Akismet is one of the most popular anti-spam measures for WordPress in particular and many other CMSes/platforms in general. The Akismet plugin is bundled with the official WordPress install by default, and it is one of the most reliable solutions when it comes to fighting spam.
A Bit of History
Akismet, or Automattic Kismet, fights spam from blog comments, trackbacks and pingbacks. It works by framing algorithms on the basis of captured spam from different blogs and websites. Launched by Automattic on October 25, 2005, Akismet currently powers millions of websites and blogs in different languages and running across multiple platforms, apart from WordPress itself. Basically, Akismet is a hosted service, and you gain access to it via plugins and/or API keys. In simplest terms, once you have activated the Akismet API key and/or the plugin on your website, it cross-checks all user-submitted comments, trackbacks and pings with its servers and then decides whether or not a comment is spam.
Why Should You Use Akismet?
The benefits of using Akismet are many, starting with the simplest one: it stops spam! No one likes spam, and spammers are now coming up with unique methods every now and then. Not only does spam degrade the quality of your website and lower its page rank in search engines, it also ruins your efforts by driving readers away from your website. Seriously, would you bother bookmarking a website that links to a spam blog?
Akismet is one of the most well-known and efficient ways to combat spam. You just install and activate it, and then concentrate on your blog, not spam. Akismet takes care of everything else. Since it is used on a number of blogs and websites worldwide, Akismet’s servers have a plethora of data and methods that help in curbing spam comments. You do not need to keep moderating comments – you can use that time to do more important things!
Apart from blocking spam, Akismet’s filtering mechanism can also keep a check on comments that bare little or no resemblance to the actual post – a feature that has, so far, been mastered only by Akismet (few other anti-spam software come with this option, but its ‘intelligent’ implementation has been really accomplished only by Akismet). Lastly, Akismet blocks over 50,000,000 (and counting) spam comments per day.
Why Shouldn’t You?
Over the past few months, there have been speculations as to whether Akismet is free anymore or not. Akismet has indeed revised its payment plans, and this has led to speculations regarding its ‘free’ usage. As far as the new payment policy is concerned, here is what Akismet says on this page:
“We’re not trying to make a killing, but we still need to pay our bills.”
Seems logical enough to me, everyone needs to make a living after all! However, this does not mean that Akismet in itself is no longer free. On the Akismet Signup Page, there are three specific plans: $5 a month, $50 a month and $100 a month. If you look right below the above three plans, you’ll find the ‘Personal Site’ option – which is basically a ‘pay what you want’ option. During a checkout process, there is a slider asking you: What is Akismet worth to you? If you set it down to $0, you will complete the checkout for free and the API key will be mailed to you. Of course, you can’t use the API key on unlimited websites.
Therefore, as we can see, Akismet is still free for personal usage. So, what’s the noise about? Well, for a start, the ‘free’ option has been disguised as a ‘donation’ option, wherein if you opt for zero payments, you’ll have to look at an unhappy emoticon. Secondly, since Akismet is itself bundled with the WP core software, it should, ideally, be free and without an API key requirement. No other plugin will make it to the official WP repository if it forces its users to sign-up for an API and/or drag a slider for payments. Also, while this hasn’t yet been proven, chances are that you can’t opt for the free option if your site gets over 10,000 views and/or you “make money” from it. So if you have a website that gets a decent amount of traffic and some money via occasional advertisements, you cannot get Akismet for free.
Mode of Operation – Privacy Issues
Before going any further, let us take a look at how Akismet works. Akismet sends each comment to its servers in order to check whether or not it is spam. In general, each request weighs roughly 3Kb (or more, depending on the size of the comment) and contains data such as the comment itself, the commenter’s IP, user agent, post/page permalink, referrer, blog URL/name/language and data contained in $_SERVER System Array. The last one contains different sort of data about your server.
Now, what this means is that it sends such data to a third-party server (Akismet’s own) to check for spam. From your users’ privacy’s point of view, you can imagine the rest of the picture yourself!
In such a case, before you purchase a license, you might consider asking yourself: do you really need Akismet?
Alternatives to Akismet
If not Akismet, then what? Well, to be honest, there aren’t many well-known solutions that employ third-party servers to combat spam, and this is the prime reason why Akismet is so popular. There are several solutions that can be used along with Akismet, though.
One of the most popular alternatives to Akismet is Mollom — an anti-spam tool favored by the likes of Warner Bros. Records and Adobe! Mollom fights spam as well as fake users and is available for multiple platforms, including Joomla!, Drupal and of course, WordPress. Just like Akismet, Mollom too offers both paid and free versions.
But if you are looking for a worthy alternative to Akismet, you should consider AntiSpamBee. By default, it relies on HTML/CSS to work, and though it can be configured to use Project Honey Pot and IPInfoDB, it is not required. In my experience, AntiSpamBee proved to be very effective in fighting spam. While using Akismet, there used to be one or two spam messages that were being passed as valid. AntiSpamBee managed to block them all.
Along similar lines, you may also consider using WPAntiVirus.
Another plugin worth a look is, which is similar to Akismet in its functionality (including Privacy Concerns, by the way). It is free with a limit of 25,000 monthly calls to their servers.
To Sum It Up
Whether or not to use Akismet depends on what your needs and requirements are. Akismet is a wonderful service that has established itself as the ‘de-facto’ standard when it comes to fighting spam. However, if your budget does not permit using it, feel free to consider the alternatives. And if you use any of the alternative solutions, do let us know in the comments!
Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and is the author of "Sufism: A Brief History". He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.