echo-logoWith a tagline like ‘the next generating commenting system’ how could I resist trying out JS-Kit Echo? I’d been thinking about a comment upgrade for a while, as I liked the easy options I’d seen on other sites for logging in with different social media accounts. But what sold Echo to me in the end was the comment synchronization feature – all my comments would stay in WordPress even if I later uninstalled it.

Echo can be installed on WordPress, Blogger and Drupal via plugins as well as other sites by using Javascript. Other cool features include:

  • real time conversation, with no need to reload the page
  • collection of reactions from across the web
  • sharing links with other social media services
  • allowing photo and video commenting on your site
  • spam protection, including synchronization with Aksimet for WordPress users.

Since I had nothing to lose, I signed up, paid the $12 annual fee for Echo Live and got started. I downloaded and installed the WordPress plugin, which replaces the native WordPress comments function in the admin dashboard.

Immediately, I hit a snag. It turned out that my blog had too many comments for the automatic import to function correctly. Instead, I had to contact JS-Kit support and get someone to import them manually. This took a few days, during which time all my old comments were inaccessible.

In the meantime, my first task was to make sure that I was assigned as the site administrator when I installed Echo. Instructions were conflicting. In one part of the wiki it suggested that this would happen automatically, while other instructions suggested that I leave the first comment so that I would be recognized as the admin. This seemed to work.

Echo For Commenters

Echo lives up to its promise when commenting on a site. It offers multiple options for connecting your blog comments with your other social sites. You can use credentials from Google, Friendfeed, Twitter, Haloscan, OpenID, Yahoo, Blogger and JS-Kit, or use a standard URL. When commenting you can send your comments to followers on Twitter, Friendfeed, Yahoo and Google, keeping the conversation going in multiple arenas and, more importantly, being able to follow this extended conversation by email or RSS.

Echo For Site Admins

One of the best features for site admins is being able to pre-approve trustworthy commenters. Over time, this cuts down on your moderation load. People who make five approved comments can also be automatically approved, making this even more useful. On the JS-Kit site, you can set a number of options for dealing with comments, trackbacks and pingbacks. You can also do a lot of moderation on site, though it’s easiest to do this at the post level.

Moderation screen - JS-Kit Echo
Moderation screen - JS-Kit Echo

There are also some neat analytics on the JS-Kit web dashboard which show views and comments on posts. Useful, though not yet as good as the analytics provided by WordPress.com Stats or similar plugins.

I like the way it integrates comments from other social services, though you can get similar functionality from Backtype Connect.

Room For Improvement

There are a few features I think need to be improved:

  • Echo currently does not support gravatars unless you are a member of JS-Kit, which means that most comments have that ugly grey anonymous box. This is due to change, but I’m not sure when.
  • When I log in to my WordPress dashboard, JS Kit does not always recognize it, which means logging in on the JS-Kit site before I can moderate comments.
  • The spam! The spam! Yes, Echo integrates with Aksimet, but most of the time Aksimet gets rid of spam before I even see it. When I go to the Echo moderation queue, all I see is spam – it would be nice to have a ‘delete all spam’ function.
  • I would love it if I could handle comments in the usual way from the WordPress admin interface, rather than having to go to each post or the JS-Kit site to moderate. This would probably mean a much more involved JS-Kit options panel.

The Verdict

Overall, I like Echo, though whether I will keep it depends on getting those niggles sorted soon. If they were, then it could cut down on the number of WordPress plugins I use. It will also make it easier for me to keep conversations going on all the sites where I participate. That’s where Echo really wins out. However, there’s also competition from Intense Debate and Disqus, which currently have a more attractive interface.