We hate spam at Foliovision. Enough to have written a very effective anti-spam plugin ourselves. Our FV Antispam is on use on more than 4000 websites right now. If you like or use Akismet, FV Antispam works great. It can radically reduce your Akismet costs by cutting down on the amount of requests you send to Automattic, making an agency license go much farther (monthly limit, 100K checks).
FV Antispam also can speed up your site and lower server load as it processes machine spam locally. We also make sure that machine spam goes directly to trash so you don't have to waste time checking it manually (too many comments in a spam folder makes it impossible to evaluate any of them properly).
Sadly as spammers have improved the quality of their spam bots or, even more often, found ways to employ inexpensive manual spam boiler rooms in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ukraine and China, just stopping machine spam is no longer enough. To stop manual spammers, you need to be tracking IP's and spam posting trends worldwide. There's only a few organisations which can do that. Right now the following come to mind:
- Akismet from Automattic (benefitting from WordPress.com and the majority of WordPress.org self-hosted installs). Not ours though (more on that later).
- Google who own Blogger and YouTube and Google+.
- Typepad who have thrown in the towel and use archrival Akismet.
- CleanTalk who offer a dedicated anti-spam service.
The only two with a crowd-sourced solution for WordPress are Akismet and CleanTalk. Both are available to other platforms.
How we tired of the free Akismet
CleanTalk is nominally paid and Akismet is nominally free (now called "Name your price"). But the fine print allows no business usage of Akismet. In reality Akismet wants €5/month per site or €50/month for an agency license (watch the even finer print: you only get 100K/month checks - a single popular sites gets more than 30K/week of spam). When we had a lot of small clients the agency license was okay. One year we were even stupid enough to voluntarily pay $800/year for Akismet based on usage while everyone else paid nothing. Zero gratitude. No Paypal subscriptions. Only credit card.
Akismet Enterprise Limitations - read the fine print
Unlimited sites but only 100K spam checks/month
During the whole period, Akismet was using our websites as their own personal territory:
- overflowing our databases (we're talking about storing gigabytes of data in our clients' databases).
- slowing our servers
- limited accuracy: Akismet was very aggressive and would often filter comments which were not spam. This generated client complaints and lots of lost customer support time.
Cleaning up our databases and maintaining it was a huge waste of time. We wrote routines into FV Antispam to disable the worst of the Akismet bad behaviour and to stop sending machine spam to Akismet, hence keeping many clients' sites under the commercial radar.
Basically if Akismet would charge everyone evenly the cost would be $1/month per site and not $5/month. But instead it's a system where the few pay for the many. And in the end Akismet is hassleware.
- You can't pay how you want.
- You have to watch Akismet closely for misbehaviour in terms of performance and storage.
- Akismet is aggressively marketing Automattic products to your clients.
- Akismet is cheating in the WordPress plugin directory by always being a recommended and featured plugin. I don't want to support cheaters.
Originally Akismet was its own login as it should be (like Gravatar). Now Akismet requires that you use a WordPress.com login. We had lots of those and the Akismet one was separate the way liked it. Keeping track of which WordPress.com account had our Akismet subscription ended up being a huge hassle and resulted in us paying for two subscriptions at one time. We ended up cancelling the wrong one as we couldn't find where the second account was. That made me cross enough to give up Akismet and Automattic services forever.
Why does Akismet treat its paying users so badly
Automattic is a VC financed company so they don't much care about the convenience of their customers as they don't have to make a profit every month.1
Always be selling - Akismet will attempt to harass your clients
into buying unwanted and unneeded services.
Hardly "democratising publishing" Automattic.
We chose CleanTalk: Here's Why
CleanTalk is easy to use. For the most part, it's install and forget about it unless you like rating spam in which case they have a dedicated interface on their site.
CleanTalk is normally accurate. We haven't had any client complaints about legitimate emails going into spam over two years. Now it should be said no one is really checking the spam folder as there are literally thousands of spam there. A popular site will get 30K spam/week.
Recently we had CleanTalk add a big improvement from our FV Antispam days: machine spam now goes straight to trash so checking the Spam folder is now possible again.
CleanTalk is affordable. Twenty sites is $88/year. Thirty websites is $126/year. CleanTalk is not built into WordPress by default so unlike Akismet and Automattic CleanTalk have to work for your money.
Bonus: CleanTalk also run a nice little bonus program where you can get extra months for tweeting, sharing and helping out with spam and/or paying early. We've earned 17 free months since early 2015 just by helping out CleanTalk. We've also paid twice so everyone is happy. You can count on being able to get 18 months out of your first twelve months payment.
Here's what CleanTalk could learn from Akismet
If something goes wrong and CleanTalk can't filter the spam to a site, things go very badly. As happened to me on just one site recently.
- the publisher is deluged in emails (one for every spam comment considered legitimate as you should be moderating pending comments)
- you have to go to the CleanTalk interface on the web to try to filter the illegitimate comments. Here's where things go really wrong.
While simple and clean in design, the interface for bulk marking of spam is very slow and not very informative.
- I have to click one by one and wait on slow AJAX
- after the AJAX loads one the status of the spam does not change until page reload
- there's no preview of the comment content (this time I didn't need it as the spam is very clear from both email address and name)
CleanTalk manual interface for marking spam: no checkboxes and
slow AJAX. Note cursor hover to view action options.
If we really must to be logged into the CleanTalk site to blacklist spam, here's what CleanTalk could do to improve the existing interface:
- add checkboxes beside each entry
- at the bottom of the page an option to bulk change status
- a small "Content Preview" button to hover over for comment preview (to keep the interface clean)
These small interface changes would already be a huge improvement.
Still there is a much better way
Even better would be full integration with WordPress (CleanTalk already got a plugin in everyone's site). CleanTalk would just have to respect the spam change statuses from the WordPress comment moderation which means people wouldn't even have to login to CleanTalk to update the CleanTalk database. This is what Akismet uses and what CleanTalk should do too.
Why is CleanTalk's implementation for WordPress so primitive? It's really a mystery to me. It costs CleanTalk valuable information and CleanTalk customers a lot of time.
If you're such a smartypants why don't you fix it…
We'd be happy to code a much better WordPress plugin for CleanTalk for hire on the basis but there's no sign CleanTalk would pay for someone else to code for them. A pity. Hopefully this review will wake CleanTalk up out of their quiet slumber. We'd consider coding a commercial plugin for CleanTalk but as WordPress code is GPL, CleanTalk could just take our code and add it to their own plugin. We already have a dozen free plugins to maintain in our non-existent free time.
Neither are perfect
Sadly as matter stand now, you will have hassles from both. Akismet's false positives and weird billing habits and account management habits on one hand vs CleanTalk's quirky web interface on the other hand. In the case of CleanTalk at least you won't really be paying for it. $100/year to $180/year to protect thirty to unlimited sites sounds a lot better than $600/year.
CleanTalk could be so much better. The ideal software is both better and cheaper. That is disruptive. CleanTalk has price covered. Now they just have to try to be much better than the competition. Akismet has not raised the bar very high so CleanTalk has a huge opportunity here.
There's some underpowered other Open Source solutions out there like the very promising Sblam! focused on the Polish market but which is completely free. They do ask for server donations. If Sblam! could get some momentum, it looks very interesting. I'd suggest that Sblam! should move to inexpensive accounts as free is not sustainable and expensive is already covered.
There's also the not very affordable Mollom which would run you €30/month for 20 sites and 1000 legitimate comments/day. That's about what an Akismet agency account costs but with a lot less power. The next step up is madness: €300/month for just 100 sites and just 3000 legitimate comments/day. This is where Mollom is making a lot of coin.
The three to five times larger plan depending on how you count sizing is ten times more expensive. It's also five times more expensive than Akismet and seventeen times more expensive than CleanTalk. Mollom courts enterprise accounts from Sony BMG, LinuxJournal, Adobe, Warner Brothers, Jupitermedia and FastCompany. So if you have a lot of money to spend on antispam, Mollom is prepared to take your money. Judging by their website, I wouldn't expect user interface to have moved much beyond 2004.
Enterprise services usually means worse and more expensive. It looks like anti-spam tools are no exception. If you'd like to stop spam comments and save money, CleanTalk is the easy solution for both WordPress and other platforms. If you do choose Akismet though, be sure to install FV Antispam to make sure your site runs fast, your database stays lean and you make the most of your Akismet subscription. With FV Antispam you'll be able to avoid Akismet forced upgrades on free, plus and enterprise service, saving an enterprise account holders hundreds or even thousands of dollars/year.
Matt Mullenweg should never have taken VC money for open source WordPress but that's another whole conversation. Linus Torvalds was much wiser and more principled with Linux which is why Linux is now really good and free and WordPress kind of sucks and is really, really expensive (hosting, plugins, maintenance load). ↩︎