In the autumn of last year a funny thing happened. Jeff Chandler, editor at WordPress Tavern, approached us to ask what we could do to fix their commenting woes. We weren’t sure what to think, but the words heck yes definitely came to mind.
WordPress Tavern has been the defacto WordPress news portal since 2009. They publish daily news, tips, and interviews covering all things WordPress and do so with excellence. Jeff and Sarah Gooding are both fantastic journalists as well as generously supportive of funky WordPress startups.
Commenting at the speed of troll
Commenting on WP Tavern had become a 21 second experience. Twenty One Seconds. You would write your comment, hit submit, and take a walk. Oh. And there were trolls, too. Keeping unsavory commenters off of the site was a daily chore and moderation was a nightmare. Plus a large percentage of comments never had follow-up replies. It was time for a change.
We worked with Jeff to identify 9 pain points in their commenting system:
- The user experience was terrible. Publishing comments was way too slow and the comment form didn’t match the rest of the theme.
- The comment display was less than stellar on mobile.
- Moderating comments required logging into WordPress. There must be a faster way.
- When moderating from the backend it was impossible to see the context of the comment. What was it in reply to?
- If unsavory comments were left while Jeff or Sarah were away from the site they would go unnoticed until Monday morning rolled around. And usually be replied to.
- Conversations would go dead because the notification emails of new comments were not replyable (or even reliable).
- Guest authors could not moderate comments on their own posts.
- Visitors could not edit their comments if they made a typo.
- Because the site was using Jetpack Commenting, it wasn’t possible to take advantage of other interesting and useful commenting plugins (such as adding wysiwyg to the toolbar or comment voting).
Most of these problems were solved using Postmatic and Epoch while others required some custom development. Here is how we did it.
WP Tavern was using Jetpack Commenting so there wasn’t any data to migrate, nor any risks in making a switch. Both Jetpack as well as Postmatic & Epoch use native WordPress comments to store their data. They are interchangeable.
The Front End and User Experience – Epoch to the rescue
Page load performance
Like many high-traffic WordPress sites, WP Tavern just doesn’t have the option of running vanilla native commenting. A lot has been written about the challenges in scaling native comments. Even with Jetpack activated, the server was absolutely buckling as they approached their 30,000th comment.
We installed Epoch (with modified server polling) to replace the native comment form and comment display. Page load times immediately decreased. So we tried leaving a comment.
Commenting 8,400x faster
You can express this number in a few ways but it’s easiest to put it like this: Publishing a comment used to take 21 seconds. Now it takes 250 milliseconds. That’s a 98% decrease. I’m still blown away by that.
The comment area and mobile view
One of the most important parts about Epoch is that it integrates seamlessly with any WordPress theme. Not by looking generic and meek, but by inheriting the typography, colors, and finer details of your active theme. If your site is bold, Epoch will be bold. On the Tavern it looked just great. And the 5-levels deep nested comments look spectacular on mobile.
An extra bonus for users – Comment editing and a wysiwyg toolbar
Since Epoch plays nicely with other commenting plugins, Jeff was able to offer comment editing to his readers (via Simple Comment Editing) as well as add a toolbar for marking up comments with common html.
Moderation, notifications, and editorial flow – Postmatic has it all
Better moderation through email
Postmatic lets you moderate pending comments via a simple email. No WordPress login needed. When a comment is held for moderation the editorial team as well as the post author (if it was a guest post) are all sent a copy of the comment. They can reply with the words approve, spam, or trash. Or, they can simply reply with their own comment to both approve and reply at once.
Improved comment flow and no more dead ends
Email deserves to be used for more than comment notifications. Notifications aren’t what email is for. Email is for conversation. This notion of email as a two way street is central to what Postmatic is all about. And it’s working. Conversations on the Tavern have seen gains in comment length, frequency, and conversational continuity. And since guest authors are automatically subscribed to new comments on their posts, replies come in quickly and consistently.A better comment experience for users & authors. The story behind @wptavern switching to @gopostmatic.Click To Tweet
Putting the Tavern Trolls in their place
With faster commenting, a better user experience, and moderation problems solved there was just one thing left: what to do with unsavory comments and commenters?
Enter Crowd Control
The Tavern has a huge audience. Most readers are fantastic but there’s always a few bad apples. What’s nice about a community is that many hands make light work. Even when that work is moderating comments.
We built Crowd Control by forking an abandoned Automattic plugin and bringing it up to date, fixing a ton of bugs, and integrating it with Epoch and Postmatic. Now all comments on the Tavern have a little report button when you hover over them. If a comment gets reported by enough users it is automatically taken off the site. Postmatic will shoot Jeff and Sarah an email letting them know the users have taken care of a comment and give the option to send it to spam, trash, or re-publish it. Or they can just get back to whatever they were doing and sleep soundly knowing the comment troubles are over.
We are proud to be powering commenting on the top WordPress news site on the internet. Since working with WP Tavern other WordPress news and community sites have started using Postmatic as well.
Other WordPress news sites running Postmatic
You can find a full list of these on the front page of our site.
Plugins used on WP Tavern (all free, all GPL)
- Postmatic (subscriptions and notifications)
- Elevated Comments (for analyzing comment relevance)
- Epoch (front end commenting form and increased server performance)
- Crowd Control (decentralized comment moderation)
- Simple Comment Editing (let users edit their own comments)
- Basic Comment Quicktags (add a toolbar to Epoch)