Tag Archives: plugins

Nov 2015: Getting Readers Engaged: WordPress Comments & Commenting Systems

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

At the November 2015 East Bay WordPress Meetup, we discussed comments on WordPress blogs, including when to enable comments, plugins to blog spam, third-party comment management systems, and plugins like Wheepl and Postmatic.

Prior to the commenting discussion, we introduced some of the features coming in WordPress 4.4, like responsive images and term meta.

When to Allow Comments

WordPress allows comments on posts by default, but you can turn them off in the Settings | Discussion page. That’s also where you choose whether comments will be moderated and whether people have to be logged in to comment, and what placeholders to use for commenters who don’t have Gravatars.

Turning off comments on pages by default was a smart move made in WordPress 4.3. There are not many pages suited to comments.

It’s possible that you don’t want comments on your site, not even on blog posts. But if you want to encourage interaction and engagement, comments can be a good thing. If people ask to be notified of follow-up comments, you have an opportunity to conduct longer discussions–and others who might find those conversations helpful can see them, which they can’t if you just exchange email with the person who comments.

Comments can also give you ideas for future blog posts (when readers have questions, or when they disagree with you) and give you an idea of what your readers want.

How to Encourage Comments

Some blogs seem to attract a lot of comments and some not so many. Controversial posts inevitably attract comments, but you don’t want to stir up controversy for its own sake. The Official BNI Podcast site encourages comments explicitly, asking listeners to post about their own experiences with the podcast topic.

Responding to comments (publicly, by replying to the comment) also encourages more people to comment, because they know you are reading the comments.

Establish a Comment Policy

Make it clear that you will not tolerate personal attacks, profanity, or pointless self-promotion—unless, of course, you actually want to encourage those things. There are plugins to allow you to display your comment policy above your comment form, or you can modify the comment form template (in a child theme).

Avoiding Comment Spam

Akismet is the 800-lb gorilla of spam-blocking, but you are supposed to pay for it on all sites but personal blogs. (Pricing is affordable.) Also, Akismet stores spam messages in your database for 30 days. Spambots are relentless and you can accumulate a lot of spam in that time, bloating your database.

Try the Anti-Spam plugin by Webvitaly as an alternative. It blocks all spam produced by bots, without Captcha, which Sallie believes is the instrument of the devil. (There have been lots of studies done to show why Captcha is more trouble than its worth, in case your own experience hasn’t shown you this.)  Sallie uses this plugin on nearly every site she builds.

Native WordPress Comments

There’s actually nothing wrong with the commenting system built into WordPress, at least if you get only a moderate number of comments. You can choose to require name and email to comment, to moderate all comments, to require a poster to have a previously approved comment before posting, or to require readers to be logged in to comment. (Unless you are already running a membership site, you probably don’t want people to register as users. Also, this requirement tends to deter commenters.)

WordPress displays a user’s gravatar next to their comment, if they have one. If not, you can choose to display a variety of placeholder images, or nothing.

Jetpack Comments

Jetpack Comments allow people to log in with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or WordPress.com instead of filling out their name and email. People like the convenience of logging in with a social account.

The down side to Jetpack Comments is that you have to use Akismet to block spam–other anti-spam plugins won’t work. Jetpack comments are also difficult to style, because the Jetpack CSS wants to override everything else.

Social Comments

If you want to allow people to log in with their social networking accounts, you have more options than just Jetpack. Two we looked at are Social Comments and Facebook Comments. Social Comments lets you log in with Facebook, Google+, or WordPress.com.

Facebook Comments, naturally, requires a Facebook account, and uses Facebook’s styles to display comments. There are actually a few people left on the planet who don’t use Facebook, which is something to keep in mind when choosing a social commenting plugin.

Third-Party Systems

The two major third-party systems for comments are Livefyre and Disqus. (Disqus sponsored one of our past meetups.) If you have a blog that gets tons of visitors and tons of comments, one of these may be for you. (Livefyre especially is aimed at enterprises.)

These tools let you log in with social accounts and they help you keep track of posts you’ve commented on. They also help with managing spam and other problems, relieving you of the burden of moderation. Importing your comments back into WordPress if you stop using them is possible, but might be awkward.

Postmatic: Email Commenting

Postmatic arrived to considerable fanfare. It allows people to not only follow your comments by email, but respond to comments by email–and you as the blog owner can reply to comments without having to log in to WordPress. There are free and pro versions.

The developer of Postmatic kindly offered a premium license to give away. The winner of the drawing was Maggie Wu.

Wheepl: Comments Across the Web

Wheepl was supposed to be our sponsor for this meetup, and give a demo, but the developer got stuck in Canada because of visa issues.

Wheepl is a real-time commenting system which exists apart from WordPress to help you conduct and track conversations across platforms. It looks interesting, but it’s not clear where your comments live if you want to be able to keep them. We hope Mukul Sud will be able to come to the meetup at another time to provide his demo and answer questions.

TL;DR on WordPress Comments

Comments may not be appropriate for your site (or your client’s site). But for some sites, comments are a great way to engage readers and get ideas for new articles. WordPress and various third parties offer multiple ways to block spam and increase interaction.

July 2015 Slides and Notes: Making the Events Calendar Sit Up and Beg

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

The focus of the July 2015 meetup was Modern Tribe’s plugin The Events Calendar and its companions, Events Calendar Pro, Community Events,  Facebook Events, and Tickets/Eventbrite Tickets. Rob La Gatta from Modern Tribe spoke first, providing an overview of the plugins and answering questions about the projected roadmap.

After that, Sallie Goetsch provided some examples of different ways she has customized The Events Calendar and Events Calendar Pro on client sites, including importing events from another plugin, setting up an event slider with Meta Slider Pro, integrating The Events Calendar into a Genesis child theme, using shortcodes from Event Rocket, creating a horizontal list widget with photos, and modifying the Photo view to show an equal-heights grid instead of a masonry grid.

Notes from Rob La Gatta’s Presentation on The Events Calendar

[email protected]

What is The Events Calendar? A free plugin on WordPress.org, one of the most popular plugins there (not just among event plugins). Since 2010 when the plugin was launched, there have been more than 2 million downloads.

Premium Add-ons for The Events Calendar

  • Events Calendar Pro (new views, recurring event)
  • Filter Bar (front-end)
  • Community Events (submissions from users)
  • Facebook Events (imports FB events)
  • Eventbrite Tickets (integrates Eventbrite ticketing)
  • The Events Calendar Tickets (WooCommerce, EDD, Shopp, WP e-Commerce)

The Events Calendar in Use


TEC (not pro) customized, using the basic calendar month view, event descriptions with videos, custom ticket solution with TicketFly


TEC Pro, Filter Bar, WooCommerce. Filter bar is in the sidebar doing a Facet-Type narrowing of results. List view on events page.


TEC, Pro, Community. Fairly standard implementation of the calendar itself. They’ve customized the form with a nice photo background. Yes, you DO get to moderate the submitted events. The next step with the Community plugin is to monetize: allow people to submit tickets AND charge for listings. You can allow the community members to edit their events later.


TEC Pro plus Category Colors (free plugin available from the repo).

They’re even using the experimental Agenda View add-on from GitHub. (But it appears to be broken!)

Feature Requests and Roadmap for The Events Calendar

The new version of Events Calendar Pro supports multiple organizers for the same events.

Feature request: multiple costs per event, and ability to show different prices to members and non-members.

Eve Lurie asks about multi-day events that don’t happen at the same time every day. (Another feature request?)

Note that you can add the top-level events page from the Menu UI.

Feature request: booking add-on. Rob says it’s been requested a lot.

Next release, due this week: iCal importer, new coding standards, performance enhancements. On the roadmap we have custom recurrents, WPML integration, time zone support, iThemes tickets, attendee info, Community Tickets, QR codes.

Custom reporting/bulk registration request: suppose your admin is registering for multiple tickets and the attendees are different people: they are the ones who should be getting the confirmations and other info. Carleigh wants to be able to report on people as a group and also to save attendee profiles and registration history. Rob says Modern Tribe IS working on bulk registration features, but it’s not done yet. It will be built into the WooCommerce add-on (called something like Attendee Meta).

Feature request: live/continuous import of Google Calendar events. They have it in The Events Manager.

Feature request: create an event with the date To Be Determined. You just can’t do that right now. You have to have a date in order to create an event.

April 2015 Slides: Advanced Custom Fields

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

What can you do with Advanced Custom Fields Pro? An awful lot, but not quite everything.

It’s definitely worth the $100 for the developer license for the Flexible Content Field, Repeater Field, and Gallery Field, but remember that custom fields don’t replace custom post types and that you can’t search on custom fields.

ACF is definitely a tool for developers: the fields won’t display if you don’t add code to your template, and the layouts don’t style themselves. (Plus those gallery tutorials require jQuery.)

There’s an ACF Demo Site to go with Sallie’s presentation.

Included in the ACF Presentation/Demo Site

  • Creating ACF Field Groups and Displaying Fields
  • Using Repeater Fields in a Portfolio
  • Creating Sliders and Galleries with the ACF Pro Gallery Field
  • Building Page Layouts with Flexible Content Fields
  • Building Page Layouts without Flexible Content Fields
  • Replacing the Header Right Widget Text
  • Displaying ACF Field Keys
  • Using ACF for Front-end Posting

Don’t forget to look at the handout for links to the tutorials used to create this presentation.

More ACF

In addition, Anca Mosoiu demonstrated exporting ACF Field Groups to PHP (in order to keep clients from editing the field groups) and to XML (for import into new WordPress installs). You can also export field groups as .json files so that you can re-use them on other sites.

Anca also showed us the amazing proliferation of post_meta database rows when one uses ACF. On the wine database site she’s building, there are 2211 posts…and 187,000 post_meta rows.

April 2015 Meetup Handout: ACF and ACF Pro Links

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

Here are the links I found while preparing for the April 2015 Meetup on Advanced Custom Fields and ACF Pro.

I used some of these tutorials to create the demo site, but have not had a chance to follow up on all of them.

Note that tutorials on Sridhar Katakam’s site require a paid subscription. It’s only $10/month and totally worth it if you develop for the Genesis Framework.

General ACF and ACF Pro Tutorials

ACF Pro Gallery, Slideshow and Content Slider Tutorials

ACF Pro Page Template/Layout Tutorials

ACF Videos

Plugins Worth Paying For (March 2015 Meetup Slides)

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

The March 2015 East Bay WordPress Meetup focused on premium plugins, with several demos. We could have spent at least another hour doing and watching demos of premium plugins.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see Mel demo EventON, and our expected sponsor, Beaver Builder, couldn’t make it because of car trouble. (We’ll see Beaver Builder next month.)

I’ve updated the slides to reflect what actually got demo’ed:

Demos by Pieter Hartsook, Anca Mosoiu, Eve Lurie, and Sallie Goetsch.