get you out of the spam.

Unlike other plugins, Akismet charges for their services unless you run a personal blog. Even then, they try to make you feel bad about not giving them money:

Contribution of $0.

Contribution of $18.

Contribution of $30.

Contribution of $54.

Contribution of $120.

I have nothing against a business trying to make money, as everyone needs to pay their bills. In that case, however, I would hope for at least some decent support. Instead, I never hear back or I am finally greeted with terse replies such as:

“Hi,

This is fixed but we cannot continually undo what bloggers are telling Akismet.”

According to Akismet, they do not run a blacklist. Therefore, even if one or two bloggers have somehow marked me as spam, another 40-50 high-quality blogs running Akismet approve my comments all of the time, so the problem should be limited to a small subset of blogs.

This is not what I have seen in practice.

The problems with Akismet

Akismet clearly has a problem with blocking legitimate commentators while still letting real spam get through. If they didn’t, then we would not be seeing the rise of alternative plugins. Here are the major problems with Akismet:

It blocks legitimate commentators.

You’ll know when this has happened. This is whenever you leave a comment on a site, and after a refresh, your comment is nowhere to be found. Usually you’ll see your comment right away, or you’ll see a message like “Waiting for moderation”. When Akismet blocks you, however, your comment simply disappears into a void.

At least with Akismet alone, you know when you’ve gone into the spam. With Intense Debate using Akismet as the back end, the problem is made significantly worse. Intense Debate will lie to you and pretend that your comment has been published, but when you check in another browser your comment is nowhere to be found. To make things worse, the site owner may not know how to see spammed Intense Debate comments, so you are effectively barred from ever commenting on that site.

You don’t know how frustrated I became when I took the time to leave thoughtful comments on some sites with Intense Debate and then I found out that my comments were lost forever.

It uses faulty heuristics.

The Akismet team claims that they don’t use a blacklist, but regardless of the technical details, the process works exactly like a blacklist.

How do I know this?

It’s easy. I am on their blacklist. :) All I have to do is to go any new site that is running Akismet, and try to post a comment with my name, URL and email address. Instant block. What if I change my name, URL, and email? Then the exact same comment will go through! If it looks like a blacklist and acts like a blacklist… it’s a blacklist!

Because they use blacklist-like behaviour, they make it more difficult for real commentators and easier for spammers. A real commentator usually sticks to the same name, email, and URL, so once they get on the blacklist, they’re screwed. It doesn’t matter how many sites approve their comments after that. A spammer, on the other hand, will use a combination of names, emails, and URLs so that they can work their way around the blacklist. Akismet still manages to catch a lot of these guys, but it doesn’t catch all of them.

What ultimately ends up happening is that some of your legitimate commentators get blocked, and unless you like sifting through hundreds of spam comments a day, you’ll probably never notice them. At the same time, some spammers get through. I always know when this happens when I get an update on a post I subscribed to months ago (once the owner got me out of the spam), and it’s some spammer trying to sell shoes or something like that.

The alternatives

Akismet was once the only game in town, but this is true no longer. Here is a list of plugins that can improve upon or even replace Akismet entirely:

Conditional Captcha

Conditional Captcha extends Akismet and shows a captcha only to those commentators that were going to end up in the spam, anyways. It greatly reduces false positives, and it actually greatly reduces spam at the same time because most spammers do not complete captchas. You can send these into the trash, leaving a much smaller pool of comments to moderate. Conditional Captcha also works with Typepad Antispam.

This plugin has been a lifesaver for me where other blogs have added it, and the author has been very receptive and attentive to feedback.

Typepad Antispam

This is an Akismet-like plugin, but without the false positives problem. You do need to moderate every trackback, though.

GASP

If you have ever seen those sites with the “Check if you are NOT a spammer”, then that site was probably running GASP. These checkboxes are much easier to use than a captcha, but most spammers don’t check it so they get effectively filtered out.

If you use this plugin, there’s no need to run Akismet at the same time!

DISQUS

Disqus is a commenting system that replaces the traditional WordPress system. I can only remember having a good experience with DISQUS on every site that has used it.

LiveFyre

LiveFyre also replaces the traditional WordPress commenting system, and it writes back comments to your DB so you can still remain in control. It also catches spam, but since you can register and authenticate yourself you don’t need to worry about getting blacklisted (unless you’re a real spammer, of course! ;))

Bad Behavior

Finally, Bad Behavior also deserves a mention. It takes a different tack by blocking spammers from being able to submit using your comment form, but unfortunately it is sometimes too aggressive and blocks legitimate people from using your contact form!

You can fix this by using the whitelist file:

Copy whitelist-sample.ini to whitelist.ini and add this:

url[] = “/contact/index.php”

url[] = “/contact/”

url[] = “/contact/*”

I am not sure of the exact format, so I just added all three and that seemed to work. Be careful as the whitelist gets overwritten whenever you update.

So, reader, I hope this post proves helpful. If you are a blog owner, I hope this convinces you to look at alternatives! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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About

Kevin has left the office, and he is currently fighting the rat race by working on his own business. He enjoys exploring unvisited places around the world and gaining new experiences. He believes that by properly managing our energy and time, we can learn to invest our lives wisely.

30 Comments Kevin on Jan 18th 2012

30 Responses to “Problems with Akismet? Try These Great Free Alternatives.”

  1. 101centavos says:

    Based on your original feedback, I dumped Akistmet and went with Typepad. Good article, Kevin.

  2. MoneyCactus says:

    Great resource Kevin! I haven’t had any trouble with Akismet since installing conditional captcha (thanks to your advice). I haven’t tried the other alternatives on my site, but for some reason I just don’t like using Disqus. Something about needing to log in all the time makes it that little bit harder for me to leave a comment.

    • @MoneyCactus Thanks, Shaun! I believe you can enable guest commenting (LiveFyre also supports it), or do you mean it is specifically a problem for the site owner? I also have to login but so long as I don’t flush the cookies the login seems to stay valid. ;)

      Conditional Captcha + Akismet is also a great combination and makes Akismet a lot less evil, and if you no longer have any trouble, then no need to mess with it. ;)

  3. PKamp3 says:

    I think some of those options have a Akismet tie in, unfortunately (from your buddy in spam hell!). I know that Disqus does… but I think Disqus must maintain its own list or something, because, like you, I don’t get caught in its trap.

    • @PKamp3 Are you sure that Disqus has the tie-in? Intense Debate does but I don’t think the others do. I am just going on experience cause I have only had issues with Intense Debate, and they are controlled by the same organization that controls Akismet so it would make sense.

      I’ll add you to the list of in-mates. ;)

      • @PKamp3 Ah I see it is an additional tie-in in DISQUS’ case. Maybe a lot of people don’t do that or maybe the way it works is that that tie in doesn’t get used immediately.

  4. I was having a big problem with spam until I installed “Captcha”. No problems after that. I just recently installed DISQUS and am hoping for the same good luck.

  5. I am liking LiveFyre so far, and their team has great customer support.

  6. It isn’t fun at all! Akismet has a near monopoly especially on some of those bigger sites, and if the guy receives 10,000 spams a day and never checks his emails, you are effectively barred from participating in that community.

  7. I am happy this one works for you, SPF! This is another great Akismet alternative.

  8. [...] 20-01-2012: I have posted a follow-up here: Problems with Akismet? Try These Great Free Alternatives. If you insist on using Akismet, then I also highly recommend installing and using Conditional [...]

  9. Dhara Mistry says:

    Hey Kevin, we appreciate the mention here! Hope you’re enjoying Livefyre so far. Please don’t hesitate to give us a shout if you’ve any questions. We’ll be happy to help! :)

  10. investitwisely,

    Awesome post!

    Regarding Livefyre, I’ve been working with Dhara of late to help me out with a few things, and I must say, her customer service has been outstanding. To date, I would recommend Livefrye – so far, so good.

    I really enjoy these posts. They definitely help out an amateur like me with the blogging tools.

    Thanks again for writing some great content :)

    • @My Own Advisor investitwisely, We are all amateurs in the beginning! I am really liking LiveFyre so far, and though there are small glitches here and there, their team is doing a great job at helping me getting them sorted out.

  11. [...] « Problems with Akismet? Try These Great Free Alternatives. [...]

  12. An Extra Large Pipeline of Links | 101 Centavos says:

    [...] Invest It Wisely with a few words on good spam management: Problems with Akismet [...]

  13. Super Frugalette says:

    Now I know I need to “refresh” myself on blogs. Can you post on mine?

  14. Canadian Finance Carnival #73 – Canadian Finance Blog says:

    [...] at Invest It Wisely presents Problems with Askimet? Try These Great Free Alternatives, saying “Akismet was once the only game in town, but this is true no longer. Here is a list [...]

  15. vanbeek101 says:

    Thanks for this post Kevin. I end up all the time in the spam folder. Maybe it is because I am posting my comments from Thailand. What I do now sometimes is to use a kind of VPN to the UK or US. That works slighly better,but not always. On my own blog I use Disqus. That works fine. I’m curious to see if you find this comment in your spam folder.

  16. Mario Pesce says:

    Hi,

    thank you for the useful information.

    I have used Akismet for a while on a few WordPress blogs for free, but when I tried to use it on some additional blogs they started to ask me for money which I do not think is justified by the relatively small traffic of these blogs.

    I will try to replace it with typepad.com

  17. Comment Problems On This Site | EmediaHealth says:

    [...] Other sites are also reporting problems with Akismet blacklisting commenters by email address and blocking legitimate comments.We suspect we have lost many dozens of legitimate comments in the recent past due to this plugin. [...]

  18. [...] Problems with Akismet? Try These Great Free Alternatives. [...]