Understanding the Settings: Discussion
One thing about blogs that make them different from websites is the ability for readers to leave a comment.
If you come across a website that allows you to comment, it's probably a blog in disguise! Seriously. It's very easy to adapt your blog into website, you just add pages to it.
So here's my post that exploring the Settings page in a WordPress.com blog that refers to commenting, to make sure you protect yourself from spam and make the commenting process easier for your readers.
It's called Settings: Discussions because that is originally how WordPress viewed what comments were. In an ideal world that would be lovely! But today this kind of engagement or interaction tends to happen elsewhere, such as on social media. However, I will be covering this topic in many more posts in this blog later.
So let's go to the Dashboard page (see how via the Settings: General link above) and find Settings at the bottom of the left sidebar and click on Discussions:
And suddenly we are confronted with a sea of boxes to tick! Aaaggghhh! Don't worry, we'll go through this systematically.
What kinds of comments will you allow?
Now WordPress has lumped these options together in one place because I don't think they knew what to do with them!
So let me explain each in turn:
If you link to another blog in your post, this option instructs WordPress to tell that blogger you have done this. This is called a pingback. The notification will show up in amongst his or her comments, giving the information where the link has happened and what it refers to.
Now the blogger can investigate why you linked to them, and maybe make contact to thank you if necessary. After all, your link helps with search engine indexing and provides the possibility of more readers.
This allows WordPress to let you know when another blogger has linked back to your blog, and it shows up as a pingback amongst your comments.
Trackbacks are when another blogger has mentioned something that is related to your post's subject, or has quoted a portion of your post as an example. WordPress will let you know when the search engines have picked this up and made the connection with your blog.
This is a biggie. If you untick this box, your comment boxes will disappear from the bottom of your posts and readers won't be able to leave a comment. Older posts will have a notification such as 'Comments are closed', but previous comments will still be visible.
However, it is possible to disallow comments in individual posts and pages, without having to resort to such drastic measures. I will explain this in another How To post later.
Giving permission to comment
WordPress have lumped together another set of options, which I will unpick and present in turn:
Whenever a reader wants to write a comment on your post, this option instructs them to fill in some details about themselves before they can submit a comment for consideration:
The commenter can also log in as a WordPress user, or via their Twitter, Facebook or Google+ profiles. This results in showing a small avatar (online portrait) of the commenter, and the details can provide a link back to the commenter's blog or website.
Here is me logged in as a WordPress user:
However, you can be more strict about how your readers comment on your blog:
And this is what happens to the comment box:
Your readers will have to log in via a recognised source, and your blog will be able to acknowledge these registered commenters and only allow them to leave a comment.
Getting your readers to register first could be seen as a barrier that could prevent them from doing so. It is another hassle for them to go through.
Also this sort of commits them to your blog. In this free and easy world people don't like to be tied down, especially when it comes to commenting. After all, there are no such restrictions on social media.
Personally I would leave this option unchecked – you want to encourage any reader to comment. If you're worried about inappropriate comments, there are systems in place that will help protect you from these, which I will go through later below and in another How To post.
You decide when readers can comment
This option allows you to set a time limit on when readers can comment on your posts. After that time has expired the post will display something like 'Comments are closed'.
Personally I wouldn't be so mean, as readers can visit your blog many years after your posts have been published. Why should you deny these latecomers the pleasure of having their say?
How your comments are presented
Comment nesting is when a reader replies to a comment directly, the response is placed underneath that post slightly indented to the right. Here is an example:
This is done when the responder clicks on the reply button within the original comment. This nesting shows how each comment relates to the other during the conversation.
Now the Settings option above restricts how often this nesting indentation can occur, which is particularly prevalent if the theme you have has a narrow comments area. If you are lucky enough to have a very lively discussion between two commenters, unrestricted nesting can result in very narrow comments.
However, if you leave this in default (by not ticking the box), WordPress will choose the best option for you.
If you are an extremely popular blogger and get loads of comments, you may like to paginate your comments so they look better and don't carry on forever under the post.
Here you can decide how many posts should be displayed in each page, and whether you want the most recent posts' page to show up first.
This also depends on how many comments you get. Some bloggers like their readers to see the most recent comments at the top, whereas other bloggers want the comments to represent a timeline with newer contributions placed beneath as they are added.
Get WordPress to email you whenever anything happens!
Tick all these boxes if you want to be kept fully informed of how your readers view and respond to your blog posts. I'm particularly nosey and definitely want to know exactly what's going on!
WordPress will use the email you entered into User > My Profile > Public Email, so go check it is correct.
I will be writing more How To posts that cover the things mentioned here later.
Your control over comment approval
I always check the first option. I want to be able to moderate (technical term meaning approve) my comments before I publish them. I'm very particular about what kind of comments appear after my posts, and I like to check out the commenter if I don't know who they are.
If the second box was ticked, any commenter who had had their contribution approved in the past would automatically have their latest response published. This means you have no control over what is being said, and anything could appear under your posts. If you're a control freak like me, this will never do!
How to avoid seeing really horrible spam
Spam is a real nuisance, and requires really strong and clever applications to prevent it appearing on your blog.
Luckily WordPress.com provides their blogs with a really good spam-eater called Akismet. However, if you have a self-hosted WordPress.org blog, you will have been automatically given an Akismet plugin, but you will have to activate it to get it to work.
Here you have the option to look at all your spam, if you want to, but you'd probably be crazy. A popular blog will attract a lot of spam. Let Akismet do its work and only present what it thinks is suitable for you to view.
I shall be talking more about Akismet and how to control spam in future How To posts.
Even more approval control
This section is for technical bloggers who know more about spam and where it comes from. They will have analysed what sort of data aggravates spam coming to their blog, so will be able to enter into these two field below the most appropriate information to help Akismet to block out spam.
So my advice is to leave these blank and not worry about them.
Keeping your readers in touch
If you look closely at the bottom of the comment form of your post, you will notice these two options in place:
These are a great way of keeping your blog in the forefront of your readers' mind, by allowing them to be informed of any new developments that happen to your blog or this particular post. Encourage your readers to click them.
Making your comments touch-screen friendly
I mentioned Markdown before in Settings: Writing. Click on the link to go there direct.
Revealing who you are when you comment
It's always nice to see who your commenters are. I've already mentioned avatars above, little online portraits (also called gravatars) you can use all over the Internet. And if you scroll back to the images of the comment boxes above, you'll see my gravatar there too.
You can create your own gravatar via the Settings: General page. I'll write a How To post about that later.
A great feature WordPress provide is more details when you mouse over your gravatar. Take a look when I do it to mine:
Is that fun? Looks like I have to edit my description a bit, as it's too long.
Here you can determine what kind of content your blog contains. Personally I think WordPress have put this in the wrong place, as it interferes with the natural progression of dealing with avatars:
If your readers haven't yet signed up for a gravatar, you have the option to choose what you want to see in its allocated place next to their comment. As you can see, you can have a bit of fun here.
A nice little feature from WordPress.com. You can change the prompt that encourages your readers to leave a comment, which is displayed prominently above the comment box. The default is "Leave a Reply", but you can have fun with this, with suggestions such as "Why not have your say..." or "What do you think?" or "Have you anything to add?" or "What's your opinion?" and so on.
And once you've done all of this, don't destroy all your hard work by forgetting to click on this:
Or you will only kick yourself!
My next post in this Settings Series will focus on the Sharing page.